Arizona Rock and Roll Marathon – The Race and Finish

As I write this on Sunday, February 22, 2012, it seems my Arizona Marathon one week ago today was an eternity ago. Two days at work were followed by five days traveling to and skiing in Banff, Canada. And as with last Sunday afternoon, I’m back on a long Delta flight eastward bound for Cincinnati.
Here are a few reflections from last week’s marathon.

So as not to burn a precious vacation day, I left Cincinnati after work on Friday at 8 pm. I arrived in Phoenix, rented a car and made my way to the Aloft Hotel in Tempe at midnight.  This translates to 3:00 am EST.  My plan to hike to Camelback for sunset Saturday am was tabled for a few more hours of sleep.  I woke up to my body’s natural alarm clock, had a big breakfast and worked on my blog. The Rock and Roll Expo at the Phoenix Convention Center Expo was fun…and expensive.  I managed to find more dry fit shirts that I “needed”.  Some women may have a vice with shoes, other’s may lay with purses. My friend Dan O’Keeffe has never met a travel bag that he doesn’t need. My vice is in the running genre… pretty much anything that has to do with running, and I somehow need it!  I lost track of how many visors I have,,, but managed to buy another one.   Thus I digress…..

After the expo I drove the entire Phoenix Marathon course.  I think it’s helpful doing this before a race so you can visualize running it and then it’s familiar the next day.  I loved the fact that two of the main streets on the course were Van Buren St and Missouri Ave – my home town and home state. As expected the course was flat. Very flat – with exception of two rolling inclines on Van Buren St.

Late Sat afternoon I had the opportunity to meet Marita Sallee and Craig Agneberg for coffee. I “met” them through Dan and we had become Facebook friends but had never actually met in person. They live in Cincinnati but start packin’ for Phoenix when the temps start pressing south of 30 degrees. They agreed to meet up for coffee at a Starbucks close to the hotel.

We had a great visit – like we had known each other forever. I love it when you meet someone new, like Marita and Craig, and there is an instant connection, good energy and the conversation just flows. They are an interesting couple and are as well read as they are well-traveled. I learned Marita had read 11 books last month, and shared that among my “2012 List of 12”  was to read 1 to 2 books!  My 11 books in 2011 didn’t exactly pan out and she had read that many in a month!!  I told her I did read three chapters of “Born to Run” on the flight to Phoenix. (I was so proud – and then even more pleased when I found it was one of the few books she had not read!). I start to explain the book and mentioned a remote tribe of Mexicans – likely the best long distance runners in the world – were central caricatures in the book though I could not remember the tribe’s name. But as the book pointed out, very few people had come across them.  “The Tarahumara?”,  Marita asked.  “YES!!”, I responded.  How did she know that!!? … I quickly found out It’s because Marita has traveled to Copper Canyon deep in the Sierra Madre’s canyons to stay with the Tarahumara years ago!!  For those of you who have read the book, likely have the same response as I did!!  Fascinating!  An hour and a half later, they had to leave due to dinner plans – thankfully,  or we may still be talking.  It’s good to have good people in your life, and I am grateful to have just added two more to mine.

My alarm went off at 5:05 am on Sunday.  I had laid everything I needed for the race out on Sat night. After a quick shower to wake up, I went downstairs and met some other runners in the hotel lobby. Four of us shared a cab from Tempe to Phoenix for the start of the marathon. We chatted the entire way and I had my breakfast of oatmeal, a bagel covered with peanut butter, a granola bar, and Gatorade while squished in the back seat of the cab.  Because of the small fortune I dropped on Rock and Roll clothes at the Expo, I was given a green Brooks sticker to be placed on my bib number.  That would get me into the Brooks VIP bathroom trailer on Sunday am. There are NEVER enough port-o-potties at race starts and the fact they were clean, heated with NO LINES helped justify my “investments” from the Expo.

I made my way to Corral #2 – the group who were expecting to finish in 3:30-3:35. I was optimistic that the rest and lots of cross-training I had done since my back-to-back marathons in early December would carry me through. My running during that time had been minimal so I wasn’t 100% sure what to expect. The temperatures were chilly but comfortable, it was still dark and music was blaring from loudspeakers on both sides of the start line.  All the runners were gathered in the corrals when there was an announcement just before 7:30 am that the race was to be delayed by 15 minutes which turned out to be 30 minutes.  The delay didn’t bother me. I sat down on the pavement and used the time to stretch, think about My Hero List and listen to my iPod. I was amused by my view of the variety of shoes, socks and legs that surrounded me – which were all in constant nervous movement – Crazy Feet everywhere!!







I wrote my “5 mile Marathon Method” Plan (credit Heather Lueke!) on my arm so I could calibrate accordingly through out the race. I wrote My Hero’s initials next to each five mile race so I would be sure to focus on them, This made it easier than trying to fumble with the paper, which I had safely and securely placed on the outside of my iPhone in my running belt to keep it dry.

The race finally started about 8 am after the singing of the “The Star Spangled Banner”. Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger” was blasting as 3,863 marathoners crossed the start line.  The race was on!

I ran the first five miles for Parker, Lisa Zangara and her dad, Luciano.
Appropriate as this all started with Parker and the idea of dedicating specific races/runs to people came from Lisa. I had also learned the day before that Craig Agneberg lost his father to Leukemia so they were both also very present my mind. It was a very relaxed way to start the race with these special people in my mind and heart.

I ran the 5-10 mile race.Skip Svetanics and his mother JoAnn. She is facing her diagnosis of myeloproliferative disease (an early form of Leukemia) at 74.  I also ran for Matt Michel, who was a hero to everyone who knew him. These three people provided special inspiration as I ran this leg very relaxed and strong.

The 10-15 mile leg or the race was one of my strongest. I ran it for two people who lost a loved one in the previous week.  Jen Wright lost her father and Barb Hartman lost her brother. I have never lost an immediate family member so can only imagine the burden on them and their families and friends. I also ran this leg for Lane McKinney. He has a wife, Penny and 3 yr old daughter, Alayna.  Lane is a Wounded Warrior, having been on 5-6 deployments to Afghanistan and only returned due to an eventual diagnosis of a brain tumor. He has battled through 10 of 12 chemo treatments and is truly an inspiration.  This was the perfect leg to run for each of them. At mile 10 along Camelback Ave I could see Camelback directly in front of me. This massive and strong mountain was a magnificent sight bearing up boldly in the flat desert. The mountain was in my sight for the entire five miles.  At mile 12 I was directly at its base and by mile 15 it had moved behind me. Throughout, I could only think of it’s strength, strong foundation and beauty and how Jen, Barb, Lane and their families were also reflecting these similar attributes.

I transitioned from drawing strength in miles 10-15 to a relaxed peacefulness for miles 15-20. I tapped the mile 15 timer showing 2:01:35 (one minute ahead of The Plan), as I smiled and glanced back at Camelback. This was my transition to the next leg for my Uncle Bill Holmes and neighbor Larry Gard, two amazing men who battled their blood cancer disease with dignity and grace. This was to be the portion of the race I would focus on relaxing and gratitude. This was also an out and back portion of the race. We would see the race leaders approaching their mile 19 as we passed our mile marker 14-15 (see map above). It’s always fun to see the elite runners fly by with such ease and relaxed stride…making it look so easy.  I was reassured that there would be others in my position seeing me pass by as I approached my mile 19. I also noticed one of the runners miles ahead of me was bouncing a basketball while running!! “Basketball Guy“, I referred to him with a smile! How cool .. and hard!! I had never seen that before!! As we hit the turn around in Scottsdale at mile 17 I still felt really good, calm and relaxed, thanks to Uncle Bill and Larry.

Miles 20-25 were for Niki Gordon and Carrie Vittetoe, two young sisters, ages 27 and 23 both diagnosed with Leukemia. Having just graduated from their treatments, they and Tiffany Gossett, a young mother in southern Missouri, are fighting to put the diagnosis behind them and move on with life! These were my FIGHTERS and I drew from them deeply for these tough five miles.

The last mile and two tenths was for Parker and the toughest for me; there were two large hills I didn’t fully recognize when driving the course. Unlike hilly courses that allow your legs to rotate between muscle groups, a flat course just wreaks havoc on your quads. And mine were burning at this point.

Then with about a mile to go, I saw my target straight ahead of me….. There he was…the runner who was dribbling the basketball – Basketball Guy!  If took me forever to catch him but I finally did so in the last .2 mile. I passed him, but he countered with a surge of his own. Really!? The guy who was dribbling a basketball for over 3 hours and I were now in our own race.  Too tired to say anything funny or witty to him, I let him go out just a bit before reeling him right back in. I had run this far and COULD NOT let him beat me to the finish. How funny for my finish photo to be behind Basketball Guy! I then thought how funny – and uncool – it would be to just flick the basketball away, but decided to do it the old fashioned way …and just try to out run him. I waited for the next little hill and passed him again. This time he didn’t respond to the move. It can be tough mentally when a pack of runners pass you – especially if its a large pace group. I could only imagine how tough it would have been when a guy dribbling a basketball blows by…  🙂 Fortunately I was able to pick him off this day and Finish Strong – though it took the entire race to catch him!!!

I was really pleased with the finish and credit My Heroes as a big part of it.  I finished, collected my medal, high-fived the guys I has sprinted the last tenth of a mile with and had a few photos taken with My Hero List. I then spotted the most beautiful mirage in the distance… a giant pallet of ice. Without hesitation, and the precision of a magnet, I was drawn zombie-like to this most wonderful sight!  It was not a mirage after all, it was REAL. So I jumped up on it … HEAVEN!!



I later realized that the ice was probably intended to be used for something more than a chair.. I suppose the caption for it should be something like – “I REALLY hope you were not expecting any ice in you post-race Gatorade!”….

I made my way out of the finish corrals and into the area where volunteers give the runners drinks and food. I continued to walk through collecting a Gatorade, two fruit cups, a bagel, a banana and some frozen yogurt. I continued moving out of the race area and on to my hotel about a 1/2 mile away. My next race was on: get back to the airport for a 2:30 flight. I had eaten everything by the time I returned to the hotel.  After a quick shower and change of clothes, I was back in the rental car headed to the airport only pausing for an In and Out burger enroute.

It really was an incredible weekend not to be forgotten.  It was amusing with all the Crazy Feet and Basketball Guy among the the sights.  It was emotional running for so many special people and getting chills every time someone shouted out, “Go PARKER, you can do it!” as I ran by. Throughout the race I also remembered the trailer I had seen on Saturday. It’s message: Run Happy.

That I did. And I ran inspired. And I managed to run another PR of 3:31:51!