Monday, March 3, 2014

Phoenix Half Marathon

We arrived in Phoenix on Friday, checked into the Hyatt Mesa (host hotel), walked over to packet pickup, grabbed and early dinner, and then sat out by the pool where we enjoyed the little bit of sunshine that the trip would bring. 

Saturday morning I woke up before my 4 am alarm, went through the usual pre-race process, and walked over to the shuttle busses around 4:45. It's a point to point race with no parking at the start, so everyone had to ride the shuttle. The busses ran from 3:45 until 5:00, so it was great to be able to see them out of my window as I got ready and not have to worry about any additional logistics given the already early morning. I boarded a bus fairly quickly, and arrived at the start line around 5:10, leaving me with an hour and twenty minutes to kill until race time. Fortunately it wasn't cold (temps around 60), but the wind was blowing pretty hard and every now and then it would sprinkle a little, but fortunately the heavier rains held off for most of the time we were sitting around. I was a little cool in my singlet and shorts, but had to laugh as thousands of runners clad in capris, pants, and jackets huddled around the 60+ heat lamps they'd set up in the parking lot. Of all of the races I've done, at least 75% have been in colder weather (often MUCH colder), yet this was the first time I'd seen a sea of heat lamps like that. I went through the porta potty line, walked down to check out the start, went through the line again, and then found the 1:40 pace group. It started to rain as they played the national anthem at 6:05, so I put on my garbage bag for the warm up. I went off with the pace group and we ran about a mile or so before heading up to the start. We had a few minutes left and I had to pee again, so I ducked off into the woods with a few dozen others. I had to laugh again because I couldn't think of many other situations where people would be peeing in the woods around total strangers with little (if any) attempt to hide. Ah, runners… lol

Over the last few weeks, I've been building my mileage little by little and even added in a track workout last Tuesday, but I wasn't sure what I could expect of myself. I decided to start with the 1:40 group (7:38 pace) to be sure that I didn't start out too fast, but given the course (all flat or gentle downhill), I was hoping to finish somewhere between 1:35 and 1:38. The rain picked up as we waited to start, but thankfully the wind seemed to die down a bit. After battling the wind in Myrtle Beach two weeks ago, I decided the rain was definitely the lesser of two evils, and it wasn't a cold rain, so I really didn't mind.

After about five minutes with the 1:40 group I'd been chatting with, I sped up and settled in around 7:15 pace, coming through the first mile in 7:27. I stayed pretty consistent with my pacing (miles 2-9 were all between 7:10-7:17), drank Gatorade at the water stops, roughly ever other mile, and felt surprisingly good. The rain mostly stopped after mile 2, and the clouds helped to keep the temps from climbing out of the 60s, so I was thankful for that. The only thing that was bothering me was the bruise on the bottom of my right foot, but that hurts with every step regardless of walking, jogging, or running fast, so I figured the faster I ran, the sooner I'd be done and slowing down certainly wasn't going to help with that. I considered taking a gel or some honey stingers about an hour into the race, but after the less than awesome experience I had eating Gu while trying to run fast-ish (at Battleship in November), that idea was off-putting and I decided to just stick with gatorade. It worked out ok for this half, but I'm really going to have to figure something out before Boston.

Somewhere between miles 9 and 10, I started coming up on the 10k runners. The 10K ran on the last 6.2 miles of the marathon/half marathon course, but started a bit later. This really wouldn't be a problem if the walkers and joggers at the back end of the 10k were a bit more courteous, but they didn't seem to care that I'd already been running for over an hour, had a time goal, and was trying to get by. The weaving, curb-hopping, and missed water (there were so many people walking through that it was impossible to grab water on the move) had me really frustrated; and combined with the fact that I was actually starting to feel tired, I fell a bit out of my rhythm and off my pace (7:29 and 7:28 for miles 11 and 12). Fortunately once I passed the mile 12 marker, I was able to get it together a little and pick the pace back up for the last mile. As mile 13 beeped on my Garmin, I realized that if I hurried I could get in under 1:36, so I did what I could to kick to the finish (which I am always lacking) and crossed the line 1:35:58.

I got my medal and a water and headed out of the finisher's area, met Monte at our agreed upon spot, and walked back to the hotel. The awards ceremony for the half was supposed to be at 9, and we were back at the Hyatt by 8:15, so I had time to get some breakfast (they had a pretty decent free spread) and take a quick shower before heading back to the post-race festivities. Yet another reason staying at this host hotel was a fantastic decision… I wish every finish line was only a 3 minute walk away from a post-race shower! 

Results/awards were delayed, so after an announcement that it would be while, we went back to the hotel so I could eat another breakfast and get packed up while we were waiting. The second return to the finish line was well-timed, as they were in the middle of the awards ceremony but hadn't yet gotten to my division. Monte told me that I was around the 35th female, but that there were a couple of women ahead of me who might have been Athenas, so I wasn't sure if I'd placed. Either they were under 150 or didn't want to race in the heavy weight division, because I finished first and am now two for two in winning my division in half marathons with weight classes! 

Pros: Nice swag (wearable race shirt, arm sleeves), convenient host hotel, fast course, well organized, plenty of busses to the start, pre-race heaters.
Cons: The last bus leaves at 5 am, which is well before the 6:30 race start; few spectators (though this could have been due to the rain); the 10K creates a lot of congestion, results/awards over an hour later than scheduled.
Verdict: I would definitely run this race again, and may consider the full some time in the future.

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