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Rohit Also Ran the Tucson Marathon

By Rohit Grover

After the disappointment of missing entry into Boston 2018 by six seconds I decided I wanted to run another marathon in 2018 since I didn’t have to save my legs for Boston. The Boston Athletic Association notified me on September 27 that my entry was not accepted, and by October 4 I had decided that I’d run Tucson. California International Marathon (on Dec 3) was an option, but Tucson (Dec 9) afforded an extra week of training, and I figured I needed every extra day, plus it would still allow me to indulge a little during Thanksgiving and my birthday.

I like the city of Tucson, having visited it many times while I was in grad school as my then-girlfriend (now wife) was studying there. We still have a few friends in the area, and they were very generous about hosting me during my visit. Two of them decided to run the half marathon, so I didn’t feel bad about planning a 3 am wakeup on race day (for last-minute bagels, bananas, and beet juice).

Tucson is a point-to-point course, with a net elevation loss. The weather is billed as being cold (mid-30s to low-40s) at the 7 am start, with temperatures gradually warming to 65 degrees around 11 am. So in as-advertised conditions, the weather is ideal, and the course is conducive to PRs, with only a few miles of rolling hills between miles 2-4, miles 10-13, and mile 24-finish.

Training went well for Tucson, with Rick’s prescription of cruise intervals and alternations providing speed work, a PR at a tuneup race (Blue Lake Half) boosting confidence, and general feedback from Tim and Raghav keeping me on track. Tim initially told me to go all-out in the beginning of the marathon and “bank time” but wisely retracted the advice and told me he was kidding when he realized I might follow it. As it turned out, the elevation changes in this race are such that an even effort means a slight positive split.

Lou Karl and David Buczkowski have both run this race in the past, and both of them provided very similar advice on pacing, basically to not fret about losing time on the rolling hills because the downhills make up for it.

This is one of the few marathons that are held on a Saturday, which I prefer because it affords a day at home for recovery before having to rejoin work. I flew into Tucson Friday morning and drove straight to the expo. The expo for the race was very small, and bib pickup was a breeze. Tucson Marathon had only about 350 participants last year, and the expo seemed consistent with a small race. (I later learned that this year the participant count increased to a little under 600.)

After the expo, I drove up to the starting line at the top of the hill, which had intermittent views of the valley and a lineup of gleaming blue portaloos for the morning’s festivities. Having verified that the town of Oracle and the start line did exist, I drove to a wonderful pasta dinner at my hosts’ house.

As with most races, I found it difficult to sleep the night before, and was up before my 3 am alarm sounded, which gave me a head-start on consuming my pre-race diet of bagels, bananas, beet juice, some shot blox, and a caffeine pill. Having changed into race gear and donned some (disposable) layers, I was off to the shuttle stop. School buses were waiting to shuttle us to the start line, and the first shuttle reached the top of the mountain a little after 5 am, two hours prior to the scheduled start of 7 am.

They didn’t have pacers for people wanting to run under 3:40, so the race organizers tried to introduce people to each other based on the time they were planning to run, but most people were rather non-committal about the time they wanted to run, so that didn’t work.

The race started just as the sky began to lighten and turn into the color of a slice of bacon, with the sun later playing the part of the egg (ah, poetry!). Although the first two miles had a steep downhill, it wasn’t too difficult to navigate. It felt more difficult to apply brakes than to move at what felt like a natural pace (around 6 min/mi for me on that downhill), so I decided to ignore the pace plan in that section. Some people around me were discussing how they had missed entry to Boston 2018 due to the jump in cutoff.

By mile 5, it was time to discard sleeves and gloves, as the temperature felt quite pleasant. I was hoping to hit the halfway mark between 1:30 and 1:32. Miles 10-14 were an out-and-back on the access road to Biosphere 2, and consisted of rolling hills. Volunteers the start of the out-and-back (mile 10) were cheering us, saying we were halfway-there, but of course, this wouldn’t be true until we completed the out-and-back. I did not disabuse them of this notion. Volunteers get extra credit for volunteering.

The first part of the out-and-back was eastward, and the sun was beating down on the participants through a clear, cloudless sky. This is where the heat and rolling hills started having an effect, and I crossed the halfway mark at 1:32:12. I still felt good, and figured I’d make it up on the gradual downhill that followed.

Unfortunately, the climbing temperatures meant that I was not able to speed up as much as I hoped on the gradual downhill. Towards the end of mile 23, I could feel the first twinges of cramp and bit down on a Thai green chile, but it was too late. Despite consuming water at most aid stations (I missed one when the cup handoff didn’t go as planned), I was very dehydrated, and my calfs and hamstrings seized up just as I crossed the 23-mile-marker. A fellow participant remarked helpfully as he passed, “Don’t stop now, it’s just another 5k.” In my brain-addled state, I omitted to provide a snappy rejoinder.

I stopped briefly to stretch twice in the next 2 miles, and limped/ran as fast as I could (not very fast), and consumed some more chilis. Mile 24 had a small hill, which wasn’t helpful, but by mile 25, the cramps started subsiding enough to let me slowly speed up. As I rounded the final corner, I saw the clock read 3:09:40, and I managed a “sprint” to the finish line to finish in 3:09:57, 3 s under my “B” goal of 3:10:00.

I was advised to walk off the cramps after the finish, which I did for about 15 min. I was bummed about the cramps and losing about 4 min or more in the last 3 miles, but looking at the results board I realized I was second in my age group, and collected my award, a sand painting. When I thought I was okay I started walking to the shuttle, and then suddenly both legs seized on me. Some good samaritans saw me stop and totter, ran to me, ensured I didn’t fall, then helped me to the medical tent, where the doctor covered me with ice bags and gave me some Gatorade till the cramps subsided.

Then I took the shuttle to the car, and played “We are the Champions” really loud on the drive back to my hosts’ house. The car said the temperature outside was 68 degrees, and I knew I’d felt each degree.


One Response to “Rohit Also Ran the Tucson Marathon”

  1. Well done Rohit!!!

    Posted by Michael Gorriaran | February 6, 2018, 7:24 am

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