Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Race report: Phoenix Rock N' Roll Half

Although the Boston marathon is famous for its qualifying standards, guaranteed entry into New York is actually more difficult to attain. The open female qualifying time for NYC 2010 is 3:23 marathon or 1:37 marathon; the Boston qualifying standard of 3:40 for under 35 and 3:45 for 35-39 seems downright easy by comparison....AND Boston actually affords you the extra 59 seconds whereas NYC does not.

Having missed the 3:22:59 cutoff at the Victoria marathon by a scant two minutes (lol!), I was determined to meet the qualifying time within the cutoff period for NYC 2010...meaning I had to qualify before January 31, 2010. The PF Chang Phoenix Rock N Roll marathon seemed the ideal race choice - fast, flat, sunny Arizona weather and one of the only viable January race options.

So with NYC qualifying at the back of my mind, my friend Emma and I set off for Phoenix. The PF Chang Rock'N Roll Arizona is actually three events (a half, marathon and ultra) having a combined entry of 33,000 people and world-class entrants (Deena Kastor rocked my age category with a 1:09 half). I had somewhat of an idea as to what to expect. Crowds. And indeed....we were not disappointed in that regard.

Our weekend was spent eating, battling crowds of people and attempting to find taxis....as well as marveling at the scene that is Scottsdale, AZ. The race expo was an absolute nightmare - congested, crowded and hot. I have resolved NEVER AGAIN to attend a race expo the day before a race, ever ever ever. Although well-organized, the sheer volume of people and their entourages made the expo really unappealing.

I woke up early Saturday morning for a quick 2.5k "shake out the legs" run and was mortified to discover that not only were my legs incapable of managing more than a 5:30/km, but that the dry weather (and possibly elevation) made my breathing laboured. My left achilles was also nagging me. I've had this happen before and tried as best I could to shake it off....no training would help me now - sleep and nutrition for the 24 hours before the race would be the only remaining factors I could control. I hydrated well (maybe too much), snacked on my pretzels and bananas and had a wonderful pre-race meal at a cute Mediterranean restaurant - potato soup in chicken broth with arugula, pita and hummous, veggie pappardelle.

(A humorous side note - when I asked the concierge to suggest a running route, he said I should check out the "waterfront". I tried to keep a straight face. The "waterfront" in Scottsdale is in fact an irrigation canal....not quite the "waterfront" that Vancouverites are used to. LMAO!)

Sleep the night before the race was fitful, made worse by 2:30am partiers returning to their room. Luckily security turned up quickly, but I was unable to get back into a good sleep. I was pretty much awake from 3:30am onwards, and finally resolved at 4:45am that I should just drag my tired butt outta bed. The day would be all about will....I was achy and tired and not enthused.

Getting to the start line was a logistics nightmare. Our taxi had to backtrack around race road closures to take us to the finish at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, where we caught a school bus to the start line 13 miles away in Phoenix. Reminded me a little of the early morning ride to Hopkinton :) The half and full marathons were two separate races, with no shared start, route or finish; hence the half marathon starting corrals were relatively easy to find despite the fact that the start area was geographically challenged (read: huge). The half was a wave start with 1000 runners/wave so with my predicted (hopeful) finishing time of 1:37, I was assigned to wave two. It was a loooong walk to the start! Given my insomnia and our early start, however, we had more than sufficient time to drop bags, grab a coffee (it was cold!), do several pottie visits and make our way up 5 or so odd blocks of starting corrals.

I knew that in order to finish under 1:37, I needed run my 10k pace the whole way. There was no room for error and no chance to decide partway through that I was going for it. Either I went for it from the start or not. My race plan was to evaluate how I felt in 5k increments. Running a great half was not important enough to blow the rest of my season with an injury. If it was not my day, I was not going to force it.

Exactly 1 minute after the wave 1 start, wave 2 was unleashed. The pace out of the start line was glacial....clearly self-seeding does not encourage honesty. It was very hard to get into a pace. Almost 5k passed before the group I was running in had trimmed down to a consistent group of runners. I hung out behind the 1:35 pace bunny from mile 2.5 onwards, trying to stay just under a 4:30/km and knowing that I could not afford to fade much without losing the prospect of finishing under 1:37.

5k. 21:49....eek! A little fast, I knew I had to rein it in, but was still feeling great.

The course was dead straight from miles 2 through 9, mildly uphill, so it was easy to let my pace get out of control. My focus was keeping my stride quick, light and even and keeping my head down - it was just too hard to stay motivated when I looked up because you could see the endless stream of runners stretching out for miles in the distance! At 3 miles the headwind started - while it was keeping me cool, it was work to stay at pace.

10k passed quickly. 43:45. Feeling OK and on pace for 1:37, would re-evaluate in 5 more kilometres.

After 10k, the group of runners I was with did not change much. Everyone was shifting into maintenance and keeping an even pace. I didn't really talk to anyone, but noticed that compared to other races there seemed to be a lot of females around me. I stuck to the back of a male runner whose cadence was good and tried to use him to shelter the wind. He seemed to recognize this tactic, and moved to the other side of the road after about a km of tailing him. At 12k, the course blessedly turned...albeit a long straight stretch 90 degrees to the south, but it was still a welcome change from the monotony! I made a conscious effort to stop at the water stations just before 12k and 14k, taking a few walking steps to get the Cytomax down. It was starting to get hot and 14-15k marked the biggest elevation gain on the course, albeit not much, but it definitely felt like a hill!

15k. 1:06:37. I was losing pace a little, but still the fastest 15k I have ever run. I was in for the haul.

I started the countdown in my head. 6k, 5k, 4k. Not feeling well at 20k, slowed to take another slug of water, but I hung in there. My head felt woozy from the heat and I wasn't able to process pace and projected finish time, so I just stopped looking at my GPS.

It felt like an eternity after passing the 1k left sign. I couldn't see the finish line and there were runners sprinting by me....my legs were no longer responding when I told them to move faster. I can imagine I had that look on my face :) When I saw the finish line clocks approaching, I forgot that I was actually a minute less because of the wave start...I just saw 1:36:20 and started sprinting. I needed 1:36:59 and wasn't letting that slip by mere seconds.

Pressed stop on my GPS when I crossed the line. 1:35:13. A smile came over my face when I realized my failure to take into account the 1 minute gap on the wave start.....not only was I sub 1:37 and had qualified for New York, but it was also a half-marathon PB for me! Great way to start the 2010 season!!

Official finish time 1:35:08
Pace: 4:29/km
Overall 527 / 21,518
Female 91/ 13,521
Category 15/ 2,316


  1. Well executed Richele :) See you in Boston if not sooner :P

  2. That's just awesome Richele. I know that lack of ability to do math at the end of the race. How you managed the will power to not stare at your GPS until it all made sense is awe inspiring :)

    Congrats on a great race.