Going into this race I didn’t know what to expect. The Synchrony Financial Rock ‘n’ Roll Arizona was going to be my second marathon and I wanted to get a big PR. However, my training didn’t go according to plan. I began the training cycle coming off a strained calf muscle, barely being able to run a mile without being stopped by excruciating pain. On top of that, I was diagnosed with severe iron-deficient anemia, so basically any run no matter the distance, wiped me out physically. Initially, I had a goal time in mind, but as the days progressed, I began to run easy, only focusing on putting one foot in front of the other. My goal time started to slip out of my mind as training progressed, but subconsciously I knew I wanted to PR by at least 10 minutes.
Being from Chicago, winters are always dreadful. The constant sub-freezing temperatures and snow just isn’t the type of weather I enjoy being in. So when I came across Rock ‘n’ Roll Arizona taking place in January, I knew I had to be there. I also have never been to Arizona, so what better way to explore a new place than by running on foot?
I arrived in Phoenix late Friday night, which meant I would have to go to the expo on Saturday. I always like to arrive at race expos right when they open because there are less people around. That gives me time to grab my bib, race shirt, and walk around exploring the various booths. Grabbing my bib was super easy, each station was sectioned off by race distance and further broken down into sections based on bib numbers. For 2018, Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon Series switched over to using a timing chip on the bib, rather than a D-Tag. Rock ‘n’ Roll Arizona would be the first race to try out the new Sportstats timing chip, and I was super excited for the switch!
Getting the race shirt was a breeze, and it was time to enter the Health & Fitness Expo. To show off the new timing chip, Sportstats placed a timing mat right outside the entrance to the Expo. If you stepped on the mat (with your bib near you), your name would pop up on a TV with a good luck message. This was an awesome touch, and definitely got me more excited for the race.
Immediately walking into the expo, Rock ‘n’ Roll put out banners with all participants names on them depending on the race you were running. I spotted the banner for the marathon and began to look for my name. When I found it, I got super happy. I mean how cool is it to see your name on a banner at such a big event?!
I walked around the Expo for about an hour and then the nerves began to set in. I couldn’t believe that I was actually running another marathon in less than 24 hours. The race I signed up for last March was finally here, and I couldn’t believe that it was time to take on such a hard challenge once again.
The hotel I was staying at was about half a mile away from the start line, which allowed me to sleep in a little more than I normally do on race mornings. I like to lay out my things the night before, so that all I have to do the morning of is eat, get dressed, and take some time to relax and calm my nerves. I arrived at the start line a bit early, knowing that past RnR races I have attended get a little crowded and hectic. I wanted to leave enough time to allow myself to use the porta potties twice before beginning the race. But when I arrived, it was completely empty! I think it helped that the marathon and half marathon had different starting lines. The start area wasn’t that crowded, and neither were the porta potties which I know the long lines can be stressful at times. Besides the new timing chips, Rock ‘n’ Roll implemented a lot of other new features for their races. There were a couple that I felt stood out more than the others. One of them being the new corral markers!
In past Rock ‘n’ Roll races I have run, the corral markers used to just be small numbered signs attached to poles on the sides of the road. They were a bit hard to see, so it was a nice change seeing new markers. The corral markers were inflatable and were lit up so it was easier to find your corral in the dark. The race began at 7:50am and I promptly crossed the start line at 7:52am.
I decided to take the first couple of miles easy. I wanted to make sure that I had enough gas in the tank for a fast finish. It’s hard to run slower when so many people are flying by you, especially in the beginning miles. To avoid getting sucked in, I tried to pay attention to sights. The beginning half of the race ran through the outskirts of Phoenix. We mainly ran on major roads, so a lot of the scenery involved typical landscapes such as shopping areas, restaurants, and office buildings. It was a nice change of pace because the free time I had during the weekend, I used to explore the downtown area. This part of the race was where I noticed that Rock ‘n’ Roll also implemented new mile markers. In past races, they were pretty hard to see, not being tall enough or not placed in an easy location to see. But during Rock ‘n’ Roll Arizona, I never missed seeing a marker because they were so much taller and eye-catching than in previous races.
After mile 13, the scenery shifted and essentially I felt I was “entering the mountains”. Between miles 13 and 20, the course gradually increased in elevation by 200 feet. Although that doesn’t seem like much, coming from a city that is completely flat, the elevation gain took me by surprise. It was nothing that I couldn’t manage, but I did feel myself at times pushing to keep on pace. This part of the course was probably the most tough for me mentally, but I felt looking at the mountains definitely helped. The beauty of looking at the mountains helped me keep my mind off the “pain” I was feeling.
After mile 20, the course rounded out and the race headed towards the finish line in Tempe. I was on track to PR, and even hit my goal I initially set for myself back before training started. But around mile 21, my calf started to hurt and I felt that my injury was going to flair up. I kept the last 4.5 miles of the race conservative, walking for a minute and running until I reached a new mile marker. Miles 24 and 25 had some hills that not many people were prepared for. These hills really tested me like never before. When I saw them, I just wanted to give up. I could walk them just like everyone else was doing, and would still get a PR. But I knew if I did that, I would beat myself up about it. So I fought through and ran those hills with all the power my legs had left. Right before mile 26 I saw the finish line, and that’s when I darted. I ran the last 400 meters essentially in a sprint. Everything I had left inside me was left on the course, and I crossed the finished line in tears with a time of 4:43:17, a 14 minute PR.
Rock ‘n’ Roll Arizona was definitely one of my favorite races I have ever ran. The course was beautiful, the amount of support from the volunteers and spectators was phenomenal, and in general the atmosphere was great to be around. Phoenix definitely did not disappoint, and it was so much fun to race in a new city. The Rock ‘n’ Roll races are always so much fun, but I would have to say Arizona is now one of my favorites!