February 22, 2012

IMS Arizona Marathon February 19, 2012

Love. Maybe if I hadn't met my sub-four goal, you would be reading a totally different post right now, but goal reaching induces positive race reviews from me. So there's that full disclosure.

I flew into AZ on Saturday and headed straight to the expo. When I think Phoenix, I think the expo will be close to my family who lives in Phoenix. Nope, it was an hour from their house. That city spreads large and thin like my breakfast crepes. The expo was easy to find with not much traffic on the way to and from. What I liked about this expo? Spacious rows. If I had to take my four kids packing heat (i.e. our giant double stroller), it would have been no problem. Also, they would have loved walking through the blow-up colon as much as me. We run a very poop-focused household. The downside of this expo was the lack of running gear. There were three rows of booths, but only a handful were even selling anything run related. If you wanted a free shoulder massage (yes, please) or a spinal check, you had lots to choose from, but there was not a running shoe for sale in sight. Although, I did manage to find a cool headband booth where I bought my first outrageously expensive and sparkly non-slip headband. Sometimes I feed my family for weeks on the price of that headband, $14, but it didn't slip a bit during the race. And now I have a pattern to use for making my own next time. Thanks, grandma's old sewing machine.

Look at those wide aisles.

The t-shirts they gave out weren't lady-size so they were big, but I liked that they gave out safety pins and printed your name on your bib. For some reason, my last couple of races didn't hand out safety pins. I thought that was required like reading The Scarlett Letter in high school. Everybody does it.

Front
Back

After the expo, I got to hang out with family (loved it!) and went to bed around 10:30, which was good for me. I woke up around 12:30 a.m. to let my sister, who was just getting in from Los Angeles, into the house. She was a saint to drive all that way AND get up at 4 a.m. to race chase.

Sparkly headband and nail polish (thanks, Bella!) to coordinate with my outfit.

Warning: I am the opposite of a morning person, so race day is always a stretch for me. Getting up at 4 a.m. is not my thing, ever. Especially when the total hours of sleep from the previous days equals one average night's sleep. We had over an hour's drive to the start line and wanted to give ourselves a little extra time to get there in case traffic got weird. I forgot this isn't a Rock 'n Roll race and that traffic would be the last thing we should worry about. Hear that, e-people? That's the sound of no traffic in Arizona at 4:45 a.m. So we got there around 6 a.m. with an hour to spare.

Me and my matroshka doll before the start.

I used that hour wisely by going to the bathroom 10 times thanks to two big glasses of water and a 5-hour energy drink. The start line was by a cute little town square in Buckeye, AZ, and a small grocery store and a coffee shop were open. Because my sister bought some crazily overpriced coffee, I felt good about using their indoor restroom over and over again. It was so clean and cozy that I could have napped or eaten breakfast in there. I used no portable toilets during this race. That is a victory right there. PR of zero port-o-potty visits.

So if you hate poop, look away now. Colon cleansing was the most important part of the race prep for me because it enabled me to run without bathroom stops and without extra glute flexing to hold things together for the intestines. Feeling on the verge of pooping your pants for ten miles really hurts your time. I know what you're thinking, isn't this supposed to be a race review not a poop-story (poop + history)? What you absolutely need to know is that I colon cleansed (more on this in another post) on Friday before I left home, and that combined with the awesomely clean bathrooms at the start line meant that my colon was totally clean.

Also,  I didn't need the bag check because we were able to park so close, and I just waited until five minutes before 7 to put my throw-away clothes in the car (to throw away at the next race) and head to the start. There was no parking allowed at the start, but we just parked temporarily while we waited. Then my sister drove to the next location. I'm not sure if they meant no parking there until the end of the race, but there were spots available when we arrived. 

The start itself was so easy. It wasn't crowded at all. There was no indication of where to line up for times or corrals, but I tried to stand sort of close to the 3:40 pacer with some vague idea of keeping them in sight. There didn't seem to be any starting hitches, other than the microphone kept dipping out for the girl singing the national anthem and a four-minute late start. People just cruised out smoothly and quietly, gliding towards the rising sun.

Smooth, uncrowded start.

Mile 1 8:22
Mile 2 8:06
Mile 3 8:04
Mile 4 8:16
Mile 5 8:16
Mile 6 8:15

These miles were sloping downhill through some farmland. I was running with no Garmin (just my Runkeeper app), so I was trying to keep it at a challengingly comfortable pace according to feel. I knew that the first half of the course was slightly downhill, so I figured that I would run faster during this section. No music for these miles. I just enjoyed the distant mountains (which we don't see much of in Alabama), the pink and blue striped sunrise, and the dry desert farmland we passed. What I didn't enjoy was the distinct manure smell during these miles. It would be pretty gaggy if I was sensitive to smells, but given my general colon situation, I'm not that sensitive to manure singeing my nose hairs.

Mile 7 8:10
Mile 8 8:11
Mile 9 8:19
Mile 10 8:12
Mile 11 8:18

I started the music going in the headphones and put my sunglasses on to continue the cruise downhill. This must be the most amazingly even pace I have ever kept. Part of that was that I was using some other runners as my mental pacers. There were lots of awesomely strong ladies running this race and several who inspired me from the beginning to end of this race. My other new technique was not stopping at water stops. I've always used these as a little rest before this race, but I wanted to see if I could save time by running through them. Yup, it saves a lot of time. It is a lot messier, but that's what indoor plumbing is for, right? I tried to make sure that my cup was pinched all except for one tiny hole so I got splashed less. Before I was just pinching it in the middle, and it would splash out both sides. I took pretty small sips and tried to finish a drink from each water station, but by the time I was done drinking them, there were never any trash cans for chucking them. My brother, the unofficial trash police, would have been disappointed that I was throwing cups all over the ground, especially in the neighborhood sections of the race. I took a GU from my pocket (I carried two GUs into the race) at mile 9. This race only gave you a GU at miles 11 and 19, which wasn't enough for me. At this point the sun was up, but the clouds were still covering so we weren't ever blazing hot.

Arizona race cheerleaders start young.

Mile 12 8:18
Mile 13 8:10
Mile 14 8:28
Mile 15 8:27
Mile 16 8:26

My pace started to slow down as the descent ended and the road evened out. I took a PowerBar gel at mile 16. It was a gross flavor that I just grabbed from the volunteer (back at mile 11) without even looking at it. It almost gagged me, and I thought I might throw up for a minute. Nothing. Good, so I kept trucking. I had already seen my sister a couple of times, which helped me to keep smiling. Somewhere around this time, the 3:40 pacer group passed me which freaked me out a little. Partly because they were loud (so many feet pounding in the middle of such a sparsely populated race seems loud) and partly because I was hoping to stay in front of them. A runner can dream, right? I tried turning off the music for a bit to listen to my performance, but I needed it again almost immediately to help my feet keep churning.

Still smiling.

Mile 17 8:41
Mile 18 8:44
Mile 19 8:33
Mile 20 8:36
Mile 21 8:56

Starting to slow down a little, but I felt like my effort was the same as in the beginning. I took another gel at mile 21. In between, I was drinking Gatorade at most ever stop, except for the stops right after my GUs. My mantra for this race was "you trained for this." Meaning that I was going to push it, and I could do it. I trained for it, and nothing was holding me back. My legs were ready to perform. Those were the things I kept repeating to myself when I felt doubts. "You trained for this. You can do this." Over and over and over.

Thank you, clouds, for keeping the sun out of my face.

Mile 22 9:09
Mile 23 9:20
Mile 24 9:28
Mile 25 9:28

At around mile 22, I got some toe cramping in my left foot. Yikes, but I ran it out, and it didn't come back as strong, though it never fully left. The water stops started coming closer together at every mile, and I gave in to the temptation to walk through the last three stations at miles 23, 24 and 25. I had started aching everywhere from the constant effort, and I was having a hard time convincing myself to keep moving. When "Sweet Home Alabama" started playing up in the headphones, Skynyrd gave me the extra push I needed. I didn't want to disappoint my family back in our sweet home, so I tried to keep it together.

Mile 26 9:24
Mile 27 8:50

At mile 26, my favorite fellow runner ran by and yelled some encouragement to me. It wasn't the nice banter from the beginning of the race; it was the growly "you better dig deep" stuff that you need to wake you up and realize that this is it! You better do this junk now! That was the key to pushing through that last mile. I loved how you could see the finish line from pretty far out, which is when I kicked it into my highest gear (not super high at this point). I was done with this business and ready to hang out with my sister. When I was close enough to see that the clock was still in the 3:40s, I was ecstatic!

Holy crapoly, I can't believe I sub-4ed it!

The end of the race was in another city square type of courtyard close to the Coyote Arena. I never noticed any arena because I was so distracted by moving my feet to the finish. They had cold drinks and plenty of snacks on hand. The medals were nice with Arizona's 100th birthday recognized on the front and a map of the course on the back, but the ribbon they were on seemed kind of cheap. My sweater hook grazed by it and got stuck in the ribbon because it wasn't woven very tight. Not a big deal, but it might get in the way of me wearing it all week. My sister said the announcers were saying things about each runner who finished, like "he just got engaged" or "this is her first race." She also said they played "Sweet Home Alabama" after I came through, but I was too freaking happy to even notice what anyone was saying or doing. Unfortunately, she just barely missed my finish. I have to dedicate a whole other post to what an awesome race chaser she was.

My super serious cheerleader.

After walking around to cool down, I went out to meet Skinny Runner who helped me win the entry to this race. She was the first lady to cross the marathon finish line, and we stayed for an extra minute to cheer her on at the award ceremony. Go, SR! I also got to thank the race director, Debra, who provided the free race entry. Super nice lady!

I'm surprised Skinny Runner stood near me. Look how funky dirty my shirt is!

Debra the race director.

Overall, the best part of this race for me was the course. The first half of the race was picturesque, peaceful and downhill. The second half was a little more urban with a slight upward tilt. The other runners were pretty quiet, but friendly at times. Even though we were sharing the roads with cars, the nice wide Arizona roads made that possible without any hitches. The only part I didn't like about the course was when our space on the road narrowed and I felt like I had to run on the pebbly shoulder of the road to give the occasional runner room to pass. I have horrible balance when it comes to rocks on pavement, but no slip-ups happened. It just made me slightly nervous. They told us that going on the outside of the cones would disqualify us, but I'm not sure anyone was enforcing that. On a couple of turns I missed cones because I was following other people or not sure how the path turned. As far as I know, none of us were disqualified, but our infractions weren't intentional.

The weather was absolute perfection, with a low of 46 and high of 66. At the very beginning, the sun bothered my eyes for a few miles because it was rising right in front of my corneas. I brought sunglasses and put them on soon after we started. I also wore sunscreen, which is a must in AZ, but we were lucky to have cloud cover almost the entire race.

There weren't very many spectators, but I had already decided that there wouldn't be any, so my lowered expectations were exceeded. The relay runners were fun and encouraging as they waited at their checkpoints. The volunteers were friendly and plentiful at the water stops, and the bibs with our names on them meant that I heard my name being yelled by lots of random people which is always fun for attention whores like me. It was also fairly easy for my sister to get to several spots along the race course to cheer me on and take pics.

I am so happy right now.

Final stats: 3:46:48, a new PR and 15 minutes better than my previous record! 75/304 overall, 4/22 age group. My half split was 1:47, and my average pace was 8:40.