Monday, January 18, 2010

PF Chang's Rock n Roll Half Marathon race report

PROLOGUE: I don't run for the solitude. It is true that some mornings (when I can drag myself out when it is still actually morning) are lovely, especially in Austin on the Town Lake trail, with the sun rising and the crispness in the air that wasn't yet full of everyone else's breathing and thinking and doing. Some mornings, the music is just right to complement the quiet. Mostly, though, running is a way for me to socialize actively. In Austin, my running team, the fantastic Huevos Rancheros, and my running group coaches were my inspiration and encouragement. They were great rabbits to chase on the training runs and wonderful friends to talk with on the sometimes grueling long runs.

When I got to the Phoenix in July, I talked my little sister into training with me for this race (she lasted up until the 7 mile run before all but bailing completely because of her too busy life and some thorny personal issues) and then some coworkers (none of them were ever able to make a long run or the first few quality workouts I bothered to organize). It was a frustrating process, hoping for people to volunteer the same level of excitement for the ridiculousness of running great distances for a chunk of metal on a ribbon.

Eventually, the work team dwindled to five other folks who were serious. We baked cookies, begged for items to raffle, and even collected spare change to raise money for everyone's entry fees. Just before we registered, the five became four.

It was still a team, and our store bought us shirts.

Fueled by whole foods!
Fueled by Whole Foods

On race day, two of the four showed up for the meet-up. One called out sick, the other apparently showed up and ran on his own.

Team WFM ready to rock n roll
Peter, Sam, and I pose pre-race

Peter and Sam ran and finished their first half marathons and I am so glad. They seemed to have fun, and I hope they feel the same sense of accomplishment I always do when I cross under that banner.

My attempts to build a team were less than successful, and I can't help but feel disappointed. Race day, and the race itself, however, were awesome--so I want to start there.

PF Chang's moderately cultural abomination of a mascot

Just three weeks before the race, my friend Jeff decided he might want to run it. We had been running a few times, a 5k, a 6 1/2 miler, and finally a mighty 10 miler. The last two were his longest runs ever and I felt that if we went slow, he would be able to finish come race day. He signed up, and on Sunday morning I headed to his house.

The PF Chang's Half Marathon is a one way, mostly flat route from downtown Phoenix to Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe. We left Jeff's house downtown at 6am and headed to Tempe to park at the finish line and shuttle up to the start.

Team Awesome, ready to crush it
Team AWESOME ready to rrrrrumble

I am notoriously late for everything except planes and races--yes, there are exceptions to every rule, but generally speaking. The half and full marathons each had separate start times and gates, we were supposed to start at 8:30. While six seemed crazy early, it gave us enough time to park with tens of thousands of other runners, board a shuttle without too much wait time, and arrive at the start village with no rushing. The two other WFM team mates showed up around 8 and we chatted for a bit before lining up in our corrals.

Chang's race also had a new (to me) corral system, based on your projected finish time, that allowed for a less crushing start. It also meant that way back in corral 19 it was after 9am before Jeff, Sam, and I crossed the start line, right underneath John McCain's encouraging words. I guess if he had won, he might have been at the Full marathon start line?

John McCain cheers us at the start line, srsly
John McCain, pointing like Uncle Sam. WE CAN DO IT!

Biggest drag at the start? No "Eye of the Tiger." We did hear the theme from Rocky and some Lady Gaga, but I attribute later sluggishness to the lack of this key component.

Biggest fun at the start? Jeff and Sam getting respectively queasier and amped to cross the start line.

And finally we were off! The first two miles are always tough for me, warming up and getting into my pace takes time. As usual, I forgot to set my stopwatch, but unlike the last race, I remembered in less than a minute after the start.

Sam took off before long, and Jeff and I settled into just under a 12 minute mile pace. We were able to keep that up for the first five miles. The route was entertaining, with several local bands and area drill teams with themed cheer camps. One school had pirates, another cave-girls. Some had fashioned mini-arches to run under--we hit as many of them as we could. Jeff was a great running buddy, as he cheered back at the random spectators with me and cracked jokes along the way. "'Official Photographer'? How about official guy in the way?"

Our race was spent mostly passing walkers and reading signs. One woman held up a sign that said "If it was easy, I'd do it!" and another, simlply "CRUSH IT"

My sister, who was unable to run the race, made a couple of signs and with her husband and two sons was supposed to be "somewhere" on the route. Our start was so late, I didn't expect them to still be out, but they were there just after the mile 7 marker. My sister had a sign that said "We <3 CDFB!" It was great to have a cheering squad!

Right after we saw Bree and the boys, we made a pit stop. I have never stopped en route, but today was glad I did. Rather than Gatorade, they were handing out something called Cytomax. It is much sweeter and delicious than Gatorade, but went right through me, just before mixing with my Gu to create some sort of painful rock in my stomach. Next time, I will stick to water. The stop probably added just under 10 minutes to our time.

It was a good thing there were bands and cheering kids, as the route itself was not very picturesque. We briefly tracked through a nice neighborhood, but most of the course was on Phoenix main streets lined with strip malls, pawn shops, and dollar stores.

In the last two races, I missed the mile 8 marker, and, it turns out, for the better. There is something really sucky about mile 8, primarily the 5 miles left to go. The stomach pain had been joined by some foot pain, mildly reminiscent of the first race and the plantar fasciitis. I was actually considering walking! Luckily, Jeff was the third quarter rabbit, and he kept us going. I really felt unprepared for this race, once I was out there.

The two of us kept up the encouraging words past the mile ten marker. This is usually where my second wind kicks in, but I was so beat. Not enough sleep, not enough speed or interval work--I was running on fumes.

Mile eleven marker was a key point. We were both so beat to hell: wincing, gasping... but goddamn it, finishing. The route wound through the desert-y out back of the sports center complex. The other runners around us were mostly quiet, struggling.

We pushed forward, toward the stadium, passing fewer walkers as the whole back of the pack wanted to finish strong. The last half mile seemed to take forever, with folks in medals heading towards us on the sidewalks, back to their cars. Finally, we were in sight of the arch! Jeff picked up speed from I don't know where, and I grabbed his hand and we sprinted across the finish line.

We did it! Sprinted the finish and everything!

Official chip time: 2:49:10

The first few moments after, we were both wobbly and queasy. We got our medals and beat a hasty retreat to the car for Indian buffet and banana split desserts.

At the beginning, I said this race was awesome. It was hard as hell, but for the first time, I had someone running with me and keeping me company the whole way. I consider this race, my slowest and least scenic, as my favorite so far.

Rawk n rollz, y'all!

No comments: