Name of the race: Sprouts Mesa-Phoenix Marathon
Where: Mesa, AZ
Date: Feb 9, 2019
Time: 6:30 am
Distance: 26.2 miles
Terrain: 1000 ft net decline
Entry fee: $89-135 (you can often find coupon codes for this race)
Swag: Mesh tank
Post-race Food: French toast, creamsicles, protein bars, chocolate protein milk, and chips
Performance: Overall: 571/2225; Gender: 165/1003; Age (40-44): 28/179
Weather: 43 degrees, 61% humidity
The Phoenix Marathon is my 4th marathon, which is four more marathons than I thought I would ever run in my life. When I started running (again) 7 years ago, I had no desire to ever run a marathon. That was for lunatics. Of course, when you surround yourself with “lunatics,” you eventually drink the Kool-Aid. I thought I could run one sub-4 marathon and be done with it in 2015, but the next thing I know I found myself training for a BQ in 2017. When I crossed the finish line of CIM in Dec 2017 in a time of 3:40:36, which was 4 min and 24 seconds under the BQ time for women 40-44 (3:45), I threw my hands in the air absolutely sure that I had punched my ticket to the 2019 Boston Marathon. Come nearly 10 months later, I find out I was 28 seconds off the actual needed time to be at the Boston party. Plus they tightened up future BQ times, so I would now need a 3:40 to go.
I went through the five stages of grief. First I was in denial. How is it possible to have such a huge cushion under the cut-off and still not be able to go????? Next I got angry. How dare Boston deny me???? Then I got to the third stage of angrier. Then fourth stage of f*cking angry. Finally I entered the last stage of motivated angry. This all happened in a matter of hours.
I went through Running in the USA’s website to find a marathon to run in the next few months. I texted Ben and Leah my plans: I WAS GOING TO TRAIN FOR ANOTHER BQ TIME!!!!
No one runs Phoenix for its course scenery unless your idea of a perfect marathon is to run through suburbs, strip malls, and miles and miles of boring asphalt streets. What Phoenix does have is nearly 1000 feet of net decline and just about guaranteed perfect race weather year in, year out. On race day I had absolutely perfect weather – 43 degrees, low humidity, no wind, and overcast skies.
The timing of the Phoenix Marathon worked really well with my work schedule. I had tentatively planned to do a different marathon in Dec, but the training cycle wasn’t going well because of work. I was forced to face the fact that I am limited in terms of when I can actually train and race a marathon because when I’m in the full swing of work, I don’t have any time or bandwidth for training. Because Phoenix was in early Feb, peak week and the other high mileage weeks for training came when I would be on a winter break. It was perfect.
Plus, Helly lived near Phoenix. She graciously offered to let me stay with her. I was looking to spending more time with her. Scott and Marsha (aka Scarsha) of Run Drunk Love also came to Phoenix, so it became a reunion!
I worked with my running coach, Leah, to get me as ready as I could be for Phoenix. The goal was not to simply get a BQ time, but to get one *well under* 3:40. I went from running 5 days a week to 6 days and upped the mileage from around an average of 40 miles per week to 45-50 miles per week, with peak week topping at just over 60 miles. I did a quality workout of some kind 2-3 times a week. Whenever a training run got tough and I thought about quitting, I asked myself, “How badly do you want those 28 seconds?” The answer was nearly always, “Pretty damn badly.” Sometimes I mentally screamed, “28 seconds!!!!” to get through an interval.
The expo always takes place the Friday before the race. Helly and I got to meet Kim at the expo! Kim and I became acquainted online when Helly mentioned to her that I was training for Phoenix. She was absolutely delightful and wonderful in person as she was online. Since Kim was running the full as well (Helly, her Ben, Scarsha were doing the half), we made plans to meet up in the morning. Yippee!
I (and everyone else frankly) strongly recommend that you arrive for the morning shuttle to the start line early. Because of the sheer number of people trying to get to the parking lot at the same time, lines can be quite long and slow. I also recommend that even if you are running the full marathon, to park in the half marathon lot because it’s closer to the finish line/area. I’d rather have a longer walk in the morning, than to have a long hobble back to the car post-marathon.
I found the marathon bus line up to be quite orderly and well-organized. A volunteer made sure every bus was packed with runners (unlike Wineglass, where buses were only 75% full and there were a lot of runners that had to be transported) and that lines moved in an efficient manner. I walked from the half marathon parking spot and found myself in a bus all inside 15 minutes.
Once you’re at the start area, you can stay on the bus, stand by a heat lamp, or sit by a bonfire to keep warm. I found Kim at one of the bonfires, so we sat and chatted away until I decided to visit a port-o-let for one last time. The Phoenix Marathon organizers do a lot to make sure runners have good experience. There were plenty of cups of water and Gatorade out. Several open containers of Vaseline for one last application of chafe prevention. A DJ played music and amped up the runners.
As with all races with a significant race field, lines for the port-o-lets can be long. When I first arrive at the start area around 5:15 am (?), I was able to use the facility quite quickly. But when I went back at 6 am, the line was interminably long, which I had planned for. Basically I timed it so I had just enough time to go one last time, fix my socks and shoes, and then start the race.
Aside from the mild panic of being a little farther back in the field than I would have liked, I really enjoyed the start. A cannon blasts to signal the start of the marathon and fireworks go off. Because we start well before sunrise, it’s a magical adventurous feeling.
I wanted quite deliberately to start farther than than the 3:35 pacer because I knew I wanted a slow first mile (around 8:20). I started well behind the 3:45 pacer because I just barely got to the back of the field when I heard the cannon go off. I used the congestion to not start too fast.
I was grateful to the handful of runners who had some sort of light. It was pretty darn dark. I wouldn’t have been too worried about running in the dark, except as usual, for whatever reason the Phoenix Marathon decided that placing very large orange cones in the middle of an empty road was a great idea. I saw and heard several runners smack into the cones. If they were lucky, only the cone went down, I know some runners went down as well. Even I almost ran into a cone.
My plan was to keep running easy until after the hill. The first mile was 8:18 (perfect!). The pace picked up a bit for the next few miles because of the elevation loss. I reminded myself to run slow and easy. Starting around Mile 4.5, there is a sustained climb until just before Mile 6. The climb was harder than it looked on the map, but I do a fair amount of “hill training” when I run in Prospect Park, thanks to Zoo Hill. I had planned to run around 8:20 for the climb, but since it was steeper than I expected, I ignored pace on my Garmin and ran by effort (8:25, 8:27). I didn’t panic over the the slower paces because I knew I was going to make it all up in the following downhill miles.
In fact there’s a huge drop right after the hill. I went, “Wheeeee!!!!!!” with a side of, “Oh, sh!t!!!!” when Garmin beeped 7:52. I quickly reigned myself back in and reminded myself that there were still several miles left in the marathon. It’s too early to step on the gas pedal.
Backing up a bit, loveliest part of the Phoenix Marathon is around Mile 5. For me, that’s when the sun was about to rise. I took a moment to take in the gentle warm glow of the morning light on the desert. It was utterly serene and looked like a painting. As I said before, most of the race take place in the suburban streets, so there’s not much in terms of course scenery, but the early miles of the marathon, you do get to enjoy the desert.
There’s not much in terms of local crowd support for this race, but Phoenix Marathon makes up for it by having very enthusiastic and terrific support at aid stations. In particular, the Mile 9 station with its Christmas theme was my favorite (another aid station, unfortunately I can’t remember which mile, 13? 15? 17? was so really great). The Mile 9 station had a mile of signs after you passed them, so it was entertaining reading them as we ran along.
About Mile 15/16 I did a quick body check to see how I was feeling. I realized that although in terms of running I was fine at that moment, I was bit more tired than I would have liked. I knew I could hold on until Mile 20, but I wasn’t sure what was going to happen after that. In retrospect, I would have liked to have run the middle miles of the marathon a few seconds slower. After pondering about The Wall for a few minutes, I decided to let go of the thought and cross The Wall if and when I hit it.
After Mile 20, I could feel my legs growing heavier. With 6 plus more miles left to go, I still had a lot of running left. I broke up the remaining miles into two mile segments and asked myself to give what I could for those two miles.
When I started this training cycle in late October, I lamented about being “off-cycle” from everyone else’s marathon. By late fall, most people were either done with their fall marathon or tapering for the New York City Marathon. I was facing the prospect of many lonely (and cold) miles by myself. As I dug in, I thought of everything I did to get here, but more importantly I thought about everyone who supported me along the way: my husband, Ben, who immediately jumped on board with my plans to train for Phoenix, my teammates in PPTC who offered to run miles with me so I wouldn’t always be myself (even if we didn’t actually get to run, the offer was always so, so appreciated!), and everyone who offered words of support, cheer, and good luck in person and online. I thought about a rather speedy teammate whom I asked for help pacing for a tough workout. I told him what I needed and he immediately agreed and said, “Don’t worry, I got your back.” I thought of his words and realized in the tough late miles of Phoenix that I was never really alone in my training. The support and friendship of PPTC and my online community helped me get to this point in running and I used that strength to will myself through.
At Mile 24, Ben appeared out of nowhere. This wasn’t my Ben. It was Helly’s Ben. I gave a weak wave. I figured he came out to cheer for me and the other people he knew who were running. Ben ran the half earlier (and later I learned he PR’d!). He saw me and turned into the street to run with me. I just about cried from happiness and relief that I wasn’t alone (or I was in a lot of pain – hard to tell at this point). Even though I hadn’t asked anyone to come out, Ben ran back to Mile 24 to meet me and run me in. I was incredibly touched by his thoughtfulness and generosity because he actually race hard. I picked up the pace – I was going to do this!
I crossed the finish line in 3:33:01. I PR’d by over 7 and half minutes and am almost 7 min under the BQ time.
Take that, Boston!
I really want to acknowledge how grateful I am to Helly, Ben, Scott, and Marsha post-race. They took such good care of me. I was an utter wreck and could barely walk. There’s a video of me somewhere looking like an extra from The Walking Dead. This is the sorest I’ve been after a race, since the first half marathon I’ve ever run. From arrival to departure, these four people made sure that I had a stress-free weekend for my big race.
My girl, Kim, also had a HUGE race! She smashed her goal and ran a 3:27. I’m sooooo thrilled and proud of her. I’m so glad we met and we’re friends.
Much gratitude to Leah for preparing me to run Phoenix and smash my goals. No matter how hard the training runs are, I train easier knowing that she’s guiding me to run my best in a safe and healthy manner that fits with my life.
To my Ben, who has always been behind me, supporting whatever crazy idea I have in my head. He keeps the house going while I gallivant the world to chase my dreams and goals. I really couldn’t do this without him and his support. Much love to my Valentine.