Poppy’s Humid Houston Half Marathon Report

Poppy racing houston halfIt seems I have a knack for picking goal half marathons that end up happening in warm, humid weather. My last one, the Rock ‘n’ Roll Philadelphia Half, was back in September on a day when the temperatures were in the mid-70s and the dew point was pretty much the same.

I decided to run Houston to give myself another shot at running a fast half marathon and hopefully run something that was more indicative of my fitness. I’ve raced and spectated Houston several times before, so I knew that I’d be taking a gamble with the weather. Cold, rainy, windy, hot, thunderstorms were all possible. However, I decided to take my chances, hoping that I wouldn’t have a weather repeat of what I experienced in Philadelphia.

Let’s Talk About the Weather

I traveled to Houston without my husband and two little ones, but I was fortunate to meet up with some of my Team T-bone teammates who were also running the race: Lauren Philbrook, Brian Harvey, and Eric Ashe. Being able to see some running buddies made the solo trek more enjoyable, especially being able to do the pre-race routine with Lauren (who ran really well!).

While the weather at Houston wasn’t as bad on paper as Philly’s back in September, 64 degrees and almost 100% humidity, conditions were far from ideal. I suspect if we had a day like today back in September, after training through a miserably muggy summer, Houston’s weather would not have felt so bad. But, in January, when I’m far more acclimated to cold than hot, it felt almost exactly like Philly.

First 10 Miles

As for the race, I felt pretty controlled and comfortable for most of it. I lucked out in that I buddied up early on with a guy who was running an even pace with me. I don’t know who this guy was, but I was thankful for his company. Most of our splits were right around 6:05. In better weather I would have aimed for more like 5:50-5:55 pace, but tried to adjust accordingly for the conditions.

However, I realized around mile seven that he had a marathon bib. At mile eight he was gone as the marathon and half courses split. After that, I tried to chase down folks ahead of me. I was by myself for much of the last five miles. I was able to reel in several ladies and dudes ahead of me and several spectators told me that I looked really good and strong. My mindset was to roll along at 6:05 effort until I got to miles 10 or 11 and as long as it continued to feel controlled, I’d then pick it up and really race the last couple of miles.

Weather Modifications

Because of the warm and muggy weather, besides adjusting my pace, I put ice cubes in my sports bra like I did in Philly, and that helped. My head felt warm and sweaty by a mile and half into the race.

muggy weather
Race morning in Houston.

Once we hit the first aid station around two miles, I was ready to cool off. I had a plan! At every aid station except mile 8.5 when I took a gel and drank water, I did the following: I took a cup of Gatorade endurance and drank the contents, then took three to four cups of water and dumped them on my head, chest, and neck. Every time I hit an aid station I felt instantly better and would feel quite good for at least a mile and then I’d start to get warm and sweaty again.

When I was running into the wind, I felt better; the breeze helped to cool things down and wick the sweat a bit. One weird thing: the last two to three miles my hands felt swollen and I also had the sensation of pins and needles in them. This has happened multiple times in the past whenever I’ve raced in humid conditions, including the Houston Marathon in 2007. Anyone have this type of experience in warm and humid conditions?

The Finish

Anyway, I felt very strong and confident that I would finish well. That is until mile 12. I swear I increased my effort and picked it up once I hit 11, but my last two splits were much slower than what I expected: 6:11 and 6:12. I assume it was partly due to a cumulative effect of the humidity and also that I was running totally alone and into a headwind.

I also got passed by a woman and a man running together with about a quarter mile to go. I tried so hard to go with them but my legs were wiped at that point. The last mile is the only time in the race where I felt truly tired and like my form broke down.

I ended up racing about three to four minutes slower than I hoped to, finishing 28th in 1:20:08.

Post-Script

I am not super jazzed with my time relative to where my fitness is, but given the conditions and where I was a week prior with a minor calf tear that came on the heels of a nasty stomach bug hitting my entire family, I am okay with the end result.

Honestly, just a week ago I did not know if I’d even have the chance to race given the calf strain and having to take three days off of running. I am grateful that I was able to rebound and to not only line up at the starting line, but be in the position to compete and finish.

When I was younger, I was more likely to freak out and be all gloom and doom about setbacks like that, at least for some period of time. Now though, I tend to roll with the punches as best as I can and not get too down about it. That’s not to say that I am not upset or bothered when plans go awry and I can’t get in the training on my plan or I have to scrap a race I was really looking forward to racing.

However, I am now more likely to keep the negativity in check, do the things that are within my control, and have faith that eventually I’ll bounce back from whatever crap has happened. I don’t know if it’s a product of age plus two and a half decades of racing or becoming a parent or maybe a combo of it all, but when a disappointing race or a minor injury or other setback pops up, I try not to fall into the vortex of negative energy that tries to suck in all around me.

How do you modify your race plan for hot humid weather? How do you handle disappointing races?

*** PS Did you notice the photo at the top is from Philly? I’m notorious for never having any photos from races so we fudged and used this one. Thanks to Karen Miller photography for hooking me up! 

I'm a licensed massage therapist with a background in biochemistry and also a mother of two. After almost two years of focusing on shorter race distances, I am back on the marathon training horse. My next goal race is the Bank of America Chicago Marathon. I write mostly about health and science as they relate to running as well as being part of a running family.

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10 comments

  1. any of your races is really inspiring. I’m also training for a marathon with SportMe itunes.apple.com/us/app/half-marathon-marathon-training/id588594735?mt=8 running app which calculates distance, pace, time and calories and adjusts running plans to my progress.

  2. You’re a machine! After all your racing experience, does something like a few seconds over a big round number bother you? I think a lot of people struggle with that!

    1. A few seconds over a big round number doesn’t always bother me. This one was a little annoying because I felt like a 1:19:xx would make me feel a little closer to the 1:16-1:17 I had hoped for, versus 1:20:xx. It’s so silly, but that 1 versus 2 makes a difference. I’m not going to lose sleep over it though. Onward to the next one!

  3. Wow, Poppy- I think you should let us all know your race schedule so we can avoid any races you pick with all the hot, humid luck you’ve had! 😉 Joking aside, you are such a bad ass… calf tear, stomach bug, and unseasonal weather? Dang, lady! (Try a western Oregon half- not going to get any humidity. Eugene Half & Full is in three months or so, hint hint!)

    1. Oh yes, definitely do not pick the same goal race as I’m doing if you want a chance at good racing weather. Racing in Oregon does sound enticing. Will have to keep it in mind – would give me a chance to race somewhere different and also visit several friends out that way. I will say though, the hubs and I have tried to get out to Eugene three times since 2008 and every time we had a trip planned we ended up in the hospital (the third time was for delivery of baby #1). The universe may not want me to go there.

    1. Thanks! It was a nice trip and I got to spend a few hours post-race with friends at one of my favorite Houston establishments, The Flying Saucer (great beer list if that’s you’re into that sort of thing).

  4. Nice race Poppy! Humidity is the worst, and it’s always hard to feel like you’re running by yourself. I love your attitude – not letting setbacks get you down!

    1. Thanks. I’ve had so many setbacks over the years that I’ve learned it’s not worth dwelling too long on the bad stuff and that you have to just make the most of what you’re dealt with on race day (and really on any day). There’s always something to be learned, even on the not-so-great days.