Sunday morning, 22,000 runners will depart from the George R. Brown Convention Center to traverse Houston on foot as part of the 2010 Chevron Houston Marathon and Aramco Half Marathon.
This year will be the largest and most popular marathon in Houston history. In 2009, the races sold out in a record 12 weeks, so this year marathon organizers added 4,000 additional slots. When registration opened in July 2009, it took a whopping 30 hours for both races to sell out entirely. The El Paso 5K sold out soon after. If one counts the 5K runners and the wheelchair athletes, more than 30,000 racers will be clogging the streets of Houston Sunday morning. (Check road closures here.)
What does this mean for you? If you aren't one of the 30,000 running Sunday, then you most likely know someone who is. And even if you don't, watching the marathon from the sidelines is one of the funnest, most inspirational, craziest events in Houston, on par with the Art Car Parade for spectacle.
The course takes runners of the half marathon from Downtown to 11th Street in the Heights, all the way south on Montrose to Richmond, then back up to Allen Parkway and into Downtown again. The full marathon course continues on to University Boulevard westward, winding through the Galleria area to Chimney Rock before turning east again for a grueling 8 miles along the straight-away of Memorial and Allen Parkway into downtown.
There is a neat program that allows spectators to get instant message and email updates via cell phone about a runner's position on the course, which is a good way to keep track of friends and loved ones as they race. Hair Balls has some suggestions for the best places to watch if you plan to cheer from the curb:
Stude Park -- The morning is young, and most runners will still be smiling as they reach mile four of both races. White Oak Drive is a good place to get photos before the runners start looking (and feeling) haggard.
Antidote Coffee -- The coffee shop and bar at 7th and Studewood opens at 6:30 a.m. (so you can get a good spot) and has a big parking lot. You'll need the coffee that early.
Beer Island -- The intersection of White Oak and Studewood has four corners of parking lots from which to view the race. Grab a breakfast croissant at Onion Creek and walk your way down to the intersection.
Rice University/Hermann Park -- The roads will be blocked but it should be easy to take the Metro Rail down to Rice and find a nice spot on the green along the race course. University Blvd.'s tree-lined streets also make good photo ops as racers streak by.
Woodway -- There is a troupe of belly dancers that are usually shimmying in the Galleria area in case you get sick of looking at runners for two straight hours.
Memorial Park -- There's plenty of room along Memorial Drive from 610 to Crestwood for people to line both sides of the streets and the median. The new footbridge over Memorial at W. Memorial Loop Drive will be a popular spot.
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Allen Parkway -- Often called the hardest part of the course, the underpasses towards the end of the race are a challenge for runners due to the hills, but the overpasses and foot bridges are a good place to watch from above.
Mile 11/24 -- Several organizations "host" miles along the course, handing out water, keeping the road free of pedestrians and picking up discarded water cups. The Houston Hash House Harriers, a local chapter of an international running club, are well-known for handing out beer along with water towards the end of the course. They're usually clad in funny costumes and often have a band at the mile they sponsor, across from Gillette on Allen Parkway.
The Finish Line -- Hair Balls isn't going to lie to you -- this area will be a mad house. But it's also a mile-long celebration of the triumph of human endurance.
From home -- Suuuuuure. Be lazy while 30,000 of your fellow Houstonians are running their asses off. Some even in wheelchairs. But if you can't bring yourself to leave the house, you can watch live race-day coverage on ABC13 or stream it online. There will also be a live, streaming finish line cam so set those instant message alerts so you can be by the computer when your runner finishes. During the event, the race's homepage will feature online commentary, a real-time searchable database of runners and times, and video searchable by bib number.