Jan 20

Okay, half marathon, but it makes a better title ;-) I completed the PF Chang’s Rock n’ Roll Half Marathon two days ago and wanted to post some random thoughts. Having participated in this event from two angles now (twice as a band playing on the sidelines and once as a runner) I have a few observations:

  • Holy clockwork! The level of coordination to pull this event off is nothing short of miraculous.

    Holding any event involving more than fifty people is difficult enough – they had something like 30k participants. And that’s not to mention the volunteers who staffed it, the bands that played along the route, the fire and police coordination, the road closure crews, the medics in the celebration area, the snacks and drink servers, the t-shirts and medals and schwag hander-out’ers… the list goes on. For all that took place there were only a few traffic jams and no significant mistakes that I saw. I’m blown away by the Elite Racing folks and everyone that collaborated to make this happen. Thank you thank you to the volunteers that donated their time.

  • Pace is key I now wholeheartedly grok that “slow and steady wins the race” adage. Only a few weeks ago I was sucking wind after a 6mi run with a partner and ended up walking a good portion wondering how I was going to somehow double that distance. On Sunday I was able to complete the 13.1 mi race in 2h19m without being winded (sore but not winded). I’m convinced the key to that breakthrough was in consciously slowing my pace. My goal was to finish without walking any part of it and I was fortunate to make it the whole way with the only slowdown being the trot for the occasional handoff with a water cup volunteer. It’s amazing to me what a difference in endurance it made to back off the pace slightly. If you’re struggling with endurance on a run, try reducing speed by 10% and I bet you’ll see a 2x return in both time and distance.
  • A good use of RFID When I think RFID I typically think of chipping passports and animals and big brotherish-type stuff. This was an awesome use of that technology though- the packets they distributed to runners beforehand included this orange plastic band that you attached to your laces. When you passed over the start and finish lines it clocked your times and sent the results to a central system. By the time we got back home (and probably earlier) our results were already online – that my friends is at least Web 5.0.
  • Ahem, sunscreen You can and will get burned by direct sun in the wintertime in AZ. For some reason I was thinking the sun would be low enough that I wouldn’t need sunscreen. Bad assumption.
  • Gu is good I had purchased some of those gel instant energy packs in advance and then promptly forgot them in the car in the early morning scramble to the starting line. Luckily the volunteers at mile eight were handing them out (and even the good flavor, vanilla). While this is probably frowned upon by race purists and akin to using supplemental oxygen when climbing a big mountain, I have to say it gives you a noticeable boost of energy replenishment when you need it. And to me the vanilla flavored one tastes completely fine and a lot like cake frosting.
  • Rolling storage lockers UPS provided a clever and useful service for runners. They had tons of trucks backed up at the starting line and made it so any runner could check a barcoded bag with them to store belongings. The trucks then drove to the finish line and reassembled in the parking lot like a strand of storage lockers on wheels. What a great idea and a simple yet memorable sponsorship service.
  • GPS fail I’ve been using the RunKeeper Free iPhone app to track my runs. It’s 90% awesome and 100% free so I can’t complain. But on raceday perhaps the cell network in that area was overloaded or something because it never got the GPS lock. I would recommend to anyone who plans to track a run on a raceday to acquire the GPS lock well in advance and then simply reset the clock when crossing the starting line. Trying in vain to fire it up once the race begins is a bummer and a distraction.
  • The rah-rah’s do make a difference The cheers of a complete stranger yelling “you can do it” have a surprisingly real effect. This is something that’s puzzled me about sports- I’ve gotten the camaraderie aspect amongst fans but I’ve never truly understood the adrenaline/supportive aspect from the perspective of the athlete until this race. It’s very real and I will appreciate that relationship in sporting events from now on.
  • Run like an amoeba Not quite sure how to verbalize this one but being in this river of bodies with the same goal all running with similar pace but in constant flux as people slowed or sped up- it just felt being an appendage of a larger organism. I was just one set of legs on this distributed human caterpillar that snaked through the streets of Phoenix. I can’t help but think if there were a way to organize one of these races with warring cultures somehow it would resolve a lot. Or maybe it’s the endorphins from the exertion and the high-fives with random strangers that’s the magic secret sauce. Either way, we need to bottle and share this stuff. I recommend participating in a marathon if you ever get the chance – it was an awesome experience I will remember for a long time.
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    2 Responses to “Thoughts from a first-time marathon runner”

    1. Lance says:

      Very well done!

      I would agree on every count except for the Gu – that stuff can be tricky because A) it can make you cramp if you don’t take in enough liquid with it and B) once you start taking it you have to keep taking it cuz the crash could possibly be a mighty one. I know some people that take the ‘purist’ route on this that you mentioned but I’m not one of them. I more look at it from the take of safety and consistency – that type of cramping in the gut is dangerous. That said – I also say do what works for you, nobody is that much of an expert (esp me!).

      I couldn’t run this year, nursing an injury, but I was a coach for somebody that was completing their first HALF after having a baby 10 months ago. I had the itch all day to be out there, I missed it dearly. I did trot with her to check in periodically and then was by her side from the Mill Ave bridge to the finish gates where I pulled off.

      A great event and you captured it perfectly. Again, great job and glad you did the most important thing: you had fun with it.

    2. joshua says:

      money sean. way to go dude.

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