I woke up shortly before 6AM on race day. A friend of mine from around the corner had offered to take me to the race with her family. She was running the half marathon for the 8th time or so and the rest of her family (husband and 2 kids) were going to run the mini marathon which is 5.5 miles and starts from the same location. This was really nice for a couple of reasons, since they were veterans of this race, they knew where to park, how to best get to the stating corrals, etc. and it just took that stress off of me. It was nice to just laugh and chat in the car driving down to Tempe – it really relaxed me. And, logistically, it made so much more sense for us to not have another car down south because we had to go straight to my daughter’s gymnastics meet afterward. So, they picked me up at 6:45 AM and we parked in a light rail park & ride lot and jumped on the light rail which ran down by Arizona State University and the start of the race.
The weather was really nice. It was early so still a bit cool but, even for me, it wasn’t bad at all. I brought the garbage bag for wind protection and to keep my body heat in but threw it away pretty shortly after arriving because I could tell I would be warm enough without it.
I did wear my hoodie and cheap Target gloves though. At the race expo I had moved from starting corral 16 (which was an estimated 3:00 half marathon – where I thought I would be way back in May when I registered) to corral 12 (a 2:24-2:30 pace). I quickly learned that people seemed to just randomly select their estimated finish times because I crashed into way too many walkers ahead of me at the start – they should not have been so far forward. Oh well. Next time I’ll go even lower than I think.
Also at the expo, the guy told me that the 2:30 pacer was going to be in corral 13 (behind the 2:30 pace group) which didn’t make sense. Well, sure enough, when I got in the corral, I saw the 2:30 pacer WAY ahead of my corral. Ugh. So I was starting off a good 50 feet behind them.
The race started on time but they had almost immediate delays in releasing corrals because the trains were still running. Corral 12 finally started about 20 minutes after the first gun.
I did very well keeping a steady but reserved pace. Using the pace calculator with the “fade” factored in, I was shooting for around an 11:11/mi for the first 8 miles. I knew the beginning might be a bit faster but I didn’t want to go too fast and pay for it later. I also could not figure out what the 2:30 pacer was doing because she was going way faster than me, and I was going faster than I had intended. If she was shooting for even splits, she should have been closer to 11:27. I wish I had been close enough in the corral to ask her what her strategy was going to be. This was also the first race I had been in with a pacer so I’m not sure what is “normal”.
We made our first big turn from University onto McClintock and headed north. After about a mile, I decided I was warm enough and I tossed my XXL hoodie to the left side of the road (where they asked us to toss our clothing so it could be gathered up to donate). I was almost overcome with happiness at that experience – here I am, running a freaking half marathon and tossing a huge piece of clothing away because it was too big, and I just don’t need it any more. I left my gloves on a bit longer (my hands always seem to get really cold) but tossed them aside maybe another 15 minutes later.
McClintock turns into Hayden Road as Tempe changes into Scottsdale – now we are in my “‘hood”, the area of town where I grew up. We passed the church (St. Daniel’s) where my husband and I got married. Before too long, I was at the intersection of Hayden and McDowell Road, just a mile or so away from my mother-in-law’s house and not too far from my dad’s house. When I made the turn, I looked for my family and there they were! All 3 kids and my husband – as well as my brother and sister-in-law. They had brought their bikes down to the race to watch. At this intersection there were probably the most spectators of the race for the day. It was fun!
We turned and headed west on McDowell Rd. until we reached Scottsdale Road. After looping through the ASU research park called SkySong, we headed north again to Thomas Rd. along Scottsdale Road, passing near my high school as well as many other familiar places. We turned again and headed west on Thomas, then south on 64th St. and then back to McDowell Road. I was holding up pretty well but my right leg was starting to really ache and almost cramp a little. I felt it early on – maybe around mile 5 – and that worried me because I had never ever had leg pain early like that.
And then it got hard. Really hard. I knew the “hill” was coming but at mile 9, it was absolutely brutal. It was an out and back on McDowell Road – normally a beautiful drive but I don’t think I’ll ever look at that stretch of road the same again. They had a GU station, Gatorade and water and I took the opportunity to walk thru the stations. It was slippery and congested anyway and I was ready to slow down for a minute. I had completely lost site of the 2:30 pacer at this point and I was really disappointed that it didn’t look like I was going to meet my goal. So, I should say at this juncture, that I really wish I had never set a goal for my first big race. I let it occupy way too much of my energy and I should have just been happy about the experience of training to run and getting out there and doing it. The added pressure of trying to hit a time goal was unfortunate – I see that now in hindsight.
But, as things go uphill, they must also go downhill! As I turned to head back east on McDowell, I had a new surge of energy. The added push from going downhill finally plus, most likely, the GU kicking in, gave me new strength and I was pumped as I saw the numbers on my Garmin drop rapidly and I put in some great splits. My legs hurt so much, but in a different way. I had to really concentrate with every foot-strike to make sure my knees and everything were as solid as possible. My legs were getting weak and it would be easy to twist something going downhill at speed. We headed south into Galvin Parkway, a beautiful area of Scottsdale with cool rock formations and it is also home to the Phoenix Zoo and Desert Botanical Gardens. It is the desert scenery you take visitors to when they come to see Arizona. I was really not enjoying the view too much because at this point I was tracking my Garmin carefully. I realized I did actually have a shot of making the 2:30 goal since I had gained so much ground with the downhill section. I calculated my remaining distance and kept my eye on things….still not seeing the 2:30 pacer anywhere. The course was mostly downhill but not as sharp now. There were actually a few small up-hills as well – sort of a mild “rolling” course. I was letting out little whimpers here and there – my legs, particularly my right leg, was really bad.
About this time I came across a woman runner with a “I Run 4 Natalie” shirt! I was so excited and it gave me a boost – I sped up a bit to reach her than passed her kind of close on the left. She apologized because she thought she cut me off and I said, “Oh no, I just wanted to catch you to say I like your shirt … and show you mine”. She was really excited and she turned around and called back to one of her friends that was also running for her buddy. It was neat to share that with other runners, and it gave me a new surge for 1/4 mile or so. (Just a side note: I just found this runner on Facebook today! She posted about running RNR AZ and her buddy’s name was Natalie. I asked her if she was the same runner that I had briefly chatted with around mile 10, and it was! She was excited to reconnect too!)
I pushed ahead and was watching my pace closely and running as hard as I could. Everything hurt. We had another slight uphill climb as we headed into Tempe and Mill Ave. and Tempe Beach Park (aka – the finish line!) With just over a mile left, I had about 13 minutes to run about 1.1 miles. I knew I had a shot! I gave it everything I had and sprinted to the finish. With the final turn to the finish line in sight though, I knew I wasn’t going to reach it before 2:30. I ended up being (officially by chip time) 41 seconds short. I was both elated to finish and disappointed. That is why I wish I didn’t have a goal. There is absolutely nothing to be disappointed in – especially since I was only over by 41 seconds! Overall for the half marathon I came in 8127th place out of 13407 total finishers, 627th out of 1141 in my division (females ages 40-44 I believe), and 4181st out 7781 women. Not too bad for a first attempt! I ran a pretty steady race. My splits varied a little and increased slightly with mileage but, to me, I think they were pretty steady – with the exception of the steep uphill climb around mile 9.
After crossing the finish line, I trotted forward about 20 feet or so and was met by a volunteer who put the finisher medal around my neck. Then there were race photographers everywhere taking photos. The finish line area is completely fenced off to spectators, but they were all pressed up against the chain link fence. Hundreds, probably thousands actually, of friends and family members trying to meet up with their runner as they finished. I took another photo against a RNRAZ backdrop. There were tons of volunteers and tables of water bottles, Gatorade, chocolate milk, power bars, fruit cups, pretzel bags … you name it. My hands were so full of drinks and food before I even got to where my family was. It was so good to see them and they all ran over and gave me a hug. My legs were rapidly stiffening up and my husband informed me that our car was parked well over a mile, maybe two, away from the finish line. He told me I should ride on one of those bicycle pedal cab things but there were 5 of us and we were going to have to split up if we did that. Unfortunately, because we had to get to my daughter’s gymnastics meet almost immediately, we didn’t get to go listen to the bands OR redeem my coupon for my free beer! That’s OK, it didn’t sound all that great after running 13 miles and at 10:30 AM.
Walking to the car was awful and I stayed back and went slowly with my daughters. My husband and son went ahead quickly to get the car and backtrack to pick us up. We went to the gymnastics gym in Chandler, dropped off my daughter with her coaches who graciously offered to braid her hair for me since I was in no condition to do that. Then we went to my sister-in-law’s house so I could take what was one of the best hot showers of my life. We didn’t have time to waste though because we had to head back to the gym. My baby girl had a great meet! Unfortunately we missed her first event – which is the one I wanted to see because it was a new level for her and I have yet to actually see her do the whole routine. We did see her tumbling passes and she, for the first time ever in competition, nailed them! She has struggled with that event for quite a few years and has made very little progress. It was nice to see her break through that finally! She ended up tying for 2nd place in tumbling. She did have to drop down a level in the double-mini trampoline event because she isn’t quite ready for level 7. With only a few refresher practice runs several days before, she stuck both landings at won first place in that event. Trampoline (the one we missed) she took 4th place. Not a bad start but room for improvement, as always. If I couldn’t be home nursing my leg pain, at least it was a good meet. Our day was far from over though, we had to drop my oldest off at church so she could do her volunteer work she was scheduled for then shortly after that my son had his Sunday night basketball practice – which I had to drive him too because my husband had to go back down to church for pickup. So, finally, by 8pm I was able to call it a day!
And, for the finishing touch, I just HAD to put this on my car. I’m one of those people now….