Thursday, January 29, 2015

Race Report: Rock 'n' Roll Arizona 5k and Half Marathon

I headed straight to the airport after work on Friday for my 6:30 flight out to Phoenix, getting to my gate just as the plane started to board.  It was gonna be a long flight, and I wouldn't arrive in Phoenix 'til well after 10pm.  Upon landing, I got my car at Hertz (after a 30 minute long wait... apparently EVERYONE on the flight was getting a rental - though my attendant liked me and gave me a huge upgrade from a compact to a nifty silver Dodge Journey mid-size SUV!), and then drove the half hour out to my friend Audrey's for the night.  I got to bed close to 1am and had to get up five hours later to head to Tempe for the first race of the weekend.

Photo op with Jamila, Hollie,
and Taara, before the 5K
(Photo by Jamila Williams)
6am, the alarm goes off, and I get myself out the door for the inaugural race of the 2015 Rock 'n' Roll season - the Rock 'n' Roll Arizona 5k, the first of its kind with this yearly race.  It started at Tempe Beach Park, crossing the Mill Avenue Bridge that goes over Tempe Town Lake around Moeur Park, and then back over the Mill Avenue Bridge to the finish line down near the south end of Tempe Beach Park.  The race started off a bit chilly, which surprised me while being in Arizona.  Granted, it's January, but it really can be brisk when the sun hasn't risen yet.  I met up with Hollie from Portland, who I met through Donna in Las Vegas a couple months earlier, and her two friends Deb and Jake, who had come to cheer us on.  I gingerly de-frocked my track pants and track jacket to reveal my bright orange singlet (the Skechers Meb one that I wore in Florida) and my orange arm sleeves... I was a vision in ORANGE.

With hottie pro marathoner, Ryan Hall!
Just as we were prepping to get into the start corrals, Hollie and I run into Jamila and Taara (and Taara's dad, running his first 5k!!) who I met the week prior in Mississippi!  We posed for a quick picture and then we were off... it was a nice start to the weekend, and the sun definitely warmed us up over the course of the run.  After finishing, I stuck around to meet professional marathoner Ryan Hall, and then took the Valley Metro Rail into downtown Phoenix to retrieve my bib for the half and have some lunch.

The PF Chang's dragon and fellow
Team Nuun member, Jeremy Heath!
The expo was pretty sizable, in the massive Phoenix Convention Center.  While exiting the Brooks apparel area, I ran into Jeremy, a local runner and fellow member of Team Nuun, and we headed off to find the Nuun booth, as well as pose with the PF Chang's dragon (PF Chang's has sponsored the Arizona race for many years)  After spending a bit too much money, buying yet another pair of shoes (partly my fault for only packing one pair with me for the long weekend) and a new roll of KT tape, I headed off to get lunch at the nearby restaurant owned by rockstar Alice Cooper, called Cooperstown, and ordered the massive 22" long hot dog (with cheese and chili, of course), lovingly dubbed the Big Unit, which I got through half of, before having to call it quits and under massive time constraints take the Metro back to the park to get my car so I could get to my tour of Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin West in Scottsdale.  I spent the rest of the day being quite touristy before driving across town to Peoria to visit with my friend Mark, performing in Arizona Broadway Theatre's production of The King and I, then heading back to Audrey's for dinner and turning in for the night early because of an early morning wake up call for Sunday's big race.

My lunch after Saturday's race.  I got through half of it!

With Half Fanatics at the start
(Photo by Rachel Edwards)
The next morning came bright and early, and I got back to Tempe at roughly 6:30am to park my car in one of the free parking structures on Arizona State University's campus.  I had luckily gotten the information for parking from the expo and picked the parking structure closest to the start corrals, which apparently no one seemed to pay attention to - and there were a ton of spaces still available when I arrived!  Since we weren't getting together for Half Fanatics and 50 States Half Marathon Club pictures until 7:15 or so, I decided to catch a few more z's in the car, which I did.  After pics at a decided-upon meeting spot, I headed off to my corral to get myself in the zone for the race.

The start line...
Yet again, the start was a little rough for me.  The first 7.5 miles of the race are super flat, and I spent the first three miles still trying to get my legs in a good rhythm.  Our first mile was a straightaway down E. University Drive, before turning left onto S. McClintock Drive, and I was just in a real strugglebus, trying to wrestle away the kinks that my right foot and left calf were forcing me through.   At mile two, we crossed into Scottsdale.  Miles 2-4 went down McClintock, and I finally started to feel better after hitting the 5k mark.  I knew I was feeling a bit better when I was singing along again with my music.  At mile 4, we turned onto East McDowell Road, with a slight detour into ASU's Scottsdale Innovation Center/SkySong, where we got to run underneath this cool tented looking thing.  This is also where I started to notice a difference with the way that the Arizona course is laid out - the center lanes of the street were where the runners were, leaving one lane in either direction at the edge of the street to minimal vehicular traffic.  I thought that was pretty genius, without creating too much disruption for drivers needing to get places while the marathon was going on.

Fifty staters before the start...
(Photo by Beth Rusher)
Mile 5, we headed up Scottsdale Rd, made another turn at the mile 6 mark onto E. Thomas Road, and then hit mile 7 with a turn onto N. 64th St.   This was where it started to get "hairy."  A little bit onto this road, you start to feel the hill, because in about a mile's length, you've already gained 40 feet of elevation.  A little past the mile 8 mark, you make a turn back onto East McDowell Road, where you see that it's an out and back, and people are headed back in the other direction.  You gain more elevation, and soon, you're at the 9 mile mark, with an incredible view of Phoenix at your disposal.  Right around here, my iPod shuffle decided to give me the best moment of the race... and at this point, I was LIVING - singing along to the music, and just coasting down the "back" of the out-and-back... to J. Lo and Izzy Azalea's "Booty."  People got a kick out of that.  And then, I kid you not, my SHUFFLE decided to play "Bubble Butt" by Major Lazer.  We turned onto the Galvin Parkway for the harrowing 150 foot climb for the next two miles through Desert Botanical Park up to mile 11, which I climbed with ease... after all, I was feeling good!  And the views were so gorgeous! At this point, I managed to pass the PF Chang's dragon, being carried by a team of runners.  Once I hit mile 11, it was smooth sailing for the last two miles, coasting down a 200 foot elevation drop before hitting the finish line in 2:18:02, which I was happy with considering I had a rough start - and it was better than both of my half times from the double in Mississippi and Alabama the previous week!

The PF Chang's Dragon making its
way down the course!

All four medals from the weekend!
#victoryheadstand in AZ!
After the finish, I grabbed my "Desert Double Down" medal (a limited edition Heavy Medal given to finishers of both the Rock 'n' Roll Las Vegas Half in November 2014 and that day's Arizona race), and my remix medal for finishing two races in two days - a total medal haul of four for the weekend! I stuck around to meet back up with Hollie and pose for some more pictures, and then headed back out to Audrey's for a much needed shower and lunch before more adventures in Arizona -- I spent another entire day further north in Prescott and got to see Montezuma Castle National Monument, the red rocks of Sedona, the Chapel of the Holy Cross, Slide Rock State Park, and the old mining town of Jerome, before heading back out to the airport for my redeye back to NYC on Monday night! All in all, another great weekend seeing the sights of a new state - and marking off my 17th lifetime half marathon and 14th state in the process!

One of my pics from my last day in Arizona,
sightseeing up in Sedona...  just GORGEOUS!

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