Phoenix Marathon (January 19th) Race Recap by Steph!

Fresh off some great results in longer distance events in late 2013, including IM Canada, Half IM world championships, the Grizzly Ultra 50 km, and the Pack Ultra 100 km, in mid-December I began to think seriously of revisiting the marathon. After all, I hadn’t run a marathon other than to get some miles in for an upcoming ultra or off the bike in an IronMan, for years. How would I fare on a flat, fast marathon course? Had the switch to ultra-distances and a focus on long-slow runs relegated me to energy bunny status- steady and SLOW? How would it feel to start a marathon without having cycled 180 kilometers first, or one that had no single track, no real hills, and where the ground wasn’t covered in snow? Sometime in December, I impulsively signed up for the January 19thPhoenix Marathon and convinced my training partner Jen to join me for her marathon debut. Although I had ran my fastest trail races of my life in the fall and was feeling strong during short track workouts, I was also plagued by days where I couldn’t get my legs to push through the snow. This included one very low moment in a ‘for fun’ 25 km race through the Edmonton River Valley trails in early January where I yelled at my training partners to just leave me because I just couldn’t run any faster (note: we weren’t running very fast). Through the beginning of January, the Blitz triathlon club was in full force and I was teaching about ten spin classes a week, running five days a week, and trying to fit some swims and HIITs in too. With a week to go, I thought about trying to taper more but I had runs to do, classes to teach, and really, excuses to make for why this wasn’t going to be my goal race after all. I found myself saying to myself “That’s ok. You can try for a fast one later in the spring” and “You’ve taken on too much again but haven’t put in the right miles at the right time”. In retrospect, that looming self-doubt should have been a clue to me that I was really ready to lay it out on the course; every individual preforms their best when they can motivate themselves to push in races and for me it’s giving myself permission to fail before the race begins. With the pressure gone, I’ve found that I am more able to push myself on race day. Case in point, over too many Friday beers on the day before the flight to Phoenix, someone asked me if I had a goal time. I stumbled over my words. I said no and that I just wanted another Boston Qualifier (<3:35) and to be able to ride my bike for the rest of the week after the race. I didn’t mean it. What I really wanted was to go out there, without pressure, and test myself. And OF COURSE I had a goal time… but it was of a dream goal time and impossible to achieve on tired legs and with a mind that had already made up all the reasons why it was impossible to achieve this time around. And how, you might ask, does an ultra-competitive race junkie take the pressure off for race day? (SIDE NOTE: this strategy is not recommended). They stay up all night celebrating their boyfriend’s successful thesis defense on the Friday before their flight; they lug a giant bike box around the city; they nap on a concrete pad a hostel courtyard; they stay in a dorm room in a mini bed the night before the race; they eat your GIANT pre-race meal at the most hole in wall Mexican place they can find; they do not look at the course route; they ask someone on race morning where the start is; they find the start with less than 5 minutes to spare; and they barely remember to tie their shoes before the gun goes off. With the pressure completely off at the race start, I was able to take that deep breath and make that commitment to myself to simply run outside my comfort zone. Although many race recaps blogs are often about the run itself I found what I most took from this race was recognizing that everyone has a unique approach to approach those final few weeks before race day. And that to excel, it’s critical to understand how you compete best and motivate yourself. Without the pressure and by simply staying mentally focused on remaining outside my comfort zone for the entire race, I found myself crossing the line at 3:04 and as the 4th female overall. I was amazed! This blew my previous best marathon time out of the water and proved to myself that anything is possible, when you both set yourself up for success and give yourself permission to fail.
What strategies do you use to prepare for your big race? Do you try to remove the pressure or do you thrive in it? Do you envision success the whole way or do you lower expectations and hope for the best?

Pre-marathon race fuel:

Steph Neufeld Pre Race Fuel

Steph Neufeld Prerace fuel 2


Finisher’s photos:

Steph Neufeld Finisher Photo

Post-race riding and climbing Mount Lemmon:

Steph Neufeld Post Race Climb

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