It's rare that I go to bed early enough that I actually feel refreshed at 5am. One of the perks of prepping for an early morning race - I actually wake up feeling well rested! A trade-off for that sinking feeling in the put of my stomach...
My body felt awesome as I took an easy spin around the hotel block to test out the weather. The hotel is so close to the start line that I don't need bag check or anything else. Just a single t-shirt to ditch in the corral. Thank-you, again, Skechers for the perfectly placed hotel! Mindy qualified as a sub-elite whereas I merely got "A" corral placement, so we parted ways half an hour or so before the start of the race. I got to my corral and lined up to use the port-o-let...behind a guy wearing a Camelbak??!! I don't want to come across as too elitist (moderately elitist is par for the course), but am I really in a corral with Camelbak wearing runners? Ugh! What has this world come to. I jockeyed for position at the front of the corral with an older guy and a kid who looked to be 12. I'm sure they will run very good times - especially for their categories - but do I really need to worry about tripping over them in the surge to the front at the gun?
The gun went off, the surge took off, and I found myself free of the crowded start. Rare for me, I was smart. 3:24 for the first km, 3:22 for the second, 3:18 for the third, 3:14 for the fourth....considering I was cold standing in the corral for 30 minutes before the gun, this is a good warm-up! I'm rather pleased that (for once) I am opening right! Another perk of starting slow - I start picking crowds off early, feeling great!
About 8km in, I'm not picking packs off so easily. I whipped out a 3:05km to catch the last one - too fast! - so I'm content to reel this next pack in more slowly; little by little. Over the course of a couple of wonderful kms - wonderful because I feel strong, temperatures are perfect, and (brand-new) Skechers gear fits me perfectly, I pull up to a pack of guys. I'm the lead Skechers guy in the (non-US Half Marathon Championships or Houston marathon) race, and the 3:12 kms are clicking through with ease. I am on track for a new personal best (PB)!
We reach the split, and most of the pack turns right to do the marathon. (Geez! That's a fast pace for a marathon!!) One guy follows me toward the half. Up ahead, I see only the women from the US Championships (for the record, they got a 5-minute headstart). I know the US Championship men are up there, but I can't see them. I don't see any other guys.....am I one of the top in my race?
WHY THE FUCK IS MY HAMSTRING ON FIRE??!!
Oh crap! My hamstring pulled. Easy buddy....back off, it'll go away. It hasn't totally locked up. The guy who was trailing me is catching back up...that's ok, I can drop him again when the hammy calms down. There...it's starting to feel better...3:23 for a km, I barely lost anything. Gradual increase now.........Shit!!! There it goes again. Tightening up...dial back...dial back...no need to stop at the side of the road. It feels ok running this pace.....4-oh-something? Give that a km. See what happens.......
Not much happened. Any time I tried to pick up the pace, the hamstring tightened up. After a few tries, I gave up. 14km at a solid PB pace and I felt great doing it. Now I'm jogging in in low-to-mid four minute kms. Guys are passing me and I can't do anything about it. I briefly debated putting it all out there anyway. Maybe the hammy would hold up until the end, and I would take a new PB out of this. Or....maybe I would hobble in the final 4km when my hamstring tears in half. Not worth the risk at the beginning of the season. I don't want to miss Biwa again this year - especially as I already booked the flight! It's tough running in easy, effortlessly, knowing that 95% of my body feels ready to race. One muscle in one leg is holding me back.
Approaching the finish, I'm thinking about how Skechers went to such lengths to show me a good time here, and I can't deliver on race day in return. I see the Skechers staff at the side of the street cheering me in. So kind...so naive. Why would I be happy finishing in this pace?? In the final 50m a pack of three guys pass me in an all-out sprint to the finish. Thibault, one of my Skechers team-mates from France, crosses the line just in front of me. He's improved his PB by a minute and run 1:16. I've run almost eight minutes faster. I'm happy for him...
Silver linings. I didn't finish very far in front of Mindy, so I hang out in the finishing chute waiting for her. Just as I see her round the final bend to the finish, a volunteer asks me to keep moving, and walk down the chute. I point out my girlfriend about to cross the line, saying I'd like to wait for her. She smiles, and suggests I walk very....s...l...o...w...l....y...... :)
Mindy gutted it out and ran a 1:25. Not what she was hoping for. Certainly not what she was in shape for. Later, Zwama would point out that her first km was about 20 seconds faster than her (PB) target pace. I suppose I would have a tough go of it if I ran my first km in 2:50!
Wending our way through the finishers' area, we stop at the Skechers booth - the only carpeted place in the area, so a good place to stretch out my hamstring a little more. John from Skechers - what a great guy! - lent his sweatshirt to Mindy who was shivering from the cold. We chatted a bit and learned that Cheyne from Skechers ran a 1:06 in the US Championships. He's responding well to massive mileage and minimal speedwork, it seems! I am unhappy with my own race, but thrilled that these people for whom I was rooting have done so well.
More kind people - Houston seems to be full of them - greeted us as we got back to our hotel. Cheers and applause from the front desk staff. That's getting me smiling again.
Residual disappointment from an unsuccessful race can linger for days, or you can go somewhere to put it out of your mind. We chose the latter!
The tram took us to the building mock-up and training facility, where astronauts learn to manoeuvre in the Soyuz Capsule, the up-and-coming Orion shuttle, and assorted other ships.
These facility is also where astronauts learn to attach one spaceship to another....in space both ships hurtle along at the speed of a bullet! This contraption helps them understand how to align both vessels in space, though it doesn't move quite so fast...
Robonaut and spidernaut are tested here, along with rovers that can house two astronauts for up to 14 days. (No, it isn't any bigger than it looks. You think long-haul truckers deal with cramped spaces?! This is the size of a pick-up truck!
Back to the tram, and it seems the most exciting parts of the tour are over. Yes, it's interesting to see a half dozen massive liquid nitrogen tanks (used to simulate cold outer space), and the trees planted in honour of astronauts who lost their lives for the cause of space exploration...but not exactly thrilling. We pulled up to Rocket Park and it seemed that there was another moderately exciting bit to the tour. I mean, these are spaceships....or reproductions, at least.
This is more than moderately exciting. This is not a model:
This is the real thing in all it's magnificent, mind-boggling, massive glory. The real Saturn V rocket that carried humans to the moon!!! Preserved to reflect it's condition when it launched, this makes my mind leap and my heart race!! Wow!!!
I could have spent the day walking around this rocket hangar, but Mindy reminded me that there was more to see. Back to the main building to walk inside a shuttle and see the Mars rover (that IS a reproduction):
How do you feel about not showering for a year? Troubled by that? You wouldn't make a good astronaut. Oh, and I know it worked in Stephen King's Misery, but I'm in no rush to drink my own urine, either.
Clif should do a better job of capitalising on this marketing!!
What is the purpose of exploring space? National pride and ego? Future colonies for when we've destroyed this planet? Better satellite networks?
Or is it simply entertainment?
Things to ponder as we leave the Space Centre. The hamstring is still tender, but I haven't been dwelling on the race. Better to tackle the unanswerable questions about the ROI of space exploration....
Skechers set us up with the Houston City Pass. Not only does it include the Space Centre, but also the Houston Zoo and Aquarium. The zoo closes in 90 minutes, but we have free entry and free parking, so why not?
I've never seen such affection among giraffes, and the poor zebra got really agitated when the giraffes went in for bed and it was (temporarily) still stuck outside. The emotion these animals demonstrate! When I fed giraffes at a zoo a few years ago, a friend commented that they reminded him of cows with long necks. (He did grow up on a dairy farm.) If these are like cows, I am very glad I am vegetarian.
Another reason I'm glad I'm vegetarian - Baba Yega's! What a great restaurant in the Montrose neighbourhood just outside of downtown Houston. (Technically, "downtown" Houston is very small. Montrose would be no more than a 20-minute walk from the hotel, but in that time we would leave Downtown, pass through Midtown, and enter Montrose.) I rarely go for the fake meats, but for a treat I tried a Reuben sandwich, a turkey and bacon club, and meatloaf. All very tasty. All vegetarian. I'm impressed, Houston! I did not expect to find a vegetarian haven in the land of ranchers!
We had plans to finish the day at the Houston Aquarium, but fatigue was really setting in. Back to the hotel....to plan for more trips - to California and Japan! It's going to be a busy few months.