Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Race Recap: The Phoenix Marathon

I signed up for the Phoenix Marathon back in July after I had officially decided I wanted to go for a Boston Qualifying Time (AKA "BQ") this year. I had just ran Aspen Valley Marathon in 4:03:10 - a HUGE PR at the time, despite not training much for it (now don't get me wrong - I had been running long distances - but I just hadn't been doing any specific road training with speed work), so I figured the gentle downhill course had a lot to do with it. So I decided that was what I would look for in the race courses I chose for #Operation BQ.

I still had a lot of races on my schedule for the remainder of 2014 and I knew I needed a full 18 weeks to really train and do consistent, dedicated Speedwork before I came anywhere near attempting to run a Boston Qualifying marathon - so I picked Phoenix. The late February race date was perfect, it was semi-close - so traveling was easier, and the course was downhill with a net elevation loss of about 1000 feet.

A few months later my friend Kellee decided to do it too - which made it more exciting! (There's something kind of anti-climatic about traveling to races by your lonesome self). Her parents also live in the Phoenix area so we had a place to stay (added bonus!).

I started the Hansons Marathon Method training plan around the beginning of November and immediately started seeing significant improvement in my speed. I obtained HUGE PR's in the 5K (22:41), 10K (46:29), and Half-Marathon (1:44:17) distances so I knew I was on track to a BQ. However, I also knew running a full TWENTY SIX point two miles was a LONG distance and I had my work cut out for me. So I signed up for 2 additional back-up marathons (Colorado Marathon on May 3rd and Revel Rockies Marathon on July 19th) to ease the stress - I knew it was going to take time to get to a sub-3:35 marathon. I figured if all conditions were absolutely perfect (weather, course, fueling) I could MAYBE do a 3:35 at Phoenix - but even if that did happen I knew I wouldn't have enough cushion to actually get into Boston (because so many people apply to get into Boston, you actually need to run a few minutes faster than the standard qualifying time). So I decided to go into this race with my main goal being to run sub-3:45 and to just see how I did. I figured no matter what, I had put in the work and unless something went terribly wrong, I should PR for sure - seeing as this was the most intense training I had ever done.

Before I knew it, race week was here. I flew in on Thursday night, then on Friday, Kellee and I went to the race expo for packet pick-up, where I also had the opportunity to meet a few friends from MyFitnessPal in real life - Amanda and Shirley. It was really fun to meet them and we chatted it up just like we had known each other forever - I just love the running community in that sense (after all I also met Kellee on Instagram - and now here we were traveling to a race together!).

Kellee and I with the BMO Mascot? We guessed? Or just some random Lion?  :)

My name is on there! (x2 - it was so weird - there was also a Katie Avery from Aurora, Colorado who ran the 10K)

Meeting my My Fitness Pals!
Kellee and I with our bibs!

After filling our race packets with tons of swag, we headed back to Kellee's parents house and rested up for the next day. I attempted to get sleep (without a ton of luck) before getting up at the lovely hour of 2:30am. We were out the door around 3:30 and I got dropped off at my bus pick-up around 4:30 - I had now been up for 2 hours and still had 2 hours before the race start (you had to be on the bus no later than 5:00 AM!).

Despite the bus ride being fairly long, I still had about an hour and a half until the race start by the time I got to the starting line. So I circled through the bathroom line once where I saw Andrea Barber (the actress who played Kimmy Gibbler on Full House) and embarrassingly asked for a picture with her (I knew she was running it, so when I saw her I had to get a picture - after all I always regretted not getting a picture with Anton Krupicka at Red Hot last year).

Running a marathon with Kimmy Gibler! :) 

After that debacle, I found Amanda and we chatted for the remaining hour we still had left. She was planning to run a similar pace than me so we talked strategy a bit. My problem was that I wanted to go out conservatively and save energy for the second half - but at the same time I knew that the downhill grade was much more significant in the first half - and I wanted to take advantage of that. In the end I settled on just going off of feel - I would let myself run a little faster than my planned pace at the beginning, but only if it felt easy.

After what felt like an eternity, it was finally time to line up at the starting line. This was a smaller race (just under 2000 finishers) so there weren't any starting corrals - just the pace teams with their signs so you could line up somewhat near the finish time you were going after. We squeezed in between the 3:40 and 3:45, wished each other luck and then got ready to go!

Giant cactus!

Starting Line!

Before I knew it, we were off! As I had decided earlier I just settled in at a comfortable pace and was happy to look at my watch and see I was running about an 8:10 pace. I kept right around this pace for the first 4 miles. The sun was coming up, but because it was so overcast out it wasn't much of a sunrise (bummer!). I also chatted with a couple of Colorado runners about Imogene Pass Run (there was a guy wearing last years race shirt) for a bit.

Miles 4.5-6 brought the only significant uphill of the course. It wasn't too bad in that it wasn't very steep, however it was pretty consistent for the entire duration. I slowed a bit - mostly just making sure I maintained the same effort, and ran a few miles in the 8:30 range. Right after the uphill ended came some pretty significant downhill - so I decided to use it to my advantage and really picked up my pace, working to make up for my two slower miles. I passed Amanda somewhere in here (she had been ahead of me for the first 6 miles) and even passed the 3:35 pacer. Part of me worried I was going too fast, but I felt so good. I wasn't breathing hard at all - so I just kept at it - running a 7:30 and then some low-8:00's.

Around mile 10 we changed direction slightly and all of sudden, oh my WIND. It was bad. Luckily I knew we changed directions several times so I would hopefully have a break from it soon. I slowed my pace a bit for these miles and just kept at it. We switched directions a mile or so later and I just kept on going.

Then all of a sudden we were in sight of the half-way point. With the wind showing me down, I had been leap frogging a bit with the 3:35 pace group, but did cross the half marathon timing mat right on track for a 3:35 finish. I was still feeling pretty good at this point but I also knew the second half was going to be harder than the first half - not only was the downhill significantly less noticeable, but the wind really felt like it was picking up.

Somewhere around mile 17 was where I started to feel myself fading. I was running 8:30 miles with the same effort that I had been running 8:10's earlier with. I made sure to keep fueling and continued on. Shortly after, Amanda caught up to me. We ran a couple of miles together and then she was long gone ahead of me. Miles 22-25 were the toughest - my quads were really aching at this point but I knew I had to just keep going.

Somewhere around mile 21?
Finally, I hit mile 25 - only one more mile to go! The crowds got bigger and bigger as I got closer to the finish line - which motivated me to pick up my pace. I also had several spectators notice my Marathon Maniacs shirt and ask me what marathon I was on (Marathon #8, or 11 if you count ultra's). Then FINALLY I turned a corner and there it was - the finish line! I sprinted as much as I could (even passed one guy!) and finished in 3:41:35 - a 21 minute PR!

Shirley took this picture of me heading towards the finish line! Probably my favorite from the race!
Kellee's mom took this one!
My face looks terrible in this, but if you look through the text, my left leg looks pretty beastly!

Amanda and I at the finish! She finished in 3:41:00 (a BQ for her!)


Kellee and I all finished!

Elevation Profile - you can really see the change in steepness from the first half to the second half.

Course Map

Race: The Phoenix Marathon
Location: Mesa, Arizona
Distance: Marathon (26.2 miles)
Date: February 28, 2014
Elevation: 234' gain / 1098' loss
Bib Number: 8733
Weather: 60's, overcast, WINDY
Gun Time: 3:42:24
Chip Time: 3:41:35
Average Pace: 8:28
Overall Rank: 441 of 1881
Gender Rank: 128 of 851
Division Rank (F25-29): 20 of 99
Timing Mat Splits:
First Half: 1:47:31 (average pace: 8:12)
Second Half: 1:54:15 (average pace: 8:44)
20 Mile: 2:47:58 (average pace: 8:24)
Last 10K: 53:38 (average pace: 8:39)
Garmin Splits: 8:27, 8:11, 8:14, 8:08, 8:35, 8:26, 7:33, 8:08, 8:07, 8:08, 8:20, 8:15, 8:21, 8:19, 8:28, 8:31, 8:26, 8:31, 8:32, 8:33, 8:43, 9:01, 9:11, 8:59, 9:29, 8:56

The rest of the weekend we relaxed, checked out Glendale on Saturday night and went on a short hike on Sunday morning in the Estrella mountains:


Celebratory post-race food!

Checking out the Estrella Mountains

More giant cacti!

Poking the cactus!

The awesome sign that Kellee made for me!

Post-Race Summary:

Overall, this was a good race. I've been training my butt off and I was SO happy for it to pay off! A lot of people expected me to go into this trying to BQ - but honestly my goal wasn't to BQ (YET) - I've got several more races for that!! - but rather to run a good race, have fun, and do the best I could. And that's exactly what I did. Had the wind not been so intense, I think I could've maybe ran sub-3:40 - but I don't think I was quite ready for a 3:35. I hope with more experience and training I will get there!

What Worked / Likes:
  • Great size - this race had just under 2000 marathon finishers which was perfect - large enough for big crowds and good course support, but small enough that waves weren't needed and you could run from the get-go.
  • Well Organized - the half marathon and 10K started at the same time. While I did not like this about Rock-n-Roll Denver, this race did an excellent job at it - because they all started at different points (Rock-n-Roll was a huge cluster with everyone starting at the same place).
  • Nice swag - the shirts were cute and the arm warmers were awesome! I picked up a couple of last years arm warmers at the expo for only $1 - perfect for tossing at some of my next few races. I loved the finisher's medal as well!
  • Course Profile - the downhill course was great for pursuing a PR. There was one uphill from miles 4-6, but it's early enough in the race that it's not a big issue (plus you've got enough downhill to make up for it). I only wish the gradient would stay as steep during the second half!
  • Starting Line - not a huge fan of having to be there so early (see "dislikes" for that), BUT at least they had a ton of heaters for everyone!
  • Aid Stations - I wore my hydration vest so I didn't necessarily need aid stations, but it was nice to know they had a ton of them, and a lot of stations with Clif gels (finally!! the last few marathon's I've done have had barely any aid stations with fuel).
  • My outfit - everything about my outfit worked excellent this time around - I didn't have any chafing issues and only one small blister! My hydration vest felt a tiny bit loose at the beginning (I was used to running my training runs with a long sleeve in the backpack portion which makes it feel tighter, but didn't have that this time) but I got used to it quickly and it didn't bother me.
  • Chairs at the finish line - surprisingly there are very few races that have chairs right after you cross the finish line - most of the races make you walk through the finishers chute for what feels like FOREVER before you can sit down...but not this race! They had a nice little row of chairs, and when I crossed the finish line and immediately came to a walk - it must've looked like my legs were going to give out because the volunteer there ushered me into a seat right away. It was nice (although very hard to get up afterwards)!

What Didn't Work / Dislikes:
  • Early Start - I had to get up so early for this. The race started at 6:30 - which is a great time, but you had to be on the shuttle bus no later than 5:00am - that left a ton of time sitting around at the start line and meant getting up extra early.
  • Weather - I'll be honest - the weather wasn't terrible, but it definitely wasn't ideal. It was SO windy during certain sections and I was just not used to that. It slowed me down pretty significantly for some miles (although it did keep the temperature down which was nice).
  • No Food at the Finish Line - now, I'm not positive on this one - we didn't stick around long enough for me to really look (plus I could barely walk - so I would've needed it much closer, had that had some anyways, lol) - but it didn't seem like there was really any food at the finish line. They did have water bottles (right away!!) though which was nice.
So would I do this again?

Probably - dependent upon travel costs. If I lived in Phoenix, definitely. Since I don't - maybe, maybe not. 

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