I thought Arizona didn't have any hills. I signed-up for the inaugural Run for Ryan House Half-marathon to use it as a training run, as part of my full marathon training. That, and it was during Spring Training so I could "kill 2 birds with one stone" and catch a couple of San Francisco Giants Spring Training games too.
Not knowing anyone else who was running the race, I didn't really know much about it. I had looked at the course map, and it looked simple enough. Honestly, elevation was not even a concern of mine because..."I thought Arizona didn't have any hills...."
I went to the expo the day before the race to pick up my bib and timing chip. I stopped by one of the exhibitors, a local chiropractor, who asked me if I was ready for the course. I said, "Sure...why, is there anything special about it I need to know?" He said, "Oh yeah, major elevation." Well, after the awesome Bay Breeze Half-Marathon ran 2 weeks ago, I was feeling pretty confident in my training. I thought to myself, "How bad can it be?" I just shrugged it off and didn't really think about it again.
On Saturday, aka morning, I got up at 5 am completely exhausted. The day before, I had gotten up at 3 am to catch a 6 am flight; this, plus the 1-hour time change and sitting in the sun at the Giant's game had wiped me out. For the first time, I woke up on a race day thinking, "I really don't feel like doing this."
I decided to wear shorts and a long-sleeved t-shirt. I knew it would warm-up during the race, but it a little chilly at the 7 am start. The long-sleeve shirt was light enough that I knew it wouldn't be a problem for me. I had a whole-wheat bagel and peanut butter for breakfast, then headed out to Scottsdale with my Aunt (who I was staying with). I was so happy to have her with me!
Being a small race of about 500 runners, there were no corrals, so I just found a place, closer to the front. Someone sang the national anthem, and then we were off!
The first 2 miles of any run are always hard for me. This time was no different. It was my first race in my new Nike's, and while they felt good, my legs felt like bricks. I'd had a tough week and by Thursday, I was mentally exhausted and skipped the 5-miler I had planned. I really regretted it during those first few miles of the race. It took me longer than usual to feel comfortable.
Not that I ever really did. At least during the first half.
You see, we started running at a slight incline, which was fine. Then it leveled out a bit, until we had to go up a short hill, then down it - still fine.
We continued on, at another slight incline - I was beginning to get annoyed. Then the course took a turn up Happy Valley Road. And I mean, "up" Happy Valley Road. It was not even 4 miles into the race and I was already thinking, "I could really use a walking break." But I didn't stop and kept powering forward. Finally I had to give in and took a short walk. A girl ran by and gave me a "Keep going" nod for encouragement. It helped, and from that point on, we kinda paced each other.
I kept waiting for the hill to flatten out and it didn't. It seemed to go on forever, and at 4.5 miles, I took off my earphones and yelled, "How long does this hill go for?!" About 5 people turned around and answered me:
"Its the entire first half."
I couldn't believe it! I yelled, "You have got to be kidding!" I had 2 more miles of this torture to endure! So this is what that chiropractor meant.
One lady, who I noticed kept taking a lot of walking breaks, ran up to me and told me, "I'm taking it easy during this first half and going to work at the turn around." I thought, "Good idea, I'll do the same." So from that point on, I ran as much as I could, but took a few 20-30 second walking breaks too.
Those 2 miles seemed to last forever, I was convinced I was the last person out there. The only thing that kept me going was my music (FYI - Drop It Low is a great song to run to uphill), and seeing the sun rise over the cactus-filled desert.
Although I was not trying to get a PR (and by that point, it was not even possible), I was also trying not to get a WPR (Worst Personal Record) either. But at the rate I was going, I was on pace for 2 hrs 26 minutes, which was 2 minutes slower than my slowest time.
When the turnaround finally came, I was so excited that I booked it (or at least felt like I was) back down that hill. It felt so good to be able to run freely. Miles 6.5 - 10 flew by.
I didn't pace myself; I should have because I got tired at Mile 10. Always at Mile 10. You'd think I would have learned the art of pacing by now, but no, I let my emotions take over every time.
Miles 10-12 weren't too bad. I definitely slowed down and walked through the aid stations (I also need to learn the art of gracefully going through an aid station), but it was manageable.
I intended to run through the last mile as fast as I could, but that darn thing was uphill too. I think I yelled out loud, "What is the deal with all these hills?!" It wasn't a big hill, but at that point, I was hating anything with any sort of incline. When I got to the top of it, I knew I was almost done and ran to the Finish as fast as I could.
Tons of kids lined the Finish Line holding out the medals. It was pretty cute.
I crossed at 2 hrs 19 min 49 sec. Not my best, but not a WPR either.
My aunt was right there waiting for me. She gave me a big hug and then I went in search of water and bananas. I searched and searched and when I couldn't find it, I yelled, "Where's the water?" Someone turned around and said, "They ran out." I couldn't believe it! How could they run out of water?! By this time, the Arizona sun was blazing and I was dying of thirst. Luckily, because I drank from the aid stations, I still had some Propel left in my hydration belt. That was my saving grace.
I found a place to stretch and drank the Propel while my aunt got me an apple (the only food they had left). While I stretched I saw all these teenage volunteers milling about with water bottles in hand. Yeah.
I eventually made my way over to the massage area. I would have preferred a table massage, but the line was long for it so I settled for a chair massage which felt heavenly.
With the exception of running out of water (a major black mark), I thought this was a really well-executed race. For being a small event (500 runners), I was impressed that they had the disposable time-tracking tags and really nice medals.
The shirts are high quality and the aid stations on the course were fantastic and plentiful. We had to cross a lot of streets but the Scottsdale Police Dept was on-hand to direct traffic. The crowd support along the course was few and far between, but the people who were out there were very spirited and encouraging. I appreciated them!
In hindsight, I also appreciate the difficulty of the course. To give you an idea, here's the elevation:
My Garmin was ringing the entire time telling me my heart rate was too high, and my quads are thrashed today, but I'm glad I ran this course. I have yet to preview the course for the Marin Marathon, but I suspect it has hills and I think this was a great training run for it. It also brought me back to reality and realize how much more training I need to do in these next 7 weeks. The good thing is that I am usually dying to reach the Finish Line, but at this race, I felt like I could have still kept on going. That's a good thing, because next weekend I have a 15-miler. Unchartered territory!