My build up to Arizona hasn’t been perfect. It’s had some great highlights with a 10k PR in crazy snowy conditions last month, nailed workouts, and the purchase of a new treadmill to make winter running easier. But it’s also had some blowouts… workouts not perfectly executed, workouts cut short, illnesses that caused missed runs. And this week. The week leading up to the PHX-Mesa half Marathon in Arizona was filled with some major GI issues (I’ll spare you the details…). I barely ate anything from dinner Monday night til race morning. My pre-race dinner was pretzels, a banana and Pedialyte for goodness sake!
Not sure what happened, but even as late as the expo Friday I was considering calling my coach and telling her I was going to defer to next year. That there was NO WAY I could run because I can’t even make it through my 20 minute shake out run without feeling sick.
Instead I got my bib, saw a few friends at the expo and just hoped that everything would pan out. I’d at least show up race morning and see what happened, hoping to not become the next running meme.
I had my race gear set out the night before the race, as well as some extra layers for warmup and post race. I decided to wear my new tank from the Omaha running store where I work: Peak Performance! I also had to wear my favorite Sparkle Athletic running shorts. They have some serious magical powers. This would also be my first race where I haven’t worn my normal shoes I run in. Instead, I ordered some racers after talking with my coach Lauren. They are extremely light weight! This would also be my first race using Spring Nutrition as my energy source. I’ve been using it now for a few months, and I really love the flavors, texture and energy I feel while using them. (Not sponsored…just love these products!)
Race morning I woke up about 4:15, knowing we had to leave our hotel by 4:45 to hop onto the bus that would take us to the start. I quickly changed, put on my extra layers, grabbed more Pedialyte, a bowl of instant oatmeal and a banana. I could easily eat in the car/ bus on the way since the race didn’t start til 6:30. I knew I had some time!
We found the bus and I hopped on with my friend Tom, who was also racing. I used to work with Tom in Milwaukee, and he flew in for the race. The bus ride took about 15 minutes to get to the start line. Not too bad considering it’s a city I don’t know and I didn’t want to try to find my way around at 5 am in the dark. Once at the start area we walked around a bit, hit the potties and I started my warmup. I ran two, very easy, very dark miles around the area before starting a few of my drills. I was sweating! I knew that was a good sign that the race temperature really was perfect (44 degrees.. yes!)
As we were heading to the bag check, I got to meet one of my athletes! I had three at the race, but before the race start it only worked out to find one. Stephanie I loved meeting you!
Once we dropped off our extra gear at bag check, we headed to the start line to wait for the last few minutes before the 6:30 am start where I took my first Spring Gel (plum). There aren’t many half marathons I’ve started in the dark, but it was kind of nice having close to an hour of the race finished before the sun came up! Anyway, we started off and my coach gave me a speed limit of about 7:15 pace for the first 5k. I really felt very good which was so surprising for me given how sick I felt all week. But I kept trying to pull back a little bit into my speed limit range. The cool crisp air felt so amazing. First three miles: 7:13, 7:11, 7:07… oops. But I did feel very controlled, and knew I could keep pushing in the low 7’s for quite awhile longer.
Right after the third mile I even took off my gloves, and unhooked my thumb holes. Really.. 44 degrees is my perfect racing weather you guys!
Miles four through six I still felt great. The pace felt fairly effortless and the miles were ticking by. I took my first Spring Gel during the race around 32 minutes (4.5ish miles) into the race. My favorite is the strawberry, and that’s what I took here.
Miles four, five and six were: 7:04, 7:02, 7:04. The sun was just starting to creep up, and the race crowds were peering out of their houses. The aid stations all screamed loudly as we passed which was so nice. It was around the 6th mile I think where we had our one and only up”hill” of the race. I looked back and we literally gained 10 feet the entire run… This small hill was just really two steps up to get over a railroad track and then right back down. This course is a slight downhill the entire way, losing about 165 feet. Just enough to speed you up a little, but not enough to notice while running (or driving) the course. Perfection, truly.
Miles seven, eight and 9 still felt mostly effortless. I started to take my last gel about 65 minutes in (mango, which has caffeine), but I just couldn’t get it all down. Not because I felt sick or anything, but the fatigue was setting in. More so mentally than physically. Nevertheless, these three miles were 7:05, 6:55, 6:55. I think about 9-9.5 miles was where I could tell my glycogen stores were running low, which is about 1-1.5 miles sooner than usual for me. I’m sure it can be attributed to not eating well this week with whatever stomach bug I had.
I knew these next few miles could be a little more challenging. But I was already about 65 minutes through the race and knew I just had 30ish left to go. I could that. Have you ever started counting down that way? Just 4 miles.. just 3.75. Only 3.5 to go. Okay… just a 5k left! Yeah, me too. That started right about 9.5 miles in. The slow countdown. The “stop looking at your watch” and “press into the pain” and “you are strong. you are strong. you feel good. you are brave. keep pushing.” type of talk. Over and over and over again. I knew I had slowed down a little but as long as I didn’t stop… I’d PR. Just. keep. running. Miles 10-12 were not my best of the race. They hurt… I had to physically and mentally fight for what I wanted. I saw 1:32 flat slip a little further away. I knew I was already about 20-25 seconds over that overall time and was doing whatever I could to not lose more time from it. My friend Tom was feeling good, so he left me around 11.5 miles. You’re welcome for the pacing!! Miles 10, 11 and 12 were: 7:11, 7:13, 7:14. Not what I wanted, but not totally a crash and burn. I was still running faster paces than any other half marathon average in my life.
Then something amazing happened. I recognized Heather McKirdy about 12.25 miles into the race. As she passed me, looking stunningly fresh like a spring daisy, I asked if she was Heather. She turned and said “Oh my gosh, Kristen!! Hi!”
First off… “hey!” Just fan-girling over here. Don’t mind me. Just wanted to say hi… you keep going! I told her not to let me hold her back. She replied she was just running easy (what… Someday this will be my running easy half marathon pace. I promise.) Then she said “You just got yourself an annoying coach for the last mile. Let’s go. Stop looking at your watch. Push it. Tuck into my shoulder. Come on!” And that’s what I did. I stuck as close to Heather’s shoulder as I could and pushed into the pain you feel 12.5 miles into a PR race.
She really, truly helped me speed up that last mile of my race. Mile 13 was 6:55, and my final push was 6:06 into the finish line.
I officially finished the Mesa-PHX half marathon with a PR of 2 minutes and 2 seconds. My time was 1:32:56. I could not be more thrilled with this finish and my race time, all things considered. I’m elated that my stomach recovered race morning and that my body allowed me to push it to a new extreme. I’m thankful for my coach, guiding my workouts and telling me to trust my body this week and that it will know what to do on race day. I’m thankful for my husband chasing me around the country as I chase my dreams. I’m thankful for friends to run with through easy and hard miles.
Overall, I was the 207th finisher, 61st woman and 11th in my age group. Some speedy people come to Arizona every February, and I totally understand why. This course is amazing. The spectators, aid stations, weather…. it’s an amazing venue to have a great day. Thank you, Phoenix for providing me with just that!
Post race, I met up with two of my three athletes for breakfast. Finally… I was hungry and could eat! Happy to say my stomach felt fine! It was great to meet and chat with both Stephanie and Sylvia over some good food. The amazing news… all three of us PR’d today, as well as my friend Tom! I couldn’t be more proud to be their coach and friend! Definitely a successful weekend in Arizona!
So Arizona was a great overall weekend. I now have 20 states completed, and 25 half marathons under my belt. I’m hoping the next one will bring another PR… so that I can auto qualify for the NYC marathon. For that, I need sub 1:32. Now that I’m 56 seconds away, I know it’s more possible than ever. Let’s see if the half marathon at Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth, Minnesota can help me punch my ticket.
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