The 42nd Houston Marathon takes place bright and early this Sunday, but if you're not running (and don't want to get up that early to spectate) you can still take advantage of one of the best aspects of the marathon -- the Marathon Expo at the George R. Brown. Also known as the Memorial Hermann IRONMAN Sports Medicine Institute EXPO, but that's a hell of a mouthful. Instead we should take a page from the nerds and call it MARATHONCON.
I loooooooove the expo. I used to play hookie from work just to go. It's my second favorite thing about race weekend (next to crossing the finish line). The expo is open to the public starting today, and if you're not running in one of this weekend's three races -- the El Paso 5K, the Aramco Half Marathon and the Chevron Houston Marathon -- you'll get to skip the long lines for packet pickup and get right to the fun part. Here are the five best things about the Marathon Expo.
5. Ancient Marathon t-shirts
You think running 26.2 miles is hard? Try running that distance in circles. That's what the runners of the very first Houston Marathon in 1972 did. There were less than 100 of them, and each ran five laps in a course at Memorial Park.
Be sure to check the back wall of the expo hall to see the shirt from this very first race, plus all manner of questionable '70s and '80s designs. Was mankind even walking upright back then?
4. A Chance to Win... Something If gambling is your thing, there are about a dozen games of chance at the Expo. Spin a wheel with the help of the Dynamo Girls for a chance at free soccer tickets. Register with any number of travel companies for a free outdoor adventure. And if running IS your thing you might get a free entry into a race in Oklahoma, or Dallas or Austin.
3. Gadgets The expo is the place for any manner of half-baked unnecessary running inventions. Some are cool, like shoelace keepers and LED-lit leashes for running with your dog at night. Others I wouldn't be caught dead wearing, like this sweat gutter headband thing. Dude. Just wear a hat.
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2. Free Samples! Muscle Milk, Michelob Ultra, Minute Rice, Clif Bars. Last year even Zico was there, handing out samples of their flavored coconut water. And that's just the foodstuffs. I've also picked up tiny flashing lights for my bike, bandanas, squeezie stress balls and more. It's like the Downtown Spec's on a Saturday afternoon except everyone is in really good shape.
1. Cheap Workout Gear Every running store in town uses the Expo to liquidate their overstock. Running shoes are half price (or more). One booth usually has workout clothing -- including name-brand wicking shirts and running shorts -- for as cheap as $5. Deals can be found on fancy running socks, hydration packs, hats, jackets, sunglasses, pretty much everything. Just don;t wait until the last minute because it'll all be gone.
The Marathon Expo at the George R. Brown Convention Center is open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. today and 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. tomorrow.