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Phoenix Marathon 2014 Race Report

Phoenix Marathon Finish A marathon?  Yeah, that sounds like fun.  Phoenix Marathon?  Much better than the other local, early-season marathon, which shall remain nameless.  Pursue a Sub-3 or “settle” for qualifying for the Boston Marathon?  (That’s in quotes because nobody settles for the Boston Marathon; it is a tough goal and everyone has to work hard to achieve it.)  For me to qualify for the Boston Marathon, I’d have to go under 3:15.  Those are worthy goals that will motivate me.  Why not right?

Except…

I did just do Ironman Panama 70.3 two weeks ago.  At that race, I pretty much turned myself inside out to do the very best that I could.  Yes, I reached my goal and earned a spot at the 70.3 World Championship but would that self-evisceration remain unhealed two weeks later?  Only one way to know for sure, so off to the starting line I went!

Phoenix MarathonPre-Race

I am not going to lie.  In the two weeks between Panama and the Phoenix Marathon, I vacillated between unmotivated and partially motivated.  My training included one rest week and one modified Base 3 to turn on the endurance engine.  But, even those workouts weren’t done with near the same focus and intensity as the ones leading up to Panama.  I did what I was supposed to do, but my heart just wasn’t in it.  I think I spent more time basking in the happiness from my Panama results and rock climbing than focusing on the Phoenix Marathon.  I did what I needed to do physically to be ready, but mentally, well, that was a completely different story.  I just wasn’t there and was unsure what impact that would have during the marathon.

Phoenix Marathon: Race-day

Before the race, nothing much of note happened.  I got up early, ate a simple breakfast, and eventually headed to the shuttles to get a lift to the starting line.  It was, however, raining intermittently, so that was kind of fun.  Nicely though, the so-called inclement weather nearly ensured overcast skies all day, cool temperatures, and the likelihood of some showers.  Unlike some, that sounded pretty cool to me.Phoenix Marathon

As you can see from the elevation graph above, the race has many stretches of downhill false-flats.  These parts aren’t really downhill but they aren’t really flat either; hence the terms “false-flats”.  From a running perspective, they are great.  My plan was to get through the first seven or so miles, where the real up and down hills were and then settle into a rhythm that I hoped I could maintain to the end.

Phoenix MarathonPhoenix Marathon: Miles 0-7

Starting the race in the pre-dawn, rainy morning was very pleasant.  There was the usual pre-race energy in the air.  Other athletes’ faces betrayed what they were feeling: nervous, excited, scared, anxious, and more.  I love the calm before the race-storm, when you usually see the future on people’s faces.  Their actions, expressions, and statements are so entertaining and revealing, I believe.

(One side story here, one had to park at the finish line and take a bus to the start line.  No big deal, this is commonplace.  I was literally on the last shuttle with just a few other marathoners and our bus driver was beyond clueless.  First she didn’t know where the start line was, are you SERIOUS???  Then, she kept stopping, saying we had driven too far.  Uhhh, it is dark, there’s spotlights, AND FIREWORKS.  Just drive to those things and I am pretty confident we will see a large group of people UNDER THE STARTING BANNER!  Sheesh, she was ridiculous…  Thankfully, we all made it to the start line with plenty of time to spare.  But, not without some fun, early-morning laughs.)

Pretty soon, the PA started a count-down and the race was on.  I intentionally started a little back in the crowd to avoid the “front of the pack” surge that always happens.  If you don’t pay attention, you can easily find yourself at near-sprint pace but feeling great.  That is what the pre-race energy will do to you.  Nicely, this won’t impact your day at all.  Oh, until Mile 15-20, when your legs will fall off.

Phoenix MarathonMy first seven miles passed without note.  I maintained an easy-feeling pace, navigated the mile to mile-and-a-half of uphills, and then settled back down to a comfortable speed.  The picture shows my pace (other than the first mile, where I had to restart my watch to reconnect with GPS satellites).  Getting through that sections of “hills”, I felt great and, other than maybe running a tiny bit too fast, was very happy with what I did.

Phoenix Marathon: Miles 8-16

This is where a marathon can really start to get tough.  You are far beyond the exuberance of the start yet too far from the finish line to daydream.  Staying focused and consistent can definitely be challenging.

Those nine miles, for me, seemed to pass far too easily.  I kept checking my pace (it was good).  I kept drinking a little bit of water and splashing it on my head at aid stations (it felt awesome).  Basically, I did whatever I could to distract from the monotony of running mile after mile through the endless repetition of suburbia.  My family had wonderfully come out to give me a brief cheer right around Mile 12, so that was awesome.  But, also very fleeting.  Once I was past them, I wasn’t even yet halfway and they were my last anchor point.

Even with the doldrums, my pace was very consistent.  My fastest mile was a 7:08 and my slowest (other than a 7:24 on a freeway junction) was a 7:16.  My goal was to hold, at worst, a 7:15min/mile and I am extremely happy with that block of miles.  I don’t think I could have ran it any better.

Phoenix MarathonPhoenix Marathon: Miles 17-22

Around Mile 17, you can start to fantasize about being done.  You’ve passed the halfway point.  You’ve reached single digits remaining.  It is a great place to be.

However, it is also a terrifying place to be as you know what’s coming: the dreaded marathon “wall”.  I can’t speak for the super-human, mutant athletes but for the rest of us normal humans, there’s always a point in a marathon where you really start to suffer.  For some, it is Mile 22.  For others, it can be Mile 18.  But, it is always there, lurking in the shadows and waiting for your resolve to crumble.  When that happens (and it always does), it attacks with a tireless fury, trying to find weak spots in your mental defenses.  If it does find some purchase, you are in trouble.  Much like a toddler, it will mercilessly work and work on you until you weaken.  That is when you find yourself giving up on your goals for the day and walking slowly to the finish line.

On this day, that wall seemed to not exist.  You can see from my pacing that I was stunningly consistent.  Offer me a pile of Benjamins to run a 7:11 for five straight miles and you’ll be keeping your money.  Offer me a mountain of gold to do it during Miles 17-21 of a marathon and there’s almost no way I’ll be going home wealthy.  But, somehow, that’s exactly what happened.  Inexplicably, I held a 7:11 for five boring-unremarkable-how-am-I-doing-this miles.  Just crazy.  Those five miles probably saved my day.

Mile 22 passed nearly as uneventfully with a slightly off 7:18.  Not too bad, but slightly slower than my 7:15 goal.  I’d be completely fine with this, except it was without a doubt a portent of things to come, even though I didn’t know it at the time…

Phoenix MarathonPhoenix Marathon: Miles 23-26.2

Without a doubt, I ran into the proverbial wall.  I had already started to focus on the finish line and hope I could hold my pace that long.  Those thoughts were somewhat stale when my legs began to hurt.  I knew, however, that I had banked some time since my original goal was sub-3:10 but a 3:15 would still accomplish my big goal (of qualifying for the Boston Marathon).  With that in mind, I began employing a run hard between the aid stations but walking the aid stations approach.  I didn’t want to do this, but I was seriously concerned about my ability to keep running for an additional four-plus miles.

With those four miles being 8:02, 8:12, 8:04, and 8:03, I feel I did well under the circumstances.  Yes, I was losing time but I was maintaing a steady pace, with small 15-20 seconds of walking at times.  I could live with that.

Phoenix Marathon

These shots are separated by more than 10 miles yet still holding form!

Finally, I passed the “Mile 26” sign and began searching for the finish line arch.  The last bit of the course meandered through a large retail area with meant I couldn’t see more than a 30-40 yards up the road at a time.  Making the last turn, I wonderfully saw the finish and surged towards it.  Of course, there was some drama.

When I could finally see the finishing arch, I could also see the race clock.  Without about 150 yards to go, it read 3:14:30, meaning to cross the line in less than 3:15 on the race clock, I’d have to cover that distance in 30 seconds.  Uh, no chance.  I knew I had some extra time since I crossed the start line after the race start (and you wear a timing chip on your bib, rather than your time being connected to the race clock) but because I had to restart my watch during that first mile, I was unsure how much extra time I had.  So, not wanting to risk it, I gave my legs everything I had left and “sprinted” towards the end (meaning, I probably dropped my pace a mere 15-30 seconds and stumbled across like a drunken fraternity pledge).  I crossed the finish line just after 3:15 but felt very confident the extra time was enough to keep my time under that magical 3:15 that I simply had to have.

Phoenix MarathonAfter recovering for a bit, getting some liquid, and receiving the longest post-race massage ever, I made my way to the timing tent to see my actual results.  Entering my race number, the machine printed out a small slip of paper, which read 3:14:53 at the bottom.  I nearly crapped my pants.  Not only had I qualified for the Boston Marathon but I had done so by a puny SEVEN seconds.  Wow… so glad I only had to pee once during that race!

Please grant me a little soapbox introspection… You know, I don’t know what benefit (if any) people get from these reports, my social media posts, etc., but I hope some.  I look at this race as just a great example of what consistency and mindset can do.  Six years ago, I was not a runner.  And, I don’t mean I wasn’t “fast” or  didn’t race.  I mean I never ran.  I played sports but had never engaged in running, other than during basketball games.  Yet, I started with one goal (simply to finish Ironman Arizona 2009) and that blossomed into new and bigger goals each year.

Phoenix Marathon

Sure, I knew about the Boston Marathon before 2009.  But, candidly, I couldn’t tell you anything beyond that it was a marathon and that it happened in Boston.  I had no clue it was such a big deal.  I had no clue you had to qualify for it.  Basically, I knew almost nothing.  As I got more and more into the endurance world, I dreamt of someday running the Boston Marathon but that seemed more pipe dream than reality.  The times were just too fast.  Until the Phoenix Marathon, I’d run precisely one marathon under four hours and that was a 3:42, nearly a half-hour away from a qualifying time.  (Heck, my second fastest marathon was a 3:58 at Ironman St. George in 2012!)

But, as time passed (and my training continued to develop my aerobic engine), I began to believe I could run fast enough to qualify.  My mind changed as much as my body did and that transition was no less critical.  To run that sub-3:15, I first had to actually believe I could run a sub-3:15.  Without belief, there is doubt and your mind will always find that doubt when the going gets tough.

So, if you can take anything from this, take that your goals are always within reach.  Yes, it may take time as the bigger the goal, the more time it will probably take for you to achieve it.  But, I do believe they are always achievable.  If a complete non-runner, former fat lawyer can somehow qualify for the Boston Marathon, then anything is truly possible!

Until next time, thanks for reading!

Phoenix Marathon

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