by Johnny Ramos
Last February, I ran the Mesa-Phoenix Marathon. I initially wanted to race this marathon, but I got so busy with work that my training suffered. I honestly didn’t run double-digit miles from the beginning of November until the race. I was worried a bit, but I decided to change my goals for the race. Luckily, I have family in Goodyear, which is right outside of Phoenix, and I got to spend quality time with them. They managed to help me not be so nervous about the race. We hung out, played pool and reminisced about great memories. This somehow made me forget that I hardly ran since November. The expo for this race was interesting. It was held outside of a shopping center. The funny thing is when I left Denver, it was 14 degrees. People were complaining about it being cold in the high 50s! It made me laugh too because people were wearing coats and here I was wearing short sleeves. Anyhow, the expo wasn’t too big. A few random and obscure vendors were there. I bought a few items and left. For the most part, people were very friendly.
There is NO parking available at the starting lines! All runners must ride the race buses. Bus pick-up is located at Mesa Riverview Shopping Center, and getting in and out of the shopping center is quite an experience. GO EARLY! I actually started the marathon 6 minutes after the start because I wasn’t able to get on the bus until 5:25. The exit to the shopping center was stopped for almost a half hour. Each race has separate buses so you also need to make sure to load the right bus. I got to the top at 5:52 and still had a ways to walk to the start. I had to weave around people, but luckily the road was very wide. And thank goodness for chip timing! It was dark and surprisingly chilly, in the low 30s. I heard from many people that there were heaters at the start line to keep runners warm while they waited. However I went straight for the starting line, crossed and began to run.
I didn’t look at my pace. I just ran on effort and tried to keep my heart rate in Zone 3. It turns out, I was running faster than I wanted to. I just kept a steady pace and passed a lot of people. In the beginning, it’s a somewhat steep downhill. Once I got to Mile 5, it was mainly uphill. It seemed like this uphill lasted a mile or so. That’s what it seemed to me, anyway. It didn’t bother me and I kept passing people at this point. Once I got to around Mile 7, I caught up with my friend and teammate, Amanda. We started to run together. We chatted and I asked her what her goal was. She told me she wanted to run 3:30. She needed 3:35 to qualify for Boston. I said, “Cool”. We held our pace around high 7s to low 8s and kept a good pace. If you’re a strong downhill runner, then this is a great race for you. It’s not too steep and it doesn’t seem to beat you up like most other downhill races. We kept plugging away and once we got to Mile 20, we picked it up. I told her to keep fighting as we passed people, left and right. At this point of the race, most people start falling apart. Not us. I increased our pace and Amanda held strong. We threw down the hammer the last 5 miles. We got energy from the crowd and fed off of each other. My right glute was getting tight and I told her if I couldn’t hold to go on without me. I somehow managed to keep it together. Once we hit Mile 25, she said, “Oh, Johnny! I’m so excited! I’m going to do it!”. I told her, “Keep going, girl! You got it!” We slammed that last mile at a 7:17 pace. We crossed the line together and she did it. She ran a 3:28. She ran almost 7 minutes faster than her BQ qualifying time. We were both a little emotional because she not only got a BQ, but also a PR. I was so happy to witness her do that and it still gives me chills thinking about it. We ran as friends and we ran as teammates and we finished in such an epic manner.
The finish line party is epic! They have a PR bell, Boston qualifying visors, free French toast from Kneaders Bakery & Café, awards, and plenty of spots for photos. Oh and free race photos! Marathons are tough, but this is one of the reasons why I love it. The conditions of this race was perfect to me and the course itself had quite a bit of beautiful sections. The best thing about it is that it’s fast. If you’re looking for a PR or BQ, then this is the race to do. Arizona in February has perfect weather. Starting 5 minutes after the start didn’t bother me since I wasn’t really racing it, but seeing Amanda on the course was a blessing in disguise. It started off rough, but ended being one of the best races I’ve ever ran.