When you start running, the natural progression is to run farther and farther. It’s funny to me that my now short 5k training run was once a lofty goal I someday hoped to achieve. After the the 5k races, came the 10k and even a double down–running both the 5k and the 10k at the same event. So naturally, a half marathon was soon on the to-do list.
The Phoenix Half Marathon was our very first attempt, and we knew it was going to be a learning experience–and it was. I had hoped to describe to you all the buzz at the starting line and how the runners were jittery with nervous energy, anxious to start. I would tell you all about it, except I wasn’t there. I was in the Porta-John when the starting gun sounded. That’s pretty much how my morning had gone, and I was not off to a good start.
Rewinding about seven hours… it’s around 11 pm, and I’m just getting to bed. The plan was to be asleep hours ago, but that just didn’t happen due to kids’ activities and family that had just arrived in town. I sleep very lightly, waking up several times in a panic thinking I’ve overslept. 3 am comes way too early, as toss back the covers and hop in the shower to wake up. Four hours of sleep is not going to be fun, I think to myself, stirring my big bowl of oatmeal. I have to be at Jeff and Julia’s house by 4:30 am, in order to give us plenty of time to get to the event, park and catch the shuttle that would drop us off at the starting line. The last bus was scheduled to depart at 5:15 am.
It’s now 5:15 am, and we are at a dead stop on the freeway. The off-ramp is completely backed-up by what appears to be other participants arriving at the event. We finally make it to the parking area, well after the last bus should have left, and it looks as though the event coordinators realized the problem and adjusted. I hate scrambling like this on race day, especially for our biggest running event yet. We drive for quite awhile, in fact at one point we are concerned we are on the wrong bus heading out for a full marathon. We’re dropped off exactly where we are suppose to be, 13.1 miles away from our car, and the biggest finish line I’ve ever attempted to reach. Stepping off the bus we find a large crowd of people that is actually a semi-organized line for the Porta-Johns. One thing runners know how to do is hydrate! I’m thinking to myself that there is no way we can get through this line in 15 minutes and get to the starting line… and I was right.
The gun goes off, catching me mid-stream, and I wonder if this morning could get any worse. I kick open the door, and the place is all but deserted. Julia is there ditching the pre-race warm clothes and tossing them in the back of a truck where we will be reunited with them at the finish. Jeff is the last one out and tells us to go ahead as he runs a bit slower pace anyway. It’s a bit odd arriving at an empty starting line, almost like the race was setup just for us. We do one last gear check and give ourselves our own 3,2,1 countdown before we cross the chip timer that will record our official start time.
As we settle into our pace, I start think about our goals. I know, I know… this is our first half marathon, and the only goal should be to finish, but I need some sort of a guideline, something that I can measure against and improve on. Goal number one is to not be passed by the full marathon runners. I don’t think I will handle it well if I get passed by someone who started 13.1 miles behind me on the same course. All the online calculators we messed with said we would finish between 2:20 and 2:30. We are 4:1 run/walkers and it gets a bit difficult to get the numbers right. 2 hours and 30 minutes is a good solid attainable goal, and we shoot for that.
The first two water stations come perfectly and we walk them taking small sips and rinsing. We are feeling good and the intervals seem natural. We eat every 30 minutes or so depending on the distance to the next water station. Just a quick shot of GU gels or Shot Bloks for energy. The only problem we had was finding a good pacer. We kept passing everyone, and even though we felt great, I was worried we were running too fast.
When we hit the half-way timer, we realize that we are 1 hour and 10 minutes in and are very happy with that. If we can run the second half just as fast as the first half, we will exceed our 2:30 goal quite easily. We feel strong and stick with our 4:1 intervals, which seems to be working well for us.
The people along the route are great, and very inspiring with all their crazy signs and cheers, and one group is actually handing out free beer. We see lots of family and friends coming out to support their runners, and my favorite sign reads “This is the worst parade, EVER”! We are feeling strong with minor aches and pains, couple of hot spots that are sure to cook a blister, but nothing that is slowing us down.
We run through downtown Mesa, and I can sense we are getting close to the end. We hit the 12 mile marker and have just over a mile left. I ask Julia for the time and almost don’t believe her when she says 2:04! We skipped our last few intervals and ran it in with enough gas left in the tank to finish strong. Official time: 2:14
We did it, crossing the finish line with fists pumping! To some it may not seem like a big deal, but we were ecstatic. It was a long road to get here, in fact it was Julia’s third attempt and she was finally healthy enough not only to start, but to finish with a great race time. Jeff came in a few minutes later with another great finish, actually beating our original goals. Very proud of all of us.
We get our finisher medals and meet up with Julia’s daughter, who congratulates us with hugs and flowers! I was not expecting either, and both were very cool. We grab water and wet towels that they were handing out, cool down and get in line to have our official pictures taken. There are tons of vendors handing out all kinds of free samples of drinks, eats, and treats. The cool-down tent is full with people stretching and soaking their feet in ice baths, which look inviting especially with the blister on the ball of my foot. We decide to skip it and head over to bag check, where the line is long but seems to be moving. It’s a good time for race review and to critique our strategy.
This morning was pretty rocky and did not go exactly how I wanted, but we made the best of and it turned out to be a great event and a huge milestone for all of us. We’ll be attending next year for sure. In my mind, road running is type-two-fun (it’s fun when it’s done) and it has been a few weeks since the race and the pain memory has started to fade, so the only question for next year is…the half or the FULL!!!!
Things that sucked:
- Traffic into the the event. Every one was stopping at the traffic light. Need a police officer directing traffic (especially at 4:30am when there is no other traffic besides racers).
- Starting line porta-johns. Need more and spread them out. Too many people in a small area with one thing on their mind.
Things that rocked:
- The route was very flat, actually slightly downhill. Great race for beginners.
- Aid stations. Well stocked and managed.
- Race route volunteers. They did a great job of handing out water and energy food.
- Finish line activities. Lots of vendors, food choices, etc.
Conclusion: Great event. We look forward to next year!