I know; it’s kind of a reach back. But 2009 was my first Rock ‘n’ Roll Arizona Half Marathon, my first run with runnin’ buddies Matt Beck and Steve Cibulka…and my first step in what would prove to be a year-long quest towards immortality.
Okay, not IMMORTALITY. But…just stayed tuned. We’ll get there.
The week before the race, well, I’ve already walked, skied, and skated you through all that in “Ice Skates and Runnin’ Shoes.” So…I launch from Minneapolis – St. Paul International Airport late Saturday night after playing in the ice and snow all day; the race is Sunday morning. My pal Steve picks me up at the Phoenix airport around midnight. We toss my two bags, backpack, and acoustic guitar in the back of his truck and set off for his apartment.
I don’t normally carry a guitar, but just in case I get stuck in the airport and have to sing for my supper…I am prepared.
It’s warm in Phoenix, but I’m still wrapped in a residual Minnesota chill. A reflection and a shiver still wander up my spine, and I like it. Still, I know I’ll blow all that snow out on the course the next morning.
That’s the idea, anyway.
His big ol’ scaredy-cat of a dog meets us at the door after hearing the ruckus of a newcomer dragging things up the outside stairs. Greets his “daddy” and then skirts the perimeter of the apartment in order to stay as far from “the stranger” as possible. Bags tossed in a corner, ice water in hand, we camp on the sofa to form a game plan for the next morning, and before long, I am not quite as “strange” when scratching the head of a furry new friend.
Personally, I’ve no real strategy for the race. My last race was the ING New York City Marathon in 2008; my time was 5:24:40, but it really doesn’t tell me much. I ran with many members of our Team McGraw posse, sometimes walking, sometimes running. Totally ran their race…or races. So what my time should be, I’ve no clue.
Together, our collective game plan for the half is pretty simple: get up early, meet Matt, stay together, run our guts out, finish. At the end, maybe I will have learned something.
As in most cases, the simple answer works. We showed up at the course early and track down the third musketeer. We are all decked out in our red Team McGraw jerseys, which not only help us raise awareness of our support for the Tug McGraw Foundation and quality of life brain tumor research, but also make it easier for us to find one another among thousands of runners.
Matt has gone the extra mile and strategically placed an official “P.F. Chang’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Arizona Marathon and Half Marathon” tattoo on the back of his head. This is to be his first race in many years, and I believe his first half- marathon ever. He is committed, and really, dude…the tat’s kickin’!
The gun fires and we dig in. We settle quickly, feelin’ good, enjoying the company of one another, and while we are hittin’ a good clip, neither of us feels pulled along so fast that we need to bail on the others. At our 5K marker, we’re lookin’ at an 11:08 pace.
It’s pretty hot, so we are attentive to the water stops, and there are plenty. I walk through most of them, as I’ve never learned to drink on the run without drowning. (I will figure that out somewhat through the year, but never very well.) Dehydration is not part of our plan, and we keep each other honest.
We dial back our pace a bit, hitting our 10K mark with 11:23’s. We aren’t sure who is leaning back, but it’s okay. We’re stickin’ together regardless…and the long straight-aways are getting’ fun to stretch out on.
Rumor has it that there is to be a small band of Team McGraw supporters somewhere out on the course. I have carried my camera throughout the run, just in case we see them. I expect them to be around this next corner; I’m getting ready, turning the corner, here they come! “SNAP!”
Oh…no…that wasn’t for us. “Go Joy.” Well, I’m glad to know that she’s got some backers out here. I’ll keep her in mind as well, wherever she is. OH…here they are! “Ya Gotta Believe!” Woo-hoo!!!
Our pace is slightly derailed as we stop for a quick photo op; it’s a small sacrifice for the encouragement these folks have provided us, and whatever time we lose in stopping for the shots, we will make back up with a revitalized spring from their support. Thanks, guys!
By the tenth mile, we’ve made up some time and aren’t even feeling it. It’s a good day to run, and our race time now reflects an 11:12 pace. We dig in for the final three and aim for the finish.
We cross the line at 2:24:17. Average pace of 11:01…and a viable measuring stick for where I sit currently on my training. We have been consistent and steady and have properly executed a pretty good “negative” race. (“Negative” = the last half of the race being faster than the first half. As it should be.) A well-staffed event, few corners, bright and warm weather at the finish.
A terrific first race for 2009 shared with my pals.
The guys did share this little tidbit with me during the race. They had both had second thoughts some weeks prior to the race, and the possibility of not running had been considered. But they told me that, because they knew I was flying in to join their merry band, they knew they couldn’t back out. However, according to them, if hadn’t flown in for the race…they probably wouldn’t have run it.
Funny. It dawns on me…if I hadn’t flown it…I wouldn’t have run it, either.