PF Chang’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon

Taking to the Streets
Or, An Endurance Rider’s Cross-Training

I have a new respect for my pony and her fitness level. I participated in – and completed – my first half marathon on Sunday, January 17th, the PF Chang’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon here in Phoenix.

The decision to participate was all part of my bid to improve my fitness level this year, and I figured it would only benefit both me and Mimi in the long term. After all, she appreciates in when I get off during rides and walk/jog alongside her, so the more of that I can do, the better.

“Running” is a relative term for me. I’ve not been gifted with a natural runner’s physique, but I make do with what I have, and my idea of running consists of a lot of power-walking interspersed with shorter amounts of jogging.

The PF Chang’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon is a 13.1-mile course that starts in downtown Phoenix and ends up in Tempe, right in the middle of one of the Arizona State University parking lots.

The half marathon started at 8:30 in the morning, with a wave start. The over 21,000 participants were broken down into 26 starting corrals, each released one at a time. I was in corral 23, and finally crossed the start line at about 9:00. I had 4 hours from that point in which to finish the 13.1 miles.

Within the first mile, my body began to question my sanity, but that was nothing new. It’s the same feeling I get within the first five miles of an endurance ride – when my lower back starts whining, and my feet go numb, and I wonder, “How can I stand 45 more miles of this?” It’s shortly after that point my brain and body tune each other out, and I can continue on without much thought to discomfort. The same thing happened here.

My pace was about 14 minutes for the first mile, and I was able to sustain that for pretty much the entire time. Right around the halfway mark, the course became very familiar, as it was part of the route I drive to/from school every day. This was good in that I knew where I was, and kind of what to expect. However, the feedback you get from driving a route is vastly different from running the same route.

For instance, academically, I knew there were a couple of slight grades between miles 9 and 11. Very slight, the kind you don’t even think about while driving. Well, from the perspective of being on foot, that “slight grade” on Van Buren Street between 44th Street and Loop 202 seemed like a major hill.

After passing mile 11, it was mostly downhill from there…past the Phoenix Zoo, across the Mill Avenue Bridge, onto Rio Salado Parkway (another uphill…ugh) and into ASU’s Lot 59…blessedly downhill. I was able to make up for dropping off the pace on the uphill parts (about an 18-minute mile) with being able to really stretch out on the downhill (about a 12-minute mile), and I had saved up enough energy to pick it up on the last ¼ mile in to the finish. The adrenaline-buzz from cheering spectators lining the finish line area helped, too. :)

I finished with a time of 3:28:50, coming in 19,451 out of 21,460 participants. Out of 13,486 female participants, I came in 11,839. My brain short-circuits at the idea of that many participants, and all that matters to me is that I finished.

My goal time, when asked on the registration form for start corral seeding purposes, was 3:30:00. I have a pretty good sense of my own personal pacing and physical abilities, but I was really happy to get that close to my goal time. It averaged out to a 3.999999 (okay, 4) mph pace, and about a 15-minute mile.

The last four miles, I had to really slog it out. The uphill climbs, for one, and then the last two miles, I could feel the effects of 11 miles of concussion on pavement starting to catch up. My hips were letting their displeasure be known, and the outside of the right foot was starting to whine. Interestingly enough, I felt the most sore while maintaining a walk, but when I’d pick up a jog, a lot of the aches would disappear.
Unfortunately, my lungs wouldn’t let me sustain a jog the rest of the way in, so I alternated jogging with walking, and for the last mile, the “finish is within my grasp” adrenaline kicked in and pulled me through.

Physically speaking, that was one of the toughest things I’ve ever done. I think my first 50 with Mimi was actually easier, mostly because of the partner-bond with the pony…when things got tough, we could pull each other through. Out on the street, it was all on me, and I had to pull myself though it. I got really, really good at personal pep talks, as well as giving myself a good ***-kicking when necessary.

One thing that really helped was all the amazing energy at the race. It’s hard to have that many people together and not have energy. The spectator turnout was also amazing. So many complete strangers lining the streets of Phoenix, out there cheering for people that they don’t even know, encouraging us to keep going, telling us how great we look (lies… I think I looked like roadkill by about mile five), and how we’re going to make it.

The volunteers were also amazing. There were water/sports drink stops about every mile and a half, and the volunteers would be lined up on both sides of the street with cups of water and Cytomax, passing them off to runners as we’d come by, always with a smile and encouragement.

So, what does it take to get me through a half marathon, intake-wise? About 90 ounces of water, 40 ounces of Cytomax sports drink, 3 packs of GU, one pack of energy beans, 6 electrolyte caplets, and a whole hell of a lot of encouragement and personal drive. Thank goodness for porta-potties along the way, because I definitely stayed hydrated.

Would I do it again? Sitting here the day after, musing about my still-sore, visibly bruised right foot, and some sore lower back muscles, I’d still have to say, yes. Finishing the race was an incredible personal accomplishment for me, and I’m still enjoying the post-run satisfaction high the day after.

Interestingly enough, I’m actually less muscle-sore than after an endurance ride, and I think the riding really helped keep my muscles in shape for that kind of physical effort. It’s just the concussion aspect of running that the rest of my body is slightly less impressed with, but chalk that up to needing more long-distance conditioning.

The running process might be a bit arduous for me, and I definitely prefer trail running to street running, but I get a lot of satisfaction out of it, as well as a lot of personal “think time” where it’s just me and my thoughts. Call it therapy of a different sort, parallel to riding.

So there you have it. Cross-training in action…but this time around, it’s for the rider. Rock on.

One thought on “PF Chang’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon

  1. Congratulations!

    I know exactly what you mean about the soreness – I was so surprised after my first race how my body recovered. I wasn't nearly as sore and felt fine within a day or two – at that time it was taking me almost a week to recover from doing a 50!

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