Race review: Phoenix Marathon

Hard earned medal! I had to have my bag searched when I took it through security as it looked like a weapon on the bag scanner, haha.

Hard earned medal! I had to have my bag searched when I took it through airport security as it looked like a weapon on the bag scanner, haha.

So my Phoenix Marathon race didn’t go as planned.

And for some reason, I’m not terribly upset about it. Even when the grinding pain in my right hip — which started around mile 9 — became too much to handle at mile 13 and the 3:40 pace group passed by me about 15 minutes later, I wasn’t frustrated or mad. Even though I travelled 1,600 miles to run a race in hopes of qualifying for Boston, I was more concerned about not being about to walk around Disneyland and Vegas after the race. It’s not that I wasn’t focused on my goal or disappointed that I didn’t do what I set out to do… but I think I’ve just run enough races now to understand that’s just the nature of the marathon. You could have a completely perfect training cycle and taper, only to totally blow it on race day. And likewise, you could be riddled with injuries and illness and somehow have a fantastic race. That’s just the way it goes.

I’m not sure what caused my random hip pain — which was most likely my TFL flaring up — during the race. It could have been all the airplane travel in the two days before (we flew to LA first for a night then to Phoneix). Or the crazy downhill at the start. Or something that was just waiting the flare up on that day (I had weird hip pain before but on the other side — I have a feeling it has something to do with me standing awkwardly at my standing desk at work). Whatever it was, I’m glad I made the decision to walk/slow jog for the remainder of the race, giving me a 4:17 ish finish time. Not my worst race, but definitely one of the slowest events I’ve run.

I’ll get back to what happened during my race in a little bit, but first here’s what I thought about the Phoenix Marathon itself!

Race Expo
Aside from finishing the race, this was one of my most favourite parts about the Phoenix Marathon. The expo was held in a big conference room at the Sheraton, the host hotel near the bus pick up for the marathoners. There were lots of great vendors there with sweet deals, such as local running stores with half off Oiselle (!!) and PRO Compression with two for one compression socks (!!!), plus lots of useful (and tasty) handouts like Clif Bars, açaí bowls, tech socks, track bags, lip balm and more. The race swag itself was also pretty awesome – we got a self-help book, shirt, arm warmers, snacks, coupons and other little goodies.

Expo goodies!

Expo goodies!

The one thing I was not impressed with was the race shirt. I had high hopes due to what participants got last year – a brand-name technical tank top with a cool design on it and in a wearable colour. This year, we got a cheap-looking BMO blue tank top that fit like a tent (well, for me anyway). We got matching arm warmers as well, which were great to wear during the chilly start of the race and dispose of, but still. I’d rather have an awesome shirt I can wear around after the event than disposable arm warmers.

Another highlight of the expo for me was meeting some of the We Run Social crew and snagging some free pairs of PRO Comression socks. I didn’t quite recognize everyone at the meet-up event but realized I was following most of them on Instagram after the race. Hooray for meeting IRL!

At the We Run Social meet up at the PRO Compression booth!

At the We Run Social meet up at the PRO Compression booth!

Race Day
With a 6:30 a.m. race start and a 5 a.m. bus pick up time, needless to say I was up crazy early on race morning and was thrilled to see my hotel (the Hyatt Mesa, located right at the finish line – I highly recommend this hotel instead of the Sheraton so you don’t have far to hobble to get back to your room) had a free buffet breakfast starting at 3:30 a.m. just for runners. Amazing! I had some granola and soy milk and a bit of fruit and headed to the bus pick up location back near the Sheraton. I was a bit confused about where to get the bus for the marathon start as there were buses EVERYWHERE, but eventually found my way and hopped on the second bus to pull out of the parking lot.

Pre and post race fuel!

Pre and post race fuel! Stocked up on Nuun at the expo as well 🙂

I feel like what happened next was kind of a metaphorical prediction for how my race was going to go.

We were just a few miles from the starting line drop off when the bus I was on broke down at the side of the road in the middle of the desert.

Luckily I had a nice man named Bob from Winnipeg to chat with beside me for the half hour we sat waiting for another bus to pick us up while other buses full of runners sped by. Runners on my bus started to get agitated after about 20 minutes, as their pre-race porta-potty plans had been derailed. Several headed out into the desert in the dark to relieve themselves.

“That’s not very smart. I saw rattlesnakes and scorpions yesterday when I did a short run through here,” said Bob, my bus buddy.

We were eventually rescued with only about 30 minutes to spare before the start of the race. Although there were rows and rows of porta potties, each one had a massive line up so I decided not to wait – warmth from one of the heat lamps they had set up near the race start seemed more vital at that moment. Despite reaching close to 30 degrees C during the day, Mesa was COLD at night, especially in the desert. I kept my throw-away sweatshirt on right up until the gun start.

Scene from the starting line.

Runners huddled around a fire trying to keep warm

After a short fireworks display, we were off and running. I placed myself somewhere between the 3:25 and 3:30 pace groups, but went out WAY too fast despite trying to rein it in as best as I could. One moment I’d be running on pace, the next time I looked down at my Garmin I’d be running 20 seconds too fast. By the time the sun started to come up and the downhill ended (at about mile 10), I already felt tired and dehydrated. I was struggling to take in enough water during the days before the race, and my mouth felt super dry going into the race. I knew I’d be stopping at all the water stations and prayed the heat wouldn’t get to me as much as I feared it would.

Once we came out of the residential areas (which had amazing Star Wars themed aid stations with hilarious signs, by the way!) hit the boring, flat highway at mile 12, I noticed a bit of a grinding in my right hip and had noticeably slowed down. At that point, the 3:30 pace group caught up with me, so I decided to stay with them for the remainder of the race. I held the pace no problem until the last water station before the half way point, where I had to stop and poke at my hip to see what was going on. It hurt to the touch and I struggled to pick up the pace again. I eventually did catch the pace group but my hip pain kept getting worse and worse. I lost the pace group again as the heat and pain started to get to me. I also really had to pee and cursed myself for choosing warmth over the porta potty.

It was about 1-2 miles after the half way point (that’s when the 3:35 group passed me by) that I decided to throw in the BQ towel. I told myself I’d keep going if a BQ was a possibility, but I felt there was no way I could keep going at this pace in pain, despite hitting my 10K target of 48 minutes and my half target of 1:45. Also, I still had a lot of vacation left and really didn’t want to have to visit a US clinic nor hobble around Disneyland and Vegas with a running injury. So I slowed down, jogged to the next aid station, gulped down three cups of Gatorade and finally hit the porta potty.

I was disappointed but not terribly upset about my race. Once I knew a BQ was out of the picture, I decided to consider it a cool experience and jogged/walked for the remaining 10 miles past orange groves, friendly people shouting encouraging words, lots of beige suburban landscaping, funny signs, palm trees and lovely volunteers who were concerned about my hobble. About 9 miles from the finish line an Oiselle Volee runner complimented me on my flyte tank and stopped to walk with me a bit, just as the race photographers took this awesome picture:

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I managed to jog for the last mile to the finish line area where Matt was waiting to rescue me. I had been texting him and posting status updates on Facebook to keep everyone informed on what happened (I had those automatic time updates set to post so I figured I better let people know I wouldn’t been coming through as predicted), and as soon as I crossed the finish line I hobbled out of the finisher’s area to meet him. I was handed a cold towel on the way (which was much appreciated — the temperature was starting to get up there by this point) and offered various treats and snacks, such as Muscle Milk, some kind of meat sandwich and a generous helping of french toast with syrup (all of which I had to decline as I felt sick by this point). I wish I had been feeling better as the finisher’s area looked like a real party with lots of vendors and fun stuff happening. All I wanted to do was lie down and ice my TFL, so Matt and I headed straight back to the hotel.

Overall I felt the Phoenix Marathon was a very well organized and fun race. The lure of the downhill course isn’t what it seems to be, though, if you’re after a BQ and are used to races on undulating terrain. That downhill can really trash your legs if you go out to fast, and the flat part is REALLY boring. It was also unusually hot this year (average temps on race day are between 15-20 degrees C, but it was around 25-28 degrees as soon as the sun came up this year), but the race organizers were well prepared for that with lots of water available on the course, two misting stations you could run through (plus some dude hosing runners down with his garden hose on the course, haha), and cold towels near and at the finish line. Would I do this race again? Maybe… as I really loved Mesa and how pretty and warm it was. But as for BQ’ing, it looks like my home course in Victoria is my best bet.

Enjoying the rest of my vacay in Disneyland and Vegas!

Enjoying the rest of our vacay in Disneyland and Vegas!

 

Bri’s Race Rating
(Out of five stars)

Course: ☆☆
Terrain: ☆☆☆
Views: ☆☆☆
Food: ☆☆☆☆☆
Volunteers: ☆☆☆☆☆
Swag: ☆☆☆☆
Organization: ☆☆☆☆
Atmosphere: ☆☆☆☆☆

Here are my Garmin details if you’re interested.

Have you run the Phoenix Marathon before? What are your thoughts about it? Have you ever pushed through a mid-race injury to beat a goal? Why or why not?

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