Rock n’ Roll Arizona Half Marathon Race Recap

Rock n’ Roll Arizona is quickly becoming one of my favorite races because for the second year, I have run a PR race on this course! (you can read about last year’s experience HERE)

And, I am scary good at predicting my race times.

I went into this race with two goals: 1) to run a PR time, and 2) to run easily enough to not require a recovery period.

PRE-RACE:

We were in Phoenix for a few nanoseconds.  Aaron is the manager at a gym and it is January (aka New Year’s Resolution Hell).  He is also without an assistant manager or shift supervisor, so taking days off (even MLK Day) wasn’t an option.

On Saturday, we did an easy 2 mile shake-out run after the 6 hour drive.  Papago Park in Phoenix is one of my favorite places to run, especially in winter when there is less danger of rattlesnakes. You can mix trail running with pavement running, and the desert landscape is really beautiful.  And I enjoyed every second of wearing a tank top.

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After the run, we headed downtown to the Expo.  I spotted Run Eat Repeat Monica (very blonde, very pretty, and very well dressed) and Boring Runner Adam, both huge running bloggers that I would feel very awkward walking up and talking to.  The Brooks expo displays never fail to disappoint (Brooks is the apparel sponsor of Rock n’ Roll, so they get lots of floor space), and their carnival theme was slightly creepy, but creative.  We didn’t get to witness the Human Jesus Lizard in action, but I imagine it was quite miraculous.

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I’m not sure why they have space ships, but Journey is cool!

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I know a lot of people think expos and the crowds they draw are a pain, but I love them.  We stocked up on GU, Nuun, and compression socks at fabulous expo prices! (We’re trying out ProCompression socks since they were $22.50 for a pair….definitely different than my CEP ones, but I don’t know which I like better).

After the expo we rode the Light Rail (Phoenix’s transportation system) into Tempe and ate some tacos at a really cool restaurant called Canteen on Mill Street (Phoenix’s version of Austin’s 6th Street).  By the looks of it, it transforms into a nightclub when the sun goes down, so we got to enjoy our tacos in a very trendy setting.

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After relaxing for a bit back at the hotel, we headed to Scottsdale and ate dinner at a casual Italian restaurant called Oregano’s which is a very popular Phoenix chain (we carb-loaded here last year too).  Aaron ate a really awesome looking salad (the life of a gluten freer), but I stuck to pasta.  And it wouldn’t be carb-loading with a locally brewed Four Peaks Kilt lifter scotch ale.

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RACE DAY!

I woke up Sunday morning with something I’ve never dealt with before a race…stomach problems. Up until now I’ve been very talented at creating perfect race day conditions for myself, but I think a trip to McDonald’s on the drive into town may be the culprit.  I had serious paranoia about a terribly embarrassing accident. No runner wants to be that person.  I ate a few bites of banana hoping to settle things down.

This race runs through three different cities: Tempe, Scottsdale, and Phoenix.  We stayed in Phoenix, so we rode the light rail into Tempe (about an 8 minute ride) along with lots  of other runners! I think the one non-runner was certainly not expecting his ride to be high-jacked by a bunch of dry-fit toting people.

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We made it to race central with plenty of time. The porta potty lines weren’t as long (I think they had more this year), and gear check was organized and efficient. The race started about 20 minutes later this year than last year (7:50 for both the half and the full).  Aaron and I wished each other luck before heading into our respective corrals (Aaron was in Corral 1, and I was in Corral 2).  My stomach still hadn’t settled, but at this point there wasn’t anything I could do about it.  The gun went off, and after waiting a couple of minutes, my corral got the go ahead to RUN!

This year I lined up at the very front of my corral, so I didn’t have to deal with weaving in and out of runners.  This race places you in corrals based on an estimated finish time that YOU provide, so there are always plenty of people who probably should be in a slower corral.

One of the first things I noticed was the lack of crowd support.  Last year it seemed like most of the course was lined with cheering spectators, but it was pretty dead this year. I haven’t run with music since last May, but this was the first time I really wished I had something to distract me from the quietness.  I also saw very few race signs.  We talked to some ladies back at the hotel, and apparently the marathon course was more supported.

And the bands.  The whole point of Rock n Roll races are the bands along the course.  I think there were fewer this year, and at least 3 of them were on set breaks when I went through.  The ones playing were fantastic though, and the all-boy a capella group melted my little choir nerd heart.  One of the bands had a huge screen with their lyrics scrolling in case you wanted to sing a long.  And I think every race I’ve ever done has had a wildly enthusiastic group of Lululemon girls.  They all complimented my skirt as I ran by and Aaron was excited that they cheered a little louder for him since he was also decked out in Lulu gear.  Almost worth the price just to get extra course motivation!

And, super weirdness.  Some nice man cheered for me by name somewhere in Scottsdale (mile 6 or 7 maybe?) and I don’t know who it was.  My bib didn’t have my name on it, and I didn’t really know anyone else running the race, so I’m baffled.   It is entirely possible that another person named Amy was right next to me, but after checking out the race pictures of the two other Amy’s who finished around my time, I didn’t recognize either of them from the race (yes, I’m creepy enough to stalk the race pictures of other people named Amy). Regardless, it was a much appreciated cheer, even if it was meant for someone else!

I was seriously worried about my stomach which wasn’t handling the constant bouncing very well until about mile 6, and the sickness went away.  I don’t know what brought it on and I don’t know what made it stop, but I’m sure glad that I made it through without any incident.  At several points I considered stopping to use a porta potty, but I only spotted one group of them late in the race.

Even though my stomach settled at mile 6, at about this time it became quite apparent that I had forgotten to apply Body Glide.  I don’t know what it is about chaffing that is so terribly painful, but I remember encouraging myself to run faster so the stinging would stop sooner. Maybe I should use this as a tactic in future races?

Arizona’s course is flat for the most part.  There is a steady uphill that starts at about mile 7 and gets pretty steep at about mile 9.  And then the rest of the course is a nice downhill.

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Go Aaron, Go!

Go Aaron, Go!

Running uphill through Papago Park

Running uphill through Papago Park

I was pretty excited the whole race because all of my miles were sub-8 except for one (the uphill one), so I knew I was going to run a PR pretty early on.  I’m actually pretty proud of myself for being a smart and not going out too fast or attempting paces that I couldn’t sustain.  I had to force myself to slow down when I noticed my paces hitting 7:00 minute miles.  There is no way that I’m in shape to hold that speed for a half marathon without some pain for days after, and I couldn’t afford to push like that during this race when I’m already behind on marathon training.

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I crossed the finish line in 1:41:53, a 3 minute PR! I ran a 7:47 pace which is  EXACTLY one minute slower than my last long run pace, so I correctly predicted my finish time two weeks ago! I finished in the top 6% of all the half runners, and 42nd in my age group!

Spring toward the finish line!

Sprinting toward the finish line!

Look at that Garmin stopping action!

Look at that Garmin stopping action!

After collecting my medal (confusing since they were handing out medals for both the half and the “mini” marathon in the same place…I didn’t want to get the wrong one!), I met Aaron a little ways down the finisher chute.  Turns out he’d had a great race and had similarly hit a PR time.  He finished in 1:29:11 (6:49 average pace!) in the top 1.6% of all runners! He was pretty happy with his performance, although he wished he’d run just 12 seconds faster so he could dip into the 1:28’s.

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All races have giant horses don't they?

Giant horse!

Another great aspect of Rock n Roll races is the post race concert.  After watching Marathon Legend Frank Shorter (1972 Olympic Gold Medalist and frenemy of Steve Prefontaine) present the awards to a group that included I think 3 people from New Mexico (GO NM PEEPS!), Andy Grammar took the stage.

Frank Shorter on the right

Frank Shorter on the right

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He’s pretty “up and coming,” but I’ve heard at least 2 of his songs on the radio, and he was really adorable and interactive.  Unlike the mean man from the B-52’s who performed last year.

It takes a brave man to jump into an audience of smelly women

It takes a brave man to jump into an audience of smelly women

Meanwhile I was feeling pretty sick for a couple of hours post race, but my muscles never tightened, and overall I felt far better energy-wise than I usually do after a half marathon.

We were even able to walk to Four Peaks, home of one of my favorite beers, the Kilt lifter for some post PR celebration!

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A couple of months ago I had wanted to run this in 1:35.  I obviously came nowhere near that, or even near the 1:40 window.  I think if I didn’t have Boston training to worry about, I could have pushed it hard enough to at least get into the 1:40’s if not down to 1:40, but I’m glad that I kept my paces in check instead of getting swept up in excitement.  Because of that, I only needed 1 day of recovery while Aaron is still dealing with tight muscles and Achilles issues.

DETAILS:

Finish time: 1:41:53

Average pace: 7:47

Placement: 747/13344 overall, 177th female, 42nd female in my age group

Pre-Race Fuel: Luna Bar, about 3 bites of banana, 2 Clif Bloks

Race Fuel: 1 GU at mile 7.7

Issues: stomach yuckiness, chaffing, slight calf tightness and ankle stiffness on the right side

The Race: Fast course, great volunteers, well organized, ample water stations and fueling options pre/during/post race, plenty of bells and whistles, BUT minimal crowd enthusiasm.

Overall Impression: Happy with my performance.  It wasn’t the PR of my dreams, but I don’t think I could have gone any faster and bounced back as easily.

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(Half) Marathon Reflection Monday/Tuesday

Last time I left off, I admitted that running doesn’t seem to be a big priority in my life right now.

I can’t say that conditions have improved drastically since Friday.

For example, we did treadmill miles yesterday since the Giants game took up Aaron’s evening (we don’t want to talk about it), and I literally put it off until 9:30 (I like to be in bed by 10).  I ran 1 mile and hopped off to “grab some water (aka plop on the couch)” but Aaron ordered me back into the exercise room to finish out the last 2.

We DID however get our 9 mile long run in while we were in Phoenix.

I love Phoenix (well, Scottsdale at least).  One of the biggest reasons is because it was about 58-60 degrees out (PERFECT running weather), and everyone was bundled up like they were expecting a snow storm!

We did our run along The Green Belt which is a stretch of beautifully landscaped grass.  It was a great trail, utilized by a lot of people.  However, it was entirely concrete which is noticeably hard on the legs.  And I got a mosquito bite.

Photo by Jason Franz via blogs.phoenixnewstimes.com

I also have this weird quirk where I judge my speed improvement by how fast I can run 7 miles.  I try to get my 7 mile split in as close to under 1 hour as possible.  The last two long runs it has been between 1:0:30 and 1:0:52.  This time I was able to get down to 59:18, so I consider improvement to have been made!

Overall, this was a great long run.  I finished in 1:17:23 for about an 8:33 pace.  Most of my miles were pretty close to that 8:30.  I don’t usually start packing gels or worrying about water until I get into the 11 mile range, so 9 miles was fine without any of that, but we were pretty thirsty afterwards.

We’d forgotten our Nuun (ALSO just found out a few days ago that it is pronounced NOON.  We’ve been saying it very wrong) and the Whole Foods we went to didn’t have any, so we settled for some weird substitute.

WHAT I’VE OBSERVED THIS WEEK:

1) I ran with my compression socks for the 9 miler, and I had no calf tightness/annoyance.  I’ve been having this calf annoyance since even BEFORE the marathon two months ago but for the first time since then, I had no calf issues during or after.  I think this means I’m going to have to buy another pair.

2) I’m training faster than I ever have.  Typically I use speed work for fastness and run the rest of the runs at a really comfortable recovery pace.  But even yesterday on the treadmill I averaged about 8:03 per mile for 3 miles.  I pushed myself a bit, but it wasn’t uncomfortable.  For our fartlek (hehe) run last Friday morning, I kept a good pace in between sprints (usually I go unnecessarily slow in between).  I don’t know if this will help or not come race day since it is a different approach than I’ve ever taken, but I am a bit excited that I’m a faster overall runner if not a faster overall racer.

3) The thought of cross-training doesn’t seem to make me any more likely to get myself moving.  I’ve been wanting to incorporate more swim/spinning/yoga/weight lifting into my routine and I haven’t.

4) I need to do more upper back exercises like rows.  I did these all through marathon training and I didn’t have any of the shoulder tightness that I normally have for the race.  It’s back.

5) I kind of wish I hadn’t said I was doing this tri on Saturday.  Getting to the gym to learn to swim isn’t going to be easy this week with lots of evening commitments, I haven’t been on a spin bike in weeks, and I still don’t have a swimsuit.  I know I need to do it otherwise it’ll keep getting pushed back, but I’m not at all confident going in.  I’ve never felt more unprepared for anything in my life.

So, in sum, still not 100% into this training, but getting faster and finally (after 2 months) feeling completely recovered from the marathon!

Also, just one last push to enter the Sunglasses Shop Sunglasses giveaway! I’ve actually been wearing my North Beach shades a lot recently and I like them more everyday! I’ll announce the winner tomorrow morning!

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Phoenix In January is Heaven

In the middle of a cold, dark January, Phoenix is a warm haven of happiness, al fresco dining, and palm trees.  During the summer it gets pretty dang warm (and by warm I mean cooking an egg on the sidewalk warm), but this weekend, 70 degrees has never felt so good.

In addition to the Rock n’ Roll race that brought in hoards of runner people, Tough Mudder Arizona  and some sort of big deal Super Cross event happened on Saturday, so the city and every restaurant/bar/hotel in it were pretty full of crazy athletic types along with Super Cross types (whatever that means…they were all wearing “Monster” shirts).

We went for the half-marathon and made a long weekend out of it.  Aaron actually lived in Phoenix for a few years during college, so he knows his way around the city.  This is a good thing because it is one of the sprawling urban masses and I would have gotten very very lost had he not been navigating. Not good when it seems every freeway exit lets you off in a different suburb.

Even though I’ve probably been there well over a dozen times, I’ve never really explored all there is to do in Phoenix.  Of course I’ve been to Scottsdale’s Fashion Square and toured the ASU campus in high school, but surely a city that size has more to offer than Louis Vuitton and dorms.  At least let’s hope.

Unfortunately we didn’t really explore this time either.  With all the race weekend activities, we didnt’ have too much extra time to get down and dirty in the desert.

But we did….

…stay at the Doubletree on 44th Street (all the rooms are suites, and you get free breakfast). We made friends in the hot tub with marathon people from Montana and Tucson.

…run through Papago Park (an inner city desert and likely home to lots of rattlesnakes but oh so scenic).  Also, I’m going through a weird phase where I make myself look ridiculous in  photos.  It just happens. I can’t stop it. I call the thumbs up pose “The Cheryl”  after its creator, my sister.

…ride the Light Rail ($3.50 for a day pass.  HELLO cheap public transit!).

…go to the awesome RnR Race Expo.

…enjoy the really good beer at Four Peaks Brewing Company (if you like microbreweries, this is the place for you in Phoenix).  I recommend the Oatmeal Stout and Kilt Lifter. Notice that we are seated OUTSIDE!

…carb load at Oreganos, where once again we ate OUTSIDE!

race our little Rock n Roll hearts out.

…jam to the B-52’s.

…eat at In n’ Out (a Phoenix/ California MUST in our book). We may have missed out on some of Arizona’s natural wonders, but by golly at least we got our Double Doubles with Cheese. You’ve got to have priorities.

…go to Four Peaks again to meet up with a Beer Runners Group (Run4Beer) I found on facebook (the couple who runs it is from Florida and they post running/ beer drinking inspiration all day long.  They were also in town to run the race and organized a happy hour). Very cool meeting people with similar interests from different parts of the country! If you like running and beer, you should “like” them on facebook!

meet my college friends Luke and Allie for dinner and drinks at Z-Tejas in Tempe. I’ve only seen them one other time since Allie and I graduated 5 years ago, so it was great catching up.  I’m also a little freaked out with how grown up we all look.  Weren’t we just 21 the other day?

Here’s what we looked like when we were 21 (College 70’s night.  It was the only picture I could find with all three of us in it…I promise we didn’t dress like that all the time!). How far digital cameras have come! (I’m the one in the center, Allie is to the left, and Luke is in the back).

shop at Ikea (we don’t have one so we have to stock up on the unassembled goodness when we can).

eat at In n’ Out. Again. Ok. If you are wondering why I would pass up what I’m sure is plenty of Phoenix culinary goodness to visit a fast food joint twice in a 24 hour period, let me just say, BEST BURGER EVER! Five Guys doesn’t come close.  Barbara Streisand used to fly to California just to eat there.  That’s saying something.

It was a short vacation, but a wonderful, somewhat relaxing and warm one. Even though we didn’t get to do a ton of stuff, we met some great new people, reconnected with old friends, ran the good race, and enjoyed some tasty food and beer. And really, what else is there?

Rock n’ Roll Arizona

Sometimes, I am an unintentional drama queen.

I kind of made a big deal out of not preparing adequately for this race.  But seriously. We only did 4 long runs (3 of them were under 8 miles) and our last long run was 3 weeks ago.  We did a total of about 4 speed workouts.  I was putting in a weekly mileage between 15-20 miles when I should have been putting in 35.  My sciatic nerve was bothering me (made worse by the 6 hour drive to Phoenix).  On Saturday I walked 3 miles in 4 inch heels resulting in 2 blisters. And did I mention that I bought new running shoes last Sunday out of desperation and didn’t really break them in?

Physically speaking, I was in no condition to run 13.1 miles much less run them faster.  I was, however, prepared to meet some hunky EMTs.

But, despite any reasonable explanation, 

I finished Rock n’ Roll Arizona in 1 hour, 44 minutes, and 54 seconds….A PR! (albeit a 44 second one, BUT A PR!).  I finished in the top 7% of the over 15,600 runners, and placed #52 in my division!

 

Does anyone else find this completely nuts? This isn’t supposed to happen.  Years upon years of research have shown exactly what you need to do to improve your speed.  I didn’t do them. I powered myself completely with an unmaintained base, positive thinking, good vibes from sympathetic people (THANK YOU FOR THOSE!), and the desire to not suck.  Apparently that was enough. Not that I’m planning to tempt fate again.

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Rock n’ Roll Arizona

There has been a lot of bad press about Rock n’ Roll races recently because of the December Las Vegas disaster.  This was the first RnR race since then, so the pressure was on Competitor Group to redeem themselves.

Most people (at least the ones on facebook) agree that they did!

Honestly, this race made the other two I’ve done look like amateur hour.  Granted RnR had 6 times the number of runners and cost twice as much. But WOW.

The Expo 

SO. ORGANIZED.  There was no waiting in line for your bib, they didn’t run out of t-shirts, and every station was neatly labeled.  Lots of quality vendors, lots of giveaways, lots of discounts, and lots of informative booths. 

Prep and Pre-Race

Saturday evening we carb loaded at Oregenos, an Arizona staple for casual Italian food.  It was tasty.

Sunday we got up bright and early ate a banana, then headed to the village.  There were plenty of porta-potties and the gear check ran like clockwork. I felt very comfortable leaving my stuff there.

***COMPLAINT ALERT****  Because we took the Light Rail (Arizona’s cheap public transit which was suggested in all the pre-race information), we had no parking issues.  They even doubled the number of trains on Sunday morning. But apparently, some people had a hard time finding parking. Um, DUH! Any time you have that many people trying to get into one place, parking will be hard to come by.  We talked  to several people who said they had NO PROBLEM parking because they followed the suggested routes and allowed ample time to get there (the pre-race packet suggested getting there AT LEAST 1 hour before schedule).  I even heard people in my corral saying that they were stuck in traffic…but they still made it.  But a small, vocal group got stuck in a traffic jam and couldn’t get to the start line in time.  

Obviously the parking issue isn’t my complaint.  However, the officials delayed the race start.  The half marathon started 10 minutes late (which wasn’t too bad), but the half marathon started 30 minutes late! If you are warming up/eating /planning your day based on a certain schedule, that delay could really throw you off.  I appreciate the race organization trying to make everyone happy.  But why punish what appears to be 90% of runners who were there on time and ready to go for the 10% who weren’t?

13.1 Rockin Miles

I was assigned to corral #2,  so I didn’t have to zigzag around walkers and slow people. I was the slow people.

The course is new.   Aaron said the new course is much nicer and more interesting/scenic than the old one. You travel through 3 municipalities (Tempe, Phoenix, and Scottsdale). The elevation is mostly flat with a couple of long uphills, but after San Francisco, this was nothing.  According to the course elevation map, the first 9.5 miles are all uphill, but I didn’t notice until mile 8.

{I was trying to wave. Obviously not what happened.}

A signature of Rock n’ Roll is the course support.  Every mile featured a local band, and/or a cheerleading squad.   Plus, there were TONS of spectators all along the way, so you were being cheered on or sung to the entire time!

There were ample water/Gatorade stations and GU at mile 7.  (I’ve heard about 10 complaints about the water making people sick and tasting bad.  Arizona water tastes bad.  And seeing as how like, 10 people got sick and 20,000 didn’t, I’m guessing the water was fine).

I started to get a blister on the bottom of my foot from my new shoes at mile 4.  My knee and sciatic nerve started hurting at mile 7.  My body didn’t want to go very fast, and if I looked away from my Garmin for a few minutes, I would look back at it to find that my pace had dropped significantly (check out my pace chart above.  Bipolar speed  much?).

{Promoting World Peace? Lord knows what goes through my head when I’m trying to pose for the race camera.}

But, I repeated GO! GO! GO! GO! and THIS FEELS GREAT! over and over again in my head and  I actually started to believe it!  Apparently my mind isn’t all too bright. The miles flew by, and at each mile, I was in disbelief that I had made it that far. As we hit mile 12 (and really, at this point I am GOING NUTS because I only have 1.1 miles left) I picked up my pace.  I crossed the finish line to Journey’s Don’t Stop Believin, checked my Garmin (GLEE!), and ran and jumped on Aaron out of sheer joy.

And then I got really dizzy and light-headed and thought I was going to pass out.  But I didn’t.

My mom texted me right away because the race website actually provides live updates for each runner as they progress through the course.  They knew our official times the moment we crossed the finish line!

In case you’re wondering how Aaron did, he came in at a “disappointing” 1:31:16.  He was sick all morning and didn’t feel well during the run or after, but I wish my good races could be as good as his bad ones.  He finished in the top 1% and was less than a minute off his Duke City time (which we actually trained for). He beat his San Francisco time by a landslide, and overall did really well considering he was combating a migraine the whole time.

Post-Race

Another signature of the Rock n’ Roll series is the concert.  After getting medals, Jamba Juice, Snickers,  Gatorade, water, and bananas handed to us, we made our way to the ASU stadium  to pick up our free beer (which, sadly, was Michelob Ultra…but we totally drank it anyway). 

The awards ceremony was inspirational. The third place female marathoner pulled her groin at mile 4, and ran the rest of the 22.2 miles in a total state of agony and STILL FINISHED THIRD! Completely insane.

The B-52s of Love Shack and Rock Lobster fame were the headliners (we were front row, center!).   The lead singer is adorable and rocks her fishnet tights and pink hair despite being 63.  Unfortunately, the male vocalist was rude.   Runners who raised lots of money for the MS Society got to be in a VIP area right in  front.   The male lead singer demanded that one of the fundraisers turn off his camera over the microphone.  I thought that was uncalled for.  He could have at least asked nicely without announcing it to the entire audience. But other than that, it was a fun show.

In other news, the race photos are already up which is UNHEARD OF! (I promise to order pictures, race picture people!).

So, that was our race.  It was a wonderful experience, and I hope to do more Rock n’ Roll races in the future (San Diego’s June race is seriously calling my name). I had to stop myself from signing up for another one right away (that’s how I got into this mess in the first place), but we will be taking a half marathon break for a little while. At least I can end my streak on a positive “PR” note!