When I finally got around to registering for the race, I had to put down my predicted finish time so they could put me in the appropriate corral. I put down 3:15, which was my aspirational, best-case scenario time. I didn’t have any basis for picking this time other than I wanted to believe, deep down, that I was still capable of running a 3:15. I hadn’t run any races in the past five months and felt like I didn’t have a clear idea what pace I was going to be able to run on the day, but I was still hoping I was a 3:15 girl. Or at least a 3:15-3:20 kind of girl.
Everything race morning was perfectly smooth and I even had some lucky things happen, like finding free parking on the street just two blocks from the start. I had given myself tons of extra time in the morning because I hate feeling rushed and I was a little nervous about having to navigate to the start by myself. One negative about this race is that the marathon start and finish are in two different locations with no shuttling between the two. You have to either park at the start and take the light rail back to the start from the finish, or park at the finish and take the light rail back to the start. It was all going smoothly, and I parked myself on the floor of a Starbucks right by the start line to sit and wait indoors since it was in the 40s and I didn’t want to waste energy shivering outside in the cold.
My predicted finish time had me in corral #1, along with everyone else who was hoping to run sub 3:30, which isn’t as many people as you would think. It definitely felt more like the start of a local road race than a Rock n’ Roll Marathon, although I have never run any of the Rock n’ Roll Marathons, so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.
The race started and I didn’t have to jockey much for position since there weren’t that many of us and we had the benefit of at least two lanes of the street. Getting your pacing right is a little tricky coming from altitude to sea level. You feel really great and it is hard to know how hard you are working because it all feels much easier with so much oxygen.
My Garmin buzzed at mile 1 and I looked down and saw 7:10 or something like that, which was surprising because I didn’t feel like I was running that fast. On the other hand, my heart rate was very high – pretty much at the top range of what I am used to seeing if I am working very hard – and that seemed like a bad sign, but I told myself that it was probably just the adrenalin from the start and it would likely settle down soon.
I settled into a pace that felt comfortably fast and that ended up being around 7:20 per mile, which was a little faster than I had been planning on, but again, I really didn’t have a clear idea of how I was going to feel, and the pace seemed to feel right, so I just went with it. My heart rate remained scary-high, but I ignored that as well, because I have always said that I run the marathon by feel, and I was not going to let the number on the watch slow me down, even though it was playing with my head a bit and I was feeling a wee bit nervous about how long I could keep that up.
The field spread out very quickly. I was already in no-man’s land with no one else very close by mile 5. Around mile 10 or 11 I made a couple of friends. There was a girl I had seen at the start who looked fast and she had been ahead of me, but then somehow she was back with me. She said she had been going for 3:10 but couldn’t hit the splits, so she was just taking it easy. We talked for a while and it was nice to have someone to pace with and keep me company because before that, you could have heard a pin drop on the course. There really aren’t many spectators along the route and other than the aid stations, a few cheerleading squads and the bands, it was quiet.
A little while later, maybe around the halfway mark, a guy heard another girl and I chatting, and he tried to organize the three of us into a formal pace group to block the wind. It was pretty amusing because, first, it wasn’t windy at all by Colorado standards, and, second, I’ve never heard anyone attempt to organize a pace line in a running race. I’ve definitely tucked in behind people if there’s a headwind, but the formal way the guy tried to get it going was funny. The guy was running 7:20 and I had decided by that point that I should back off to something more like 7:30, so I let him go on ahead and stayed with my new friends for a while longer.
Miles 13 through 19 are a big out and back to Scottsdale. The out part was o.k., but at some point on the back, maybe around mile 17, I realized that I was feeling a little less comfortable than I had been earlier and the pace was not coming quite as easily. I had read reviews that said the late miles of this course are pretty desolate, so I wasn’t expecting crowds or excitement, but it was still a little hard once we made the turn south at mile 20 because the course became even quieter and more boring. I was alone again at this point and not really enjoying myself so much because my legs had started to hurt – one quad hurt and the calf on the other leg hurt – and this is about the time I started to fall off my pace.
Running along between miles 20 and 21, I realized that I had to go to the bathroom immediately. It came on that suddenly. I started to get worried that I might turn into “Rock n’ Roll Arizona poop girl,” and I started scanning the landscaping along the course to see how much coverage there was if it came down to that. Luckily, I was within sight of an aid station, so I hopped off the course and ducked into the porta potty. I kept thinking how bizarre it was because my stomach hadn’t even been bothering me and I had only eaten one gel and taken a few sips of Gatorade (in addition to water), so I couldn’t figure off what had set it off. The only thing I can figure is that if you run your heart rate close to your max for 3 hours, something is bound to give eventually, and in this case, it was my stomach.
After the porta potty stop, I felt tons better, but I had lost a bit of time and I was annoyed at myself for forgetting to turn off the “auto pause” feature on my watch because now my watch time and the race time were different and I wasn’t sure by how much.
The rest of the race was just a matter of survival to get to the finish while trying to not completely implode, but I knew that I had lost 3:15, and I didn’t have it in my legs to fight any harder.
Around mile 23, a “race angel” appeared. These are the people on the course who say just the right thing to you at the right time and it is so weird because you almost feel like your coach or spouse or training partner is speaking through them. Does this happen to anyone else? I can think of this happening at several Ironmans, and it happened again on Sunday when a spectator, seemingly out of nowhere since there was hardly anyone around at this point on the course, told me “relax your arms.” I immediately did what he said. Then he said,
“Now feel the energy? You have more energy!”
He was right. I did have a tiny bit more energy. So I focused on that for a while, relaxing my arms and focusing on my form and playing any other mind tricks I could think of to make the miles tick away faster.
Around this same time, the course turned east and I was totally confused about where we were and how we were going to get back to Tempe Beach Park, which is also where the Ironman starts and finishes. Then, at mile 25, we finally crossed over Tempe Town Lake on one of those bridges, and it wasn’t a long climb, but it was definitely the steepest part of the course. I almost laughed out loud because it was kind of amusing that there was this steep incline so close to the finish. People were walking all around me but I made it my personal mission of the day to not walk that hill. Sometimes it is the little things that give you more pride than the big picture and running up that hill felt like a large victory at the time.
After the hill, I could finally see that we were really close and there was a quick right turn and then the finish line was right there. I was happy that I didn’t get outkicked at the line like I sometimes do, but I didn’t even really care, because I knew I was over 3:20 and the actual finish time seemed pretty insignificant after I had just given my heart to the race for 20 miles and then almost imploded (but not quite).
Official time: 3:21:55
I wandered around in the finish area sort of half crying because my legs hurt so badly but also so relieved that I wasn’t running anymore. It was a weird setting because I was feeling pretty bad, but I was surrounded by all of these people who were celebrating their 3:30 half marathon finish and the finish line concert was in full swing. I knew I had to get out of there immediately. Plus, I was alone and I had to navigate the light rail back to the start line, find my car at the start, drive to my hotel, get cleaned up, check-out and then get to the airport for my flight home. I was a little overwhelmed and I felt like I wasn’t managing very well. It seemed like the easier and more economical choice to travel to the race by myself, but it can be hard at the end when you really need someone to carry your bag or find you a water and there is no one around who knows you. That was kind of hard and I probably won’t put myself in that spot again.
I had a lot of thoughts after the race, pretty much all positive, and Vince had some good insight on what I can improve on and where I can go from here. Tackling a fast marathon at some point in the next year is still a possibility and my dreams of running a personal-best Ironman run split in Boulder this summer are still alive.