Phoenix Marathon Offers Elevation Loss, Heartfelt Gains


Perspective is a wonderful thing. Sometimes when we fall short of our major goals, we have to keep in mind that we run because others cannot.

By Henry Howard

I am fortunate to have a job in which I travel and interview some amazing people. I’m even more fortunate that I get to combine the travel with visiting some really cool places and collecting new experiences.

The Phoenix Marathon

Case in point: A week ago I ran the Phoenix Marathon as I arrived early for a business trip to warm Arizona. The marathon, which actually takes place in Mesa, was my seventh full marathon. My previous two marathons followed an IT Band injury so this marathon was the first in awhile that I felt full trained for. If things went well, this would be my first legitimate try at a Boston Marathon qualifier.

Unfortunately, the day I left for Phoenix I woke up with a sore throat. I set aside my carb-fueling strategy and rallied around cough drops, soup and orange juice for the most part. I felt reasonably well on race day morning but clearly my body was valiantly trying to hold off a cold.

Remembering Two Friends

I pushed those thoughts to the back of my mind as the clock ticked down to the starting time. Instead, I focused on two people who had lost their fights with cancer during the previous week. The first was a friend and former co-worker, Bob Scott aka Bo. The second was Paul “Ace” Hayward, who I didn’t really know but was beloved as I read in Facebook post after Facebook post by mutual college friends.

Bo was an easygoing guy who loved all things sports, but mostly the St. Louis Cardinals and No. 6 Stan Musial. Oftentimes, Bo would stop by my office on Monday mornings and chat about the weekend’s sports activities. Win or lose, he would wear a smile on his face.

Ace was similar in that regard, too, even as he fought off cancer several times before finally succumbing. My friends cherished their time knowing him and recalled his catchphrase-turned-personal hashtag, #SmileDeep.

The morning of the race, my thoughts were with my friends in mourning. (Bob’s funeral would be later that day.) I knew that I would be thinking of them throughout the race, and I did. Among the last things I did before leaving my hotel room was to take out a pen and scribble tributes to them on my running shoes. 

Until that point I really hadn’t fully considered Sean Astin’s #Run3RD concept he described on a recent Marathon Training podcast. However, this did seem to fit this particular race and thinking of Bo did help me get through some tough parts. Now, I will incorporate someone or something to run for during future races.

5 things to know about Phoenix Marathon

If you are considering running the Phoenix Marathon in the future, here are five things to keep in mind:

  1. The packet pickup. This one-day event was bustling when I arrived mid-afternoon. It was an absolute breeze to get my bib and walk through the maze of vendors, who were mostly local but all were friendly. The maze led the participants into a Sports Authority store, where we picked up our tech shirt and were given a 15 percent off coupon. Nice idea by the Sports Authority, which worked on me since I bought a pair of running shorts.

  2. Fire and fireworks. Race day was a cool Arizona morning (60 degrees with winds between 10 and 15 mph). Because this was a point-to-point race, the runners were bused to the start lines at least 90 minutes before the start. Thankfully, the race director provided for plenty of firepits and portable heating devices. Those were popular and a good way to bond with fellow runners. A couple brief rounds of fireworks transitioned runners from the pre-race festivities to the start. I don’t recall ever hearing fireworks at 6:30 in the morning but it was a nice way to get the juices flowing.

  3. Run the hills. If you choose to run this race, be prepared to run downhill a lot, even if it doesn’t seem like you are descending. The first four miles are obviously downhill, then Mile 5 takes you up a decent slope and the rest of the way is a gradual decline. Overall, the course offers a net elevation loss of nearly 1,000 feet. Oddly enough, the Iron Maiden song “Run to the Hills” never came on my iPod during the race.

  4. The post-race entertainment. After completing 26.2 miles (or 13.1 miles or the 10K), runners were directed into a large area with plenty of food choices and a large massage tent. The recovery food and drink for the runners was plentiful — chocolate milk, water, bananas, fruit cups, bread and more. Additionally, there was a large collection of food vendors just outside of the runner-only area. I skipped that area since I had to check out of one hotel and into another, plus I was seriously craving a meal at In-N-Out Burger.

  5. Parking before and after the race. So this really is my only complaint with the race — but it is incredibly important. Since this was a point-to-point race, runners were directed to park in specific lots where they would take shuttles to the starting point for their particular race. Now keep in mind, that many of us were out-of-towners and somewhat unfamiliar with the area — especially when it is pitch black outside.

    The race website directed us to follow the signs to the proper parking area. However, there were no signs and the generic address provided led me to the parking for the half-marathon lot. Again, without proper — any — signage, I parked and then discovered that the buses were taking runners to the half-marathon starting point. I returned to my car and fortunately found the parking area for the full marathon and made it to the start in plenty of time.


Because it was dark, I made a point to remember where I parked — a large field adjacent to a Nissan dealership. After the race and post-race food, I grabbed my gear-check bag without incident and scanned the area for the Nissan dealership or anything that looked familiar. No luck. 

    There also were no signs directing us to our cars. And no shuttles back to the parking lot.

    Fortunately, each of the three people I asked on the journey back to my car were helpful in pointing the way. As I closed in on the Nissan parking lot, I waited at a stop light with another marathoner who had come from a different direction. As we commiserated about our respective long walks back to our cars, we agreed that the finish line was between 2 and 3 miles away.


But the distance really wasn’t the issue. It was the lack of any assistance from the race director or volunteers in directing runners where to go after the race. 

    As I settled into my rental car, I was able to relax again — #SmileDeep — and began to put things into perspective by focusing on the positive things.


I finished marathon number seven.

I set a PR by two minutes.

I am supported by family and friends.

I will get that BQ, it just didn’t happen in Phoenix.


No comments yet.

Leave a Reply