Houston Marathon 2012. Ryan’s Story.

We did it!

About 10 months ago my beautiful wife talked me into signing up for our first marathon. We have been distance runners for a long time but stuck with what was comfortable, half-marathons and shorter. So for us this 26.2 was a daunting challenge. Seemed ludicrous. Every time I  thought about running for nearly 4 hours to make this distance, my joints yelled obscenities. We made the commitment, registered, talked some friends and family into doing it with us, were chosen in the lottery to run it and started training.

[Mike, Jordan, Ryan, Traci, Tim, Christy]

Fast forward months of time and plenty of weekend milage and here we are in downtown Houston. 6:45 in the morning, corralled by steal barricades and packed in like cows before slaughter. The weather was perfect for running. Light air, a hint of chill and a slight breeze on occasion. The sun is beginning it’s accent as the atmosphere glows dark blue. I have two dear friends by my side. Two other men with valor only hours to be stricken by our decision to compete here.

Announcements begin from the starting line in front of us as the sound for the speakers bounces down the chutes welcoming the herds of runners to the day’s big event. Minute Maid field to our right, an entrapping 6 foot tall chain-link fence to our left and thousands of other runners ahead and behind. Some encouraging tips were shared by guests of honor along with an inspiring prayer fit for the King. Adrenaline, check.

7:00 am. ON YOUR MARK, GET SET, GO!

We begin the usual shuffle as only one can packed in to a crowd like this, we approach the official starting line and kick it into an actual jog. Our goal, to stay with the 3:30 pace team.

Breathe in, breathe out. Step left, step right. The sounds from a foreign made running shoes on the Houston pavement drowning out the faint chatter around us. The first miles took us up and and down an off ramp into the neighboring industrial area of downtown.

The amount of crowd support is crazy! People are cheering on the curbs and from the porches of their houses throughout the race route. Signs everywhere cheering on specific and non-specific runners. As we run through the streets, I can’t help but feel a sense of pride for all involved. Proud of those running, my family and friends and encouraged by those there in support. Motivation. I take it in and store excess for later. Many miles to go. I’m sure I’ll need it.

Mile 4 we are greeted by some familiar voices cheering our names. Smiles are contagious. My stride feels great. The shoes I choose for today’s event, which I debated wearing till the hours prior to the race, felt great. The sun was in full force and the welcomed breeze felt great. Conversations were happy. Time was flying and at this pace, so were we.

At the banner for 13.1 I couldn’t help but think both the positive and negative aspects of that being the half way point. Amazed that it is already half over, amazed that it was only half over. My joints heckling at the latter. I can see exhaustion begin to creep in. The pack is thinning. It was time to turn on my iPod for some distraction.

Mile 19, trouble begins brewing in my calves, as they begin displaying a rare feeling for me. One of tightness that typically ends in a cramp. Mind over matter I step cautiously and with a slightly exaggerated stretching in my stride to offset the onset. I’ve hydrated more than ever for the race and begin to question these pains and who invited them to the party. My peripheral vision begins to pickup on runners to my left and right dropping off in fatigue. The tide is changing.

Mile 20, now at the mercy of my tight beyond experience calves, quads and hamstrings, I walk. Defeated I continue to question “How?” as I take in more water from the water bottle I carry every time I set out for more than 7 miles. I cautiously begin to break out of the walk and into a slight shuffle/jog only to be stricken again with the seizing and intensified cramps. I stop instantly in place and don’t know what to do. I can’t move without something tightening. BLAST! The crowds around me call out my name saying, “Good job Ryan!”, “Hang in there!” and the likes. I hold my head in shame as I wish with all my beating heart I could run. Right now though, my legs are boss. My muscles are displaying their power in my life, and they are mad.

Finally after 2 miles of stop and go defeat I regain my stride, a bit clumsier and broken than preferred but momentum none-the-less. This section of the course feels very different from the first. This one reeks of disgust. The air is filled with some sort of negative and invisible vibe that quiets everyone in my proximity. This thinned out crowd seem to be running with similar shuffles just begging for the finish line.

At this point I see one of the guys I began and ran the first 15 side by side with, my cousin of sorts, Jordan. My rejuvinated pace allows me to catch up and continue at his side. I’ve heard that there is power in numbers and right now I need all the power I can get. I’m ready to check this one off my list. From the looks of those around me, they are too.

Mile 25, with only 1.2 miles ahead my chest joins the list of exhausted body parts with a restriction on my breaths that flowed so smoothly 3 hours before. The focus begins to change. The clouds of exhaustion begin to break up. My leg muscles and connecting joints officially stiff and numb, my mind much of the same.

We turn the corner to see a short distance of only a few hundred yards to the finish line banner. Temporary bleachers filled with cheering spectators flanking each side of this last corridor. I hear noise, people cheering, announcers yelling names but can’t be bothered to listen. To me it’s just white noise now. At this point I am so focused. Focused, yet not sure on what, as dizziness and emotion confuse my thoughts.

At 3 hours and 54 minutes, the 26.2 mile journey comes to a close as we pass over the last chip tracking mat. I press stop on my watch and immediately begin to well up with tears. Tears of exhaustion, determination and success. Flooded with a rush of confusing emotions I walk further from the finish to the group of volunteers placing finisher metals.

The course was great and the day’s conditions were perfect. The experience of the race is hard to explain. As the moments continued to tick, all of our crew made it across safely. Traci and her buddy Christy achieved their goal and finished with smiles. Me, my buddy Mike and my cousin Tim all suffered cramps at some point today that none of us expected. Each of us have our own story to tell and are different, more driven and deeper people because of it.

It was over.

I love half-marathons.