You don’t have to be first
By Ambassador Sarah Pepper

You don’t have to be first to get in the race. I remember when I started running as a kid, because I am super competitive and took losses hard, my mom would tell me the race is not always to the swift, but to those who keep on running. As a kid, I never understood that. I was running to win. Not just to run.

As I have grown into an adult, I know exactly what she was talking about. Because in life, you aren’t always going to win. It’s how you deal with those losses that are going to define you as a person. That is why you keep on running.

The more I run, the more I realize this.

I don’t run the Aramco Houston Half Marathon because I think I am going to win. At least, I’m not going to win over all. I’m not competing with anyone on that race course but myself. I am competing against me. What I demand from myself. What I expect from myself. I’m not even racing the clock. I don’t run for time. I would like to get below 2:20:00, but if it doesn’t happen, I’m not disappointed.

In all reality, I am on that race course every January because I am proving to myself I can. I am so motivated and moved by everyone on that day that I have to fight back that lonely tear that I know will roll down my face at some point in that 13.1 miles. Whether it was the woman I saw last year who was pushing her son in a wheelchair through the course, or the man who was running in honor of his son. They weren’t out there to win. They were there to keep on running.

If this is your first half marathon or marathon, congratulations! You are about to embark on experience that I can honestly say will change your life.

If you are like me and this is your fourth or fifth or tenth…You know what I am talking about. You know the feeling you get in your stomach. The emotions that are running through your mind on race day and that is why you keep coming back.

Training can be hard. Don’t get discouraged. Set your goals with yourself and remember, the race is not always to the swift, but to those who keep on running. Keep running 🙂 See you in January.

About the Author: Sarah Pepper
Hot 95.7 DJ Sarah Pepper has been a runner for most of her life. Starting in grade school and continuing all the way up through her senior year of high school, Pepper ran cross country with her brother. But after graduating, and with no team to run with, her running faded into the background. The tragic loss of her brother in October 2010 brought her back to running. It was a way to remember him, so every now and then she would run a few 5Ks.
Twitter – @sarahhot957
Facebook – Sarah Pepper

The Average Runner
By Ambassador Esteban Coca

When I began running I was 30-something, weighed 200-something and didn’t have an athletic fiber in my body.  Running was only going to be a three-time per week torture that I would subject myself to in order to drop some pounds and inches.  Like a true newbie, I was steadily impressed by the improvements I (miraculously) achieved. My pace steadily improved (no more 10 minute miles) and my long-run distances extended past 5 miles (wow!).  Slowly, as running transitioned from punishment to passion, delusions of grandeur began to sprint across my brain…

Maybe I was an above average runner and just never knew it?

The half marathon was the fastest growing race distance in the U.S., and there are tons of them held in the greater Houston area.  Surely I could drop my pace and slog through one, right?  I might be slower than the average finisher, but I’d still finish, get the medal, and feel like a hero?  Driven more by adrenaline than logic, I registered for the 2012 Aramco Houston Half Marathon.  From start to finish, it was an amazing experience!  I spent my two hours on the course mugging for cameras and high-fiving spectators – loving it all the while.  I wasn’t even finished eating my free banana when I realized I had to do another half, pronto.  My second half marathon soon followed.  Quickly, I was hooked.  I packed my calendar with as many half marathons as I could manage.  Eventually…it all caught up with me.  Ignoring all conventional wisdom concerning average recovery times, I once did two half marathons in two weeks.  This resulted in a visit to a bone and joint doctor…stress fractures.  The average time to heal: 2 months.

Maybe I recover faster than the average runner? 

Predictably, I ignored the doctor’s advice, got a new pair of running shoes, and resumed logging as many miles as soon as I could manage.  So what if I hobbled a little at the end of each day?  Soon, more delusions of grandeur crept in to my brain.  I had half a dozen or so half marathons under my belt, what if I could complete a full?  Surely I could suffer thru a couple 20 milers in a training program, earn a “26.2” sticker for my truck, and feel like a hero?

Maybe I could finish 26.2 in roughly 2x my average time for 13.1? 

So, again being driven more by adrenaline than logic, I set my goal: finish the 2015 Chevron Houston Marathon in four hours.  Somewhere around the middle of my training plan, I developed the dreaded runner’s knee.  Oh, and some really sweet blisters on the back of my right ankle.  My optimism for my first marathon gave way to nervousness and fear of a DNF.  Painfully, I completed my training plan.

Maybe, this longer-than-average taper was perfectly designed for me to heal and be ready for race day?

After soaking-up energy and excitement at the Memorial Hermann IRONMAN Sports Medicine Institute EXPO, I was ready for race day.  The temperature at the start was a little warmer than average, but nothing terrible.  Queue the hype music.  Bring on the race.

Mile 1: A little faster than I’d like.  That’s ok.

Mile 3: Now I’m warmed-up and feeling great.  Knee isn’t noticeably there, so that’s good.

Mile 6: See my family…instant energy boost.

Mile 9: THERE’s my runner’s knee!

Mile 12: Why is my stomach hurting?

Mile 15: Why is my stomach cramping? Running turns to walking.  I say goodbye to my average 9 minute pace.

Mile 18: Total agony.  Did I really just puke in public?  All hope of finishing in four hours is now gone.

Mile 22: …

Mile 25: Suck it up and finish at all cost.

Mile 26: Run to the end…a moral victory.

Finish time: 4:45.  Average pace: just under 11 min.  Final verdict: I had missed my goal by almost an entire hour.  Skip the banana, go home quickly, and commence sulking.

I’m not an above-average runner.  I’m never running another marathon.  I just might never run again, actually. 

One week later…

Maybe I should do the 2016 Chevron Houston Marathon?

About the Author: Esteban Coca
Esteban is a 36 year old husband and father who loves running and forces it into 4-6 days each week.  He found the joy of running by accident while trying to lose weight.  When he began, a 10 minute run was torture – a half or full marathon was surely impossible.  The 2012 Aramco Half showed Esteban he is capable of much more than he ever imagined. Now, each fall he trains hard and then enjoys the euphoria and electricity of race day in Houston.  Running is now his primary hobby, but he also enjoys cycling and being a Den Leader for his son’s Cub Scout den.
Twitter – @estecoca

What it means to me?
By Ambassador Marcus Lewis

A snapshot to how I got here.

I started running in 2006 after a friend introduced me to the sport of triathlon.  He  encouraged me to run a half marathon in the off season, to stay in shape.  I ran my first Aramco Houston Half Marathon in 1:48 and PR’d the next two years with my best time being just over 1:27.  This was hands down my favorite distance and race.  In 2009 I set my eyes on an Ironman and started planning, I didn’t know when or where…I just knew I wanted it!  This also lead to my first marathon that fall.  Finished with a time of 3:56…not bad for a first timer, it was a hot day and I blew up at mile 18.

Fast forward to 2012 my career took a new direction, Ironman training started to suffer and so did the fitness I was banking on for my first Chevron Houston Marathon in 2013. That was a rough day logging a +5 hour marathon, nearly equaling my fastest Ironman marathon.  Enough is enough, I had completed 2 Ironman, 4 half Ironman and 2 marathons + all the other smaller races.  I needed a break to refocus.  At this point I had 3 sons and was working 10 hour days commuting to another city for work.  I lightened my training schedule and shifted my focus away from racing.  I needed a break.

In 2014, I opted for the ABB 5k, I wanted to be a part of the Chevron Houston Marathon weekend, but didn’t want the stress of heavy training.  To make it interesting  I thought “I’ll go for 18 minutes.” I had run faster off the bike in sprint triathlons but never in an open road race.  Who doesn’t have time to train for a 5k, right?  I trained hard, so hard I got sick three weeks before the race.  It took six weeks for me to get over it.  I did the run anyway, “I paid my money, I want my shirt and medal.”  Finished with a 7:36 pace, not bad, but far from my goal.

After tri training through the spring and doing a sprint race, I shifted from tri to run focus, thinking it should be easier than dividing my time between three sports.  For 8 years I averaged roughly 25 running miles a week or less; only breaking 40 once or twice.  Running is where my talents are, I knew what I accomplished with minimal training and I wanted to see what I could do if I applied myself.  So I started with a 100 miles in June and set a plan to work my way to 200 in the fall.  200 miles is my “magic number,” the number where I believe I can get optimal performance without injury.

My goal was to qualify for Boston with the 2015 Chevron Houston Marathon.  I knew it was a long shot, because I needed over a 46 minute PR; I don’t dream small dreams.  I chose an advanced marathon training plan and did a half in Huntsville midway through to test my fitness.  I ran a 1:40 (rolling hills) and got 2nd place in my age group.  Trophies are cool and all, but I hadn’t run that slow since my first half.  Concern was birthed and I began to doubt if I could I really do it?  I stuck to my training plan, building mileage like never before and did my best to stay positive.  I missed my first scheduled 200 mile month in November due to sickness running through the family.  My wife had recently given birth to our fourth son and we took turns passing it around. So after recovery, I began to tweak my plan opting to be more aggressive as I felt my chances to qualify slipping away.

Leading up to the race, fear of failure and taper time was a bad combination.  I searched for hours for a back-up plan. I really wanted to race Boston in 2016, I really wanted my shift in training to pay big dividends.  I received great support from my wife and my running community and eventually accepted that I will get there when I get there, if not now then later.

The race:  I line up with the 3:10 group thinking I’m going to hang with these guys (and gals) and if I have anything left in the tank at 20 miles I’ll pull away, if I fade I fade.  The first half was good, not easy but good.  After the halfway mark it began to feel like work.  The day was getting hotter and at mile 20 I pulled the plug, thinking today is not the day.  I walked/ jogged/ ran the rest of the way finishing in just over 3:25, roughly a 31 minute PR.  Unlike my other failures, I wasn’t angry or sad and I didn’t cry.  I was actually happy, not because of what I didn’t do, but because of what I did do.  I held it down for 20 miles and decided against