Saturday, January 25, 2014

P.F. Chang's Rock 'n' Roll Arizona Half Marathon Recap

The P.F. Chang's Rock 'n' Roll Arizona Half Marathon is the biggest race of the year for me and judging by the 16K+ who also ran it, I'm not the only one. Certainly much has been made about Competitor Group, the race organizer, no longer giving the big payouts to elite athletes to attend, but to the half-fast runner like myself they still put on a top notch event. [CGI reversed course this past week]

After last year when I overslept, got stuck in traffic, struggled to get parking and barely made it to my corral for the start of the race, my wife and I stayed in Tempe near the start/finish line. This was a very good choice.

The weekend started out at the pre-race expo on Saturday for packet pick-up. Now, I'm not thrilled that they it this way since it's downtown Phoenix, where parking is a PITA, and is way too crowded. I was also disappointed that many of the bigger running related companies we not exhibiting. The highlight of the expo was meeting fellow tweep Allison () at the Social Media session.

After the expo, we checked into the hotel then headed out for dinner. Since I work in the area, I know a great little pizzeria that has a fantastic spaghetti and meatball calzone. Can you say carbo-loading?

After dinner it was back to the hotel and we called it an early night with the alarm clock set to 5 am. Things always don't work out as planned however. Because of a case of pre-race nerves and having a room that overlooked the freeway off-ramp, I didn't get a very good night's sleep.

Race day started out with a good breakfast, some ENERGYbits and a short walk to the starting line. Because everything went as planned, I had enough time to hit a port-potty, stretch, take some more bits  and settle into a spot in my corral with 10 minutes to the gun. How I got corral 1 I'll never know but it was sure nice not to have to dodge much "traffic" at the start.

After the National Anthem and a brief ceremony honoring of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, the race was off and so was I. The plan was to average 7:30/mile but I went out a little too fast with my mile 1 and 2 splits at 7:10 and 7:21 respectively. I really didn't feel like I was pushing it but settled down for the next 3 miles and got into a good  groove at 7:30/mile, making sure to hydrate at all the water stations.

Another part of the plan was fuel at miles 5 and 10 with GU and at the midway point with 30 more bits. For those of you who are wondering. I keep my bits in a Tic-Tac container and can easily swallow 5 or so at a time without any water.

For whatever reason my mile splits slowed down by 10 seconds or so after around mile 5. Part of this can be attributed to the fast start but some can also be attributed to the race being pretty much being entirely uphill through to mile 9.5. 

My favorite part of the race is by far the portion through Papago Park from miles 8 through 12. Even though it is the most challenging part of the course, it is the most beautiful. The views through the park are what makes this race so worthwhile.

With the last 3.5 miles being downhill with a pretty quick decent, I feel as though I made my biggest mistake of the race in this portion. Not wanting to blow my legs out by going too fast on this segment, I may have actually hurt my time by holding myself back and braking. I also feel like I expended too much energy which didn't allow me to finish as strong as I could have.

As the miles clicked by and with my legs getting heavier, I headed into the home stretch. As I came over the Mill Avenue  bridge with less than a mile to go, things got a little complicated as the mini-marathon runners/walker merged with the half. While I applaud anyone who gets out on the road, these fine folks were towards the back of he pack, spread out and in groups of 3-5 making it near impossible to run in a straight line.

Even though the course changed this year to finish at Tempe Beach Park, the last half mile was still lined with spectators cheering us on. With a final surge of adrenaline, I let it all hang out and crossed the finish line in 1:39:12 which is 11 minutes better than last year's time (my first half) and a new PR by a little over 3 minutes.

So with another race in the books I look forward to next year but not without thanking Competitor Group for putting on a great event, the spectators and bands who lined the course to cheer us on, my fellow runners and most importantly my lovely wife Christine for sharing the weekend with me and being there at the finish.

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