Sunday, March 24, 2019

Mesa-PHX Marathon Race Report 2019: The Importance of Having a Good Time

The Mesa-PHX Marathon was meant to be a test race on the way to my next attempt to qualify for the Boston Marathon later this year. In September, in the world of Boston qualifying standards, I'll age up. This means I'll need to run a 3:50 or better (8:50 pace) to get a BQ. I planned to sign up for the California International Marathon (CIM), held in in Sacramento in December, when general registration opened in March, but first I'd run this race in Arizona and get a baseline for what my legs could do.

I trained hard for this marathon with many lung-busting track sessions and short fast practice races, more miles per week than I've ever run (even training for Leadville), 3 solid 20 mile long runs and a ton of successful tempo sessions. I hit my paces and heart rate zones on nearly every run. I was prepared. The only thing on my plan that I didn't get to do was a confidence-building half marathon at marathon race pace. I unfortunately picked a half in late January that was held mostly on snow and ice covered trails, and my 8:50 practice pace turned into a shuffle for survival in slippery shoes. Of course hindsight is 20-20 and I'm certain I would have felt more confident in Arizona with a successful practice race under my belt. 

When I signed up for the race in late October, Trent and I planned on a fantastic winter getaway from the arctic tundra of Colorado to warm sunny Arizona where I could run and he could play golf. The reality was that by the time the race rolled around, Trent had just moved to Kansas City for work and wouldn't be able to get away for the weekend. I was carrying around the heaviness of missing him and the uncertainty that comes along with this kind of change. Yes, I know we are only temporarily apart and I should be able to stand up on my own for a little while and be a strong independent woman but in early February I was really struggling with the change.

I looked forward to race weekend because in addition to the wonderful warm weather, my incredible friend Orissa had decided to jump onto this marathon journey and we were going to race together and have a great time! The last time Orissa and I raced a marathon together, we ended up literally racing to the finish line at the Austin marathon and getting breakthrough PRs!

Austin Marathon 2014
We arrived late Thursday and enjoyed ourselves in the day or so leading up to the race, eating Whataburger (Hooray, Whataburger made its way to Tempe!) and accidentally staying in the same (roach) motel that we stayed at a few years ago when we volunteered at Ironman Arizona. Packet pickup was a breeze. We were thrilled to find an early entry coupon code to CIM in our packets, and for the first time in my life, I signed up for the next marathon the day before racing a marathon. We ate and hydrated and went to bed early. This was important because for this point-to-point race, we'd have to be up by 4:30 to catch a bus to the start line.

There were a couple of race-morning issues like late buses and lengthy porta-potty lines, and Orissa and I didn't actually start the race until at least 10 minutes after the gun went off. This was fine because it meant we'd be passing people all day if we did things right. The race started in the desert of Mesa and went downhill into the town. We'd driven the course the day before so we knew what to expect. Basically downhill until 13.1 miles and then flat to the finish line. We had beautiful scenery in the first half of the race to look forward to and then a million turns on city streets for the rest of it.

Orissa's goal pace was different from mine so although we started together, we didn't expect to stay together for long and that was okay. I wore a headlamp even though it wasn't really necessary. I carried my backpack with all the water I'd need for the day and that turned out great. The first few miles were gorgeous with the sun coming up through the Saguaro-covered hills. My music was making me dance and I felt joyful for the first six miles even though my pace was inconsistent and slower that I'd like. 

When 10 miles came around and I was having to work more than necessary to hold the already-too-slow pace, I knew my day was not going to go as I'd hoped. The last 16 miles were harder than they should have been and I was frustrated to see my pace slowing. I couldn't turn over my legs even though my lungs were celebrating the amazing oxygen that lower altitude brings! I was pumping my arms to try to get my legs to move and nothing was happening. I'd passed a bunch of pace groups and when they started to pass me back, I felt defeated. 

The last time Orissa and I raced a marathon together in 2014, I'd gone out too fast and she'd run a conservative pace, which meant at mile 25 she caught up with me. I found a way to race with her to the finish line that day. We both squeaked in at 4:30 which was my fastest marathon by 15 minutes at the time. It was an incredible day! I knew that if she caught me today that I wouldn't be able to run with her. The only thing that kept me running as fast as I could was the fear of Orissa running up behind me and shouting "come on!" like she did 5 years ago.

I finally reached the finish line with a time of 4:25. That's 35 minutes slower than the time I'll need to BQ. Oof.

So relieved to reach the finish line.
A few minutes later, Orissa crossed the finish line, beaming and high fiving everyone. She had a great time. She didn't just meet her goal pace - she had a GREAT TIME - she had fun running the race. And of course there's the lesson for the day: it's not about having a good pace. It's about having a good time - enjoying it! You're always going to do better when you're smiling and having fun, racing with joy instead of heaviness. I know this. I just somehow have to keep relearning it! Thank you Orissa.

Having a great time!
Not having even a little bit of a great time.
When I got home and met with Nell, my amazing coach, she assured me that I'd had a bad day and didn't run to the potential that all my training runs had pointed to. We agreed that the lack of a solid practice race was an issue. She asked me if I felt motivated to train and I said YES OF COURSE and I meant it. Together, we made a plan for CIM that includes running a bunch of shorter faster races to pick up some speed. That 8:50 pace needs to feel easy in December. I have my work cut out for me.

In the last two weeks, as part of that plan, I ran 2 5K races. One happened to be in San Antonio when Trent and I traveled down last weekend to visit family. I was thrilled to get to race with Orissa again, and with Shelly, and we smiled and laughed our way through that race, plus the warmup before the race and the cooldown and tacos afterwards. I'm really excited that both of them are going to be racing in California in December too!

You can tell that this race went better than the marathon, right? Hooray for running with Shelly!
Today I raced a little 5K in Golden and was thrilled to pace myself properly and run my way to 3rd place in my age group. My times are not as fast as they used to be, but the speed is coming back. And maybe more importantly, today I ran at marathon race pace and a fair amount of it felt "easy." Trent's not here this weekend but he encouraged me on the phone before the race and I ran light. Here we go again, moving towards a new normal. I'm excited about December and the journey to get there. Thanks as always for reading, for your encouragement, and for coming along on this journey with me!

I'm all kinds of proud of this age group award from the race today.
Did I mention there was Whataburger in Arizona?
We attended a Sun Devils game in Tempe after the marathon! It was so much fun even though we could barely walk to our seats.
Love racing with these two. I'm California Dreaming already.