Welcome to My First-Ever Guest Blogger: Arizona Distance Classic Race Review

Welcome to my friend and fellow MIT running buddy, Wendy S., who ran the Arizona Distance Classic (Half Marathon) this past weekend! Wendy, as you know, is my hero and we have been training for Pittsburgh together since December. But, recently, I found out that Wendy will not be running Pittsburgh. I am very sad (after all, it’s not everyday a good training partner comes along), but happy for her because she is pursuing her dreams out West and starting a new job (Congrats Wendy!). Please welcome her as she describes her race experience, finds fellow MIT runners halfway across the country, and reflects on some valuable lessons.    

Wendy at the Arizona Distance Classic

This race is kind of special to me because I really felt like the universe was aligning all of the stars to make it happen: My grandparents (90 years old) live in Tucson; My Dad drove in from Palmdale, CA; My cousin Nancy came in from Albuquerque, NM to run the event, too; and MITers from Columbus were running because Fleet Feet, M3S Sports and Premier Races were putting on the event. Nothing like being 1800 miles away from home and seeing familiar faces on race day.

I flew in late Friday night, but because no one was there yet and I didn’t have a car, I crashed out in the hotel room. Well, I tried to crash out. I had a horrible night’s sleep. On Saturday, I didn’t eat much, because my body clock was all screwed up from the 3 hour time change (AZ doesn’t recognize Daylight Savings), so I lazed in bed until 1 p.m. and started developing a migraine. I then decided to grab a bite to eat in the bar of the hotel. Chicken quesadillas. Not exactly the healthiest thing, so I didn’t eat all of them. I did, however, channel my inner camel and start pounding the water. That’s the first smart thing I did.
My cousin, Nancy, and her husband arrived in town and we went over to the running store to pick up my race packet. You’ve seen one running store; you’ve pretty much seen them all. (Let me gripe here and just say that the race promoters need to come up with a better shirt design – they are all looking the same these days.) We drove the race course and I could feel my anxiety creeping up. Holy smokes, LONG gradual hills, something I hadn’t been incorporating into my long runs. We went back to the hotel and waited for my Dad to arrive. By this time, my headache was really bad. I was still sucking down water, but needed Advil. Got some Advil, but it didn’t do much.
For dinner, we went to a Vietnamese restaurant. I’ve never had Vietnamese food, so it was a little adventurous for me. Big mistake. My food was okay, but it wasn’t something I was used to, and I didn’t eat much of my dinner. I continued to drink water after water for the rest of the night. My head was still pounding, so we went to bed early and I prayed for a good night’s sleep. Just in case the prayer wasn’t answered, I took a Benadryl. The Benadryl helped, and I got up several times through the night to use the bathroom (see, I actually remembered that this was a good thing because it meant that I was hydrated).
We awoke around 5 a.m. I got up and did my normal pre-race routine with the exception of eating. The idea was to pick up a bagel at the bagel place behind the hotel, but it didn’t happen. Meaning, I ate nothing before the race.
We arrived at the start around 6:15. It was a cool 47 degrees – a perfect race temperature for me. Hit the port-a-potties and drank some more water. At 6:45, I ate a GU since I had not eaten anything. Nancy wanted to hit the port-a-potty one more time. This was the last time I saw her until mid-race. At 6:50 a.m. they played the national anthem. The flags were positioned in such a way that the Catalina Mountains provided a beautiful backdrop. As the words “Land of the free” were sung, the sun burst over the mountain tops and filled the valley with its rays. It gave everyone, including me, chills.
The start of the race went up the hill on Innovation Park Drive and I felt my heart rate climbing, but it wasn’t unbearable. I looked over and saw a lady wearing a New Albany Walking Club jacket – I gave my fellow Ohioan a high five. I turned the corner of Rancho Vistoso and had a slight down-hill. I checked my Garmin and I was at an 11:00 minute pace. I thought to myself, “Okay, this is respectable, but there are some serious hills ahead.” At mile 1, the hills started. These aren’t crazy, super steep hills, but rather long hills that climb over 2 miles. The elevation chart says 75 feet, but I call bullshit (I’ll have to wait until I upload my Garmin when I get home to find out the real elevation change). At mile 2, I saw some lady on the side of the road. I’m not sure what happened to her, but she was in trouble. My pace for mile 2 slowed to a 12:30, still respectable, considering that I was climbing a long hill.
My second inspirational moment came during Mile 2. I looked up and saw a guy holding a theraband being led by another guy. The guy being led by the running guide was blind. If that doesn’t make you well up inside and motivate you, then you have a heart of ice that will never thaw.
At mile 3, the hill started to level out and I started to pick the pace up. When I went through the water stop, I was ticked off because my little Dixie cup was only 1/8 full. Stingy bastards, I was thirsty! Because the course was an out and back, I was feeling motivated that the last two miles would be downhill. Mile 3 was at an 11:24. At mile 4 I took a GU. I could already feel my energy start to dissipate and I didn’t want to bonk. Mile 4 was at 12:00 – I think this was because of I slowed to take the GU.
Mile 5 was slightly downhill. I knew my dad was going to be standing on the side of the course just before mile 5, so I booked it. I cruised through at an 11:27 for Mile 5. The beginning of Mile 6 started going uphill and it sucked. Mile 6 came in at 12:00 on the dot. I saw my dad just after Mile 6. It was great to see him – I’ve never had anyone stand on the course and cheer for me so that in and of itself was cool. But it was even more special because it was my dad! He told me my cousin was just ahead of me. Soon after, I spotted Nancy just leaving the halfway point. I was at 6.2, she was at 6.8. And then, it started happening.
I was excited to get to the turnaround because the first half really felt like it was all uphill and I was hoping it would get easier. I got to the turnaround and drank up at the water stop. I took two waters. I needed them. I was feeling dehydrated and like I wasn’t sweating. I sucked down a GU and started running again. I passed my dad for the second time, but I didn’t feel the same energy level as before. In fact, I stuck my tongue out like I was panting. I was later informed that everyone else that passed this point was gasping for air, but I looked strong and sounded just fine. Then it dawned on me… it wasn’t 47 degrees anymore. It was more like 75 degrees with blazing sun. Holy smokes did it warm up fast. I tried to think positive and ran through Mile 7 at a 12:12 pace.
I fell apart on Mile 8 and half-ran, half-walked the mile. I just wanted to get to the water stop and drink more water. I totally bonked hard. My energy levels were depleted. My fingers were so swollen. And the thought of lifting my legs was just unbearable. Mile 8 was at a 13:33.
If mile 8 sounded bad, it was just a warm-up for Mile 9 and my most awesome time of 14:27. I got passed by an old lady (75 plus years!) wearing a short running skirt. Her muscles had lost all of their tone. Her skirt was so short that her butt cheeks were hanging out of her briefs. It was NOT a pretty sight. And, the worst part is, that I followed her playing cat-and-mouse for the next few miles. I must have looked pretty bad, because they were handing out GU at the mile 9 water stop and the guy handed me two…. To add insult to injury a song came on the iPod singing “When you hit the wall”. Mental note to self, delete that song from the running playlist.
Mile 10 was more of the same and I came in at 13:47. It was so hot. I was so tired. Mile 11 was just miserable 14:25 – a lot of walking. The 2:45 pacer finally caught up to me. I tried to not let the balloons get away from me, but they did.
I remembered the 2 mile downhill portion was coming up and tried to run. I finally got some more motivation. Before I knew it, I was actually back in a pack. And then my final motivation happened.
Wendy and the MIT Crew in AZ!

I saw two familiar shirts ahead of me with the Fleet Feet and Premier Sports logos on them and they were struggling too. I ran faster to try to catch up with them. I passed old-saggy-butt-lady and felt better about myself. Low and behold, I recognized one of my MIT buddies, Terri. This is the girl who pushed me during one run in the fall. She is tough as nails, but now she was struggling – something that I’d never seen from her, ever. Then I realized that this course must be tough. In Ohio, we were used to running in 15 – 45 degree overcast, wet, weather on flat courses. Here we were running in the middle of desert surrounded by cactus with high elevation, see the problem? I ran up behind her yelling “C’mon Terri, you can do this! Go MIT! You’ve kicked my butt in training runs before, let’s do this.” I think screaming out loud was more motivation for me than it was Terri. I don’t think it registered at first with her who I was.

Jennifer, Terri’s running partner and fellow MITer, told me Terri woke up sick. Terri told me to finish strong. Truth is I was tapped. I ran a little bit ahead of them and then walked. Mile 12 clicked off on my Garmin at 11:55. Terri and Jennifer picked it back up and Terri told me to get back to running. I tried, but I couldn’t. We were starting to go back up hill and I was trying to run-walk in shorter increments. Terri and Jennifer passed me and then I caught back up when they started walking. Finally, we rounded the corner back onto Innovation Drive, where the race had started. It was all downhill from this point. Terri was really struggling. I felt so bad. She was sick and it was evident. She looked so pale, but she continued to press onward. I made a comment along the lines of “Let’s do this”. She told me to go on. I was already slow and knew it wasn’t a PR (HAH!) so I wasn’t worried about me. I was worried about Terri getting across the line – so was Jennifer. I replied back to her, “We train together, we finish together.”
MIT runners bringing it home in AZ.

We started picking it up little by little, faster and faster. I was so caught up with my MIT crew that I totally blasted by my family… although I did get a good photo-op of the three of us at Mile 13 (12:55). The announcer read all three of our names and then said, “These ladies are from Columbus, Ohio!” I can’t wait to see our finish photo. I hope they got all three of us in it. I love MIT.

My final time was 2:44:15, which ironically breaks down to a 12:33 average pace. Had I run the entire time, I probably would have finished around a 2:35, but that’s a could’ve-would’ve-should’ve situation.
Would I do this course again? Yes. I need to go back and tackle this course now that I know what it is all about. I need to go back and train for this course when I’m healthy and not hacking up a lung, getting over being sick. Not to mention, my ankle is still bothering me and I think it might be a stress fracture. I need to eat prior to running. I need to sleep prior to racing. In other words, I need to prepare.
MIT does a great job of teaching us how to be prepared for races, so why didn’t I heed the advice? I think I let the travel factor play too large of a role. I got thrown off my body clock by three hours and I tried to adjust in a single day. Not to mention, Friday was my last day of my old job in Columbus, and I was flying to Salt Lake on Monday to start my new job. I was stressed. I let everything else control me, when in fact; I could have controlled every single variable except the weather. If I had prepared, I would have finished strong and could have even had a PR. There is no doubt. Yes, the course was tough, but I could have owned it.
Thank you, Wendy. 

Until the next mile marker,


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  2. Thanks for the honor Sara!!

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