Race #394 – Toughest 10k Kemah – Houston, Texas – 09/17/17

It’s not often that I visit Texas, so this was a special trip and a special race for me. My wife’s brother has lived here for many years and since time seems to be going more quickly as we all age, we decided to pay him and his family a visit. Of course, I planned the trip around a race, and I found the Toughest 10k, which looked to be a fun race and quite a challenge. It’s also a fairly large race, with 1,882 finishers this year, and it’s been chosen as next year’s RRCA National Championship 10k.

We paid in advance for our flight on Southwest Airlines, our hotel, and the race, and for all of them I chose the cheapest price, which meant they were all non-refundable. That seemed reasonable at the time I made the reservations a few months earlier, but I didn’t take into account that it’s hurricane season, and on August 25th (three weeks before the race) Hurricane Harvey hit the Houston area with record flooding. From North Carolina it looked like if we made the trip we’d be standing in line to get bottled water, but it turned out that just three weeks after the disastrous flooding things looked pretty good in Houston, and although there were people and businesses who lost everything in the flooding, the nation’s fourth largest city was somewhat back to business as usual.

As I hoped it would be, the race was fun but it was definitely a challenge. I couldn’t wait to check my Garmin stats and see the elevation stats. I was just a little freaked out when I read the stats: 14 feet of elevation gain and 10 feet of elevation loss. After I regained my composure I did some research online to see what happened. Turns out there’s a logical explanation for the lack of elevation data. My Garmin watch only takes into account the topographic data available and does not measure the bridge or its elevation, so even though I’m climbing up the bridge my Garmin thinks I’m on the ground below the bridge.

I read elsewhere that the Kemah bridge is actually 83 feet high, with a 4.3% grade going in one direction and a 5.0% grade in the opposite direction. We made four complete trips over the bridge, and in addition to that we ran under the bridge and back up, which must have been another 20-30 feet of uphill on each trip. Whatever the actual elevation, I had to stop and take one or two walk breaks on each uphill section, which didn’t help my time a lot but I was pretty happy with my time of 50:45, which was 1st in my age group and 87th overall out of 1,882 finishers.

Race Number:  394

Race Name:  Toughest 10k Kemah

Location:  Kemah, Texas (Just outside Houston)

Date: September 17, 2017

Race Rating:  121  (That could be a record!)


My Age Group (65-69):

Course:  Flat and fast except for the four passes over the Kemah Bridge.


To give you a better idea of the race location, here’s a map of the area. The Kemah Boardwalk is on the Galveston Bay. At the top of the bridge there is a view of Galveston Bay on one side and Clear Lake on the other side. Unfortunately I was so concerned with getting over the bridge I didn’t bother to look.


I was kind of mortified when I saw this elevation chart, but as I explained above there was more to the elevation story.

Weather at Start:  Sunny, 75 degrees, 89% humidity.

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My Stats:

Time:  50:45 (chip time)
Pace:  8:10
Age Group:  1 of 19
Overall: 87 of 1,882
Average Heart Rate:  166
Maximum Heart Race: 178
Age Graded Equivalent Time:  39:26 (67.75%)


3 – Chip Timing: (3 points if yes)
2 – Starting Mat: (2 points if yes)
5 – Water Stops: (0)none (2)normal (5)extras [Gu, sports drink, etc.]
1 – Course Marking: (0)bad (1)good
4 – Course Scenery: (0-5) 1=bad and 5=fantastic
1 – Mile Markers: (0)poor or none (1)normal (2)with clocks or time called out
2 – Volunteers: (0)too few (2)good
8 – Finish line: (0-9) 0=bad and 9=spectacular!
2 – Certified Course: (0)no (2) yes
2 – Correct Distance: (0)no (2)yes
1 – Partly or fully on unpaved roads: (0)yes (1)no

2 – Cost: (0)expensive (2)reasonable (5)cheap!
3 – Race Day Registration: (0)no (3)yes

2 – Posted online within 24 hours: (0)no (2)yes
1 – Easy to find results: (0)no (1)yes

2 – 3 deep awards: (2)yes (0 for anything less)
5 – 5-year age groups (5 points) (0 for anything less)
1 – 14 and under group (1)
1 – 65+ group (1)
1 – 70+ group (1)
2 – Top Overall M/F: (0)none or first only (2)top 3 or better
2 – Masters Category(40+): (0)no (2)yes
3 – Grand Masters Category (50+): (0)no (3)yes
5 – Senior Grand Masters Category: (0)no (5)yes

5 – Overall Winner Awards: (0)none (2)yes (5)excellent
5 – Age Group Awards: (0)none (2)yes (5)excellent
0 – Door Prizes or Drawing: (0-9)
5 – Finisher Medals for All Finishers: (0)no (3)yes (5)really cool medals

9 – Food for Race Participants: (0-10 with 5 being average)
7 – Entertainment: (0)no (1-9)yes
2 – Finisher times posted after race: (0)no (2)yes

2 – Porta Potties: (0)no (1)limited, long lines (2)plentiful
1 – Indoor Restrooms: (0)no (1)limited, long lines (2)plentiful

2 – T-Shirts: (0)no (2)yes
3 – Design: (1-5)
3 – Material Quality: (1-3)
0 – Discount for no-shirt option: (0)no (2)yes

5 – Professional Photography: (0)no (5)yes
1 – Prices: (1)expensive (3)reasonable (5)cheap
0 – Free Photographs (newspaper, etc.): (0)no (1-10)yes

2 – Close to Start: (2)yes (0)no
2 – Close to Finish: (2)yes (0)no
2 – Plenty of spaces: (2)yes (0)no
2 – Free Parking: (2)yes (0)no

0 – Shelter from Inclement Weather (needed or not): (0)no (2)yes
0 – Swag (free socks, water bottles, etc.): (0)no (2)yes, some (5)excellent
2 – Part of race series or Grand Prix: (0)no (2)yes
0 – Kids Fun Run: (0)no (2)yes
x – Miscellaneous not covered above: (-10 to +10)

TOTAL:  121

I had the pleasure of meeting and starting the race with Ben Harvie (#1787), a Houston running legend and elite marathoner and triathlete who has been a member of Team USA at the ITU (International Triathlon Union) World Championships for many years. He’s also a well known Houston lawyer and all-around nice guy (as great runners tend to be). He won the 70-74 age group and beat me by 2 minutes.
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