Monday, January 21, 2013

Arizona Rock 'n Roll Marathon Race Report and Review

After four days and three nights in the beautiful, friendly, clean and laid-back city of Phoenix, it's great to be back home in Denver. I had a lot of fun in Phoenix and at the P.F. Chang's Rock 'n Roll Arizona Marathon but, as always, I greatly missed my family. It's so hard being away from them.
First off, the stats from Sunday's race:
Time: 3:04:57
Placement: 82 out of 3223 (top 2.5%)
Division: 15 out of 317
Gender: 71 out of 1,850
I fell shot of my A goal, which was a 2:55. I also fell shot of my B goal, which was sub-3 hours. Fortunately, I achieved my C goal, which was to requalify for the 2014 Boston Marathon. And actually I did slightly better than my C goal. Not only did I qualify for Boston, but I'll have a chance at early entry into the 2014 race since I beat my qualifying time by more than five minutes (albeit with 3 seconds to spare!). Also, interestingly, by the time I enter the 2014 Boston Marathon I'll be 40 years old. The qualifying time for me by then will have moved up to 3:15 (right now it's 3:10 since I'm 39). So, if Boston recognizes that my BQ for the 2014 race is 3:15 even though I qualified at 39 under the 3:10 standard, then I'll have an even earlier entry opportunity since I will have bested by my BQ by over 10 minutes. Wow, did that even make sense? We'll see!
Basically, I was on pace for a 2:59 through 22 miles and then the wheels totally came off. Here are some more interesting stats from the day (aggregate pace in parentheses):
5K: 21:06 (6:47)
10K: 41:50 (6:43)
Half: 1:28:20 (6:43) - on pace for a 2:56:40
16 miles: 1:50:08 (6:53)
20 miles: 2:16:22 (6:49)
26.2 miles: 3:04:57 (7:03)

So, yeah, it took me a whopping 48 minutes and 35 seconds to cover that last 10K. Yowzers!
My 5K split was slightly off pace because my first mile was in 7:15--I was a little cold and not properly warmed up, so I went out conservatively and then did a 6:33 mile two. After mile two I stayed pretty well on pace for a sub-3 through mile 22, with mile 20 being my last mile below 7:00. Mile 21 was 7:04 and mile 22 in 7:17. After mile 22, I was down to very labored eight-plus-minute splits. My legs were totally out of gas and my pace was slowing even as my effort level remained super high. I tried like hell to stay on pace by my legs were done!
By the time the wheels had totally come off at mile 22, I'd taken two Salt Sticks and two ibuprofen. I'd also taken four gels (a fifth was yet to come) and many waters and Gatorades. Normally I avoid ibuprofen in races, but on Sunday I took these two--spaced apart by one hour--out of desperation. The Salt Sticks proved to be too much. When I crossed the finish line, with the temperature at about 70 and rising, I had major cotton mouth and my face and neck were caked with crusty salt. I was close to dehydration and basically inhaled two big waters as soon as I finished.
Looking back on the last few months, I honestly don't know where I went wrong in my training except to say I probably didn't do enough volume. I feel like I did enough quality in my intervals and tempo runs and I know I did enough long runs. I did a total of five runs of 20+ miles all in one go and many, many runs in the 16-18-mile range with lots of marathon-pace miles mixed in. I also had a few 20+ mile days (meaning I did two runs in a single day combining for more than 20 miles). I was consistent on a weekly basis. I think the missing piece was bigger volume and longer runs at goal pace, which clearly result in much greater strength for me. My weekly mileage hovered around 67-71. The three times I've broken three hours, my mileage was in the 90-100+ mile range. But that was a few years ago. This time around I thought for sure that my solid base, complemented by consistent quality, would be enough.
I'm still very proud of my performance at Phoenix. I'm back in Boston and I enjoyed my first big-city marathon in almost four years. It's hard to believe, but four years have passed since my last big-city marathon (May 2009). I guess it's also fair to say that I was perhaps a bit rusty--fast marathons are a game of precision in which every second counts. I should have run a half-marathon in my training for practice--big mistake not to have raced 13.1 at least once in my build up.
With Phoenix now behind me, I'm excited to take some time to rest and lift some weights to prepare my body for Leadville training. I'm going to keep running and keep up with my quality but I'm going to do less volume between now and my Leadville build-up. My foot is still tweaked--probably a neuroma--and needs some rest. My Leadville training mileage and quality are going to be stout.
As for the Arizona Rock 'n Roll Marathon, here are my thoughts on the event as a whole:

Pre-Race Communication: C-. I got too many e-mails about race-day photography, a pre-race "Warming Zone," expo details, etc. It got to be too much. I think pre-race communication is really important, but it should be limited in quantity and focused on conveying only the most important details.
Expo: A+. Very nice and well-organized but not outlandish in any way. They made packet pick-up, which was at the convention center, easy and there were lots of great vendors on hand.
Start: A+. There were more than enough porta-potties. The corral start went smoothly (at least for me). The race started on time. The atmosphere was festive. I also really liked that the half-marathon started in another location. We marathoners got our own start.

Course: C-. This was a new point-to-point course, going from downtown Phoenix to Arizona State University in Tempe, and it wasn't easy, with over 700 feet of climbing. That's a fair amount of climbing for a "fast" road marathon. I heard from many people that the new course was way harder than advertised, and the crowd support was pretty minimal. Again, this was a new course, but if it's going to have almost 700 feet of climbing then please don't say it's a PR course. On the good side, they had plenty of aid and plenty of helpful volunteers.

Post-Race: Big, fat F. Where to even begin? First off, I had to get on the UPS truck at the finish (UPS sponsored the drog bag service) and literally help the guy find my finish line bag. I shouldn't have had to do that. Second, since it's a point-to-point race, I, like a few thousand other runners, had to take the light rail back to the start, where my hotel was located. The race organizers didn't help one iota with transportation back to the start--there was zero signage for getting to the light rail station at ASU. Like many others, I had to ask about a dozen people how to get there. For the love of God, help the runners get on their way! We're not exactly operating with a full deck after hammering it for 26.2 miles. Oh, and we had to pay our own way back after shelling out big bucks to register. Something about that doesn't sit well with me. And when I finally did get on the light rail, it was packed with mostly non-runners. A few of us runners almost passed out because of the constant stopping and accelerating as we went through at least a dozen depots. After a hard effort, you're in a delicate state, and the light rail about sent me and a few other runners over the edge.

I get the whole point-to-point thing. What they should consider doing is busing runners to ASU for the start, or even making runners pay their way to ASU via the light rail, and then have the race finish in downtown Phoenix. I would have been glad to wake up a tad earlier and pay my way to ASU for the start. No big deal. I have a problem with the organizers making me do a bunch of stupid stuff after I just ran my ass off for 26.2 miles.

Overall grade: B-
I'm proud to have requalified for Boston and look forward to going for a PR at the 2014 Beantown classic. My next road race will probably be the California International Marathon in December 2013. But that's a long way off. More immediately, my goal is to get well-rested and start thinking about Leadville once again!
Keep rocking!


  1. Congrats on qualifying for Boston. Thanks for your candid rating of the finish. I agree. It's much easier to find your way to the start before the race than it is to find it after.

  2. Good report Wyatt. Thanks for sharing.

    One thing I thought you'd hit on though was on how you felt this block of marathon training prepared you (or not) for Leadville '13. As I recall, this was a block to break things up and get some speed back. Your thoughts?

  3. Oh yeah, also interested in your Jemez versus Collegiate choice.

  4. GZ: It's hard to say whether this block will help me with my LT100 training. A 3:04 is pretty good but not super good. Anyway, Leadville is so far off that I'm not sure what the benefit of my Phoenix training will be. I suspect I've laid a strong foundation for my training. We'll see!

    At this point I'm leaning toward Collegiate Peaks. If Jemez were on the old course then I'd be going to NM.


  5. Congratulations on a great time and qualifying for Boston! I am curious why you think there was over 700 ft of elevation gain? The profile on the race website lists the gain as 348 feet and my Suunto recorded 259 feet.

  6. Michael: That's what my Garmin recorded and it's what a friend's Garmin also recorded.