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So, I ran a marathon…

I have to begin with a few apologies. The first is for simply talking about a running accomplishment, since I have [almost] always tried to downplay those as to not seem too egotistical. And I say “almost” since I still remember a friend of mine in high school telling me that she enjoyed hanging out with me a whole lot more before I turned out for track and started acting more “jock-like”. I’m not sure whether or not that comment truly changed something in me, but I have always liked to downplay my fitness, training, and performances – some might call it sandbagging, but I really just hate to boast. Plus, it’s always nice to under-promise and over-deliver.

Which leads me to apology number 2. That being the fact there’s nothing in this race report that will sound overly excited about what was a solid performance by most measures. It’s not that I’m not happy about the result, but perhaps I was expecting a little more from myself? I guess it’s true that we are all our biggest critics.

So… or perhaps it should be “so?”… I went to Phoenix and ran a marathon. Maybe the “so” is because this is the third time I have run the Mesa-PHX Marathon, which I believe was called the Phoenix Marathon the first time I ran it in 2015. I think they have been slowly changing the name, since it never even goes into Phoenix proper. Rather, it begins out in the desert near Usery Pass Regional Park, and then makes its way down into the sprawling suburbs following long corridors of arterial streets. Sounds amazing, doesn’t it? Spoiler alert – the scenery isn’t why you might consider running this race. Or at least not the scenery you experience during the race course.

I will admit that when I ran this the first couple times, there were a few points early on in the race that I felt the scenery was part of the experience. The first couple miles you are gradually descending through the desert as the sun is just starting to come up on the horizon. Silhouettes of saguaro cacti with an orange glow on the horizon as the sun comes up over the Superstition Mountains is pretty spectacular. But this year, the race started a half hour earlier than in years past (one of the major league baseball teams that has a stadium for spring training in the area – either the Cubs or the A’s – had a game mid-day, so they were trying to re-open the roads). The 6am start meant that it was dark for the first hour of the race. On the plus side, that meant heat would be even less likely to be an issue. But it meant no nice views at the start, or even getting to enjoy some of the desert flowers and cacti the suburbs at the edge of the sprawl have landscaped with. Who needs distractions like that? I was there to race.

A few weeks before the race, I was looking at the forecast and they were locked into a weather pattern with lows of 50 and highs in the 80′s. So that 6am start was going to be key. As long as there wasn’t wind and the sun wasn’t intense, I figured running in 50 degree weather would be great. But like any good weather forecast, it was bound to change. Just like the mid-February cool down in Portland that started bringing us snow, Arizona cooled off as well. No snow, but their weather started getting down into the high 30′s overnight, and only had highs in the 60′s. Great for racing, although not ideal for spending a few extra days to warm up and try to expose skin that has been covered in tights and long sleeves for most of the Oregon winter.

Cold, dark and boring. I know, I am really selling you all on a trip to the not-even-in-Phoenix Marathon. So why then did you opt to run this race again, Torrey? For starters, my parents live down in that area – meaning I have a place to stay, and can combine a family visit with the race. The other major reason is because I have always enjoyed late winter marathons. If you get lucky, the Oregon winter will be mild enough to train through, and it’s nice to have something forcing me to get out the door for runs in the winter. A 20 mile training run might fill a half day, which can be tough to do in the busy summer months, but there aren’t a whole lot of BBQ’s, camping trips, or other things vying for my winter weekends. And I got really lucky with the training this past winter.  Not much snow or ice to contest with, so I felt pretty good about my preparation going into the race.

Besides repeating the process of putting one foot in front of the other, the only notable things that happened during the race:
1. I had a few guys to run with during the first half. Company during the first half isn’t really all that important, since that’s really just the warm up. And the Mesa-PHX course is downhill for most of the first 10 miles. Although I always forget that it actually climbs fairly significantly from mile 4 to 6, and there was actually an annoying headwind for those first few miles (especially the 2 uphill miles). So it was nice having a group to work with through the wind. Once we turned out of the headwind and were going downhill again, I learned that one of the guys was in his 30′s, was local, and was doing his first marathon and aiming to run 2:32. Having seen the thinning hair from behind, it was the other guy I was more curious about his age – although it turns out he was only 28, and aiming to run under 2:35. He did inform me that one of the guys he had traveled with from Minnesota was a master and was up further in the race and planning to run under 2:30… so much for my plan to repeat as the masters winner.

2. Somewhat related to #1, but mostly related to #2… our little group didn’t last much longer than our introductions, sharing goals, and then a statement that “we should all work together.” I think that declaration was made by Minnesota, who then proceeded to pick up the pace on the downhill around miles 7 and 8. Then 2:32 saw a port-o-potty at mile 9 and peeled off. So there I was in a group of one. Which was fine, since that’s how this race has always been for me. Although I was starting to think that the quick potty stop might have been a good idea… especially getting another downhill mile to get rolling again. I knew the stop I made at mile 21 last year was a momentum killer, but I was also not feeling like my pre-race potty stop this year had been as successful as hoped. So when I saw another opportunity appear around mile 11, I took it. Overall, this pit stop was more efficient than the 2017 version, although I did do some cursing at the fresh toilet paper roll that I lost precious time trying to get the outer paper covering removed from. Based on my mile split, it looks like I gave up a minute.

Being as the port-o-potty was next to an aid station, I heard people cheer for 3 people, and then popped out as a couple others were coming past. But I settled back into my pace, and slowly caught up to those who passed me over the next few miles. One of those people was 2:32. I caught him around mile 18, and he ran along with me for a bit, mentioning that maybe 2:35 was a better goal for himself as well. I wished him good luck, and then motored on (I did wait for a while at the finish to see him, but based on his Strava splits, it looks like things really fell apart for him after that).

The only other things of note in the last 10 miles were 1) the mass of half marathon obstacles and 2) catching up to Minnesota around mile 24. The race organizers did fix some of the issues with the half marathon sharing the same course (not sure what the start time is, but they basically start at the half way point and run to the finish line). While they blocked off more lanes of road for everyone to share, the last several miles of this race are marked by weaving through the headphone-clad 4-abreast walkers participating in the half. I had more than enough space to find a path between them, and I admittedly enjoy hearing encouragement from them as I go running by – but I think there is something that goes haywire in my pace perception when passing people going a much different velocity than myself. I’m not sure if the 5 to 20 second decrease in pace from miles 20-25 was due to pace perception or just fatigue, but I think it does play a part in this race. Even through the sea of walker/joggers in the half, every once in a while I caught a glimpse of Minnesota up ahead of me. I was working on reeling him in, but then I saw him hit an aid station between mile 24 and 25, and come to a complete stop while drinking a cup of Gatorade. He said good job as I ran by, and then it was just me trying to make it to the finish line.

I went into the race aiming for 2:35 or better.  2:36:05 was my official finish time. Based on the results, it lists me as 6th overall (I’m pretty sure I was 7th), 2nd master. That is 1.5 minutes faster than I ran last year, so a PR. At age 45, it’s great to still be running PRs.

The problem is this – I was really hoping to accomplish my marathon goals in this race and be done with this stupid distance. Instead, now I feel like there is still unfinished business with the marathon. But when to do another? I probably need to do one where there is a field to run with (or perhaps just not a field of half marathoners to wade through?). CIM could make sense, but marathon training during cross country season, and having a race near XC nationals… there’s no way that is happening. The ideal race would be one that doesn’t conflict with other things AND has a group of people training for the same race, or others in the same vicinity, since I really enjoyed having a group to do training runs with this past winter. If you have ideas, I am all ears.

Sincerely,
The guy who wanted to retire from marathoning, but can’t do it (yet)

Discussion

2 Responses to “So, I ran a marathon…”

  1. How about Boston? It’s also in the spring, allowing you to train through the winter, and I guarantee you’ll have sufficient people to run with at that pace.

    Posted by Tim | March 2, 2018, 10:32 pm
    • Boston certainly has a strong field. But I’m trying to think of the year that anyone ever said “conditions were absolutely perfect this year for running a fast race.” It seems like too hot, too cold, too wet, and/or too windy are the norm. But I agree, the spring timing is good.

      Posted by Torrey | March 3, 2018, 6:06 am

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