“Perhaps we’d better start from the beginning…” a line taken from one of my favorite rockers… Rob Zombie. Arizona marks the first stop on the Tour each year, and since this is my running anniversary, I love that the fun starts here. In 2016, I did my very first run, and it just so happened that it was the 10K here. Much has changed since then, for me, and for the Rock ‘n Roll Marathon Series.
It started at the Health & Fitness Expo. When I approached the waiver form table, I noticed a QR code that I could scan for my bib numbers instead of using a machine. There was no line for a machine when I got there, but this allowed privacy and I liked the new option. Second, after I picked up all three bibs, one for the 1-mile, one for the 5K, and one for the Marathon, I grabbed my shirts and began to head for the Brooks Tour-exclusive merchandise center. Upon crossing a chip reader, my name popped up on a large screen (along with some other runners that were enjoying the personalized experience as well). I started chatting with these perfect strangers because this was such a unique experience; one none of us had seen in a race series before.
After being fully entertained for a bit, I made my way into the Brooks area, and quickly snagged the new tie-dye Rock ‘n’ Roll Launch 5 Brooks running shoes. They were priced at $100, ran about 1/2 size large, and will be great for the year. Then, I noticed banners with the names of each runner in the designated event (turns out there were shirts that also had the names on them… more on that later). I went to find my usual pint glass that I get at each RNR event, and then notice coffee mugs; large in size and bold in color. Each distance matched a color, and together they incorporated the full spectrum like the exclusive Brooks shoes. There was no Tourpass line to pay. While this was such a nice perk in the past, the checkout was pretty quick. Another unfortunate event was the cashiers were instructed to put each item in a bag rather than allowing us to use our bag check bags, so that seemed like a waste of plastic and an unnecessary cost for the event.
I walked through the expo and experienced several vendors with which I am familiar (I was excited to pick up some Arizona-inspired socks) and try a few brands I hadn’t experienced before. I was left a bit disappointed that the new Heavy Medals were not available to preview, and that there is no credential for being a Tourpass holder (nor a vanity bib), but I had fun signing the marquee and talking to other runners before leaving for the 1-mile.
When I arrived in Tempe for the 1-mile, I met with some other Rock ‘n Blog peeps, and we chatted a bit. We didn’t know what to expect as far as turnout, but there were a few hundred runners ready to rock. I liked seeing young kids with moms and dads and excited to take part and earn their medal to pair with their shirt; what a great way to start being a runner! You can see me at the :14 mark with my hands up ’cause they’re playing my song… alongside fellow #RocknBlogger, Briana. The concert after allowed us to hang out and chat about the upcoming 5k run and make dinner plans. Parking was free for both the 1-mile and the Saturday 5k, so there was no rush to go home.
Saturday saw a couple thousand of us arrive to Tempe with little traffic. People park in various spots around Tempe Beach Park, but I always use the garage off Mill for convenience to the Start and Finish lines. I wanted to make sure my pace was marathon pace and nothing too tough. I rocked my new Brooks shoes, and set out with everyone to watch the sun finish coming up over Mesa. It was a beautiful morning for us to take on 3.1 miles, and the DJ playing had us grooving half way in. We ran a bit along the lakefront before crossing the bridge and collecting our bling as well as some light refreshments. I absolutely noticed the new signs for corrals, water, Gatorade, and mile markers along the course. They are vibrant, distinct, and refreshing, giving the experience a brand new feel.
Last year, I ran the 5k and Marathon to complete the Remix Challenge. The course can get warm when you take five hours like I do. At times last year, between miles 19 and 25, it felt like I was alone on the road. While the course was essentially the same this year, it felt ridiculously fresh. There was more music and more energy during those very tough and hilly miles down the back stretch. Locals came out and made their own hydration stations in addition to the ample ones provided by the race. The energy was definitely higher and the best of the triple-city area of Phoenix-Scottsdale-Tempe were out in full support. I thank them for a PR and a 40-minute improvement over 2016.
The Finish Line was clearly marked, and food trucks were serving up sugar, salt, and savory items for runners and fans. The Heavy Medal and Remix Challenge tents were easy to locate and the medals looked terrific. The Merchandise Tent was fast and full for those souvenirs you forgot at the expo, or in my case, didn’t know you missed. Thanks to an Instagram post, I learned that there were shirts for longer distances with each runner’s name on them. I missed it at the expo, but was able to get the marathon shirt I wanted after my finish!
Then, the real treat began for marathon finishers. The staff at the Finish Line had told me where to go, as at first there weren’t signs readily available (or I was too exhausted to notice). However, this exclusive marathon finisher zone had PIZZA (with various toppings), Snickers, extra water/soft drinks, and free massage tables. There was no line for any of it, and I’m a mid-pack runner who also went shopping and picked up medals. This felt like such a VIP moment.
After visiting the exclusive area, I met some friends on Mill Ave. (where all the ASU students hang out) right in front of the light rail station. We talked and had a refreshment, and it turned out many of us had scored a PR on the day, despite it being so much warmer than last year. I took the light rail back to the start line garage for the price of $2, and it took about 16 minutes to get to my stop, from which I walked two blocks to my car. This was such a wonderful way to begin the Tour, and I can’t wait to see many of you out there. Whatever your stop along the Tour, may the music be loud and may the course be with you.