It felt like I had been away from racing for much too long. Getting these legs to move quickly again seemed like it may be a struggle. I had been logging on some decent miles over the winter months, being cautious not to over do things. A great balance of trail and road to keep my body familiar with both. I am not ready to completely disengage from road races, and I don’t feel like I am 100% trail material, especially the more technical and elevated mountain running, however, I love both, so why choose just one?
The races I want to do this season are vast, the trouble I have is choosing a select few, and making sure they all fit nicely on paper can be challenging. It’s a bit overwhelming to see the choices that are out there to be quite honest. And if I was super human, I may just race every weekend in order to experience all that goodness. However, thinking back to my injury, I realize that I can’t subject my body to such craziness if I want to maintain what I have. Falling back into an injured state isn’t an option, both physically and more so, mentally. Running brings me peace of mind, and it has connected me with amazing people across this globe. It’s a community I am proud to be a part of. So, keeping this in mind will only help me in my race planning (or so I hope!)
In a ‘normal’ year, I would have raced one or two of the more local road races by February. However, with a chest/sinus infection in December, and the fear of trying to run at a pace my legs are unfamiliar with these days, I chose to skip those events and wait things out until the First Half. Perhaps I should have forced myself into an 8 or 10Km race to wake my legs up, but I chose to wait instead. And besides, 21.1 km’s seemed short enough for someone who starts to feel warmed up at about 18km’s.
That First Half was nothing to write about in regards to my time or placing, but I was satisfied with the end result, and it gave me some confidence for the longer events that will come this season (and some catching up with lovely running pals). In the back of my head, that race felt like it would prepare me for my first marathon of the year. A marathon which I wasn’t exactly doing as a focus race, or resting for fully, but simply a race that I kind of threw into the picture on a whim (truly, it was a great excuse to spend time with my lovely friend Stacey Cleveland!)
So, on the 26th of February, I jumped on a plane and headed to Arizona for the Phoenix marathon. I was a scatter-brain leading up to that weekend. Flipping back and forth between places to stay and how the logistics may work out. It seemed like a bit of a disaster in some ways, but the ticket had been bought, work was booked off, so off to the sunny South I went.
It’s true that I have traveled a lot in my 35 years, but not so extensively in the States. Generally I am good at finding deals and keeping costs down, but sometimes, as I learned this weekend, it’s best to choose hotels that get really good ratings, not mediocre ones….
The first stop in my 2.5 day whirlwind tour was a hotel close the ASU campus. It was dark when I arrived, but at a reasonable hour. As I peered out of the taxi window I could clearly see that the exterior of the hotel wasn’t pretty, and once I entered the room I realized it wasn’t any better on the inside. Sure the staff were friendly and accommodating, but damn, they need to do some work. Doors locked, and fan on to mask the street noise, I got in a broken 6.5 hours of sleep, woke to some sunshine and warmth, moved my legs on an easy run, and packed up to meet friends (good riddance to the less than average/somewhat sketchy hotel….)
I was delighted to see Stacey (Fantastic Ultra runner) at package pick-up, and knowing that I had another hotel to stay at that night, put me at ease, however, I was wondering if this next hotel may be just as bad as the first. The host hotel was full (disorganized me didn’t get a room booked in time when I decided to go down for the race), so my only option was to find another home for the night, close enough to the shuttles that would drive us to the start (point to point race). I was convincing myself that the next couldn’t could be as bad as the first, could it? Well, the answer to that, is yes, yes it really can be. In fact, it was worse.
After a relaxing lunch and great conversation with my friends, we drove to the hotel where I would book in, put my legs up, and relax until I hopped in a taxi the next am at 4:15 (3:15 BC time). I believe I was there for a total of 12 minutes after checking in before I turned around, said no thanks to that room, called the Hyatt (they luckily had a couple of cancellations for the night!) asked for a taxi, and left the premises tout de suite! The sketchy cleaning lady, the drug deal, and the ‘cleanliness’ of that room, got me moving quickly. And, to be honest, I am not very picky when it comes to these things. As I said to my husband, I was a tree-planter for 8 years, I have stayed in some fairly rough hotels in my time, but this, this just wasn’t going to happen.
So, long story short, my body and mind only began to settle once I entered my new hotel room (where the cleaners did not look like addicts, and no drug deals were going down). It would be another short night of sleep, but I really didn’t care. I felt safe, happy, and truly had no idea how this run would go.
3:30 came quickly on the 28th (2:30 am BC time). I shot out of bed, fixed up some coffee and oats, got my gear on, and off I went with the crowds to board our 4:45am shuttle to the desert start line. It was dark, but beautiful nonetheless. Bats flew above our heads, and the sunrise in the distance began as we approached the start line. It was a lot of pavement to pound for the day, but in the end, it was worth every step.
As the sun rose, we made our way down hill (net loss course). The air temperature was perfect and a light wind had begun. I controlled my decent, so not to hammer my legs early on in the race. Two women pulled ahead quickly, but I didn’t concern myself with what anyone else was doing. I was happy to keep my pace where it was, and had to monitor my GI as it was acting up a bit.
At about 7.5km, after finding a small group to run with, we came to the one and only true climb in the race which lasted about 2km. I felt comfortable enough to push a little bit and gained on the 2nd lady. Once we hit the downhill again however, she sped on her way, but I kept my eye on her in the distance, wondering if she may faulter later on, but it seemed as though she was cruising right along, getting further away. At this point, the race became mostly flat. This could have been a great advantage to us. A PB could easily be attained had the winds not become so strong. I would guess that we had about 6km’s or more of full on head winds throughout the race. Putting my head down and pushing through was the only choice I had. No tall runner in front of me to block the wind, and no way to avoid it.
As we came into the last 15km, I realized I was quickly gaining on 2nd. By 28km’s I pulled up and passed her. My body finally felt like I had a steady rhythm. My pace picked up with ease. I was determined to stay in 2nd after having such a rough experience with hotel craziness in the last 1.5 days. I did not dare look behind me though. If someone was on my heels, I would just have to deal with it later on.
Somewhere around 30km, the unnecessarily large number of Police escorts were beside and in front of me, informing me that I was now the lead lady. They quickly sounded their sirens to get the 10k and 1/2 marathon walk/runners to move over. It seemed like overkill, but I had no choice. I couldn’t really tell the officers to move over and out of my lane! As I inhaled in the fumes of their motor cycle exhaust, I began think back to past races where road cyclists have ridden close by me, wishing I could replace those motorized things with the road bikes! Fingers crossed my lungs wouldn’t suffer for this in the future!
As I took the last turn with about 400m to go, the motor bike gang moved off course (Finally!) and I could see the clock ticking away in front of me. Knowing there was a bonus for running under 2:45 got my legs moving even quicker. Had the wind not been so strong on the course, I wouldn’t have had to worry, however, here I was, down to the wire. With only seconds to spare, I zipped through the finishing line in 2:44.54. Phew! That last km, being one of my quickest in the whole 42.2km’s, and I would guess that the last 200m’s was even faster.
It wasn’t a PB, it wasn’t an amazing race by any means, but for a whirlwind trip/race, and with little specific marathon training as of late, I was happy with the result and even happier to see Ultra runner and ultra nice friends, Stacey and Dave, at the finish. Thank goodness the 2.5 day trip ended on a high. Now I can look forward to the first trail race of the season. Hopefully the legs remember how to climb after that race….