Lost Dutchman Half Marathon – 2/19/12

Apache Junction, Arizona, USA

Get up and do it again, amen.

This race was something of a milestone for me.  A year ago it was my very first marathon (and so far my favorite).  I didn’t train properly and ran into IT-band issues that had me hobbling along gimpily for about 3 miles in the middle.  That’s what inspired me to join a track club and take up customized training with an actual coach.  A year later, I’m back for the HM.

Friday:

Another week where my back is feeling tight and full of knots.  There’s been a lot of low-level stress at work, so no surprise.  I swing by Roadrunner Sports to pick up my packet and do some “grocery shopping”, which takes for bloody ever because there are two people at the head of the line making elaborate returns.  I pick up some Gus and a few Honey Stinger waffles – something I’m testing out on my training runs.  In the evening I have a massage session where my therapist advises me to ice my knee because I have definite IT-band problems going on there.  Uh oh, déjà vu all over again!.

Saturday:

Short run this morning, same time as the HM will start tomorrow – time to suss out what outfit I’ll be wearing.  The weather’s been trying to decide all week whether it’s going to be hot or cold for the race, and it looks like pleasantly mild, so I’ll be going with the shorts & short-sleeved shirt and my traditional rainbow calf warmers.

Oh, did I mention it was my birthday on Wednesday?  I have maybe-a-bit-too-heavy a dinner with leftover chocolate lava cake, and hit the sack.  Weirdly, I don’t wake up during the night at all.

Sunrise from Prospector Park

Pre-race:

It’s a little bit spooky driving out to the Rodeo Grounds in AJ in the pre-dawn darkness.  The Full starts way out in Gold Canyon, so I’m not familiar with this route in.  The parking lot is just beginning to fill, and yellow school buses are waiting to shuttle us the short distance to Prospector Park.

It’s obvious now that there’s a significant temperature drop between my house in Mesa and the outskirts of AJ – even with my sweats on over my running clothes I’m chilly!  I join a group huddled by the restroom block, which provides a bit of a windbreak.  One gal says she’s heard the course is hilly – having just come off the Sedona HM, I assure her it’s relatively flat except for a an uphill slope at the turnaround.

Eventually the sun comes up, and I have to ditch my sweats at the bag check though I keep a pair of gloves.  There’s a single corral for all the racers, with a few pace markers alongside.  The speakers at the front are playing – smooth jazz?  A gal next to me says that she’s afraid of losing Pandora and running out of music.  Personally I’m glad I’m not that dependent on my tunes.  Totally without fanfare the starter’s gun goes off, and we’re on our way!

Race:

Down the chute and out of the park, and the runners around me express dismay at the first “hill”, an overpass that we’ll also have to take at the very end of the race.  The first leg is a straight shot down Lost Dutchman Blvd, straight into the sun rising over the Superstition Mountains.  I check in with my Garmin and pull it in a little; in the early excitement I’ve dropped to a 9:xx pace, and I know I can’t sustain that for 13 miles.  My strategy is going to be to stay near 10:05 or so as long as I can and ease off as needed; with the lower altitude my overall goal is to best my time at Sedona.

The half marathon is an out-and-back along the final quarter of the full marathon, meaning that when I last ran this course I was dazed and not quite mentally there.  That’s my excuse for not remembering the stealth hills along this route: long, gradual grades that aren’t obvious to the eye and leave you wondering “why am I slowing down?”

At Mile 2.5 we turn south and are now running the border between the eccentric mansions of east AJ and the open desert of the Superstition wilderness.  The light is just amazing, and now that I’m moving I’m warm enough.  A couple guys behind me joke about buying the horse advertised for sale and riding it the rest of the way.  Outside of the aid stations there’s not a lot of people along the way, which is kind of nice – just a peaceful desert morning with the birds singing.  I’m hitting the even-numbered aid stations, all of whom are very good about yelling out who has the water and who the electrolytes.

Now for the long haul, heading east on Broadway up the one really noticeable grade.  The leaders are starting to pass on their way back from the turnaround, to the cheers of those of us still heading out.  My pace is still good; if my right knee starts to feel questionable I dial it back a little or focus on my form.  I grab an orange GU at the mile 6 aid station – the half mile to the turnaround seems to last forever, but I make it, ditch my gloves, and start the downhill run.  Same as last year, someone is playing inspirational movie music at the top.  Meanwhile, a woman in her slippers shuffles out to the curb to pick up her newspaper.  Good morning!

The Mile 8 aid station has so many different goodies that I wind up spilling water all over myself, but that’s OK – it’s a great morning for a run!  I run on the broad dirt shoulder when it’s available, and spend some time hopscotching with a few people doing the run/walk method.  A few miles from the finish I hit the wall – literally.  There’s an arch straddling the street, painted to look like a brick wall – last year, by the time I got here it had blown over!  It’s all downhill from here, and my feet are flying as I wind through the back of the 10K pack.  At mile 12 I glance at my Garmin, do a quick calculation, and realize that I’m going to smash my 2-week-old PR again!  Over the overpass, down the chute (“Good finish!  Good socks!”), three different race clocks for the three distances – I whoop with joy as I cross the tracking plate!

Official time: 2:10:08!  A PR by another 8-1/2 minutes!  Woo hoo!

Post-race:

Lost Dutchman puts on quite a spread for the runners, including breakfast burritos.  This year the prospector and his mule are still here, but I skip the photo op because my body heat totally evaporated as soon as I stopped moving, and I just want to get out of the wind to someplace warm.

After I get coffee, home, and showered, I text my coach with my time.  This time he calls me back to express his amazement.  He also lets me off my Tuesday track workout, because I am pooped.  (Speaking of which, this race is also a milestone being my first HM where I didn’t need to use the portaloo midrace.)  Over the past 13 months, counting from the 2011 P.F.Chang Rock-n-Roll Arizona, I’ve improved my HM time by 23-1/2 minutes!  And I owe it to following my coach’s training plan, so thanks, Coach Dave!

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