Tuesday, February 7, 2012


The gun was up and we were off!

There was nothing in front of me but the pace vehicle. Usually when the gun goes off in any race, someone sprints out to the front, i.e. Nate Lasker in the Turkey Trot. That didn't happen today. Somehow, 30 seconds into the race, I was within arms reach of the leaders. We were running down W. Washington St. in Phoenix. It was 5 lanes wide and people wanted to run in the middle of the road for some reason. I knew from warming up that after 1/2 mile we were going to take a right, so I ran on the ride side of the road alone. The lead motorcycle with the video camera was right on the side in front of me, but he was filming the pack immediately to my right, not me. Eventually, the group came over to join me before the turn, but only at the end of the street. So going around the turn, I was in the lead by myself with the camera focused solely on me. I wonder if I can find footage for that.

The pace felt comfortable though. As much as I was excited about being in the front of a big city Rock n Roll race, I was realistic about the fact that we had a long way to go. So I remained calm and let the group start to surround me. I was still running with the lead group completely, and the pace car was right in front of us with the clock on it. That was pretty sweet. If I were Pat Early, that's what I would have taken a picture of. As we got to the mile, I don't know what place I was in, it could have been 1st or 20th, it didn't matter because we were all just running together. The clock on the side of the road said 2:21, and a guy next to me looked at his watch and said "So much for a fast opening mile!" I responded, "I don't know about you, but I just PRed for the mile!" and pointed at the clock on the side. A third guy joined the conversation and asked if the clock at the front was accurate and I told him it was. The first mile was perfect, if not for a little bit too fast.

Shortly after that, someone emerged from the back of the pack on the left side and moved to the front. He didn't exactly move quickly, but he went to the front nonetheless and broke the race open. We were no longer bunched up-- we were running in a single file line. The leaders were still only a few yard ahead of me, but I decided not to go after them because I wasn't there to race yet. My race plan was run a comfortable half-marathon in 75 minutes, stay in control until 18 miles, and then start moving for the last 8 miles. I wasn't about to let that change in mile 2. Despite throwing down the hammer, mile 2 was a very reasonable 5:42.

I was running in around 8th place probably, and a few of the other guys in front of me started to come back already. They made the mistake of responding to that first guy's surge. Foolish. But there I was, playing the fool too. I got excited picking them off and ran a 5:29 third mile. Now I was in 5th placed, with two black guys and a taller white guy from the Army that I'd seen warming up at the very front, and a shorter white guy with a blond pony tale running in 4th behind them, sort of doing his own thing. I think he and I may have had the same idea... run your own race and ignore the other people around you. The top-3 were running in the middle of the road, and he was off on the right side running in the shade. I was doing the same, 50 meters back. I could still see and read the clock on the pace car, but I was very much aware at this point that I was all alone and it was going to be a long morning. The delayed start meant that the sun was already up, but it wasn't in my eyes so I still had my sunglasses on top of my head. I reacted to the fast third mile and slowed down a bit much on the 4th to run a 5:50. At this point, I still need to get some pacing down. It's early though, so I'm not too worried about going slow. Mostly I wanted to know when I was going to see KC again on the course.

10K in 34:37
Still running alone and falling slightly further behind the leaders, I click off a 5:04 5th mile. Shit! How did that happen? I didn't feel like I was going faster though, so I just assumed that the markers were a little it off between miles 4/5 and that I was closer to even splits for those two. I just got so focused on the course and on running even and staying relaxed that I almost didn't see KC, Ryan and Chris on the side of the road after that! I was fully past them before I realized that it was them, so I turned around and waved at them and said "I just ran a 5:04 mile!" I found out later that they didn't understand what I'd said and thought I was telling them not to cheer! Fortunately they didn't listen to that request anyway! They were there again right at 10K, which had a 6th mile of 5:34. I was in the mid 34's through 10K, I don't remember. Internet splits say 34:37, so if that's accurate I was running 2:26:04 pace. A little fast up front...

The next 2-3 miles were uneventful. I was just running down the roads, heading into the sun. I put on my sunglasses before 10K. That was probably the most exciting thing aside from seeing KC again at 10K. We entered a shopping area called the Biltmore and I was happy to see KC et. al. again. I went around a corner and looked back out of habit. There were two guys there! I was worried for a split seconds but then I thought, whatever, maybe I can run with these guys! As they got closer to me approaching mile 9, I asked them if they ran really fast on mile 5 (hoping it would have been short.) They said no, that it was the mile when the pack broke apart. So apparently I wasn't conscious of the fact that I was running 5K pace at the beginning of the marathon. I asked what they were trying to run and they said "mid 2:20s." That sounded too fast for me, so I let them pass me. 7-9 were all between 5:34 and 5:38, so it seems as I'd finally found my groove.

Look how fast I look!
The two guys in front of me, who were both wearing Asics Aggies uniforms, weren't getting any further away from me after mile 10 was 5:45. I figure we were probably running the same pace. I told myself "you've got plenty of time" and that they'd come back to me later. Just keep on keeping on, running the tangents, staying relaxed and focused. I went around a corner and started to head down a hill. Splits started to pick back up because of the downhill, and got 11-13 in 5:38, 5:36, 5:26. I saw KC again right at 13 miles and I knew that something big was about to happen. Good or bad, it was going to be big.

13 Miles in 72:42
Prior to September 18, 2011, my PR for the half-marathon was 73:19. I'd run that at the Shamrock Half-Marathon in 2010. That was a 4-second PR from the 2005 Colonial Half-Marathon. The half had been a struggle for me. The first half of this race was by far the easiest half-marathon I've ever run in my life, and I did it in 73:18. Ridiculous. 4 months earlier and that would have been a PR. Way to go! Pace for a 2:26:36. I even let myself think about beating Charlie's PR.

I was now on the part of the course that was out and back. It was not the most spectator friendly portion of the course; there wasn't anyone out there for us at all. But all I needed was water stops and mile markers. Right after mile 14 (5:39), I saw the 18-mile marker on the other side of the road. I thought to myself, "Just get there and you can start running." 15 and 16 were uneventful but perfectly paced. I was just happy with what I was doing, running 5:35 and then a 5:27. OK, so the 5:27 was a little bit fast... right after 16 we took like 5 turns in the span of a block to get back onto the course heading the opposite direction. I crossed over a timing mat and thought that it must be there to keep people from cutting the course. In fact, that was the internet 16-mile mark.

I got to 16 miles in 1:29:25. The internet reported that I ran 1:30:31. Apparently this caused some alarm amongst my friends. Stupid internet. It was only a difference of 4 seconds pace wise, but it did make it seem like I was crashing hard. Not yet. I was on the move! By the time I got back to 20, the sensor was back on track, but it made everything think that the 4 miles that I ran were averaging 5:04 or something like that. Not true, but this was my fastest 4 miles of the race.

Coming back around the turn at the course, all of the sudden I could see everyone again. I guess I'd fallen asleep or something while heading out, because on the way back I was back in the race. I saw the Asics Aggies in front of me, and I even saw the lead vehicle again with the front group. One runner from the Army, who I'd seen warming up, was coming off the side of the road after taking a bathroom break. I thought to myself, "I'm going to get you!" Mile 17 was 5:23. Rolling. I caught the Aggies and moved past them pretty quickly. I saw the Army guy getting closer to the main group, and they seemed to be a little more spread out now that they were at mile 18. I got to 18 in 5:19. Fast. I was shocked when I ran a split like that in Philadelphia this fall. To do it in Arizona was almost beyond reason. Was I really running under 5:30 pace consistently?

19 and 20, I'm closing the gap. I'm less than a minute behind the leaders at 20, according to KC when I pass her. I ran those two miles in 5:25 and 5:27. Rolling. This is when I started to think I might win the race, or at least end up on the podium. I was moving up on the leaders and running faster than I imagined I could. So I changed my race plan. Instead of trying to move up, just let things happen as they were happening. I was ahead of my pace and I was running fast, so don't try to change things. I was happy with what was happening already! Another pre-race goal was to be at 21 miles in under 2 hours. 2:30 pace is 2:00:08 for 21 miles. I did slow down a little bit at 21, because I'd told myself I still had a long way to go. But that 5:36 put me at 1:56:36. I was way ahead of 2 hours! Now I had no idea what was happening, because 75 minutes and 2 hours were all that I'd thought about. Now it was just about maintaining until the finish line. Mile 22 was another very reasonable 5:38.

And then it happened.

This had to happen. Thinking back, my pace through 22 miles was setting me up for a 2:25:40 marathon. I wasn't ready to run that fast through the half and then negative split. So really, the last 4 miles were inevitable. 5:53. Ouch. Ok, not the end of the world. I was 3.2 miles away from the finish line and I had 22 minutes to do it to be under 2:30, and 24 minutes to PR. I could run 3.2 miles in under 22 minutes. That was just like 7 minute pace or something, I thought to myself. Just hold it together. 5:59. OK, that's fine. I'm at 2:14. A few weeks ago I did a long run and thought that I'd be at 22 or 23 here, not 24. I'm doing great. 16 minutes to run 2.2 miles. No sweat. Just do it.

Then came the cramps. I'd had some problems with my right quad even in the first 10K, but I'd worked those out and it wasn't a problem for the rest of the race until now. Now my legs were just locking up badly-- hamstrings, quads, groin, feet-- everything. I felt like the course was weaving all over the place and I had no idea where I was going. I regret not having Chris and Ryan drive me over the last few miles of the course the day before... maybe that would have helped to keep my head in the game.

One positive about the end was that I was alone on the course; they did not merge the half marathon finishers with the marathon finishers like they did in Las Vegas in 2007 (and apparently continue to do now). So I didn't have 2:30 half-marathon runners crawling along at 11-12 minute pace getting in my way. Thank goodness.

Welcoming death
I was so out of it at the end though that I missed the 25 mile mark. I only realized it afterwards, because about when I started to wonder where it was, I passed the 12 mile mark for the half on the other side of the road. I looked at my watch then and I was 5:59. Logic (that I didn't have at the time) dictates that if I'm at 12 and the races finish together, that I already passed 25 about 0.1 miles ago. So maybe I got back on track that last mile and ran under 5:40. Maybe not, now that I've looked at the course map. 12 and 25 look pretty close to each other. But again, I didn't know this. I thought I was there yet. I remember looking up ahead as I crossed over a bridge thinking, "Oh my God I can't even see 25 yet. I must be dying." As I continued to move forward and not see 25, I assumed I was running 15-minute pace and that the day was over and lost. Knowing the course would have been helpful here.

I thought we were finishing in some sort of stadium, but it was really a parking garage or something. I don't know. But all of the sudden I was at mile 26. I say "all of the sudden," but it really took 12:18 to run those 2 miles. Not good. 6:09 average. I'd hoped to keep everything under 6-minute pace, but oh well. I saw KC, Ryan and Chris one last time before the finish, and heard the announcer say my name and tell the crowd to help me out. Lord knows that I needed it at that point... In my Twin Cities blog I was disappointed to report that I closed in 90 seconds with crowd support. This crowd got me to the line a whole 8 seconds faster in 82-high. But I finished, thank goodness. I even had enough energy at the finish to hold up my arms in celebration at the end of my 2:27:49 marathon. Wow! HUGE PR!

Results are here. Everyone in front of me was technically an "elite runner," so my 6th place overall will net me a first in my age-group. The guy who won Las Vegas in December won after only signing up two days before, according to the post-race press on ESPN.com. So I don't think my chances of winning were very good from the start. Chad Ware, Army, was 2nd. The blonde guy from the beginning who was trailing was in 3rd. The Aggies were in 4th & 5th. If I'd been able to run with them at the end, I could have been in the 2:26s. Oh well, I'm satisfied.

For now...

Rock N Roll Arizona 2012 Course Map


  1. Hey, I came across this blog and just wanted to say congrats on a great breakthrough race and report.

    I was in the race too (2nd in our age group) and can confirm miles 4/5 were long/short, as I also ran 40-45 seconds faster for "mile 5" of the race than mile 4, and I definitely didn't make a conscious effort to pickup the pace in mile 5.

    I came through the mile a step or two behind you and actually overheard the conversation you described. Shortly before that "move", the guy had caught up to the pack and I overheard him mutter something along the lines of "alright, this is our pack right here!" as he was huffing and puffing like he was nearing the end of a 5K, and then he took off for his few seconds of glory in the lead.

    Great race again, and keep up the good work.

  2. Steve, thanks for reading and for the comments.

    Its interesting that you experienced the same thing for miles 4/5 that I did when the 4th and 5th place guys told me that I was wrong. I guess I'll never know for sure as I doubt I'll return to this race and even remember where the mile markers were...

    I wonder what place the 5K runner ended up in.

    Congrats on your race as well!


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