You probably know that both the men’s and women’s American record in the half-marathon were set on Houston’s fast, flat half course. You might not know that each year Houston and Athens, Greece, host one another’s athletes in a unique marathon exchange.

Houston sure knows how to host a marathon. From the rigorous preparedness regime of its operations team, strong community celebration of those who contribute to the event’s success on the Houston Marathon Committee, to the spirited spectators who line the course, it’s no wonder that marathon weekend is a cause for a big local running party each January. With more than 250,000 runners, spectators and volunteers, it’s the biggest sports event in the city each year.

Even if you haven’t run the Chevron Houston Marathon or Aramco Houston Half, you probably know that both the men’s and women’s American record in the half-marathon were set on Houston’s fast, flat 13.1 mile course. (Held by Ryan Hall and Molly Huddle, respectively.) You might not know that each year Houston and Athens, Greece, host one another’s athletes in a unique marathon exchange. It’s the only program of it’s kind in the U.S.

“Each year, the program sends one male and one female finisher of the Chevron Houston Marathon to Greece for a week and provides them with entry into the Athens Classic Marathon. The winners are determined by a random drawing of male and female finishers from the Houston area who have completed the Chevron Houston Marathon in four hours or less,” explained Wade Morehead, executive director of the HMC.

In return, the Athens Marathon also sends two athletes to participate in Houston’s elite athlete program. “They are treated to an authentic Greek dinner put on by local Houston Greek organizations, stay in the official race hotel with our elite athletes, and experience the start line as elites as well,” said Morehead.

The Houston Marathon will celebrate its 47th running in 2019. Learn more about the event and the organization that supports it:

2019 may still seem far away, but when your race is in January, the year probably flies by fast. What will be new and noteworthy about the 2019 Chevron Houston Marathon and Half?

Morehead: We are always constantly challenging ourselves to improve each participant’s experience, while striving to motivate and inspire individuals to lead a healthy and active lifestyle through our events. In 2019 you’ll see new partnerships between the Houston Marathon committee and running clubs – both local and national, the introduction of the Corporate Challenge – an initiative that we hope will encourage individuals to take their love of running to work, a new local Houston artist for our race day program and theme, and we hope to increase our national and global participation to continue to celebrate the diversity of Houston by increasing the diversity of our event.

With a winter race, weather can always be an issue. How does your ops team prepare for adverse weather conditions?

Morehead: Weather is always an operational concern for any road race, regardless of location or time of year. This past year alone we’ve seen other major events with record high and record low temps, and Houston is definitely not exempt from Mother Nature – it snowed here twice this past winter! That being said, our operations team plans for, and is ready to execute, scenario “A”, “B”, “C”, “D” and even “E”, should it occur. Our team works directly with event medical staff to determine any additional course or runner needs and are in constant contact with the city’s Office of Emergency Management to monitor changing conditions.

A race as large as Houston requires massive coordination of staff, volunteers, and outside resources. Who are the unsung heroes who you’d call out as essential to making race day go smoothly?

Morehead: In Houston, we definitely operate under the notion that “we’re better together,” and that’s what makes our event so special. Staff, committee members, volunteers, vendors, city partners, elite athletes, and all of our runners each contribute to the success of our event, we couldn’t possibly pick just one group or individual to sing praises about. Whether it’s a vendor with a cool photo-op at EXPO or a road guard keeping the course free from traffic, or an elite field providing an inspirational display of athleticism, each aspect can have a different effect on different individuals, but it’s each of those impactful moments that are remembered which in turn creates all of the unsung heroes of the Houston Marathon.

Your half marathon course is FAST – Molly Huddle set an American record on it in 2018, and Ryan Hall did the same in 2005. What makes it so speedy and why is it great for spectators?

Morehead: We’re very proud that our course currently holds both the men’s and women’s half-marathon American Record. Not only is this a testament to the speed of the course, but also speaks to the caliber of elite athletes that our event draws annually. But ultimately, it’s the mild January climate and the relative lack of much elevation change in the route that creates the ideal conditions for a personal best here in Houston. It also doesn’t hurt that Houstonians like to show off their southern charm and line the streets to cheer on and encourage participants to push themselves to be their best on the day.

What would you like those who have never run or visited Houston during your race weekend to know?

Morehead: Houston is where Texas hospitality meets urban chic. It’s a thriving tourist destination complete with world-class dining, arts, hotels, history, shopping and nightlife. While you run the course you’ll experience firsthand Texas-sized hospitality as you navigate the spectator lined streets on your way through many of the culturally diverse neighborhoods that Houston has become renowned for!

-by Leah Etling