Aramco Houston 1/2 Race Recap & Review!

The Aramco Houston Half, which is part of Chevron Houston Marathon weekend in January, is a race I was wanting to run for quite a few years. It is known for being very flat and fast and, not counting the World Majors, is one of the most hyped up races I’m familiar with in North America. The elite field is usually awesome and many of the pros run this one with goals of breaking various records. So exciting!! On that note, this year, the women’s American Record in both the full and half marathons were broken by Keira D’Amato and Sara Hall, respectively. The Canadian men’s half marathon record was also broken by Rory Linkletter. Incredible.

As a northern BC’er, ideally I didn’t want to travel all that way just for a weekend (though I would..) so I planned to head over to Cabo for five nights on Monday after race weekend. It was gonna be amazing regardless, but I reminded myself that Mexico would be even better if I was celebrating a great race.

I flew into Houston on Friday evening from Vancouver via Toronto. It was later than I’d like but not so late that I couldn’t walk from my AirBnB in the Montrose neighbourhood to Trader Joes for lots of snacks.

Late Saturday morning I did an easy 30 minute shakeout run towards the George R. Brown Convention Centre (GRBCC), which is where the expo is always held and also where the race starts and finishes. The expo was pretty awesome, and it’s been a long time since I was at a bigger one so I was excited. Bib and package pickup was very organized, and even though I didn’t actually get there right at my selected time, it seemed that the scheduling of time slots for participants really helped to spread out the crowd. There were some cool photo ops, great vendors, samples, the usual for a big expo. Excitement was building! The race shirts were only given out for finishers on Sunday, but everyone got a huge beach towel!! I think that’s a sweet piece of swag and it went well with my travel plans hehe..

I met up with my IG buddy John (@johnbreen_runner) and his lovely wife and we went for the most insane vegan Mexican late-lunch extravaganza. The place is called Cascabel and it was 11/10 sofa king good!!!

The rest of my night was spent laying out my gear, eating cereal in bed, listening to podcasts and praying that the wind would calm down. It was so windy that all the potted plants and the patio furniture in the AirBnb yard were strewn around and smashed and blown over! I was also quite surprised at the temperature – I didn’t expect hot or even warm, based on the history of the event, but it was zero degrees celsius!

My Uber was scheduled to pick me up just before 6am, and I was up a little before five to get cheerios and a banana into my gut, pound some water and green tea and then get ready. First race ever that I didn’t drink coffee before hand. Oh and side note, Uber is definitely surge pricing during COVID, holy shit.

It was so chilly I ended up layering a tank top and a Lululemon Swiftly tech t-shirt on top, shorts, gloves, and then a throw-away ear band, long sleeve old race shirt and zip hoodie. For afterwards I had a packable puffy jacket, a toque and some tights, just in case.

I think it was about 6:10 when I arrived at the GRBCCC, which is massive. At this race you get to stay inside until it’s time to go to the corrals. This gives the race serious bonus points! It was so cold and windy, and even though I brought those throw-away clothes, I now wanted to save the hoodie to layer under my puffy jacket after the race, so I stuffed it into my checked gear bag and did some of my initial warm-up jogging inside. The long sleeve would have to do! The place is so big that tons of people were jogging around in there on the carpet. I can’t explain how valuable this was, having the option to stay warm for a little longer.

At 6:35 I started jogging towards the A Corral (all signage was big and clear). The gate for that corral closed at 6:45 and I wanted my place in there, so I made sure not to be late. You can submit previous finish times when you register for this race which allows you to start further towards the front. Once in there, I jumped around to the music and kept warming up/staying warm, while looking for the 3:25 marathon pacer who I wanted to run with for a bit, at least at first, to hide from the NW wind that would come at us while running west for the first ~4 kilometres. There were tons of porto-potties inside the convention centre and along the way to the start corrals – no problems with pre-race bathroom visits.

This event doesn’t have half-marathon pace groups, but the half and full marathoners all run together til the courses split just before 8 miles (~12.5 km). But, you can do some simple math and join a marathon pace group for more than 50% of your half-marathon, if you want! I wanted a pack to tuck into if the wind was too aggressive.

The 3:25 pacer entered the corral pretty late, but I did see the 3:30 sign and positioned myself in front of it accordingly until the 3:25 guy showed up. Finally I saw him but I heard him telling another runner his strategy and I was no longer sure I wanted to run with that group. Hmm. But it was national anthem time and then we started moving forward to the start line! The gun and the elites went off at 7:01. There is a funnel-style set up before the start mat, so you can actually spread out a bit before crossing it and it made it far less congested than other large races I’ve run. It was good.

Some people don’t pay any attention to the course map or wind direction, but I studied the map as well as a YouTube course preview at least 50 times between October and January, and it was really helpful for me.

That pace group went out a bit hot, and after the first mile I basically just kept them in my sight but didn’t obsess about staying right in it. The NW wind wasn’t terrible and I was around enough people to tuck in if I needed.

My plan was to run as even as possible (super flat course) and then pick it up subtly in the last quarter of the race, depending on how I felt. I planned to manual-lap at the mile markers for both accuracy and a mind trick, and try not to look at my watch otherwise. Even though my goal pace was 4:50/km, I chose to think in 7:47/mile. Pace per mile has very minimal meaning to me – no emotion, no associations of any kind. I am a metric runner and though I’m pretty well-versed in converting, I train in metric only. Also, 13 laps vs. 21 laps feels more manageable. For anyone who is purely metric, a mile is 1.61km. I didn’t eliminate pace/km from my Garmin screen, but all I was looking for was 7:47s.

I must have gotten into a pretty good flow state because I definitely did not manual lap at every marker! Oops. But, the fact that at one point I had run 4 miles without hitting lap felt really good, plus I love math so I did some calculations and conversions in my head. “yay, you just ran 6.44km on pace and didn’t even notice” LOL. I was running extremely consistently and feeling fluid and focused.

The aid stations were fantastic. There were eight total, and they were set up long with tons of volunteers. There were so many opportunities to grab water and/or gatorade – it wasn’t too crowded and I was able to get what I needed and wanted at every one. I can’t comment on the gel station(s?), I don’t even know if they were separate or at one of the hydration stations, I didn’t notice and was using my own Maurten gels. As for spectators and cheering stations, I remember there were quite a bit but I don’t recall any specifics cause I was definitely in the zone.

Speaking of fuelling, one thing I need to step up my game on is remembering to take my gels! I don’t have a religious routine, but usually every 30-40 minutes. I was late on both in this race, but didn’t forget thankfully!

I hit lap seven times in the entire race, including the finish line. Each time I did I felt like I was sweeping away what I’d run up to that point, and could reset my focus. I liked doing this and I will use that method again. Working in miles kept my mind off how far I’d run and how much farther I had to go since it doesn’t come naturally to me to use that unit of distance. I was totally engaged in running in the moment and didn’t think about the finish line or time until I made the final turn.

The Aramco Houston 1/2 course is flat as a pancake, with only 7 or 8 turns in total and long, straight stretches. I found that it really allowed me to find good flow, save energy and compartmentalize. Divide and conquer. That final right turn at almost exactly 18km has a very tall building which I noted the first time I watched that course preview on YouTube back in October. When it came into my view while I ran the second-last (and windy) straight stretch north in the race, I felt so calm and happy like I’d been here before and I was picking up my pace a bit right as planned. Blow at High Dough by the Hip came on and I was like fuck yeah I am Canadian let’s do this! ahahaha!! I told myself “get to that turn and then get to the finish, that is all you have to do!” I knew there would be a tailwind, too, as we would finish running east to the finish. F yes!!!

I obviously wasn’t going to go balls deep for 3k, but I pressed a little and then just past the 12th mile marker and time clock, I hit lap and dug deeper for the final mile and a bit. My math brain was still working and I knew as long as I didn’t slow down my goal of 1:41:xx would be mine. Then Work It by Missy Elliot came on and that was it. I checked a few times and watched that final lap pace drop, knowing I would be able to celebrate in Mexico!

That was my best race execution ever, I believe. I stayed present and patient the whole time, negative split the thing and finished strong – and ran a very funny time, considering my goal. 01:40:59 haha!! I was so happy as I made my way through the finish chute, getting my medal and water and chocolate milk (my fave). What a way to begin 2022!

Another amazing thing about this race is the finish chute basically leads you back into the convention centre! I was getting warm and collecting my gear bag less than five minutes after crossing the finish line!

WOOOHOOOO!!!! I sat in the sun in the “Run Fest” area for a bit, just soaking in my race and rehydrating/stretching, and I’m glad I had the hoodie, jacket and toque cause it was still very chilly out, though a gorgeous day. John’s wife, B.A. and I met up and we drove to a cheering spot on the full marathon race course to see him, and then relocated again to watch him bring it home for his 8th full marathon! Then we went for more vegan Mexican at Taco Deli (also YUM) and everyone was full and happy.

They headed back towards Dallas, I headed into my bed, and then to the airport super early.

The Aramco Houston half rocks. Although a PR can cause some serious bias, I really feel like this event was amazing in so many ways. The overall logistics, the course itself, aid stations, spectator support, swag and the convention centre all made it fantastic. I’ve never been able to stay warm and dry right up until the race, in a building so large you can do your warm-up inside of it if you want. I’d highly recommend this race and hope to run it again some day myself!

Stay weird, my friends!!

LOL!! Hi!

Okay my fellow sober friend sent me this meme today and I can’t stop laughing at it and it’s making me so happy. It’s fuckin hilarious BECAUSE IT’S TRUE!

A lot of people seem to think that giving alcohol the boot = things like being serious, boring, shy, un-fun, etc. Incorrect! Once I started to really get the hang of not drinking, which I would estimate took me about 100 days (Belle would be so down with that estimate), I could slowly start to feel more and more authenticity oozing out of me on a regular basis.

I feel like every sober person I know would more or less agree with me on this statement – I have learned more about myself in my 5.5 years of not drinking than I did in all my years getting pissed. I finally really started to learn what I like, love, and am FUCKING OBSESSED WITH with respect to the world, other people, myself and life as a whole. The fucks I give went WAY DOWN, although I probably gave fewer fucks than the average person to begin with, but still. My bravery and spontaneity increased, too.

So what I am saying is stay weird and have fun figuring out who YOU are. I personally think it’s easier to do without all alcohol’s empty promises and chaos.

Have a good week!

May Long Weekend.

Ah, May Long. The prototype binge drinking occasion of my past. A weekend to drink as much beer as possible. A time to get falling-down drunk, dip into malnourishment, think it was hilarious, maybe cry about a bunch of drama, and then suffer post-shit-show depression on Tuesday, because of course I was getting day-pissed all day on Monday, too. By Wednesday, though, I’d be feeling a bit better, convince myself it wasn’t that big of a deal and be ready to rock & roll again. Repeat cycle of feeling like a piece of shit.

I shit you not, one year my friends and I drove out to the camping destination mid-week before hand and BURIED beer like it was the Knights Templar treasure because we heard the police were going to be dumping alcohol or something..(we were minors). Even into my later 20s though, no matter the what/where/who of the weekend, it was always about alcohol for me. At the time I didn’t recognize that, and if I did, I definitely wouldn’t have admit to it.

To this day I continually try to understand WHY for my entire teens and 20s I had this misunderstanding of what “fun” actually meant. Why did I associate the words “party” or “celebrate” with alcohol consumption? There was no question about it for me. The phrase “I’m not drinking tonight” was literally not a thing. I never uttered those words and I was bewildered and totally judgie (read: uncomfortable, insecure, jealous) when someone else did.

Somehow I am now approaching my sixth sober May long weekend. Tons of people still can’t fathom how one experiences and enjoys a token party weekend without any booze whatsoever. Sometimes I can still barely believe that this is my reality now, but IT IS and it FUCKING RULES.

I recently wrote about examining the five sensory experiences that appeal about any situation as a way to break down the real reasons why the situation is enjoyable. Sights, sounds, smells, tastes and touch sensations, along with the emotions that come with all of it, AND, so importantly WHO YOU ARE WITH, are the things to focus on. Then, add on things like replacement beverages, favourite things (clothing, gear, journal, pyjamas, whatever) and TREATS of any kind, and you are setting yourself up for success.

If you’re in a situation where you may find that everyone is drunk and annoying you, have a back-up activity or place to escape for a little bit. Think ahead about how you want your weekend to be spent. When I was a drinker, alcohol consumption was treated like an activity or an event – sitting around getting wasted for 72 hours. Don’t get me wrong, I intend to do a lot of relaxing this weekend, but I don’t want to sit around in camping chairs the entire time! Make a list of some things that would make you really happy to do and that would leave you feeling fulfilled. Here are some of the things I will do over the course of my cabin weekend

  • have at LEAST one solid nap on the porch
  • 2 runs (Saturday, Sunday)
  • Finish A Man Called Ove
  • Read a chapter in Meb for Mortals
  • guided meditation Sat, Sun & Monday
  • cold water dip Fri eve and then Sat, Sun, Mon mornings
  • one 30 minute yoga sesh

Another list I have made is for packing all my favourite getting weird outfits and campfire clothes, favourite jammies and anything I need so I don’t freak out about being “out of routine” from being away from home (highly sensitive person problems).

It always seemed like a good idea to (try to) quit drinking the Tuesday after the long weekend. I knew depression, shame, regret and chaos were coming, but it wasn’t enough to deter me. I didn’t know how to be a sober person, and why would I have? We aren’t taught that! Society celebrates alcohol and puts it on a pedestal while shaming other abused substances. I just heard on the radio about a bunch of parks down south that now allow people to drink alcohol in public, and this is to “encourage people to spend time outside”. As if people can’t fucking go outside without drinking??! What in the actual fuck.

For people who can’t (don’t, won’t, whatever) moderate, not drinking is actually easier when you give it a chance. I can’t even wait to get away for the weekend and get sober May long #6 under my belt. Let me know if you need a hand with any of this shit cause it’s not easy and it definitely doesn’t come naturally to most of us in this society!

Jamie

Coaching. Right up there with Sober Life!

Hi!

Okay so ya, I know I go on and on about sober life. How it’s the shit and everything is better (not ALL better, but better in every way vs. booze life) and I share about it because I want to spread the magic.

Since I started coaching in February, I have come to find that 1-on-1 coaching reignites my sober fire and makes me want to run around my house in my pink faux fur coat singing and dancing!!! Helping someone unbuckle the limits of stupid alcohol and develop new perspectives on how doing so promotes a life-upgrade in all areas, is as fucking awesome as my own sobriety. I have a call coming up with someone in Week 4/5 and I feel like it’s race day or something.

Not drinking really seems to be catching on. I meet people who don’t drink and it feels like a secret club. I think I am going to make up a secret handshake, actually.

If you wanna get weird with me and keep growing the club, hit me up. This is fun.

Have an awesome weekend!!!!!! xo, Jamie

Monday morning haunted me today

I ran into a friend at the coffee shop this morning and I told her I was having some Monday anxiety. Nothing major but I feel it. Recently I posted about how Mondays don’t affect me the way they used to when alcohol was still part of my life, but when I thought about it again today I realized that there’s still some shit there.

Honestly, I don’t know if I sometimes still associate Monday mornings with past feelings of guilt, shame, regret (you know, drinking feelings) or if it’s just an anti-climax from a great weekend… who knows.

Either way, what matters is that when I stop and check myself, I am reminded that all is well. I actively assess my situation: I don’t have a hangover, I feel awake and healthy. I didn’t spend $200 yesterday on Caesars or blonde ales. I don’t have the shakes and a migraine, I can ground myself. There are groceries in the fridge, I slept alright and my days off were spent having a wicked time outside and being fully present for all of it.

So maybe I haven’t fully dominated EVERY Monday morning, but that’s okay. I hope you have a great week!!

Jamie

IT’S SUNNY

Yes. (In Prince Rupert) it’s finally sunny! I used to synonymize a sunny day with DRINKING. It was automatic. Sunny days and getting drunk went together like sourdough and peanut butter do in my current life.

The strength of some alcohol associations..impressive. Some of mine actually felt indestructible for a long time which I’d say is one of the main reasons it took me 5783647 tries to quit drinking once and for all.

Beer and fires. Beer and camping. Wine and charcuterie. Dinner and drinks. Drinks and the beach. Getting hammed at a wedding (I was sober at my own wedding.) Whatever.

I have talked about this many times on here I’m sure but there are steps we can take to dismantle these seemingly unbreakable partnerships. It starts with getting present and getting real – asking yourself some questions and truthfully answering.

Using all the senses to question yourself works well. What sights, sounds, smells, tastes and touches/feelies do you like about the activity that is allegedly only fun if you’re drinking?

I’ll use fires as my example.

I love the flickering flame that can make me go into a trance and also the way it makes cool shadows and lights up other peoples’ faces who are around it. I also love the look of the sparks and the smoke too, as long as it’s not in my face. I REALLY love looking at stars, which I associate with fires in my favourite places in northern BC.

I love the cracking sound of the wood burning especially when it’s super dry, and I love that popping mini-explosion sound that happens sometimes.

I love the smell of being outside, or the smell of a house with a woodstove. I love the smell of my clothes and hair after having been at an outside fire. Some people think it’s gross but I love it.

I do love the taste of the beer I used to drink around a fire (fuckin’ sue me ahaha), but I also love the taste of non-alcoholic beer that tastes the same to me. I also love hot chocolate, coffee, Bubly and virgin caesars, all of which are great for drinking anywhere including around a fire.

I love the feeling of your clothes getting so hot you have to rotate, the feeling of being bundled up if it’s cold outside, the feeling of wearing summer clothes if it’s a day fire and it’s hot out, and I love the feeling of being cozy.

Voila. Alcohol has nothing to fucking do with why I love fires. Or sunny days, for that matter.

BRING ON SUMMER.

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