I have been looking forward to this runcation for months! Living in Wisconsin I have come to dread training through the cold winter season and know that I usually lose my motivation a few weeks into the new year. I wanted to avoid a repeat of the past few years and decided that I would stave it off by registering for a warm weather marathon to give me something to look forward to. I adore Arizona and look for any reason to return to this wonderful state and its beautiful weather!!! When I saw that there was a marathon in late February I was thrilled.
Signing up was the easy part training was another story. Mother Nature had a different plan in mind than what I did when I set up my running plan. With a full-time job and a family time is not always on my side for long runs. I have a small window of opportunity throughout the week and typically Saturday or Sunday are my best bets to get out and go long. Some of the coldest days in January this year were on Saturday and Sunday. My options were limited and for several of my long runs I had to jump on the treadmill otherwise known as the “dreadmill” in my house. You truly find out what you are made of when you run 18 miles on a treadmill and survive the boredom.
As the Phoenix Marathon quickly approached the butterflies began and I questioned if I was ready for a road marathon (I had done an indoor marathon at the end of January). I typically do a tune up run right before to build my confidence. The weekend before we left for Arizona I headed out for a 20 mile run. The weather was on my side with 40 degrees and awesome sunshine. Things did not go as planned. I made it roughly 17 miles and had to for the 1st time in my running life call to for someone to come pick me up. I was cramping so bad that you could see every muscle in my calves. I was a ball of emotion and cried like a baby in the shower when I got home. The remaining days prior to Arizona were spent trying not to freaking out about the marathon and get packed.
Speaking of packing…this posed a bigger challenge than it typically does. I religiously watch the weather predictions for vacations. This gives me a good idea for what to pack, I like to be prepared for every possible activity (yes – I’m an overpacker). A few weeks before the marathon the weather in Arizona was expected to be amazing. I was looking forward to low 60’s. In my opinion that is perfect running weather. As I basked in the glow of impending perfection while we were on vacation my dream world was shattered when Mother Nature threw a wrench into my running plan once again. Predictions had changed and the temperatures were expected to be unseasonably warm! Oh boy. Not what I was hoping for or planning on. Don’t get me wrong I like warm weather, but I was not ready for running in it. I have not had a chance to heat train at all. I was worried about my ability to adjust to the high temps and still complete the task at hand – 26.2 miles. My confidence was already shaken from my disaster filled training run the week before so I was a ball of nerves.
Luckily I had last summer’s races to fall back on. I had run in hot temps and had come to understand the way my body reacts with I get hot and stressed. That experience proved to be very valuable (more about that in a bit). The Phoenix Marathon website was my 1st line of defense in prepping for the weekend. I found it very helpful in adjusting my game plan. I checked out the aid station layout and was pleasantly surprised to find that they would be set up at miles: 3, 5, 7, 9, 11, 13, 15, 17, 19, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26.2. That is doable, especially if the temps get into the 80’s early in the day. I appreciate when a course has more stations towards the end of a race. I can increase my fluid intake and also use them as motivation to keep moving forward when exhaustion sets in. I accepted that I was going to sweat…a lot! I would need to combat that. In the summer I relied on Salt Stick to power me through long runs and keep cramping at bay. I stocked up on these and switched up the Oiselle shorts I would wear so that I could easily carry them and also bring with gels. Before I knew it the week was over and I was packed.
This was going to be a quick weekend getaway. My husband and I boarded our flight at 6am and touched down at 10am. PHX is an awesome airport to navigate through. We collected our luggage, grabbed our rental car, and headed to Mesa. Stepping out of the air conditioning for the 1st time since we arrived it became apparent that we were not in Wisconsin anymore…yikes it was HOT! At 83 degrees I was sweating. Glistening is not an option at that temperature. If this is what the marathon would be like I was in for a challenge. The realization of the situation hit me, I needed to up my hydration. I dropped a few tabs of Nuun into my Orange Mud bottle and began to drink as much as possible the remainder of the day. Game on…time to hit the expo and get my packet.
The expo was at the Sheridan hotel, sort of. The majority of the booths were inside the hotel conference center and a few located outside. It took roughly 5 minutes to get my bib, socks, and shirt. Circling the booths took another 10 minutes, they were packed into the conference center very tightly and it was not easy to move around. I got a bit claustrophobic. Outside the booths had more space and I was able to check out the Orange Mud booth. Man I want all the fun colors of transition towels! Such fun options. I digress:) Once we had our fill of the expo we headed to the Milwaukee Brewers (Cactus League) training facility to check out the stadium. With the top down in our rental car I was once again reminded that race day was going to be steamy! After catching lunch we checked into our hotel mid-afternoon relaxed and then searched for dinner – pizza, a tradition I try to stick to so that I carb up properly…plus I LOVE pizza.
Since the race start was early (6:30am) in comparison to Midwest events I wanted to be in bed early. Runners were required to ride buses to the start between 4-5:45 am. Being that I am not a morning person I wanted to make sure I was bright and shiny. I laid my clothes out, prepped my supplies, and hopped in bed at 9pm. I cannot remember the last time I was in bed that early, but 4am arrived quickly. After getting dressed and eating a Picky Bar my husband dropped me off at the bus pick up. It was 5:30am and my nerves were on edge. I grabbed the 1st seat on the bus that I could find and was joined my another runner in a few minutes. We chatted about previous and upcoming adventures as we traveled in the pitch black morning hours to the start. Arriving 30 minutes later at the start we disembarked and headed toward the start. My bus buddy headed his way and I set out to meet up with my friend Robin. Even though it was early and dark the temperature was still fairly warm – 60(ish). There were several warming stations with propane heaters and also 6 camp fires for runners to huddle around while they waited for the event to begin. Robin and I connected at one of the campfires and chatted a bit until the National Anthem began.
Before we knew it the RD called for runners to report to the start line. We shed our last layers, dropped our gear bag off on the way to the start, and began to prepare for the adventure ahead of us. The sun was beginning to rise just before the race began. I can honestly say that I cannot remember the last time that I was able to watch the sunrise as I was running…it was GORGEOUS. Arizona is a beautiful location and an cool backdrop for a marathon. The temperature continued to climb, but was not unbearable. Prior to the race I had decided that I would hydrate at each aid station, gel at miles 5, 10, 15, 20, and use salt tabs 30 minutes. (I have used this plan before and it has worked for me, but it is battle tested for me…everyone is different, try your plan out before your event). So that was the plan, but I got talking with Robin and engrossed in the course scenery and got off my plan immediately. Not cool! I felt the effects quickly and knew that I was in trouble if I did not adjust. At the 3rd aid station I grabbed double the water, downed a few salt tabs, and forced myself to eat a gel. Within a mile I was back on track and my leg cramps subsided. The thing about Arizona is that it is super dry. As quickly as I was sweating I was drying. It was hard to gauge how hot I was and how many electrolytes I was losing. Once my body adjusted and became aware of this I was able to sit into my race and get back on track. The next 10 miles clipped. When I saw the mile marker for 17 I was caught off guard. Holy cow…how did we get this far. I had been having a great time, talking to other runners, volunteers, checking out the landscape, house hunting (lots of cool homes for sale), and just enjoying the warmth…yep I said it. I don’t have a temperature gauge on my watch (hint, hint Garmin this would be a nice feature) but I would guess around mile 17 we were running in mid 70 degree weather with a very bright sun and zero cloud cover. Many of the roads we traveled on had been recently tarred so the surface was black and giving off a fair amount of heat as well.
The description of this course was fast and flat. For the most part this was true. We did have a few rolling streets to climb in the 1st 5 miles with one sizable hill and another smaller climb around mile 7, but after that it was smooth sailing until the end. I’ve come to learn that walking the hills may bruise my ego a bit, but saves my legs in the end, today was no exception. The majority of the course was downhill or flat with a few shaded areas in the later miles, which was a welcomed relief as the temperatures continued to rise as the day continued.
As far as logistics go this race had all the bells and whistles that a runner could ask for. The aid stations were well stocked with Gatorade, water (including jugs if you wanted to fill your own hydration system), first aid supplies, and exuberant volunteers. As we traveled throughout Mesa and Tempe we crossed several intersections but at no point did we need to worry. There was a very heavy police presence on the course which was comforting and welcomed as they too cheered on the runners with an excitement that I have not seen before. In addition to all the great support along the course there were several spectators that came out with water bottles, pretzels, garden houses, and music. It was a party from start to finish! As if that was not great enough already there was also a TON of porta-potties placed along the course, many of which were not directly connected to the aid stations which made for quick and easy stops. This was a top-notch, well organized event.
The miles ticked on and the struggle became real at mile 23. I was hot at this point and had resorted to dumping water down my back. This worked nicely to cool me for a brief period of time, but with the dry air I was warm again within half a mile and I did not realize that I had gotten the backs of my socks wet which was causing blisters on my heels. Even though it was 80 degrees by this point my body was handling the weather quite well and I was still having a pretty great experience…that is until mile 25. I know my limits and at that point it was overheating. I was covered in salt from sweating and starting to get shiver. That is not suppose to happen when you are hot. This has happened to me before. Knowing that something had to change quickly or I was going to fall apart I dug back into my bag of tricks from previous races. I slowed to a walk, took my hat off, downed the last of my salt tabs, and grabbed water. This was not making a difference – crap! I knew I had one more option, one I was not looking forward to…taking my shirt off and running in my sports bra. The added air on my skin would help to cool me down, but I have never run in a sports bra. I am not a fan of having my mid section out but my options were limited and I had a mile to the finish yet. I took a deep breath, swallowed my pride, and took my shirt off. I instantly began to cool down and feel better. Time to get this done! I took off and focused on the task at hand. In driving around the prior day I knew where I was and how close the finish line was. I stopped at mile 26 to put my hat back on before putting the hammer down with the little energy I had left in my legs.
Crossing into the tunnel was a unique experience. There were two very distinct and well marked lanes for the 1/2 and full marathon finishers. The announcer did his best to pronounce each runners name (mine is always a challenge – Schanhofer is feat in an of itself) and the crowd cheered with excitement for each participant. Medals were presented with in a few feet of the finish line and water handed to you a feet more feet on. A nice touch was the medical tent and numerous personal ready to help runners as they finished. After putting my shirt on, collected my medal, and chilled at the end waiting for a bit I witnessed several finishers go down due to exhaustion and the heat. Looking at my arms I realized just how much salt I had lost throughout the day, I was white. This event was tougher than I expected! Knowing that I am pleased with my time of 4:42 and look forward to building off that in the coming months.
Taking some time to cool off and taken in the awesome efforts of other runners Robin and I headed to collect our belongings and check out the post race festivities. Photographers were present to take photos prior to the runner only section. We meandered out and met up with my husband then went to gear check. The food choices were plentiful. The smell of BBQ, burgers, and beer did not do it for me. I was still pretty hot and wanted to get my shoes off. The blisters on my heels at this point were screaming at me. I grabbed a creamsicle, found my bags, took a few pictures, and called it a day. I wanted a shower and to get out of my disgusting clothes. Luckily the hotel was 2 blocks from the finish (Hyatt Place Mesa) so the walk was minimal.
It is amazing what a shower, a little Nuun, and a massage with my Roll Recovery R8 can do to revitalize a person! My husband and I went out and celebrated my finish with a few drinks and food at the Brass Tap close to our hotel. It was early bed for me as I began to feel the effects of my early morning about 9pm. Our goal was to go hiking the next day at the big “A” in Tempe near the ASU campus. Maybe it sounds crazy to most, but I try to do something active the day after a marathon to help move the lactic acid out of my legs. It seems to work for me…by Wednesday I was ready to rock & roll and begin training for my next adventure! This runcation was a success and I cannot wait to return to explore more of what Arizona has to offer. I’ve heard the Sedona Marathon is pretty darn cool…it’s 337 days away, plenty of time to train?!?!?
#BeHappy #BeKind #BeActive