Name of the race: Mesa-Phoenix Half Marathon
Where: Mesa, AZ
Date: February 24, 2018
Time: 6:00 am
Distance: 13.1 miles
Terrain: Gentle net decline
Entry fee: $75-110
Post-race Food: French toast, chocolate milk, creamiscle, apples, energy bars (there may have been other food, but this is all I remember)
Swag: Singlet, finishers medal, free race photos and finish line video (if you gave them your FB account), and a small hand towel
Performance: Overall: 598/3847; Gender: 214/2230; & Age (40-44): 33/313
Weather: 39 degrees, 60% humidity, 5 mph wind
The story of this race begins months ago. Helly decided she was going to try to BQ at Phoenix Marathon. She then began recruiting everyone to go to this race. When I found out that Scott of Piratebobcat and his better half (together, they are Run Drunk Love) were also going to be there and there was a possibility that Colby of It’s a Marathon and a Sprint would also be there, I wailed on and on to Ben (my Ben – this detail becomes important later) that it wasn’t fair, everyone was going to be in Phoenix, and I was going to miss out on all the fun. Yes, I was suffering from one big case of the FOMOs. Maybe Ben was feeling generous that day. Maybe Ben was sick and tired of hearing me cry that I ALWAYS miss out. Maybe Ben loves me and wants to see me happy (well, no maybes about that!). Ben suddenly said, “You should go.”
I froze. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.
“Go! You clearly want to go. So, go!”
I quickly went to message Helly that Ben told me to go to Phoenix and I was going to be there. Helly wanted to know why I was talking to her husband.
Helly is also married to a Ben. She quickly realized I meant my own and not hers. LOLOLOL!
It was set! I was going to PHOENIX!!!!!
I was super excited about this trip because I was finally going to meet HELLY & PIRATEBOBCAT, some of the earliest bloggers that I started following. Helly was going after a BQ and Scott and Moon were going to get married at Mile 26. It was going to be EPIC!!!!!!
I flew in the Friday before the race. My flight was delayed by a few hours, so sadly I missed out on seeing Leah, my coach, who was coincidentally in Phoenix for a few hours. I also missed out on going to the expo with Helly, Scott, and Moon. It was fine. I was going to meet them later that night at the dress rehearsal dinner. I was in a hurry so I just raced through the expo to get my swag and bib. I can’t really tell you what was there, but it seemed to be a pretty good size.
I arrived at Helly’s house in eager anticipation of our long-awaited meeting. It was everything and exactly what I thought it would be! Helly and Scott are exactly as they are online (including Scott’s love of corny jokes and puns). We filled up on pasta and pizza, chatted up a storm, before we all headed to bed for our insane 6 am race start time.
6 AM RACE START TIME! Not a typo. I’ve never had a race start that early before in my life. Because I was treating this race as an uptempo workout, I was extraordinarily blasé about race preparation. I didn’t check my weather app a million times. I didn’t study the course map. I barely knew where the expo was. It wasn’t until that Friday afternoon that I bothered to look at race details and realized to my complete and utter horror that we had a really early race start. AND because this was a point-to-point course, we had to be up EVEN earlier to catch the shuttle buses that would deliver us to the start line. I ran around the dress rehearsal dinner telling everyone, “Are you aware that the race starts at 6 am?” Everyone patiently nodded because everyone, except for me, read the little race details.
I woke up at 3 am to drink coffee and to eat a Honey Stinger waffle. I got dressed and barely remembered to pin the bib on. I decided to head out early to the finish line where the post-race stuff and the bus shuttles were. It’s a good thing I did because at 4 am, the streets for the half marathon/marathon were already closed. Did I tell you that the AirBnB house I was staying at was RIGHT ON THE ROUTE? Yup, the route I needed to be on to get out was blocked. Not completely blocked, but mostly blocked. I ended having to circle all the way around to get past all the blocked roads to get to the bus shuttles, which doubled the original estimated commute time. I got on a shuttle and got dropped off at the start area for the half.
The weather for this race was absolutely perfect. It was 40 degrees with no wind and low humidity. You couldn’t order more perfect weather. At least you think it’s perfect if you’re from the East Coast. A girl who was from Boston and I watched in amusement how all the Arizonans were huddled by the heat lamps for warmth. Their teeth chattered and they were wrapped in ALL THE LAYERS. I heard that at the marathon start, there were bonfires. That’s cool. No bonfires at the half, just a ton of heat lamps. It was really easy to tell who was from the East Coast because we walked around with a single layer of throwaway clothes and remarked how great the weather was, while everyone else had their arms outstretched to absorb as much warmth as possible from the heat lamps, wore many more layers and possibly there was a blanket or two, and shivered miserably.
Just before 6 am, I shed my bottom layer and made my way to the start. There were no official corrals, but pacers were holding up signs and you were supposed to seed yourself appropriately. Leah and I discussed what the workout was earlier. I was going to average 8:20 over the entire distance, start out slow for the first few miles, pick up the pace gradually and hold it, and then for the last few miles, go out at a 10K pace if I still had energy, otherwise, keep a steady pace. I placed myself well behind the 1:50 pacer because I like chasing after a target.
The start of the race is really cool because fireworks go off. The only other race I did with fireworks at the start was Miami. The fireworks were unexpected (to me and other first timers) that we all stopped briefly in awe. The throng of eager runners reminded us of where we were and what we were going to do.
Because of the early start, it was dark, but there was plenty of light from the street lamps. Personally, I didn’t have a problem and the streets were in good condition, so I didn’t have to worry about watching for potholes.
Normally in a half, I take several peeks at my Garmin for the first few miles so I could settle and maintain proper race pace. Once I get a sense of what race pace feels like, I stop looking as obsessively until I get into the middle miles doldrums. Because I was doing a workout, I decided to run by feel for the first 10 miles and only look at Garmin a little to make sure I didn’t start off too fast in the beginning, but basically I ignored the beeps that Garmin gave every mile. Miles 1-9, I ran between 8:12-8:25. Mile 10 was faster at 8:05 (perhaps in anticipation of the fast 10K pace for the last 3 miles?).
The Phoenix HM course couldn’t have been designed to be more PR friendly. There’s a net decline of approximately 150 feet, very gentle with zero threat of trashing quads by taking the downhills too fast and whatever inclines there are, they were slight and short. The only reason why you notice the inclines at all is because it’s different from the gentle decline. On any other race course, those “inclines” would have been classified as flat.
Now, let me tell you about the race course scenery! (Helly is thinking, “What race course scenery?”) LOL, that’s exactly it, there’s nothing to see. Despite the fact that this race is colloquially known as the Phoenix Marathon/Half Marathon, the route does not go through Phoenix at all. Instead, you go through the finest that suburbs of Phoenix have to offer, hence the Mesa part of the Mesa-Phoenix Marathon/Half Marathon. Because the race began about an hour before the sun rose, most of the race for me occurred in darkness. I didn’t see much because of it, and based on what Helly said and many other Phoenixans (Phoenixers? Phoenixites?) concurred, there was nothing to see.
Despite the early hour, a few brave souls came out to cheer for us (thank you!). As the day got lighter and we got closer to the finish line, the number of spectators grew. Honestly, I don’t remember much about this race because I was in a zone of doing a very well-supported workout. I do remember feeling a little tired and wondering if I had the energy to muster more speed at Mile 10. I decided to push and do what I could do. For Miles 11 and 12, I hit 7:52 and 7:53 pace. For the last mile and a bit, I pushed even harder (7:37) and sprinted to the finish line (7:00). Time was 1:46:43, which is the second fastest half of my life. I was blown away that I did this as a workout! A little less than a year ago, I ran a minute slower on a far more downhill course and I busted my @ss for that time. I was very pleased how well I ran. Because of work, I haven’t been able to train the way I would like to train. I focus on doing what I can and it’s nice to see it showing.
I really love the post-race experience at Phoenix. One, they gave us AMAZING FRENCH TOAST from Kneaders, a local bakery. SOOOOOOO GOOOOOOOODDD!!!!!!!!! Two, there were yummy creamicles. Three, there was a huge tent with several masseuses from Massage Envy who were ready to give us massages and stretches for our tired sore muscles. There was a short line when I arrived and in no time at all, I was being stretched out. I really love it when I get someone to stretch me out because I have extremely flexible hips, so it’s impossible for me to get a good stretch on my own. The guy was a little concerned and asked if he was hurting me. I looked at him and told me that I didn’t feel anything yet, and I needed him to push harder. When he was done with me, he said I fold up like a pretzel.
I had about an hour until Helly’s Ben was expected to cross the finish line. Now that I was no longer running, the 45-degree weather was feeling nippy, so I sat in my car rental where I could be warm. When it was time, I got out with a running jacket and walked over to Mile 26 so I could wait for Ben and cheer for him. After a few minutes, I realized I had to start jogging over to Mile 25 to meet Helly, so I began moving. At that moment, I heard, “Elle!” It was Ben! He was smiling and looking good. I cheered for him and I was happy that he saw me because I would have hated to miss him altogether.
I timed everything perfectly. There was a water station just before Mile 25, so I thought that was a good place to meet Helly because traffic naturally slows a little as people grab water. I would give me a little more time to search for Helly. The 3:30 pace group came through just as I arrived, so I knew (based on the app’s tracking of Helly) that she would be arriving in a minute or two. Right on schedule, I spotted Helly and I ran over to run her in. Helly was already supported by a friend who wore his bright neon yellow Boston shirt as remind Helly of her goal. The two of us were now Team Helly.
Then there were three on Team Helly. Helly’s coach arrived.
Arrived doesn’t even to describe the phenomenon that is Helly’s coach. It’s more like she apparitioned like magic. Before her, there was silence. With her, there was intense energy and mania like no other. That woman is a force to be reckoned with.
When I met Helly at Mile 25, it was clear that she was tired, but she wasn’t done fighting. Helly’s friend and I coaxed Helly to maintain her pace and told her over and over again, how great she was and how she’s doing so well. I could tell that Helly was a little anxious about her pace, so I comforted her by saying that she was doing just fine and she didn’t need to speed up. Helly’s coach appeared out of nowhere, cheering and telling Helly how great she was doing and giving her quick updates about her other athletes who had already gone through.
Then Helly winced and whimpered that she had cramps and everything hurt. Team Helly double-downed. Helly’s coach barked orders to ignore the pain, every second counted, she came too far to give up now, she just had a few more minutes to bear the pain, she had to focus on her goal. Helly’s friend reminded Helly of her BQ dreams and goal. He cheered even harder. I followed along and then brought out my mantra – the one I always use and think of when I think I can’t bear the pain any more toward the end of the race, but the finish line is still too far away, “You can do anything for a mile, Helly!”
At that, her coach lit up and yelled, “Yes!!! And there’s less than a mile to go!”
Helly perked up. “Really?” she asked tentatively as if she was afraid that we were toying with her emotions.
Her coach reassured her. That seemed to light a spark in Helly. She straightened up, handed me her earbuds and mini mp3 players, and turned on her afterburners. This was it! We were chasing down Helly’s BQ!
Despite the fact that I 1) ran fewer miles, 2) ran at a slower pace, 3) had a massage/stretch, and 4) had a nice relaxing hour break, I could barely keep up with Helly and her newly-found speed. See Evidence 1 – I look like Squirtle the Turtle while Helly looks strong and determined.
We ran around a traffic circle. We ran around a bend. There was the finish line. Go, Helly, go!!!!!
Her time: 3:29:33
HELLY’S GOING TO BOSTON!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
It was really incredible being there with Helly to watch her accomplish this long-awaited goal. My heart just swells and pops everytime I think of Phoenix. So much happiness and pride for Helly. She trained like a monster. She put it all out there and SHE SLAYED!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! If you haven’t had a chance to read Helly’s account, go here: Thank you Mesa-Phx Marathon.
Afterward, I followed her around like a bridesmaid, while Helly was a bride being honored on her big day (super big grin on my face as I wrote that). Helly’s friends also had incredible races and Helly’s training partner also BQed! Helly found Ben so that they share this special moment. Lots of photos were taken.
Then we made our way back to Mile 26 to wait for Scott and Moon for their wedding. While I have heard of people being proposed to at races, and people pretending to be the bride and groom at races, this was my first wedding AT a race. Scott’s cousin got ordained as a minister of the Universal Life Church (FYI, Ben and I also got married by someone who was ordained as a minister from this church, so we’re fans.). Scott’s family came in from Texas for the wedding and so did some of Scott and Moon’s friends (they also ran the race). We eagerly awaited the bride and groom.
Scott wore a black singlet that had a print to make it look like a tux. Moon wore a flowy white tank with the word bride printed on the front, a white running skirt, and a friend of hers made a tiny tulle veil for her to wear. The veil was quite special because tiny blue elephants were sewn onto the comb part. Blue for the something blue part and elephants because elephants are good luck in the Thai culture.
We watched them get married. We cheered and clapped, and so did the spectators and runners who were nearby. Happiness abounds! After Scott and Moon promised, “I do,” to each other, they ran to the finish line together as husband and wife. See their story here: Our Marathon Wedding Video.
Saturday, Feb 24th was such a happy day. To see people whom I care about to be so happy and to accomplish their goals (BQ and a marriage). It was a magical day. I am so honored that I got to share in it and be a part of their stories.
Also I want to thank Helly. The post-race wedding reception was a BYOB affair (Bring Your Own Ben). Since I didn’t have mine, she let me borrow hers. HAHAHAHA!!!!