Houston is the largest city in Texas and it’s also the fourth largest city in the United States. It’s a diverse, multicultural, international city with a deep history and a plethora of museums, sports teams, fine arts and theater attractions. It’s also known for hosting a marathon and half marathon each January with one of the flattest, fastest courses in the United States.
Runners love the Houston Marathon because the mild January temperatures combined with the flat course give them a good opportunity to PR, qualify for the Boston Marathon, or reach any other speed goal that they’ve set for themselves. The race has become so popular, in fact, that the organizers have had to set up a lottery system for registrations to keep everyone from trying to sign up for it at once and crashing the race website. This registration system is similar to ones used by races like the Chicago Marathon, the New York Marathon, and the Marine Corps Marathon. This is all pretty impressive, but the most notable thing that I have to say about the Houston Marathon course is that I don’t remember anything about it.
Don’t get me wrong, I thought the race was great when I ran it in 2008 and I even set a PR for my half marathon time, but literally the only thing I remember about the course is that it was flat and fast. There were no interesting landmarks that stood out, and other than the fact that it starts and ends near Minute Maid Park, I can barely remember anything else that I saw along the course at all. This may have been due to the fact that I was so focused on my time that I wasn’t paying attention to anything that was going on around me while I was running, but I’ve always thought that it was odd that this is the only race I can really say had no memorable moments whatsoever other than crossing the finish line and knowing that I had PR’d. A couple other people I’ve talked to that have done the Houston Marathon or Half Marathon have said the same thing, so it sounds like it’s not just me.
All that being said though, the rest of the events surrounding the race were great – the expo was sized pretty well for the number of runners and had a nice variety of different vendors. There are a lot of hotels downtown that are either walking distance from the start and finish line or have shuttles available to runners, so finding a place to stay and getting around the city is not a problem. I stayed at the Magnolia which had special rates for runners, was a short walk from the start and finish lines, had nice views of the skyline and also had free cookies every night. Both races are well organized at both the start and finish lines and there’s also an excellent post race party with some of the best barbecue I’ve ever tasted. The marathon and half marathon are on Sunday morning and there’s also a 5K fun run on Saturday that goes through some of the streets around downtown Houston.
Runners who do both the 5K on Saturday and either the Marathon or the Half Marathon on Sunday can get an extra bonus medal for running both days. The medals themselves are average – the half marathon medal is not the best medal I have in my collection but it’s also not the worst. I remember thinking when I first saw it that it was a bit plain looking for a race as big as Houston, but I’ve noticed a general trend of race medals getting a lot flashier over the last few years so I would say to take what I’m saying here with a grain of salt because there’s a pretty good chance that the medals have improved since 2008.
As far as travel and getting around goes, Houston is a great city to visit. If you’re planning on doing the Houston Marathon, I would recommend getting there a couple days early so that you have some time to check out the Museum of Natural Science, the Space Center, the Sam Houston Monument, and the numerous other museums and parks that can be found throughout the city. You can also find a pretty good variety of places to eat (I would recommend Irma’s Southwest Grill for Mexican food, The Hay Merchant for burgers, and Killen’s for barbecue).
One other note about Houston and the Houston Marathon: anyone who lives in Texas or has traveled there more than once knows that because it’s such a big state, there are a number of regions within Texas are very different from one another. So if you take any two major Texas cities and compare them (Houston vs Austin… Dallas vs El Paso… San Antonio vs Fort Worth, etc.), you’ll find that the culture, the people, and the things to see and do vary widely from city to city, probably more than any other state. So even though I can technically cross Texas off of my list now that I’ve done the Houston Marathon, I still have this weird feeling that I won’t really be able to say that I’ve experienced everything there is to experience when it comes to running in Texas until I do a few more races there in some of the other cities.
In the end, the course itself may not be particularly memorable, but I would still recommend it to anyone that’s looking for a PR or wants to qualify for Boston. The events surrounding the race and all of the things to do around downtown Houston will definitely not disappoint.