February 28, 2015. The BMO Phoenix Marathon, boasting a net downhill and 14% Boston Qualifiers. Held in Mesa, AZ at the Mesa Riverview complex for the host hotel, expo, bus pick up to the start and ultimately the finish line. The weather for this years run was perfect: 56 degrees at the starting line (Rio Salado Sportsman’s Club) and climbing to no more than 67 degrees for the finish with overcast skies. The race offers not only the marathon but a half marathon and 10K race.
With a 6:30 am start and 5 am LAST BUS LEAVING warning notification (all runners were required to ride the buses to their respective start lines-no exception because there was no parking at starting areas), I set the alarm for 3:35 am so I could get up, eat something and get moving. Since bagels and bananas haven’t been settling in my early morning stomach, I tried an Oatmeal Raisin Clif Bar. That seemed to work. I took a banana to eat at 5:30 am, an hour before race start.
Catch the Bus:
The bus pickup for half marathoners was right outside the hotel but for marathoners, it was somewhere across the street, I’m estimating about 3/4 mile away. Since I was uncertain where to catch the bus, I left the room a little earlier than originally planned, 4:20 am. I knew I’d see other runners making their way so I simply honed in on a guy with a drop bag, looking hurried and followed. We ran past the finish line where volunteers were busy setting up, police directed traffic for the early morning parking and athletes ran, walked, gathered in all different directions. I saw my guide hop a table and over a barrier fence set up at the finish. I said “Really? This is how we have to do it?” He heard and asked if I needed help. I said no and was quite proud of myself for leaping a table, balancing a fence and hopping down to the other side. Should have been a gymnast instead of a runner.
We crossed a busy street and over to several buses which were filling up quickly. The first bus left as I climbed the 3 steps into the second bus. I gazed into the darkness with fantastical thoughts of unattainable PRs as we drove the highway to Usery Pass Road, where we were to begin our 26.2 journey. At this point, I thought how most of my nervousness dissipates once I get on the bus, still feeling anxious but not that intense feeling that exists a day before the race which is something like “Why, OH WHY, do I do this to myself?”
The Starting Area at Rio Salado Sportsman Club: *Photo taken the day before when Ted and I drove the course.
We exit the bus upon arrival at the starting area. Loud music blasting, heat lamps and bon fires glowing.
There was a short fireworks display to get everyone psyched at about 6 am.
The porto potty lines were long and in most everyone’s opinion, there weren’t enough to accommodate all of us. This was my only complaint in this marathon.
At 6:15, we were lined up at the starting line and I was looking forward to running this fast course. I drank my 5 Hour Energy Shot.
My job was to control the pace over this fast first half. I felt my effort might be too much too soon and kept trying to slow slightly but keep the 3:45 pacer in sight. The first hill hit us at about 4.2 miles and was a gentle incline but long. There was a nice recovery downhill over the crest and a spectator encouraged us by saying “Just make it to the 3rd light pole and you’re at the top. *This is not a hill that should make any marathoner nervous. It’s gentle and arrives early in the race when legs are fresh.
Beginning at mile 6, I knew a porto potty stop was inevitable but held off until mile 8, getting totally lucky since a guy was just stepping out and I didn’t have to wait. At this point, my legs were still fresh so starting right back into my pace was easy. I checked my time at the half and was right on at 1 hr:50 min. although wondering if I had gone out too fast based on feeling good but not springy fresh.
At mile 6 to 7, I had my first Hammer gel (vanilla – no caffeine). The water stops were set up every 2 miles with Gatorade first, water second. After mile 20, aid stations were at every mile. Clif Shots were available on the course at 7 miles, 13.1 miles and 19 miles. Oranges and banana halves available at 11, 15, 21, and 24. My second gel was a Roctane with 35 mg of caffeine at 13.1. A third gel shot was taken at mile 19 which was a GU 20 mg caffeine shot. I drank the water only in the first half then took Gatorade AND water after mile 14, making sure to walk through all aid stations.
Ticking off the miles:
Since Ted and I drove the course the day before, I had various landmarks in mind as I ran. This is a mental help for me as I tick off sections completed along my 26.2 mile journey. Conquests if you will. There was a particular segment I was dreading and this was from mile points 14 through 20. The roads were E. McDowell, N. Val Vista, and E. Brown because they were longer stretches with no turns coupled with the fact that they were later in the course when the legs and mind begin to tire. The spectator support was sparse along the entire course, surprisingly, through the neighborhoods as well. At mile 16 I felt the urge to walk but told myself to just make it to 19. Upon reaching 19, I said to myself “make it to 21 then walk” but at 21, I kept going, using, again, only the water stations as walking breaks.
The wind had picked up at about mile 8 and there were times I simply tucked in behind another runner to draft. This was a notable help in blocking the wind and selfishly helping me save energy.
Once we turned off Mesa Dr. the miles ticked off a little quicker since shorter stretches, more turns made it more interesting plus, I knew that nice, steeper downhill onto N. Alma School Road was going to offer relief or rather seem like easier effort. It was surprising how quickly once we were on Alma School Road the turn into the finish area came up. Now it was exciting. The adrenaline rush started to hit even before I crossed the finish. I saw the arches. An older guy left way too much for the finish as he ripped past.
Ted was waiting as I ran to the arches. Medals and water were immediately put in hand. I stopped for a finish line photo then got in line for post race goodies. No cramping just a sore neck and shoulder. Everything felt good. The nausea was minimal. My feet weren’t too sore.
The finish line was crowded but easily maneuverable from tent to table. They were supposed to give out Boston Qualifier visors to those who hit their BQ but those folks were stuck on a ship and they would have to mail the head gear to us. From that area, we went to check finish times. The timing company offered a neat print out of each runners personal results.
We didn’t hang around for long because we wanted to get on the road to Vegas, about a 5 hour drive. We had a family gathering to look forward to.
Pleased with my results:
I was thrilled with my results even though it wasn’t a PR, it was a hurdle from my last three marathon times. A mental and physical success. I didn’t do speed work during these training months because of my knee. There were more treadmill long runs than I was comfortable with even though I finished the run outside, average 10 – 11 on the mill then finishing 6 outside and if I needed more, another 2 to 4 back on the treadmill. It has been a cold winter but those frigid temperatures, challenging footing all must have made me stronger.
Finish Time: 3:46:03. Average Pace: 8:38 4th in age group out of 50. 158 gender place out of 851.
- 8:29 11. 8:25 18. 8:35 25. 9:44
- 8:02 12. 8:22 19. 8:34 26. 8:49 and
- 8:18 13. 8:41 20. 8:54 .2 1:37
- 8:11 14. 8:26 21. 9:03
- 8:35 15. 8:32 22. 9:18
- 8:44 16. 8:49 23. 9:01
- 7:57 17. 8:32 24. 8:42
- 9:27 (porto pit stop)
The Phoenix Marathon:
Small and well organized EXPO with many samples and interesting vendors. Easy to get to if staying at the host hotel. Race day is well organized with buses to the start within 1 mile of the host hotel and plenty of parking if driving in. *All runners are required to ride the bus to the start with no exception. The starting line is accommodating with warm fires and heat lamps, Short on porto potties. Fireworks to start. Quick start over the mat from the word “Go!”. The net down hill course truly fosters good time for a Boston Qualifier. This is an excellent marathon for first timers. There is no shade on the course so a sunny warm day would make the race challenging especially if arriving from the North East. The host hotel, Hyatt Place would not offer late check out under any circumstances which I thought was pretty rotten.
Now what? I’m doing a reverse taper for 2 weeks then kicking it into full Boston mode training. I’m excited to see what my legs and body will do for me now with such renewed confidence.