Phoenix Marathon Race Report – 2014

It was a hard race today. I needed all my mental and physical juices flowing and had to dig deep to finish strong. The weather elements were harsh. Rain and wind came and went. Runners persevered, most of us anyway!

2:45AM: I didn’t sleep well. I was nervous and anxious. I have already blogged that the weather forecast was crappy. I brushed, shaved and took a shower. Skies were cloudy with a hint of drizzle, but it was warmer than expected. Instead of wearing tri-shorts, I decided to wear running shorts. It has a back pocket that I used to carry salt pills and a side pocket that I used to carry the iPod. My tri top has two back pockets. Each one held two stingers for a total of 600 calories.

Promptly at 3:35AM, I left for the office to meet up with Will. We drove down to Mesa together and parked. We talked about how cool it would be if we both qualified for the Boston Marathon together and traveled there in April of 2015. Unfortunately, it was not to be!

4:30AM: We boarded the bus and rode it uneventfully up to Usery Pass (the starting point). There was energy and excitement on the bus. Most folks were talking about the weather and the race. You could see that it was windy (westerly winds which would work against us). It took us about 25 minutes to get up to the starting point.

5:00AM: We were one of the first to arrive at the start. The few folks already up there were either sitting quietly or expending nervous energy by stretching and dancing to the loud music playing. There were gas lamps to keep us warm, but Will and I decided to sit on a log to relax. We did use the facilities a couple of times. Race nerves!!

6:15AM: After a subdued national anthem and some fireworks, we headed to the starting line. I ate a stinger waffle and swallowed two salt pills. With 7 minutes to go, almost on queue, it started to rain heavily. We were exposed from above and chilly in the rain, but huddled like penguins. Body warmth and nervous energy kept us warm. I glanced down at my Garmin. My resting rate was 90. Perfect! I was energized and my heart was already pumping blood (note: my normal resting heart rate is in the low 50s).

6:30AM (Miles 1 to 4): The gun went off and away we went. The first four miles are steadily downhill. As per my coach’s instructions, I ran relaxed. The first mile has a pretty steep downhill portion. I felt a slight twinge in my left big toenail. It reminded me of a t-shirt I once saw, “Normal toenails are for sissies!” I smiled. I knew my toenails would be toast by the time this marathon was done.

Miles 1 to 4

It was too dark to see the speed or hearrate on my Garmin during the first mile. We could see a helicopter shining its searchlights on the racers. By mile 2, the sun was up but behind the thick cloud-cover. My heart-rate was at a steady 140 to 142, just a bit higher than I would have liked, but my speed was okay. I was running just under 8-minute-per-mile pace.

I had started the race behind the 3:35 pace-group but had caught up to the 3:30 pacer. The pacer was in a red sleeveless top carrying a small placard saying 3:30. A group of about twenty runners were running a few yards in front of me. I had two goals for the first half of the race. Conserve energy by making sure that my heart-rate was around 140 and draft when there is a headwind. For the first 4 miles, I did this quite perfectly!

7:01AM (Miles 5 and 6): In all of the 26+ miles, these were the most critical miles. These were the only significantly uphill miles. Since they come early in the race, I wanted to make sure that my heart-rate wouldn’t drift up into level 3. I am a much slower runner going uphill than I am on flats or downhills. As we started these miles, the pace group started to slowly push ahead while I concentrated on my heart-rate (and not my speed). My heart-rate had started to drift up to the mid-to-high 140s while my pace had dropped above 9-minute-per-mile. Runners from behind were catching me and passing me. As I ended the uphill, the 3:30 pace-group was a good hundred yards in front of me.

Miles 5 and 6

7:19AM (Miles 7 to 10): With the major uphill section safely behind me, it was now time to cruise. Soon after this downhill portion began, my speed quickly went up to sub-8 pace and my heart-rate dropped to around 140. I ate my first stinger and swallowed two salt pills at the 7-mile water station. At the end of the first hour, I had done just under 7.5 miles. It was a bit slower than I had wanted, but I had managed my heartrate nicely. It took me more than a mile to catch up to the 3:30 pace-group. The headwind had picked up. I started to draft behind the woman in gray, the guy with the Ironman tattoo on his calf, the girl with the Phoenix Marathon shirt. I was comfortable at this pace. On the flats and slight uphill portions, my pace would slow just a bit only to pick up on downhills. As I passed mile 10, for the first time I was exactly at goal pace; and had a fleeting thought that I had a chance to qualify for Boston!

Miles 7 to 10

7:51AM (Miles 11 to 13.1): After the twists and turns of the previous few miles, the course takes an abrupt right turn to enter a long and boring straightaway stretch. People had lined the streets to brave the occasional drizzle and winds to cheer us on. I smiled and high-fived a few as I ran. I was still comfortable. My cadence was to the rhythm of my music. I was still drafting as I occasionally weaved through the group of about a dozen of us running together. We all had our rhythms; some looked comfortable and some were starting to huff and puff. I felt smooth. At mile 13, I ate my second stinger and swallowed two more salt pills. As we passed the half-way point, my Garmin showed 1:45. Even through my headphones, I heard the announcement as I passed under the half-marathon start, “Your warm-up is now finished. You only have a half-marathon to go.” I smiled.

Miles 11 to 13.1

8:15AM (Miles 14 to 19): Long straight and relatively flat roads are not fun to run on. The course was boring with stunted houses all around us. It had started to drizzle just a bit. This felt good as the temperatures was probably around 60 and my body was warm. I knew that this would be a crucial portion of the race. I thought of muscle-fatigue. Bill (my coach) had warned of muscle-fatigue somewhere around mile 15 to 18 if we went too hard on the initial downhills. I had been careful of taking it easy during the downhills, but this was a marathon. Disaster can strike at any moment. So far, I had a near-perfect race. Other than a slight soreness in my quads, all other parts of my body felt good. My toes didn’t even cross my mind. At mile 19, I ate a stinger waffle but failed to pick up a water cup. I was a bit thirsty but I could wait another couple of miles. I also felt like I had to pee. Using a restroom at this juncture would blow my chances to qualify. Negative thoughts crossed my mind. I thought of my mantra, “relax and flow.”

Miles 14 to 19

9:11AM: (Miles 20 to 23): At mile 21, I ate two more salt pills and drank water. With less than 10k to go now, I started to do computations in my head. I knew I had the race if I could manage to finish at an 8-minute-per mile pace. I looked down at my Garmin to see my pace fluctuating between 7:50 and 8:10. My heart-rate had crept up into the 150s. The 3:30 pace group had steadily dropped people. We started with about twenty and there were only 5 of us left. The guy with the marathon tattoo, the girl in the Phoenix Marathon shirt, the guy carrying a camelback water bag, the race pacer and the lady in blue. The lady in blue looked solid. She was actually running a few feet in front of the pack. We started to pass all the fast starters. I saw a couple of One Multisport athletes, a racelab athlete and a few dozen random folks who had either bonked or were about to. We also passed dozens of half-marathon walkers. I thought of all the folks I have run with over the past couple of years. Kristi, Brett, Shelly, Kristen, Angela, Chris, Maury, Kim, Eric and of course all the folks at LLS; Dave, Ali, Emily, Megan, Amy, etc. etc. Today was a culmination of all that training over all those years. “Relax and flow” – it was now time to enjoy the race.

We passed through a few turns through downtown Mesa as people held up inspirational and funny signs like, “Pain is temporary, pride is forever” or “Don’t look but there are zombies behind you” or “Runners do it longer” or my favorite “Black toenails are sexy.”

Miles 20 to 23

9:32AM (Miles 24 to 26.2): 5k to go. I had this! I felt good. I did the math. I could run slower than 8:30 per mile and still finish under 3:30 to qualify for Boston. For a fleeting moment, I though about walking just a bit. It was a moment of weakness and it passed quickly. The race-pacer turned around and said, “Home stretch now folks; you got this.” The lady in blue was now running a dozen yards in front of us. The girl in the Phoenix Marathon shirt had fallen behind by a dozen yards. The guy with the Ironman tattoo stopped to nurse his left calf as I ate my final stinger and swallowed my last two salt pills without any water.

With 2 miles to go, it was time to kick it up a notch. I tapped on the race-pacer’s shoulder and thanked him. In a quarter of a mile, I had caught up with the lady in blue. We were now running together for the home stretch. I still had the kick as I passed more people. After a final downhill, the course took a left turn into the Riverview Shopping Center parking lot with less than half-a-mile to go. The lady in blue picked up her pace; so did I. We looked at each other knowing that we both had the kick. With the finish in sight, I took it to another gear as hundreds of spectators cheered us on.

Miles 23 to Finish!

9:59AM (The Finish Line): It was sheer euphoria as I crossed the finish line knowing that I had qualified for the Boston Marathon. My official time was 3:28:28, a good minute-and-a-half better than my target. I rested my hands on my knees as I keeled over with exhaustion. “Thank you” I said under my breath although this was not for anyone in particular. I thought of Binita and my puppies. They would be proud if they saw me right now. It was only a matter of seconds before the lady in blue finished behind me. We high-fived as we waited for the race-pacer, followed by the guy with the camelback, the girl with the Phoenix Marathon shirt and finally the guy with the Ironman tattoo. I will probably never see any of these folks again, but they will live in my memory forever. I shared something special with them today and I thank them for just being there.

After the race, I found Will at the massage tent. Of course, our first question to one-another was, “Did you qualify?” I fully expected him to say, “Yep, with a few minutes to space.” When he first told me that he missed it by 30 seconds, I thought he was joking. Unfortunately, he was not. My euphoria of qualifying quickly turned to empathy as I felt a small jolt in my heart. Will and I have shared plenty of training stories over the past months. He is a much better athlete than I will ever be. At his ripe young age, he needed 3:10 to qualify. He had some restroom troubles today, having to visit the port-o-potty 3 times. I cannot even imagine how he feels for missing BQ by less than a minute. I hope he finds a race this summer and qualifies. I hope we both get in and run the Boston Marathon in 2015.

As I write this, I am sore. My left big toe is throbbing with pain. Subungal hematoma has set in. All the muscles from my waist down hurt but I hit a major milestone today. Happy happy happy! Will, when you read this, know that nobody is rooting for you harder than me to qualify this summer.

Tomorrow is rest day; I will blog about some analysis on pace and heart-rate numbers.

Leave a Reply