Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Race Report: BMO Harris Bank Phoenix Marathon


Cacti in the desert.  Duh.
My second marathon of the year was going to be a QUICK trip to Phoenix, Arizona - literally less than 24 hours in the state.  I took a late night flight from New York that connected in Denver, where I got the last flight out to Phoenix landing past midnight.  The positives out of it though... my flight to Denver was in Comfort Plus (so yay legroom!) and I had two empty seats right next to me, allowing me to lie horizontal for the long flight -- and then I was upgraded to first class for the flight to Phoenix!

Upon landing in Phoenix, I found a spot in the airport to sleep.  I had done a little research, thanks to SleepingInAirports.net, to find out where the most comfy spot in PHX would be, and thankfully, I landed at the terminal where there were some armless cushioned seats where I could lay flat.  It did not make sense at all for me to be paying for a hotel room that I would be sleeping in for something like 4 hours, so I opted to sleep in the airport, and then get myself to the shuttles at Mesa Riverview by Uber.  Thankfully, I got some sleep on the flights as well, but after four hours, I got myself up and out to the Phoenix Sky Train, which I took outside of the airport to a location where the Uber could pick me up.

My Uber driver brought me to Mesa Riverview, where cars were just beginning to trickle in to park in the parking lots for both the half and full marathons.  About half an hour after I arrived, the traffic got really intense, and I believe some people were scrambling to get their cars parked before heading to the buses.  I waited around for Brian, who had retrieved my bib for me at the expo earlier in the day, and was also running the marathon.  We then boarded the buses which were beginning to fill up, and then headed up the mountain to the startline area.

Boarding the shuttles to the start...
As I had come directly from the airport, I had my bag with me, stuffed with my change of clothes. I also had to figure out a solution to get my winter coat into the bag since I left a pretty frigid New York City earlier that day and was expecting to come back to pretty cold temperatures.  The folks at bag drop were nice enough to allow me to tie my two overstuffed bags together, and then I proceeded to the pre-start area.  I ran into fellow FRNY member Manny, who was also running the full and aiming for a BQ - I wished him well, before I went off to get warm in the pre-start area, which was well stocked with many tall "umbrella" heaters - the kind that you find on patios at restaurants and bars. There were also a decent amount of port-a-potties, but with the amount of people running the marathon, they seemed to have a never-ending line.  Some of us just took advantage of the surrounding desert (literally, the start line was on a road in the middle of the desert, overlooking Mesa, AZ, with nothing on either side of the road except sand, cacti, and the occasional tumbleweed), and peed against the cacti, hoping to not get pricked by a cholla cactus or get bit by a snake or some other desert animal lurking in the darkness.  Rumor had spread that someone actually did squat down on a cactus before the race, but I'm unsure if that was true.

The PHX Marathon start
Soon, the time had come for the race to start.  The sky was still pretty dark, with the valley lit up by the lights of the city, but minute by minute, it started to lighten up.  The national anthem was played over the speakers (a recording, womp womp...), which was accompanied by fireworks (!!) at the lyrics of "And the rockets red glare, the bombs bursting in air!"  At 6:30, the runners were off, heading downhill on Ellsworth Road, dropping 222 feet over the course of the first 1.8 miles.  The sun was still not out, where we were yet, but to our right, the mountains were just blocking it, so everything had that "sun kissed at dawn" look to it.  We turned right onto McDowell Street and finally to some civilization - a residential area! - continuing to go downhill and dropping another 239 feet until just past the mile 4 mark.

Beautiful morning views to behold
The one damn hill in the race
that lasted for nearly two miles.
We turned right onto North Ridgecrest, and that's where we encountered our first hill - a 200+ foot climb over the course of 1.75 miles. It was more residential subdivision-like area, surrounding us, but luckily by the time we approached mile 6, the uphill was over, and we proceeded to go downhill again!  And downhill we went... the course would drop over 400 feet until we hit the halfway point of the race.  Sure, the views were still pretty spectacular, as we continued through the Northern Mesa residential neighborhoods of Las Sendas and Red Mountain Ranch.  The roads then began to look a bit more suburban and commercial, as we headed southbound for a mile on Recker Road, then turned right onto East McDowell Road, running on four to six-lane roads with big-box stores and golf courses surrounding us.  We passed the halfway mark on McDowell Road, a road which we were on for two miles, then turned left onto Val Vista Drive, notable for its many orange trees on the west side of the road.  This was, however, where the course became so monotonous for me.

The last of the pretty views before we hit suburbia.
The halfway point, and I'm already over it.

...but I'm happy to see some orange trees and real oranges alongside the course...

We ran for two miles on Val Vista, then turned right onto East Brown Road for FOUR miles.  The course just got so... "same old, same old" for me, and I found myself bored to tears with the route.  By this point, we had hit the 20 mile mark, and I was DONE - exhausted from the lack of thorough sleep, and the sun starting to wreak havoc on my body, as by this time I had been on the course for nearly four hours.  At this point was one of the only times I have ever taken my phone out to text my friends waiting at the finish, because I was just through.  Of course, I just kept on going...


Some fun aid stations toward the end
Thankfully, there was some great crowd support toward the end of the run, especially with one lady who always had a bag of pretzels at the ready, roughly every mile and a half (was she following me?)  The course had flattened out significantly in the last six miles of the race, but thankfully we had some turns here and there to break up the monotony of running miles and miles in a straight line.  We made our way through more historic sections of Mesa, pushing through to the finish when finally, we made our way to the last half mile, turning off of Alma School Road onto Bass Pro Drive as we made our way to the finish line at Mesa Riverview, where the buses picked us up earlier in the morning.

Done.  SO DONE.
I crossed the finish line in an exhausting 5 hours 19 minutes and 58 seconds, and consumed all but 15 ounces of my 100 ounce Watermelon-Nuun filled Camelbak.  I retrieved my medal, the first "point," cotton, of a five-pointed copper star, with each point representing the 5 C's of Arizona - copper, climate, citrus, cattle, and cotton.  The medal is quite nice, also featuring a golden phoenix.  If the each year's race from 2016 thru 2020 is completed, the Phoenix 5 "copper star" will be completed.  That is, if you have the patience of running this course. At the end, waiting for me were Kristi, Hollie (finishing her 100th half!), and Donna, and we celebrated with some drinks at the nearby bar, the Brass Tap, where Jim and Brian were waiting, celebrating Brian's Boston Qualifying marathon run.  After a quick drink, we headed back to Hollie's apartment in Tempe to freshen up, and then Hollie, Donna, and I headed to Scottsdale to meet up with my friend Jeremy for some food and drink.  Hollie headed back to the airport, as she was catching a flight to New Orleans to run the RnR New Orleans Marathon the next day, and I was extremely exhausted, so I had Donna take me to the airport too, where I slept for a good 3-4 hours in various places at the airport before my evening redeye flight taking me back to New York (or rather, Newark) via Chicago.  I came back to NYC exhausted out of my mind, but I had my sixth lifetime marathon under my belt, and my second for the year.

Victory Headstand!

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