Of course, this race report begs the obvious question: why Phoenix? Especially since this wasn't a "goal race" for me -- usually people don't go to the trouble of flying to the other end of the country for a race unless that race is the peak of their season. Well, there were a couple reasons.
1) I live in Washington DC. This was Inauguration weekend, where DC gets overrun by the patriotic and the touronistic, with substantial overlap between the two groups. It's hard to get around; it's difficult to run or to train. Getting out of Dodge City for the weekend was really appealing (and no, this decision was made in September, pre-election, and had nothing to do with which candidate was being inaugurated).
2) My friend Madeline was looking for a January marathon to run. I've always had a bit of a fascination with this race (I don't know quite why), and I've heard it's very well run, so I suggested this marathon to her. Which meant that if I ran the half we could be roommates.
3) Though I haven't run a marathon yet, I'm assuming that I'll run more than one in my lifetime. And/or that I'll want to run other goal races in other places far away. At some point, I'm going to have to fly to a goal race in another time zone. So why not go through the exercise of traveling by plane to the other side of a country for a race that wasn't an "A race," to get the kinks out. I'd get a feel for how close I could schedule a plane flight to a race, and figure out exactly how to pack.
[and yes, I'm not new to traveling - there are times in my life when I've lived out of a suitcase. Heck, as a teenager I flew back and forth between DC and Florida every weekend in the winter to compete in the horse show circuit down there. But traveling to a running race raises its own separate issues.]
Of course, all of this stuff about "just doing it to get out of DC and practice traveling to a race" didn't mean I wasn't racing it. Absolutely, this was a race, not a training run, and I'd be running the best race I had in me (caveat:early in the training cycle, not in top shape, etc etc).
The flight itself, though completely uneventful, wasn’t fun. I’ve been fighting a head cold. Even at its worst, it hasn’t been horrible, but it’s one of those things that’s taking forever to clear up completely – just a bit of sluggishness that won’t let go. Between the quick mile pick-up I did on Friday morning followed by the 5 hour plane trip, I experienced a bit of a relapse (in retrospect, I should have just slept in on Friday morning).
Sunday morning was simultaneously early and not. I left my hotel room at 5:30 am to get to the race – granted, the race didn’t start until7:50 am, but I was relying on public transportation in a strange city to get to the start, and I didn’t want to risk anything. Additionally, I had paid out $50 for a “warm zone” – I got a special pass to a heated indoor area close to the race start, complete with its own set of bathrooms. So no reason not to get there early and just chill in the warm zone, so to speak. Plus 5:30 am local time was 7:30 am my time, so not so early after all.
I hung out in the supa-speshull warm zone until around 7:10 am and then checked my bag and did my 2 mile jog. Then a few drills, 1-2 strides, and squeezed into my corral. National Anthem, wheelchair racers, and then we were go.
One of my big goals here was simply to pace the race well. When I’m racing regularly, I’m pretty good at pacing, especially at executing my coach’s start slow/finish fast methodology (is that copyrighted yet, BTW?). But when I take time off, I lose some of my feel. Since starting workouts and races again last month, I’ve been going out a smidgen too fast in many of my workouts, and my New Year’s Eve 10K race was poorly executed, if I do say so myself. Dammit, I was going to run this race patiently. Pace well or else. And I did. Yay me.
The race course itself can be divided into two parts. The first 8 miles were pretty nondescript – we started on ASU’s campus and ran through that for a mile, and then through what seemed like an endless sequence of strip malls and gas stations, with very few turns. It was boring if you’re into scenery. Fortunately, I’m not into scenery.
The “strip mall” segment was essentially flat, but with some very very slight incline changes that I actually welcomed – I believe that perfectly flat courses can tire one out simply from using the exact same muscles, while very slight shifts make the course faster. This course had just enough slight variation to keep things fresh.
But, other than that, boring. I didn’t talk much to other people – to be frank, my head was hurting slightly. Not horrible, but I wasn’t particularly chatty. My one bit of excitement came when I reached for a GU at around mile 6.5, opened it, and dropped it. Fortunately, this is why I always run with many more GUs then I expect to use.
I was REALLY mindful of my hydration in this race. Plane flight= dehydration. Mild bug=dehydration. Desert climate=dehydration. So I ran with a handheld water bottle, using each mile marker as a cue to sip, even if I wasn’t thirsty. Around mile 8, my handheld was drained. And this, fortunately was right where some unofficial group was handing out unopened water bottles – like rain from the desert gods. I barked thanks and grabbed one.
After 8-9 miles of Targets and Circle Ks and the occasional cacti, we turned into a park. And this is when the course got pretty cool. We were climbing up the only real incline change (for DC runners, it was a climb similar to the Capital Crescent trail, so not severe at all) with rust-colored-dust and boulders and palm trees and BIG cacti to each side. I got flash backs to the Wild West section of Disney World. We kept pressing upwards (I was starting to up the effort here), and then turned into a nice gentle decline that I was able to ride. The last 4 miles or so of the course were the most fun. I was passing person after person, while gliding through some really cool scenery (OK, I’m sometimes into scenery. But it has to be the right kind of scenery).
I’m actually a bit disappointed that I wasn’t able to pick it up more in this section – I think if I was in peak shape, I could have blasted this. But 13 miles was seeming like a really long way to run – my stamina just wasn’t quite up to its norm. Which is fine – it’s early in the training cycle yet.
So, rolled to the finish, working to stay relaxed and fluid and focused. By the 20K mark, I was DONE, but successfully held my form and my focus all the way to the finish. The finish of the half was combined with the finish for the “mini marathon” (5.4 miles), which meant that there were walkers to deal with, but they were encouraged VERY STRONGLY to stay to one side, and there was little issue here.
Mile 1: 7:00
Mile 2: 6:56
Mile 4: 6:54
Mile 5: 6:55
Mile 6: 6:42
Mile 7: 6:56
Mile 8: 6:51
Mile 9: 6:54
Mile 10: 6:49
Mile 11: 6:30
Mile 12: 6:38
Mile 13: 6:27
Last bit: 0:38 (5:55 pace)
- Stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn by the airport, and it worked well. The hotel was about an 8 minute walk from the “Metro light rail” which took me right to the Expo and also to the race start/finish. I was able to finish my race at 9:20, and be through security and at the gate for my flight by 11:30 (and yes, I showered). I didn’t rent a car, but I think I will in the future; taking public transportation had me on my feet a bit more than was optimal for the days before a race. Especially when I wanted to spend a decent portion of Saturday napping, not waiting for trains on a 20 minute schedule.
- Ended up within a few seconds of my half-marathon PR, which is kinda meh. My half-marathon PR is weak, I think (though the fact that I’ve attempted 3 halves since without breaking it belies that fact). Someday I will run a half marathon in great weather when I’m in shape and not fighting off something. Someday.
- Ran this one in my trainers, not my flats. Perhaps I gave up a bit of time in doing so – I’ve run all my previous halves in the Saucony A4/A5, which is a very light shoe. But I’m also thinking that the stresses of racing in those very light shoes, when combined with the stresses of marathon training, may have been one of the factors that contributed to my recent bout of plantar fasciitis. If I’m going to race in my flats, I need a bit more post-race recovery time than I’ll get during marathon training. So flats get saved for periods of time when I’m focusing on shorter distances; until I complete my marathon in mid-March, I’ll be wearing my Kinvaras (what I intend to run the marathon in) for everything.
- As I wrote above, the flight wore me out. Though I’m sure a large part of that was the remnants of my bug, I also know that flying in general tires me. Note for the future: if I fly to a marathon, I need to fly in two days before, and three might be even better.
- Was worried that the super dry air might aggravate my asthma – usually it’s high humidity that does me in, but super dry air gets me every once in a while. Nope, absolutely no breathing issues here.
- Race was very well done. Would totally do again.