Monday, January 18, 2010

Arizona Half Marathon - 1:36:01

Zach and I ran the Arizona Half Marathon in 1:36:01. Way above my expectations on the race. Zach did great and ran very strong, start to finish averaging a 7;20 pace. I think we got a boost from the Altitude drop down to 1200 feet from mile high Denver, running a flat course and a nice cool, cloudy day in Phoenix, temperatures in the 40's to 60 at the finish.

Arizona Half Marathon Race Result

Pre Race

This is a huge race. Largest single day Marathon/Half Marathon race in the country. 30,000 register. 28,000 finishers. About 6000 marathon. Huge half marathon field, 30 corals, 2 to 1 women to men in the half. I had no idea it was this big really when I registered us a few months ago when Zach said he'd like to do his first half marathon before Track Season Starts in the spring.

We arrived at the expo and there were so many people pouring in and out, largest expo I've ever seen. Tons of vendors. Zach and I walked around for a couple of hours, took some pictures and bought matching Arizona 1/2 Marathon Singlets, that we later wore in the race. I also got a hat and a shot glass. After we were expo'd out, we ate lunch in Phoenix and then when We got backed to the parking garage a couple of blocks away, it was gridlocked. Seriously nobody was moving any direction. I was on the 4th floor and could not even back out. People were yelling, cussing and honking, 2 guys almost got in a fight trying to squeeze each other out. Pathetic. After about 45 minutes it broke and we were able to get out. Crazy, never seen a parking garage like that before. We drove to our hotel Mission Palms in Tempe near the race finish.

Zach and I at the big Expo the day before the race.

We got lost on the way to the hotel and then got stopped by a long funeral possession can't remember the last time that happened. But then we made it to the hotel around 2. The Mission Palms in Tempe. I would recommend this hotel if you are going to do the race with a couple of caveats. Don't eat at the hotel not too bad, but pricey and there are better restaurants within blocks, it's a "race" hotel but they didn't really cater to the runners like other races and hotels I've stayed at. The hotel is loud, with planes and noisy night life with ASU campus right next to it but that adds to the fun. Also I think the light rail would be the way to go rather than renting a car (taking the light rail from the airport and to the expo, could save some $$). The buses to the start of the race pick up 3 blocks away, and the finish is about 10 blocks away, a nice downhill walk back with some nice views.

Zach and I ate the pasta dinner at the hotel the night before and went to bed early, although neither one of slept solid. I got more sleep than I usually do though. We got up, had some cereal and fruit (no bananas) and went to catch the bus. Which was an easy walk up the road, buses waiting no lines, it was about 6:15. Arizona doesn't do daylight savings time so it's still dark till 7:30 or so this time of year. Long bus ride to the start, lots of lights and turns, took about 45 minutes. We got there and hit the porta potti's of course, the lines were small and the porta pottis were spread out around the start area ( a good idea). We watched the marathoners start at 7:40. About 6000 of them. I kept thinking, I am so glad I'm NOT running a marathon today. Our race started at 8:30 so we headed over to our start area

We got in the porta potti line again, longer now as more runners arrived for the half. We ate a snack on the curb outside our corral and got in our corral. Some confusion as to the corral being 1 or 2, we had a mix of runners, but the guard said it was 2. I put us in a 1:40 finish time when I registered us, based on Zach's 5k times. I told Zach we were probably in a group that was too fast, so get to the back and just run our pace. John McCain started the race, Zach got a kick out of that, he worked on his campaign a bit with Gina in 2008. We ran right by him as he waved from the podium.

First 5K

We started out at an easy pace or so it seemed. Very flat road, which is pretty much the whole race. You kind of wind your way through downtown Phoenix with crowds cheering. W e were running easy, didn't have to dodge too much running traffic as the road was very wide. I looked down at my Garmin and we were holding about a 7 minute pace pretty easy. Zach was surprised how easy it was. Flat, dry, negative altitude and adrenaline are great fuel injuctors. I told Zach it's easy now, but wait for the 9th mile and then let's talk. He had never raced over a 10k before. I watched my Garmin close and would not let us get faster than 7 min miles nor slower than 8, which was not a problem. A few times I had to tell Zach we were going too fast. Sometimes he would get a burst of energy from a band or passing runners or cheerleaders on the side of the road and would speed up.

You turn right on McDowell Road and that's where you run 50% of the race on a single flat road that reminds me of Colfax in Denver, but with a Phoenix flair. Lots of crowd support during the race. The Marathon has a different course, not even the same start or finish line, so it's all crowd for the half. Amazing how flat it is though. Near the 3 mile mark you turn off the road around Coronado Park (2 blocks) and then back, is the only break you get from this road until mile 8.

We took old long sleeve shirts which we wore the first 2 miles then shed them on the course at a bus stop. Zach had torn his so he could tear away the shirt. I did not think it would work, but it did. We tossed the shirts and we both had matching Arizona 1/2 Marathon singlets. This gave us a little energy boost. It was nice running together in matching shirts, obviously father and son, we got a lot of crowd comments and cheers along the way. Picture Below

I signed up for text messages for 5 people for Zach ($5 for 5) so when we hit the 5k mark at 23:12, it was kind of neat thinking how everyone would get a text with our nice start and be thinking about us. The 5k mark was actually the 3.2 mark according to my Garmin which was pretty accurate the whole way.

10 K
Back on Mcdowell road. Water stops every other mile (odd mile numbers). We had a great 5k and it seemed like we could hold the pace around 7:15 or so. Slowing down a bit at the water stations and surging now and again from the bands, cheerleaders and crowd. We were running smooth and in synch. Passing a lot of runners who were starting to fade. We took a GU at mile 5, thought the water was just ahead but it was just cheerleaders, so we had to run a half mile or so with GU mouth. I told Zach from now on, only take the gu when you see the water cups. The course had bands along the way and cheerleaders of all ages (schools or clubs). Good crowd support at the cross streets. And good water stations.

We crossed the 10k at 45:21. I told Zach congratulations on your 10k PR. He had run the first 10k of the half with a PR. And the 2nd 5k faster than the first. He was feeling good and surprised how much he had in the tank as we approached half way of a half marathon.

10 Mile
I told Zach when we were half way 6.55 miles. We got to mile 8 and finally turned off McDowell road and headed toward Tempe. From the 10k mark to 10 miles is where the half starts to fatigue you, if you started out at a 10k pace you will definitely fatigue in this section. You cross under a couple of highways and for the first time, I noticed some elevation. It actually climbs from about mile 5 to mile 10 very slowly.

At one point just past mile 8, there were some high school cheerleaders on the side of the road with their hands out for high 5's. About 20 of them. Zach went for it, high 5'd them all at about a 6 minute pace. The girls were squealing so loud and smiling, as was Zach and I. I heard a runner behing me say "That's pretty neat". That was my favorite memory of the race. I had to slow him down a bit after that super charge.

We hit the 10 mile mark at 1:13:18. Our pace had dipped a bit on the uphill climb, but overall way ahead of my estimate. Zach started calculating our finish time with a 5k to go. We were both confident we could come in under 1:40. 1:35 would be a fast 5k. That 10 mile fatigue was hitting us a bit, but we were staying on pace. I told him the peak elevation was at the 10 mile mark and it was downhill from there, I was wrong, uphill and downhill lie ahead.

Last 5k

At the 10 mile mark, you are near the Phoenix Zoo and can look down on the valley you about to run to Tempe. It's actually a rolling downhill section. We were holding a 7:20 pace and faster on the downhill parts. We were feeling an adrenaline rush as we knew we were closing in on the Stadium and finish. It was beautiful through here, more rural with palm trees, cactus and desert stretches, some really nice rock formations and views unlike McDowel Road. As the last 3 miles clicked off we got a bit faster, winding through areas, up and down hills. Just before we crossed the Salt River, there was a band rocking out on the road, they had just started playing "Born to be Wild". The singer was on the course giving high 5's. Zach high 5'd him and gave us both a boost. It was a very long bridge across the river but we ran it quick as the band faded into the background.

At about the 12.5 mile mark, Zach started pushing the pace. He always had a strong kick. I wanted to stay with him to be in the finish line photos together (plus a part of me is not ready to be beat by him yet..). So I stayed with him. We passed a ton of runners and were running 6 minute miles the last 2 10ths. You turn into the stadium parking lot and the crowd is cheering like crazy and the cameramen are everywhere and there's the finish. I made sure we finished together. and prayed my hamstring did not twang. 1:36:01.

I was so happy and proud of him. We hugged and congratulated each other, got some water, our finishers medals and took a post race picture together. I think he was a little stunned, I had felt that before a few times. Like Wow, did I just do that? Where did that come from? I did it!

Garmin Watch Data for Race

Post Race

After we got our picture taken at the finisher’s photo area together, we got some food. They had the usual stuff, nothing special but a lot of it, multiple rows. Runners only food area. Wanted a bagel, but there was none. They passed out cytomax during the race and at the finish, I really wanted a Gatorade, but cytomax was the sponsor so orange slices instead. On weird thing, no bags were available. I guess they didn’t want you to stock up on food, only what you could carry or eat there. There was a chain link fence with spectators outside, looking inside and talking to friends/family I felt kind of like I was in a zoo getting fed. Zach grabbed a finishers blanket, more because he wanted to hang it on his wall than actually needing it, he tied it around cape style and looked good with his finisher’s medal.

Once you leave the food area, there was a big area of booths, but nothing great. There was a separate food finish area for marathoners too. I wondered if they got bags. We walked around a bit, got some schwag and a bag finally, but not a lot of great stuff. They had a booth that would engrave your time on your medal for $20 but who has money on them and that’s a lot., Zach said we could engrave them at home with a chisel. I told him to practice on his medal first and then do mine There were a lot of pay booths too for food and other stuff, not very many free booths outside the food area.

The infield of the ASU track stadium was a meeting place. They had signs with Alplahbet Letters so you could find your person, I thought that was smart. Would you go with first name or last name though? I went over to the MGD booth and grabbed a free beer, that I had to wear a bracelet for the day before and through the race. Unfortunately it was only good for 1 free beer. This race could learn a thing or two from Colorado about post race hospitality and beer at the end. I got the impression this race pumps a lot of money into the Arizona economy and McCain even said if your out of towners "spend money" as he started the race. I sat in the sun with the M’s and stretched out and drank my beer. Nice views from a very nice track. I wondered what kind of track records and track stars had run here over the years, being a PAC 10 school

Meanwhile Zach went to soak his feet in an ice bath. They put your feet in plastic and give you an ice bath. He took his shoes off and found he had a few nice blisters and a bloody toe. He was very proud of his bloody toe that left a blood spot on his Asics. A badge of honor for his first half.

We met up and went to the information booth to find the shortest way back to the hotel. We knew it was on the other side of the stadium and the big hill. A nice lady gave us directions and a map. We ended up missing a turn and had to jog across the marathon finish area near mile 26. There were 3:15 marathoner's finishing at that time, they looked good, but didn’t seem to be going that fast. When I was near the finish of my marathon a few months ago, I felt like I was flying at the end.

We walked down Veterans Parkway to the hotel, which loops around the big hill we would climb the next day. A nice downhill walk, about 15 minutes at our slow pace. Throngs of people were walking the opposite direction with families, kids, cell phones. They were going to the finish to watch someone come it. All the way back to the hotel. It was kind of cool, we had our medals on and the sun was out for real now. It had peaked out just as we were starting our kick at the end but went away again.

We went back to the hotel, I grabbed a couple of beers from the hotel bar and we went to the room to watch the Cowboys and Vikings playoff game. I wish this story had a perfect ending. I really do. But the Cowboys got beat badly. We took showers and at half time went to Gordon Biersch on Mills avenue for a lunch and to watch the second half. The cowboys were still in it (sort of) at that point. The bar was packed with runners wearing medals and running clothes very trendy for post race lunch. If you do this race, it’s a must. We had a view of the crowds coming down veterans’ parkway with their runners. Zach and I were texting and emailing on our phones with race results for family and friends and watching the Cowboys get stomped, the bar was 90% Viking fans and they were cheering pretty good against us. We shared a Hawaiian Pizza and watched the cowboys get stomped some more, but did not damper our spirits of the half marathon glow.

We went back to the hotel, hit the pool on the roof for a while, cloudy though. The pool was kind of cool, felt good on my right knee. Then hopped into the hot tub, the jets felt so good. Did a little hot/cold therapy.

At the pool, Zach said, “I guess this is the best Martin Luther King Weekend I’ve ever had.” Me too, Zach, me too.

That night we ate at PF Changs, a race sponsor, about 5 blocks from the hotel. A nice walk up Mills Avenue on a nice night. Again the restaurant was packed with runners and their families, the food was good. The race gives you a 15% off card good through March, multiple visits as a bonus. We walked around a bit in the area back to our hotel. A fun night. Rented a movie at the hotel “Zombieland”, very funny movie, kinda gross but not over the top IMHO.

The Day After

We slept good that night, both of us. We got up about 10am and did a donut run to Dunkin Donuts around the corner from the hotel. Hadn’t had donuts in a while and this was a guilty pleasure treat. We decided to hike up the hill that overlooks our hotel and the ASU stadium. The Hayden Butte Reserve. A couple hundred feet climb overlooking our hotel. We were a bit sore, but we were there and it was there so we had to do it.

It took us about 10 minutes to climb up, the trail has stairs and handrails at the top. A bit steep in parts, could feel it in the quads and hamstrings and also coming down, but a good way to stretch out some sore muscles. We took some pictures going up and down. There were runners running it, it would a great hill workout, maybe run to the observation point and not to the top for each interval.

Zach climbing the Hill.
A view of our Hotel and the Tempe Area we stayed at from the top of the hill

Then we showered, packed, checked out and went to In and Out Burger which was about a mile from the hotel (the only thing not within a 10 minute walk all weekend). Our first time at In and Out Burger, the menu cracks me up, it is so simple, burgers, fries and drinks. It was packed. We had cheeseburgers, fries, root beer and split a vanilla shake for desert. Yum. Zach got a t-shirt (cool to where in Denver because we don't have them here).

Then we flew home. What a great weekend we had. A few things I'd do different but overall very fun and a nice experience with my son Zach. Something both of us will remember for life. On the way back from the race, as we were walking to the Hotel, Zach asked me about maybe doing the full next year. I think he was half joking, but I told him they don't recommend them for runners under 18. Maybe his senior year, but we'd have to see. We might make this an annual trip for the next couple of years to do the half together.


  1. Very cool to you and Zach!! Congratulations. I sent you a text, hope you got it. I also sent a text to Matt to tell him the great time and he remarked, "Fantastic!"

    Hope you enjoyed the rest of your Phoenix trip. Nice in Denver today, but not as nice as AZ!

    Look forward to the next installent. Congratulation again!!!! Smiling ear to ear!!

  2. That's really neat you got to run with Zach, and to run above expectations! Great weekend!