I ended last season burnt-out, drained, and mentally checked out. I got caught up in “Kona chasing” and it really got to my head when I did not qualify on multiple attempts. I quit training completely for two months- zero physical activity and contemplated hanging up the cleats for good.
I chatted with George Gage, a long-time athlete and local coach who I admire greatly, at a late local season race. I told him how I lost passion for the sport. Although I had one of the better seasons to date, the new 30-34 age group has been incredibly competitive. George explained that I needed to change my mindset and make goals that aren’t so podium/”Kona-driven” (outcome-based) and begin embracing more process-oriented goals. Bottom line, I needed to race for myself and make triathlon great again.
I pressed the reset button. No social media. No more outside influences. No club or sponsorship pressure. No drama. I was going to do things on my own terms and find my love for the sport again. Running has always been my passion and it seemed to falter a bit last season. I went to local running legend and guru, Susan Loken, for her expertise and guide me through training for the Phoenix Marathon. I ran the Gilbert 10k the week after my two-month hiatus in a personal worse time. I felt fat, out-of-shape, and slow… but ready to get back to work.
A typical week during marathon training:
Monday – Long tempo
Tuesday – Easy run + swim, strength
Wednesday – Track + swim
Thursday – Easy run + bike, strength
Friday – Easy run + swim
Saturday – Long run
Sunday – Recovery spin
My run mileage peaked at 65 miles per week. The increased mileage was something very foreign to me. Training for Boston and previous marathons, I only ran 35-45 miles per week. I didn’t have a ton of time to prepare for Phoenix and Susan said she went “easy on me” for this marathon build.
I joined an awesome, super-supportive training group. Special thanks to my running buddies who pushed me every week – especially Susan, Kristy, Kyle, Joe, and Dylan. You guys helped bring back the fire, fun, and competitive spirit in me.
I felt faster and more fit each week. Leading up to race week, I felt confident I could go sub 2:50. Susan and I discussed time goals:
C goal – BQ
B goal – 2:49 (NYQ)
Dream goal – 2:45
More importantly, I wanted to execute my race from start to finish and know I finished with the fastest possible time. On paper, I was in the best run shape of my life. I trained smart and consistent, cut out the booze, and ate super clean (except for my weekly Bachelor all-you-can-eat popcorn nights at Granny J’s). Although I had a few disaster training runs I also experienced many breakthrough sessions along the way.
Race week I was nervous but excited to give it a go. This was a feeling I did not experience late in the year last season. I had no drive or motivation to race. Entering Phoenix Marathon race week, I was ready to go deep and suffer.
It was freezing waiting for the race to start in the wee morning hours. I had a tough time staying warm. I stood by the fire and breathed in the smoke. My hands and feet were numb. I needed the wahmbulance.
Lining up to start, I saw my friend, Adam Folts, in the strangest attire… American-flag shorts, a Tri-Scottsdale tri top, pink compression socks, some goofy looking Hokas, and an Eskimo hat. Who is this clown?
I am a big fan of heart-rate training and racing primarily by heart rate in longer-distance races. Although Susan instructed me to follow certain pace times, I was set on running more off heart rate and feel for this race due to the layout (downhill-nature) of the course. For example, Susan didn’t want me running any faster than 6:30s at the start. For most runners, I believe this is a very smart, conservative approach which will yield the fastest overall marathon time. However, miles 1 – 2 are the steepest and fastest section of the course. I needed to take advantage of this.
I started out fast. I split the first two miles at 6:10 and 6:08. I tested this strategy out in training and I knew I was not overdoing it. I let gravity do its work as I benefited from the steep Usery descent.
Most of the course is downhill. I knew my pace would be quicker than my flat training routes. I began consistently ticking away miles at 6:15-6:20 pace with relative ease. As I approached the one-and-only hill of the race I paid close attention to my heart rate and disregarded pace. This stretch is a little over 1.5 miles at around a 3-4% incline. I slowed the pace down to 6:50s and didn’t take any risks. I kept reminding myself – save it for the final 10k. No need to burn matches this early on.
Once I crested the hill at around mile 6, the rest of the course is easy sailing and fast. The last half marathon portion flattens out a bit, but there are no significant climbs the rest of the way.
I had Mr. USA (Adam) in sight from the start, though I was worried he kept increasing his lead every mile. I had my mind set that I wasn’t going to take any risks until the halfway point. The marathon is a long race and if Mr. USA could keep that pace, I didn’t think I’d be able to match it. I continued running at an easy effort, around 6:15-6:25 pace. I had to trust my abilities, remain patient, and make my moves late in the race. I followed Steve Rink’s mantra: fresh and loose baby. Monitoring heart rate through the first half I felt like I jogged it.
13.1 Split: 1:22:50
It was time to flip the switch. Time to take risks. Go time. I felt so good.
My heart rate graph for the entire race:
I dropped my pace to 6:10-6:15, but still wasn’t making up any ground on Mr. USA. At this stage of the race, I was either picking off people or running completely alone. Miles 13-20 were quite lonely. I blasted some Gaga, Colby Caillat, Bieber, and Keith, and closed my eyes to help me through this lonely time in my life.
Around mile 18 I began running past the half marathon walkers. My only gripe of this race is running through the large herds of walkers. When I’m beginning to tire and “in the zone”, weaving in-and-out and yelling at people is the last thing I want to do. It’s a huge waste of energy. I don’t mind walkers but they need to show respect and follow certain protocol to make the course safe. Some things I saw:
- Walkers five-deep playing grab ass. I ran straight through the middle of them elbowing them as I ran by. They probably hate Asians now.
- Walkers coming to a complete stop once they grabbed water. I unintentionally ran into one of them knocking them over. Sorry not sorry.
- Walkers having absolutely no idea that marathoners are coming from behind and wandering around the course aimlessly. It was a complete sh*t show the last 3-4 miles.
Mile 20, I began picking out certain landmarks and timing the gap from Mr. USA. I was slowly bringing him back as I could sense he was slowing. I sped up a bit.
Mile 22, Mr. USA walked an aid station. I was within 20 seconds. I closed my eyes as I began to hit a rough patch myself. I felt my legs beginning to seize up as I focused on keeping my turnover and effort up. My body was starting to feel a bit woozy. Hold on, Ellie. Stay strong. No regrets.
Mile 23-24, I nearly caught Adam. He was within 20 feet of me. I kept missing water at the aid stations. Much like the free sample lines at Costco, the walkers were like herds of cattle around the water and food. I ran angry, trying to keep my pace as high as possible to make the catch.
Mile 25 – I hit the 25-mile mark and surged again. My plan was to run on the opposite side of the road and hide behind the walkers so Mr. USA wouldn’t see me. I got within 10 feet without him having a clue I was just behind. I could see his USA shorts so clearly now… but at the same time, he was so far away. He sped up a bit and I could not close the gap. It kills me that I didn’t catch him, but props to him for not slowing down significantly and holding on at the end.
I felt like a zombie at this point. I stared at the ground, praying that the pain would be over soon. That last mile was so painful but managed to run one of my fastest miles of the race throughout this section. I could see the “Lady in Red” (3rd OA female, Meggan Franks), who Adam had been pacing with for a good portion of the race, begin to fall off.
Adam with his lady:
It was time for some AZ washed-up triathlete chump double team action. Making the turn on Bass Pro Drive, I surged to catch and pass Meggan. 400m to go with the finish line in sight, I could sense her coming up from behind. She was a phenomenal runner and proved to me she had a lot of grit pacing with Adam for so long.
We ran stride-for-stride as I took a few deep breaths, closed my eyes, grit my teeth, and kicked one last time to edge her out at the line. I don’t think I could have ran a second faster. Thank you Lady in Red for taking a few years off my life.
This race relit my fire and defined why I love racing so much. No matter the speed, there are hundreds of different races going on within the race. I love going into races mentally and physically prepared, willing to out suffer people, lay it all on the line, and see who has the most guts. Win or lose, first or last, if I cross that line knowing I left every last ounce of energy on the race course I am a happy person.
My own personal race podium:
Gold- Mr. USA
Silver- Ellie B
Bronze- Lady in Red
The M30-34 Podium
- Joel Maley (2:39:32)
- Adam (2:44:46)
- Ellie (2:45:00) – 1:22:50/1:22:10, 17th OA and 6:03 PR
2:45:00!?!? I saw my chip time and nearly cried. My Garmin read 2:44:59!
I emailed the timing company requesting my time to the hundredth of a second.
The Garmin don’t lie.
2:44 club and Berlin Marathon qualified, baby.
My Uncle (Derek) flew in from Seattle to run the marathon. We celebrated with lots of Mexican Food, In-and-Out Burger, many beverages, Lululemon outlet shopping, and a couple Spring Training games!
Adam showing piss poor sportsmanship:
You won this battle, Rocky, but we shall meet again soon…
*playing Eye of the Tiger*