6 Tips to Make the Most of Houston Marathon Race Weekend

Runners participating in the Houston Marathon.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year here in Houston. Yes, I know the holidays have come and gone – I’m talking about Houston Marathon race weekend.

I’ve run the Houston Marathon eight times and the half marathon twice. My hometown race holds a special place in my heart for a lot of reasons. It was the first race where I broke 4 hours in my third-ever marathon in 2012, and, 10 years later, where I finally achieved my longtime dream of qualifying for the Boston Marathon. I also served as a race ambassador for four years, so you could say I’m pretty well-versed in the event.

If you’re a visitor coming into town to experience the Houston Marathon or Half Marathon for the first time, here are my tips to ensure you have the best race weekend possible.

1. Check the expo off your list on the early side

The expo is located in Houston’s George R. Brown Convention Center, right on Avenida De Las Americas. You’ll need to attend the expo to pick up your bib number, and you can also check out the official race merchandise.

As a local, my preference has always been to visit the race expo on Friday morning before the crowds get too crazy. Saturday tends to be busier as more out-of-towners arrive, which is something to keep in mind if you have other commitments that day, or if you want to spend that day relaxing and staying off your feet before running a race.

2. Drive the course if you can

Fleet Feet Houston employees finish the Houston Marathon.

You’ve likely heard that Houston is flat, flat, flat and I’m here to confirm that you can believe it. There’s a reason people come from all over the world to run the Houston Half Marathon, and that’s because it’s one of the fastest courses in the world. The women’s American record was broken in 2018, 2022 and 2023 (by Molly Huddle, Sara Hall and Emily Sisson, respectively). If it’s an optimal weather day, fast times are known to happen in the full marathon as well, as Keira D’Amato also set the then-American record in that distance when she won the 2022 race.

At the same time, you may have been warned about the two so-called hilly spots, i.e. the Westpark overpass (or “Mount Westpark,” as I like to call it) just before the halfway point of the full marathon, and Allen Parkway, which you run from miles 23 to 25 in the full marathon and 11 to 12 in the half marathon. If you’re able to drive the course ahead of time, seeing these in person ahead of time will quell any fears about these being significant hills – in fact, if you’re coming from somewhere that is truly hilly, you’ll likely laugh as you drive up and along Allen Parkway.

3. Hit a local park for your shakeout run

It can be fun and tempting to hit up a large organized run for your final shakeout run the day before the race, but it can also be a bit overwhelming. My preference is to hit up the crushed gravel trails at Hermann Park or Rice University (which you can get to via a short MetroRail ride) or Memorial Park, where the race hosts an official shake-out run, as the surface helps to ensure I’ll keep the run truly easy. The peacefulness of the park environment also always helps me get in the right headspace to focus on what I hope to accomplish on the big day.

4. Restock any race essentials

Did you forget to pack your energy gels or racing socks of choice? No need to panic if the race expo doesn’t have what you’re looking for. Fleet Feet Houston is a one-stop-shop for Houstonians and out-of-towners to find last-minute items during race weekend. They have locations in the Rice Village, River Oaks and Greater Uptown neighborhoods of Houston.

Plus, the River Oaks and Katy locations will offer complimentary medal engraving post-race to commemorate your accomplishment. Head by the River Oaks location on Sunday, January 14 from 12 P.M. to 4 P.M. or on Monday, January 15, from 10 A.M. to 6 P.M. The Katy location will offer engraving services on Tuesday, January 16 from 10 A.M. to 6 P.M.

5. Venture out of downtown for your pre-race dinner

If you haven’t already made a dinner reservation to carb up, it might be difficult to find an early-evening reservation at a downtown restaurant. Fortunately, the city of Houston is known for its food scene and you won’t have to travel too far to find solid options. Some of my favorite Italian spots include Piola in Midtown and D'Amico's Italian Market Cafe in Rice Village.

6. Take the light rail on race morning if possible

Downtown parking can be quite expensive and hard to come by on a busy day like Houston Marathon day. If you’re not close enough to walk but happen to be in a neighborhood where the MetroRail’s Red Line runs through (examples include NRG Park, the Medical Center, Midtown and Museum District), I can’t recommend this option highly enough.

Not only is riding the train often free on race day, but this option will be way less stressful than trying to get an Uber (which can be expensive, always takes longer than you think it will on a busy event day and you most likely will hit some traffic once you’re near the starting line). The MetroRail is within walking distance of the post-race party in Discovery Green Park, making it an easy option for heading back to your hotel or rental as well.

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