Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Arizona Road Trip Report

The biggest issue on the whole trip was the weather.  The day that I was to leave for Atlanta to catch my flight to Phoenix, we had a wintry mix predicted for Birmingham.  I decided to leave for Atlanta after work on Tuesday rather than Wednesday and just chilled at Nick's place for a full day.  In the end, north Alabama got hammered with snow but Birmingham got mostly a cold rain with a change over to snow for just a few hours at night.  Still, given the disaster last winter, I was not taking any chances.  On Thursday evening, after a delay, we finally took and landed in Phoenix at 8:00 PM.  I would be leaving 30-40 degree weather with ice and snow to sunny and 75.  That evening was drama free as we found our hotel and got a quick bite before bed.  Outside of our hotel, I saw my first cactus.  I was not in Alabama anymore.

Breakfast at IHOP followed by an early trip to the expo, which was relatively low-key.  I thought about getting a Run PHX or Arizona T-shirt but decided against it.  I knew it was not going to be a good race.  Even if everything broke in my favor, I would be hard pressed to break 1:40.  I won't know the source of the suckage until I get the test results in 3-5 weeks.  Hard to believe that I chose this race back in September with a BQ in mind.  We did a quick driving and walking tour of downtown Phoenix.  It'a nice city but the downtown area was not as large as I expected.  Soon, we went back to the hotel then did a quick junk run around Mesa's Riverview park near the Cubs Spring Training facility.  It was a very scenic area with palm trees, mountain views and a large fountain.  Next, we made sure we knew how to get to the staging area.  It would be a point to point course ending in a shopping center in Mesa.  The Phoenix Marathon did not actually go through Phoenix proper.  Dinner was a Porterhouse at Logan's but we would be going to bed early because we had to catch a bus at 5:00 AM for a 6:30 start.  That meant a 3:30 AM wake up call.

I timed the pills well and felt that I had a chance at a semi-respectable showing.  The day dawned overcast with temps in the mid 50s.  I felt comfortable the whole race and was only mildly chilled before the warm up and after the finish.  I lined up with the 1:40 pace group.  The course was advertised as downhill with a 300 ft drop with no uphills.  I doubt that.  There were only 3 downhill stretches.  None were very steep or very long and it seemed that most of the course was an imperceptible incline.  It was mostly highway with a few residential sections.  It may have been net downhill but I believe it to be a legal PR course.  I took off aiming for a 7:40ish pace and was out slightly quicker but not "stupid" fast.  Here are the early splits:
7:34 (7:34)
7:29 (15:03)
7:31 (22:34)
7:38 (30:12)
   If I can hold this pace, I'll finish in 1:39ish.  I slowed just a tad in Mile 4 because of stomach cramps.  I took care of that in the next portajohn and lost 63 seconds.  So what?  The effort was still barely perceptible and I thought I still had a chance to make up that time.  It would go in my book as moving time anyway.

I managed to pick it up in the next mile and passed the halfway point still on pace for a moving time just south of 1:39.  I also got word that I was closing in on the 1:40 pacer.
7:32 (37:44)
7:40 (45:24)
7:38 (53:02)

I stopped for water and Gatorade in Mile 8 and though I don't think there was any connection, I faded shortly thereafter.  When I saw my split for Mile 9, I feared a complete meltdown to 9-10 minute pace by the finish and a time north of 1:45, which would be my worst showing since 2007.  Fortunately, my strength held and pride would not allow me to give up.  I managed a solid finish and less horrible time than I had feared earlier in the week.
7:54 (60:56)
8:15 (69:11)
8:10 (77:21)
8:12 (85:33)
8:15 (1:33:48)
7:47 (1:41:35)
:37- Moving time- 1:42:12.  Official time (1:43:15)
AG: 34/162- 78th percentile.
It was the best I could do under the circumstances.

The weather looked iffy the rest of the day so we got cleaned up quickly then headed north and up in elevation.  We planned on seeing Sedona that afternoon then stay in Flagstaff before hitting the Grand Canyon the next day.  Fortunately, we had decided to wing it after the race in case the plans changed.  Good call there.  Flagstaff got hit with major snow overnight so we would not be staying there.  That's right.  Even though it is less than 3 hours north, Flagstaff was more than 30 degrees colder than Phoenix because it is 6,000 feet higher in elevation.  It was snow at 6,000+ feet altitude and rain below that.  Nick suggested that we go straight to the Grand Canyon, which was another good call.  We got to the overlook area and WOW!  Words just can't describe it and neither can pictures.  It was so amazing that it looked more like a painting than the real thing.  Again, it was nearly 70 down in Phoenix but at over 7,000 ft elevation, it was barely 30 at the Canyon and the same sleet that we got in Atlanta had followed us to northern Arizona.

The night would be spent in Sedona at 4,500 ft., well below the snow line.  We arrived just before sunset and were treated to some breath taking red rock scenery.  Unfortunately, due to the rain the next morning, we could not do any real hiking.

It rained all day in Sedona but we hit the road first thing in the morning and it rained most of the way back southbound on the interstate but Phoenix was dry so we would spend most of the next day in Scottsdale, an upscale suburb with some interesting touristy southwestern shops.  It was 30 and snowy at the Grand Canyon, 50 and rainy in Sedona but 70 and dry in the Phoenix area.  After lunch, which was a burger and a beer, we walked around town for a bit then ended up in a nice park, which contained a bike trail, which is surely popular with the local running community.  After discussing what to do for a while, we settled on going back to Mesa to stay near the shopping center.  After a decent dinner, we saw the movie McFarland, which I highly recommend.

The flight back to Atlanta went without a hitch and so did the drive back to Birmingham.

Final thought:
I made the best of it and managed to have fun in spite of not feeling well most of the trip.  If the medical report is bad and I have to retire from racing, I am sure going to miss these trips.  I had been to Arizona for about 10 minutes riding on the Interstate back in '08 but now I feel like I can truly count it among my 48 states visited.  22 down now and only 3 to go.  I'd love to make Alaska my 25th half marathon state but if I continue to deteriorate, I want to finish the goal this year rather than 2016.  Next up is Lexington, KY in 4 weeks and I don't expect it to be much better.

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