Tuesday, January 25, 2011

My most shocking race to date: Rock and Roll Arizona

With my friend Elaine S. along the Rock and Roll Arizona Course during the first few miles.

I know Elaine from several ultra marathons we have run together including:

Rocky Raccoon 50/100 miler
Javelina Jundred 100 mile/100 km

We have run these races over the past several years so have met several different times.

Elaine has run many 100 miles and other ultra's and I will see Elaine several times throughout the year including Western States 100 as well as Vermont 100.
I am so thrilled to be awarded my marathon finishers medal.

This was a very challenging marathon by the end.

I finished the marathon in 3:52:17 which is a Marathon PR of over 10 minutes for me!

The first miles flew by as I chatted with my friend Elaine. But during the later miles I started struggling with fatigue, pain and all of my recent running I think caught up to me as my legs started feeling like jelly.

It is a fast course because it is so flat, but this also leads to some challenges as you are running using the same exact muscles the entire time.

This year the weather was perfect starting in the low 50's then getting to the mid 60's by the time I finished. I think later finishers did mention it got hot but compared to a few years ago it was not too bad.
My friend John Bingham is an announcer at many Rock and Roll Marathons.

Sadly because of my finish time, he was not at the finish line when I crossed but many other races he does cheer out to me.

I believe our next shared event is the Mardi Gras Marathon in just a few weeks.

John "The Penguin" Bingham has written many books that I think are excellent regardless of your running ability. He believes in every person and really encourages everyone to run to the best of their ability. What a class act!!
After I finish the Rock and Roll Marathon my most important stop is Yogurtini on the corner of Rural Road and University.

It has super yummy yogurt with lots of different toppings.

And of course the interior is decorated in my favorite color mint green!!! I know others might think my favorite color is pink but in reality I am a mint green/turqouise green girl. It is just that there is very few running cloth that is in mint green so I have to go to my second favorite color and embrace it with GUSTO.

You can see our frozen yogurts in the foreground (mine is the big one) and Tristan trying to look like he is hugging me while simultaneously avoiding touching my stenchy/sweatiness!
After a brief rest and a treat at Yogurtini, it was time to attempt to summit Hayden Butte.

This is how I always end my Rock and Roll Arizona Marathon race day. At the top you can get a view of downtown Phoenix, Scottsdale and Tempe and thus see the majority of the race course.

It is cool to see the entire race course and nearly all 26.2 miles I have traveled.

And for the first time in a while Tristan was definitely walking a lot faster than I. Although in my defense I had PR-ed in the marathon with a sub 4 hour, 3:52 marathon!!!


I have been running marathons since 2004. My first year I ran only one marathon, the Marine Corps Marathon, in a time of 5:15. The next year I ran MCM in 4:50 followed by the JFK50 miler in 12:25. In 2006 I started running a marathon a month (or greater). In 2006 my average time was 5:30. The next year I improved slightly with times in the low 5 hours. In 2008 I continued to run many marathons with a modest improvement in my time. Finally in 2009 I started seeing improvement in my time with an average marathon finish time of just under 5 hours. 2010 was a great year with PR’s in nearly every distance I ran starting with the Disney half marathon in 2:02. In nearly every other race I PR-ed for the course or the distance including 100 miler, 100 km, 50 miler, 40 miler, 50 km and the marathon distance. Some of these improvements were significant including a 2+ hour improvement at both the Umstead 100 miler and Vermont 100 miler.

The Rock and Roll Arizona Marathon is a flat fast course. The marathon includes about 5,000 runners which is not too large but not too small, thus can be optimal for a PR. Prior to the race it was suggested that I finish the race between 4 hours and 4:15. This seemed manageable, a good time goal and would boost my confidence for my upcoming goal of a sub-24 hour Umstead 100 miler (as well as my quest to finish WS100 and the Grand Slam). I felt 4:00-4:15 was a reasonable and manageable goal if I focused on the finish line and ran strong throughout the marathon.

Rock and Roll Arizona Marathon is a point to point marathon. Runners can park by the finish line and take a shuttle to the start or can park by the starting line in downtown Phoenix and take the metro/light rail back after finishing. Of course one can also choose a hotel near the finish line and walk to the shuttle. This is what I have chosen each year, although this year I was lucky enough to hop a ride with my husband Tristan who was heading to Sedona for the day. Other years I have had a bit of shuttle irregularity but this year the shuttle driver quickly and efficiently got us to the start area.

Upon arriving at the start, I wandered around aimlessly. I had many layers on and was trying to stay warm and out of trouble. I had eaten my usual breakfast of snowballs and diet mountain dew so I did not need to partake in any of the pre-race treats, although I did cap off my water bottle. About 30 minutes before the race start I meandered to the Private Brooks Race Potties. I had purchased way too much race stuff (which I need no more than a hole in the head, but still get—and this time it was so worth it!).

The Brooks potties had running water, perfume spritzers, lotions and were clean, warm and had no line! I was in heaven. I made use of the potty since my 3rd diet mountain dew was hitting my bladder. I also used this time lurking in the bathroom wisely to rearrange my outfit. The predicted high was to be the upper 60’s or low 70’s. But it was about 50 degree’s at the time. I decided the appropriate outfit to wear was simply my tank, running skirt, sneakers and of course seamless bra, seamless underpants and drymax socks. Because of the chill in the air I elected to keep my moeben sleeves. Of course sparkeley my fanny pack was going to join me with all the proper accoutrements including: cell phone, camera, back up batteries and memory stick, lip balms (yes plural!), sunscreen stick, single pack wet wipes, poncho, meds including tums, pepto and two ibuprofen. Somehow in my recent running I had inadvertently not replaced my medpack (and while I haven’t been taking meds recently I share them with others depleting my supply).

Once I decided on my outfit it was time to drop my bag in the UPS truck. I put this off as long as I could particularly since I was still happily loitering in the potty. One last bathroom break and I was ready to head back out to the cold. With just about 10 minutes to race start, I arrived in my corral. I placed myself near the 4:00 pace group. I was delighted to see my friend Larry M. and chat briefly. Pretty soon the Star Spangled Banner played and it was time for the starting gun. Hearing the Star Spangled Banner gets me prepared and psyched up for any race. I know the importance of the freedom associated with our national anthem and how lucky I am to have the freedom to do something I love. After the starting gun goes off there is a small bit of movement. But then we abruptly stop. I am near the 4 hour pace group but realize my shoes are not properly tied. What I do not realize is that this is going to cause me some confusion later. Tying my shoes takes a bit of time, but then I reassimilate into the runners.

Crossing the start line I take a quick picture. This will end up being one of my 10 pictures taken along the course. My lack of pictures is one of my few disappointments in this race.

My first mile I try to take it easy and get warmed up. My friend Dan R. suggested this is a good race strategy back when we ran Richmond Marathon together. It seems to work and ensures the beginning of the race is not run too fast (Thanks Dan!).

Approaching mile 1 I see the timer suggests my time is about 11 minutes. I am not sure how long it took me to get over the starting mat or if the mile marker is accurate but I feel I am running a comfortable pace. As I had approached mile 1 I had heard my name being called by a female voice. It is always an odd and surreal experience to hear my name during a race far away from home. Sometimes I am a bit oblivious and assume it is some other Tammy. This time it was for me and was my friend Elaine from Rocky Raccoon and Javelina Jundred 100 over the past few years. Elaine is a little faster than I and has finished (and started) more 100 milers than I. She had caught up to me and I figured I would run a bit with her then let her go on ahead. Oddly enough we ran together until about miler 10.

These miles with Elaine just flew by. We chatted about 100 milers, 50 milers and upcoming races. We both were selected for WS100 although I was actually at the lottery when my name popped up (which was so cool!). Elaine and I have run several different events on the same course including Rocky Raccoon (although she did the 100 mile when I have run the 50) and Javelina Jundred (again she did the 100 mile while I took the wuss out option and ran the 100 km). Elaine is running her first VT100 so she also asked me about the race. I was able to provide an excrutiatingly detailed description of the race (hey we had 26.2 miles of course to cover!). I also provided my insight about pacers in particular about that race. I sadly have had a moderate amount of challenges with my pacer pairing. But I also have had some GREAT luck with inheriting pacers at that race including Pacer Shane who is in my short list of pacers for my Grand Slam (Pacer Iva, Pacer Dan, Pacer Shane and Pacer Ethel are my “go to pacers” but I am still filling up my Grand Slam schedule with pacers, of course Dan, Iva, Shane, and Ethel are known entities and are all considerable faster and have more endurance than I).

In addition to Vermont 100 miler we also talked about other ultra’s including Javelina Jundred (a super 100 miler/100 km race along the Pemberton Trail just north of Phoenix) Rocky Raccoon, where Elaine and I met 2 years ago. In fact Elaine had met my mom at RR100 in 2009 which was really cool. Unfortunately that was the last race my mom was at my race before becoming hospitalized and passing away. It is nice to meet up with runners who knew my mom because she was really special and super supportive of everyone. I miss her lots and through seeing or meeting people she knew I feel close again.

Our conversation made the miles fly by. Pretty soon in the distance ahead of us was the 3:50 marathon pace group! This was shocking to me. I was feeling really strong and happy but I did not realize how fast we were going. At this point Elaine was starting to have some issues and slowed down. Since I was feeling good and knew my Boston Marathon qualifying time is now 3:50 I decided to catch up to the group.

As I caught up I introduced myself to Mark, who I knew was the pace leader (my friend Pati Coury had given me some insight about all of the pacers). He suggested he was going to run until mile 14 then switch out with a lady Monique because of a health issue. I tried to figure out when they started and what their pacing goal was but was a bit confused. It was suggested they were going to speed up in the second half but it was not clear by how much. I think each pacer has a different strategy and negative splits certainly is a good one except if you worry you will lose speed towards the end.

I jog with the group for a bit but after the first water/gatorade station I realize being in this swarm of runners is not ideal. A few hundred meters ahead of the pace group there appears to be a gap. I decide I will push myself to get into this pocket so I don’t have to stress when grabbing Gatorade. As I move forward I pick up a runner friend Chuck who has run several marathons and has a goal of running a 3:45 or 3:50 marathon. We chat for a while and I learn that he is a bartender in Tempe, had lived in Phoenix right off the course previously and is going to be competing in the Ironman AZ in next fall. We pass the halfway point in ~1:55 and know we should be on target for a sub-3:50 marathon. I am excited but know there is 13.1 more miles to go. We talk about a variety of subjects but after a few aid stations it ends up that he goes through quickly while I take my time. It is not intentional but I do want to make sure I am well hydrated. And every so often I have to get 2-3 cups of Gatorade to get more than a few swallows. Sometimes I wish tables/volunteers would indicate if you are getting just a swallow of beverage or a full cup. It is a bit distressing when you hope for lots of beverage and get less than 1 inch of beverage. One time I ended up going back because I knew I needed to get calories and hydration. In addition to ensuring I get enough to drink I also need to walk with my beverages. I am why sippy cups were invented! I cannot run and drink without spilling all over myself. So basically I grab my cups of beverage, get out of the main flow of traffic then walk and drink. This is not efficient but I figure that the time is well spent since I do not want to get dehydrated or run low on calories.

The miles continue to fly by. When I look at my Garmin 305 it suggests my pace is tending to be around 8:30 min/mile or so. Other than aid stations my pace appears to be under 9 min/mile. This means I am maintaining a pace that should qualify me for Boston. I get excited but know there are still many miles until I finish.

About mile 18 or 19 there is a super nice spectator with fresh Krispy Kreme donuts in a box. Although there are probably 50 or 100 runners within a fairly close proximity to me only 2 other runners partake in this treat. The donut is super yummy and I am pretty sure almost warm and definitely soft and gooey. The only bummer is that it is REALLY gooey and sticky. I am right near one of the other donut eaters and state, “too bad they did not give us a paper towel with our donut”. Then I realize I have a wet wipe in my bag. Ha! Pacer Dan, Jamie and others who challenge my need for multiple lip balms, ponchos, camera, cell phone, medications, sunscreen and wet wipes! And people say I don’t need these items!

Unfortunately I end up with donut glaze over both hands and then forget to take a picture of me eating my tasty treat. But trust me it was YUMMY!

After finishing my donut I realize my knee is really, really angry at me. I run about a mile and it is not going away. This is my right knee that was mangled in a car accident in 1995 (I was hit as a pedestrian). It is pretty excruciating and I don’t have any painkiller left. I decide it might be wise to take a painkiller because my gait is changing because of this. I head to the medical tent. Sadly this takes me about 30 seconds while they have a discussion about where the Tylenol is. When they figure this out I am asked about why I need it and if I have taken Tylenol previously. No I haven’t taken any, yes I am happy if they mark up my bib and finally pointing to my 5 inch scar I indicate my surgical site is a bit painful. It tends to be a bit discomfortable 100% of the time but it has morphed into excruciating. They pour a glass of water which I humor them and drink up. Having worked at the FDA I know I want to minimize the challenge to my kidneys (ibuprofen) and liver (Tylenol) by taking plenty of liquids I would have drank a significant amount of water from my fanny pack bottle.

I then head back onto the course. This long pit stop is a bit of a bummer but I hope it is time well spent. By this time I know that I am back to being about 200-300 meters ahead of the 3:50 pace group. I had a little extra lead before my med break but I know I need to keep moving solidly to ensure I get in and out of the aid station before the pack of 3:50 runners make it. Although I note the pack is quite a bit smaller, I still want to be clear of the aid station when they arrive. It is challenging to move through aid stations when there are lots of runners acting randomly. I don’t know if there is a code of conduct but it seems some runners stop abruptly when they get a beverage, others dart away from the cups and others seem to move seamlessly. I am a “seamless mover” which works until a darter or stopper gets in front of me. Even though my pack is a bit ahead of the 3:50 there still are a moderate amount of runners, but it is thinning out. I realize that if I go to the “far” aid station it is less crowded. I end up taking more steps but the ease in which I can get beverages is well worth it. I think about my friend Dan who observed during the Richmond Marathon that I do not run the tangents. In fact I run some crazy line along the marathon including specifically going out of my way to give high 5’s! This race I continue to do this. I LOVE high 5’s, particularly from little kids and students from schools that have spirit groups along the course. The cheerleaders are so enthusiastic, track and cross country teams know just what say and at the various pep squads are so motivating. I am really having a great race and continue to move along at a fast clip.

At mile 23 my wheels fall off, my tank is empty and I decide I need to take up a different sport! What started out as a great run takes a turn for the worse (maybe I crash my donut sugar high). I am miserable. My legs feel like lead, my knee is still killing me but now a whole bunch of other joints decide to voice their displeasure. My back is bothering me, my arms are tired of moving and don’t get me started on my legs which want to be anywhere but attached to me.

There’s a choice here I can move to the finish or I can hope the finish line moves to me. Sadly without violating laws of physics the second choice seems unlikely to happen!

At this point I am moving as quickly as I can but realize I am really slowing down. A quick glance at my Garmin puts my time at 9+ min/mile. I know I have a bit of a buffer but I am struggling to do this. The 3:50 pace group surrounds me moving swiftly. This is a bit of a bummer but I try to stay positive and keep up with them. Unfortunately approaching mile 24 we get to an incline on a bridge over the Salt River. Heading up the hill I decide I am going to embrace my ultra-running roots and walk this. Actually this is how I justify my walking but realistically there was no way I was going to run up this hill. My hill legs were left on Camelback Mountain the day before. I hope I can catch up with the group on the downhill using gravity to my advantage. Unfortunately the pace group uses gravity as well and stays ahead of me. This is a bit of a bummer. Then they move further and further ahead of me. I look at my Garmin and it says my pace is 10 min/mile. But I am running super fast!!! Stupid Garmin!

As the 3:50 pace group disappears in the horizon I try to think positive. As long as I keep moving I will have a significant PR. I know that I did have a bit of a buffer since I started after the 4:00 pace group so I might still be able to eek out a Boston Qualifier. But it will be close.

I pass mile 25. My Garmin continues to give me bad news. I continue to run a consistent 10 min/mile pace. This is fine for any other marathon but I now really want Boston. I have traveled so far so fast. But then I start thinking. I have so many excuses I come up with during this mile. Camelback the day before (which by the way I would not recommend as a pre-race warm up). My Disney Half Marathon PR of 1:52 surely took something out of me. Then I come up with the best excuse…I just ran 113.4 miles only 2.5 weeks before this race. But I still push as hard as I can because I did push so hard for so long during the marathon. I need to put it all out there and see what happens.

I make the turn onto Rural Road passing Yogurtini. My friend Nick Coury said they would not serve me if I finished in greater than 4 hours. I will be served, wahoo!!!

As I rounded this bend I also was excited to see the 3:50 pace group at the next turn ahead. My best guess is that I am 300-400 meters behind this group, which I guess converts to a deficit of about 2 minutes. This will be close.

I keep putting one foot in front of the other. I think about how this easily could be my finish at Umstead 100, Western States 100, Vermont 100, Leadville 100 or even Wasatch 100 (optimistically) in which I need to dig deep to finish in my personal time goal or the race time limit. I keep moving forward as fast as I can. I have nothing left but upon rounding the final bend I see the time 3:52:XX. I will be getting a PR! I am super excited.

I give a few kids high fives as I round the bend. I don’t have the energy to head to the other side but try to wave to the crowd. I hear a male voice cheering my name. I later learned this was likely my friend Dane R. I was so excited on the inside but I am struggling to finish. This is tough!!

Finally, when the clock gets to 3:52:17 I cross the finish line. For the first time since my first Umstead 100 miler I am barely able to move after finishing. I hunch over and nearly burst into tears. I am so excited, thrilled and proud of myself. I have pushed as hard as I could and finished with a PR. But the big question is: what was my final time?

When I finally get a little bit of energy back I move along. I get my medal and am so happy with my finish. I send a text to Tristan indicating that I finished and my gun time was 3:52. It is a PR. I find the 3:50 pacer and ask if she knows what their chip time was. She suggests they crossed the finish line a few seconds after 3:50. This does not bode well for me as my best guess is that I was 30-40 seconds behind their start time. But I do not know.

I text my friend Nick Coury telling him my gun time and indicate I WILL be going to Yogurtini because I have finished in under 4 hours!!

He responds in just a few moments that my chip time is 3:50:45!


I have never been more excited about celebrating a birthday and getting older. Let the party begin!!! I am so happy!! I am so thrilled to learn about my qualification from a friend. And the tense few minutes when I had no idea of my chip time made me appreciate this victory even more.

It is now time to celebrate by traveling along the course backwards. I have many friends still out there and I want to cheer them in. And of course now I can share my great news! I am so excited! This race was one of my toughest races (particularly the last few miles) but I made it through.

Heading back along the course I am delighted to see my friend Tammy B who I have run GTR50, VT100 and many other ultra’s and marathons. Not too far behind her I see my friend Jackie O who I ran most of the Bob Potts Marathon with. When I get close to mile 24, I then see my friend Larry M. I walk/jog Larry to the finish line and we catch up. Larry is so sweet and such an accomplished athlete having finished well over 100 marathons last year! Nearly at the finish line I head off to the spectator area. I see my friend John Bingham and get a great big hug. John is such a great person and so encouraging to everyone. I am thrilled to tell him I have just qualified for Boston.

I walk the course backwards again and see my friend Maricar as well as Yolanda. After a quick picture I try to keep up but realize my legs are no longer running. But of course I am pleased to share my excuse for being so slow and they are so excited for me. I’m going to Boston!

I head back out onto the course. But my legs are getting tired. So I position myself about mile 26 so I can hear Vertical Horizon playing. It is cool to be able to cheer the runners while appreciating the concert.

Pretty soon it is over 7 hours since the finish. I head to the finish line area and cheer on runners. I call my friend Karen to tell her about my Boston Qualifying time and John Bingham announces my feat over the loudspeaker. I get it on video. It is so cool!

Runners are still coming in. These are the runners who are digging deep to finish. I am so happy for these runners. They are limping, struggling and obviously doing what it takes to get to the finish line. I cheer as loud as I can. Finally the race vehicles comes into sight and the race is over.

After the race finishes, Tristan arrives back from Sedona. We decide to have Yogurtini followed by a climb up Hayden Butte to celebrate my victory. This is how I always complete my Rock and Roll Arizona Marathone. I see a few others runners on the butte, but based on their medal ribbon, they are half marathoners. I am pleased that I am able to make it up the butte. But I am even more pleased that I am, more importantly, able to make it back down the butte!

Dinner is Chompies then it is time for bed. What a great day!


Dan Rose said...

Tammy! Your endurance has always been the stuff of legend, but now with the addition of SPEED, you're gonna be a serious force to reckon with in all of the 4,573 races you run each year! Congrats on your BQ, you will LOVE every step of that race (and the crowd will love YOU too)!!!

Trevor said...

That's a great post!

I too ran the Arizona R'n'R Marathon. In fact, for the last few miles (maybe 5?) I was right behind you ... lots of people calling your name - as you had it written on your shirt - with you waving in return. Although I usually couldn't see your face during these times, I get the distinct feeling you smiled every time you waved. After following you for so long, and hearing your name so many times, I found myself lined up for the post-race photo across from you. I decided to take your picture, since you were such a constant for me through that last part of the race. Perhaps you remember me asking you if I could take that that photo?

Anyway... after getting home, viewing my finishing video, I also saw yours (my gun time was 17 seconds behind yours) ... plugged your name in the internet, and voilĂ  - found your blog. Trust me, I'm not a stalker! I just thought it was cool that I "found" you after returning home.

Big congratulations on your BQ!

Runner Tammy said...


Thank you!!! I assume when you say my "endurance has always been the stuff of legend" you are alluding to my ability to carry many, many, many lbs of random stuff in my fanny pack.

In face, Jamie says I need an intervention. But now you all will need to catch me to do this!


I remember you!

You were so sweet at the finish and I was honored to have my picture taken with you.

I highly recommend racing in a shirt with your name on it because every time I spectate at any race I love to be able to call out runners names (and even in races that print your name on the bib it is too small for me to read!)

I was so happy to wave back, give high 5's and thank the volunteers. We (the runners) are so luck to be able to do something that is so much fun!

Will you be doing RNR Arizona next year? I definitely will be back (but maybe next year I will go back to my rightful place of 5+ hours where I can eat, drink, hula hoop and perhaps even meet the critters along the course--last year there was a live PARROT that a gentleman would let runners hold!!!)

It was a pleasure to meet you and I wish you the best of luck in all your future races. Hopefully our paths will cross again:-)


Trevor said...

Hi Tammy,

I'm not likely to return to Arizona next year, but you never know ... my wife and son really loved it there, so a return at some point is possible. I'll keep following your blog and I'll look out for you and your multitude of races. Good luck!

Why said...

That endurance is mind-bloggling.. hehe

I stop at 26.2 but my hats off to you and anyone else that has an appetite for more.. Great race report.

Gotta RUn,