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Houston Marathon Course Strategy

Updated: Jul 21, 2021

Houston Marathon Course Report Race Strategy

Houston Marathon: If the weather doesn't suck the race might not, either!

Fallback point: Mile 11 Overpass

The Weather

Before we begin, we need to address one important variable: weather.  We lived in Houston briefly, but long enough to laugh about no one telling us that Texas has a monsoon season.  I learned the hard way not to leave my house for any reason when the weatherman said rain was coming.  No joke, the storms there were way worse than anything I saw during my 8 years in Southeast Asia.

So if you didn’t know that, here you go: Texas has a monsoon season and Houston Chevron is in the middle of it.   As of this writing, race day has seen heavy rain and hail in 3 of the previous 10 years; the 7 others were sunny, average low temp at the start has been 43 (2 of the 7 were below 35 degrees), average high by noon was 70. 

I want that to register with you: there is no shade on this course.  You will either be running in cold rain, the warm, humid fog that follows cold rain this time of year in Texas, or sunshine radiating off the asphalt, more than likely through humidity.  Not gonna touch the historical heat index, that is….depressing.  Also not gonna talk about wind, when it happens it is BAD.  Odds are not in your favor that race day won’t be windy.

If it is hot, you need to be prepared (see my “you are not a camel” note on hot race days).  If it is rainy, you need to be prepared (see my “how to race in a Monsoon” note).

Also note, they do not give heat sheets at the finish.  If there looks like rain MAY happen in the forecast, pack a heatsheet in your drop bag.

Now, on to the course. 

The Course

If the weather is on your side, this course doesn’t suck.  It is relatively flat, with a min elevation of 27 feet and max of 68 feet.  Don’t be fooled there are some inclines starting at mile 11; the worst is a prolonged incline from mile 24-25.5. 

There are 15 dogleg turns on this course.  The first comes around mile 2.25 and they keep on coming until you get back on Memorial Drive right before Mile 18.  You want to save your momentum until you cross the mile 18 mark, then feel free to pick up the pace a touch IF YOU FEEL GOOD, knowing you may need to back it down from mile 24-25.5.  Balls out to the finish.

Section by Section

This is a huge race and the start will be VERY crowded.  Do not waste energy weaving and dodging people, just hang in there and won’t waste energy until Mile 8 (Rice University) when the half marathoners peel off.  Pick it up a touch, but don’t get greedy.  The easy part is over when you can see the overpass in mile 10 and everyone around you starts FREAKING OUT (spoiler alert, it’s not that bad!)

Mile 11 brings an overpass that just crushes the souls of everyone who came here thinking the race would be flat and easy, magically guaranteeing an hour PR.  This is the fallback point, as you will be dodging walkers all the way up the overpass.  Be prepared to slow your roll, but this overpass is neither long nor steep.  Also be prepared to ignore everyone around you who will try to make up time on the downhill, only to start walking at the bottom of the hill (no joke, it’s insane.)  DO NOT RACE THE DOWNHILL.  USE IT TO RECOVER.

Crowd support will start to appear around the halfway mark and stay with you till the end of the race.   Around mile 14 you reach the Galleria and get about a mile of shade, as the trees cover the streets.  You will also get a downslope here as you hit the first of several underpasses.  Don’t get comfortable, there is a climb over a bridge on Westpark just after mile 14, it is short and steep.  SLOW YOUR ROLL.  If it is windy, this will be killer.

This was always the most memorable part of the course for me, because after the shade you get the flags.  90% of American flag sales happen in Texas, and you will know this as you exit West University and head north towards Memorial Drive.   The flags are everywhere, it’s super cool.  Be careful while you are looking at them, the roads start to get a little rough around here and you don’t want to lose footing in a pothole.

Mile 20 and you enter the park, Mile 21 and you will be able to see the Michelob Party Zone.  If you’re having a bad day, seriously stop and get a beer.  What have you got to lose?  The spectators are out in full force now and if you’re one of those that rely on crowd support, you’ll be fine.  If you hate crowd support, stay in the beer tent and call your ride.  Or you can continue to the beer mile, mile 24, where the Houston Hash House Harriers will be handing out cups of beer.  This is a longstanding tradition be sure to thank them!

Mile 24-25.5 and you have that prolonged incline I mentioned, then you enter downtown and you know you’re nearly done.  PUSH TO THE FINISH.

MK Fleming is the founder of Fitness Protection, LLC where she trains runners for $29 per month and gives marathon plans away for free. Click here to download her most popular Marathon plan, Tenacious AF, free!

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