On January 15th, I got the opportunity of a lifetime to run the Houston Marathon. As a runner, it is great when you get to call a race weekend a business trip, but that is exactly what this was. For this trip, I traveled with store owner Grant Watley and Assistant Store Manager Kelli Vasquez. Grant and I have spent the last eleven weeks training together for the marathon, while Kelli has spent eight weeks getting ready to run the half marathon. This trip provided a unique opportunity for Kelli and I to spend time with all three owners of the 605 Running Company.
We rolled out of town on Wednesday afternoon in Grants Honda Pilot. Our first stop would be Omaha, Nebraska. We would be meeting Kelli’s parents for dinner and passing her son off to the most excited grandparents in the Midwest. Store owner and newly expecting father Logan would also be meeting us for dinner and I truly enjoyed the brother banter between Logan and Grant as we discussed the race. There was plenty of trash talk, a wager was discussed, and many laughs were shared. Following dinner, we made our way to Grants parents’ house where we would be crashing for the first night of our trip.
The smell of pancakes pulled us out of bed for day two! We were off to a great start. Grants mom provided us with breakfast and snacks for the road. Today we would be driving to Dallas, Texas. The roads were clear, the weather was pleasant and we were off and running as soon as Grant could find a coffee shop for Kelli and I (priorities people). As a true Midwesterner I, have always grumbled when my beloved region is passed off as fly-over states, that is until I drove through Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and into Texas. If you follow us on twitter you will understand what I’m getting at here. Somewhere in there we grabbed a sub sandwich from Subway, I drove through Oklahoma City traffic and Kelli napped. We arrived at Store Owner Paul’s house in Dallas around 8:30pm and did a two mile shake out run in shorts and t-shirts to stretch our legs. After a bowl of cereal, a tasty local beer for me and light conversation day number two came to an end with anticipation slowly building for the weekend ahead.
Where do three Midwesterners go on there off day in the big city? IKEA of course. Our schedule called for a down day to acclimate to the Texas heat. That would have been a great plan if Dallas got the memo. Instead we had perfect running weather. Cool, upper forties to mid-fifties, a slight breeze with very low humidity and cloud cover with occasional light showers. We spent the morning shopping at IKEA, Grant claimed he had been to the store before, but within a minute of perusing the finished rooms it was clear that if he had been before it was a long time ago. There is nothing like watching a first timer at IKEA. We grabbed Swedish meatballs for lunch and spent the afternoon touring local running shops.
After a three-mile run where I accidentally pushed the pace because it was so gorgeous out we made our dinner plans. Kelli had been pointing out every taco shop in the area so we felt like Hispanic cuisine may be in order. Paul directed to his favorite local spot and we made our way. Following our run, we put on comfy clothes, athletic shorts, sweats you get the picture. We pulled up to Paul’s suggested restaurant and noticed that they have valet parking and we were vastly underdressed to eat at that restaurant. Luckily, Grant knew of a great pizza joint next door that he had visited previously. We gorged ourselves on chips and assorted salsas, pizza, free mini margaritas and lots of water. The perfect ending to a relaxing day.
Let’s go to Houston! We woke up early Saturday morning to drive to Houston. Grant and I were plenty happy to pass of the driving duties to Paul. We drove for a couple of hours and stopped at the largest gas station I have ever seen – Buc-ee’s. Kelli and I each bought a breakfast taco and Grant questioned our sanity. Silly Grant what could go wrong buying a gas station taco the day before a marathon? We were fine. We pulled into Houston just after noon and could check into our hotel early. Grant had gotten us a very nice room at the Embassy Suites overlooking the finish line of the race – beautiful. We met our friend Matt Smith and his lovely wife for lunch. Matt would also be running the marathon and the two of them had run the 5k earlier that morning. It is at this point in the report that I should mention humidity. It was thick in Houston and the weather conditions were nothing like Dallas. Yikes.
Lunch for me was a modest bowl of alfredo with water at a nice local spot we stumbled into in Downtown Houston. From there we made our way to the race expo. After collecting our race packets and t-shirts we found ourselves at the massive Skechers Performance booth. We met up with our sales representative Adam and were promptly outfitted in race themed shoes, shirts, coats and other assorted swag. The expo was incredible, lots of other races to learn about, ongoing seminars and athlete meet-and-greets, plenty of samples and multiple product booths. Following the expo; Grant, Kelli, and I took the time to get a nice shake out run in around the starting corrals and finish line area. This was Grants idea and I’m very thankful we took the time to do this because it allowed me to get my bearings and made the hectic areas more manageable.
For dinner, we were invited to the VIP pre-race party with Skechers. There we tried multiple hors d’oeuvres including my favorite bacon wrapped quail. The highlight of the party was the opportunity to meet Skechers Performance athletes Meb Keflezighi and Kara Goucher. We had a great evening and were now properly motivated to run the streets of Houston. After the party the three of us ventured off to find a store to purchase our breakfast items. We had spotted a CVS earlier and thought that would be the perfect spot to get some cereal and other miscellaneous items. Unfortunately, they were closed. Kelli mentioned that she previously spotted another market just down the street. Words cannot describe how terrifyingly awesome this market was. With our snacks in hand we made our way to our room for the night. One more sleep until race day.
Race day was upon us. Today was the day. I didn’t feel like I slept at all. Kelli and I were the first awake and neither of us felt rested. Grant on the other hand joined our conversation with a big smile,
“I slept Great!”
Of course, he did. Kelli and I had a cup of coffee and we all enjoyed our assortment of cereal, pop tarts, Gatorade and water for breakfast. The time was now. We set out toward our starting corrals. We agreed that we would meet-up with Matt in the expo area which doubled as a staging zone for the corral areas. Once we arrived all marathoners had to weigh in prior to the start of the race. The weather was clearly a concern for the race officials as we were about to run a marathon in 96% humidity. Kelli and Matt would be starting in the “B” corral while Grant and I would be in the “A” corral. We set off to our assigned areas. As we parted ways Grant speculated how long it would take Kelli to catch up to us. He guessed it would be around mile five or six.
Grant and I spent most our time waiting in a bathroom line in our corral. We never did make it to the front of the line, but it didn’t really matter much. After the national anthem, introduction of the honorary starters and some words from the sponsors we were starting the 2017 Houston Marathon. Have I mentioned the humidity yet? Muggy doesn’t really do it justice. The fog was so dense at the start line most the massive skyscrapers disappeared into a hazy abyss. Grant and I agreed a slower pace to begin the race was a good idea. We wanted to feel-out the conditions before we determined how exactly our winter training would hold up on the streets of Houston. After a half-mile, Kelli appeared with a very bubbly,
Grant was stunned. His calculations were way off. He was so shocked he had to swing into a porta-potty to compose himself. Kelli quickly disappeared into the haze like a wisp of smoke. Grant and I continued and as we passed the 5k mark I said,
“And everyone tracking us in Sioux Falls just said, aww they are running together.”
The miles clicked by effortlessly. Every once-in-a-while, Grant would tell me to slow down or vice versa. We both couldn’t believe how much crowd support there was. Wall-to-wall people cheering our names (they were on our bibs). Music groups, dancing troops and little kids with signs. It was an awesome show of support. At the 10k mark Grant copied me,
“Everyone in Sioux Falls just said, aww they are running together.”
As we carried on a gap started to form between myself and Grant. While I was already drenched in sweat and feeling the burn, I wasn’t concerned. My training had been reasonable and I felt like now was the time to see just what I had for this race. I started to pick up my pace. At every water stop I took a Gatorade and water. My plan was to use a Gu every five miles and a had a pack of Sport Beans as back-up. At the half marathon point the course double back on itself and I spotted Grant. This allowed me to see just how much of a gap I had put on him. I gave him a thumbs up and he shouted encouragement in my direction. At this point of the race my adrenaline was really pumping and I felt awesome. Miles fourteen through seventeen blew past and I was starting to do a happy dance in my mind knowing I was on pace to PR by a lot.
“Hello wall, I see you and you will not win today.”
I said that line out loud at mile eighteen and got a joyous response from my fellow runners. And then I promptly got a leg cramp in my right quad. I reached for my sport beans and massaged my leg while walking. The cramp went away relatively quickly and I got back underway hoping that that was the worst of it. By mile twenty I was running at a slower pace from water station to water station and walking while I hydrated trying to manage the situation. At mile twenty-three my legs completely locked up and I was in trouble. This was the point that the raw emotion started to pour out of me. I used profanity, loudly (crying may have been a better option – hindsight). I was in a lot of pain and I was seriously considering a medical tent. My mind was a mess, but somehow, I started running again. As lumbered my way toward downtown the rain came. At times, it was a straight downpour, but mostly it was a mist. Once I hit downtown I knew I would not be walking again until the finish line. I spotted Paul and shortly after Kelli. Before I knew it, the finish line was right there and just like that it was all over. I had finished my second marathon.
Thirteen. That is how much weight I lost on the streets of Houston while running. I got my medal, my finishers shirt and food and went to the hotel room. I hadn’t noticed Grant on the course since our exchange at the halfway point. It wasn’t unreasonable to think that he could have passed me at some point during the race, but I was sure that while things hadn’t gone the way I hoped with my overall time, I was still under the impression that I beat the boss. When the door to the hotel room opened and Grant was already there my heart sunk a little bit (we are nothing if we aren’t competitive with each other). Then I found out that he couldn’t find the food and came straight to the hotel room. I on the other hand enjoyed eggs, sausage, biscuit w/gravy and chocolate milk. With the victory over the boss secured my mood perked up quickly.
We showered and were on the road back to Dallas in ninety minutes. The race was over and the memories were made on the streets of Houston. We crushed some fast food for both lunch and dinner, including my first In ‘n’ Out Burger experience and began to look ahead to our trip back into the real world. We were on the road the next day by six in the morning and danced around ice storms to make it home in just fifteen hours. For the record, long car rides don’t aid in recovery.
This was a truly incredible journey. I want to thank Skechers Performance for making this adventure possible. My travel mates Kelli and Grant were unbelievable and I’m so proud of their race accomplishments. I need to thank the entire Watley family for hosting us throughout our journey. What makes our store so amazing is the commitment from our owners to the sport. Grant, Logan and Paul are truly amazing men and our community is lucky to have them.
Greg “PEPSI” Koch