For those Compaq Houston Marathon virgins out there, here's an idea of what the runners will be going through.
Mile 1: The cannon shot sure wakes you up, if you're not bubbling with excitement already. People are all fresh and chatty. You try to run to the start line, but have to walk due to the initial logjam of 5,000 runners.
Mile 3: The sea of humanity has thinned some, and you've warmed up enough to naively believe you can easily keep this up for another four hours. This is probably your first visit to the East End, so you might check out the Spanish storefronts, smell the tortilla factories, get barked at by defensive dogs and admire the red, green and white balloon arch.
Mile 10: The mile markers seem farther apart after Rice University, but the throngs of cheering spectators throughout West U make up for it. Some people might even hand you a piece of orange or hard candy.
Mile 15: You thank God for the foresight to bring the ibuprofen, but the mechanical thudding of the Texas Lovin' Cloggers at the Galleria isn't offering much inspiration. Your feet are throbbing; your knees are stiffening up. The pains no longer take turns on you, they're in concert. The crowds start to overstay their welcome by saying the wrong things, like "Pick up the pace!" or "You're halfway there!" You think: Halfway!? Don't take those two miles from me!
Mile 18: You can't believe it's been only three miles since Post Oak. Mercifully, you've only got single digits to go, and you're technically on the home stretch, heading back toward downtown. It's beginning to feel like a really long haul, and the crowds are thinner now. The pills you popped no longer mask the sour pinch of those blisters growing on your big toe.
Mile 20: You've hit "The Wall," that psychological barrier where many runners lose the will to go on. This is probably the farthest you've run since the last marathon (if ever), and you've still got an hour more. No one is talking. Many aren't running. A few aren't even moving anymore. But the Sirrom School of Belly Dancing and the Middle Eastern drum corps are here to help rally you along.
Mile 23: For a brief moment, you feel better. You would ask what mile you're on if you had the breath. Allen Parkway seems much hillier than it did in the car. The important thing is you're still on your toes. Just don't fall down, or you'll never get back up.
Mile 26: You're numb. You see the 26-mile marker, but not the finish line. Why'd they have to add on that .2?
Mile 26.2: Somehow you summon the strength to kick your knees up higher for that all-important "impressive" finish for your friends and family. When you finally stumble across the finish line, you cry because you don't have the energy to hold it in, amazed that you're still breathing.
Time to start thinking about the next one.