A week-long, post-Christmas west coast trip culminated with Aaron hitting another sub-4 marathon in Arizona.
With a marathon-filled 2019 coming to a close, we decided to spend our Christmas vacation out on the West Coast. When we flew out that way in January of 2019 to California for the Carlsbad Marathon, we received a voucher for a free whale watching experience (as the surf was too choppy for an extended whale watch). Not wanting to miss out on this offer, we planned a trip in which we would fly into California, use our whale watching tickets, and then drive out to Arizona for the Buckeye Marathon (one of the first marathon’s of the year).
L.A. and Whale Watchin’
We flew into Los Angeles, and not being a fan of the big cities, I immediately wanted to get out of Los Angeles. After dealing with packed buses and tons of people, we picked up our rental car and proceeded to “get out of Dodge”. However we did stop at a small Mexican food place for lunch, “Piggies” (naturally), which was a wonderful little find and great way to start our trip off to a good start.
After celebrating New Year’s Eve in our hotel (which meant going to bed early thanks to jet lag), our 2020 year began with an amazing experience at Dave’s Whale Watch. This was our third attempt at trying to see a whale on a whale watch tour, and it did not disappoint. We finally got to see our whale, but what was even more amazing was the plethora of dolphins we came across. I have never seen so many dolphins…they constantly swam along side our tour boat, jumping out of the water, calling to each other…it was already the highlight of the trip. Photographs do not do it justice, so here’s a video to see for yourself.
Snowy Arizona and the Grand Canyon
Afterwards it was time to begin the long drive to Arizona, where we planned to stay in an Air BnB RV on farm property close to the Grand Canyon. We spent the rest of the day driving east through the mountains, and the scenery was really neat…gorgeous mountain views, followed by really pretty desert scenes, and a wonderful sunset. Having never been to this part of the country, traveling along highways with a speed limit of 80 mph was pretty nice, and seemed to help make the drive go quicker.
When I have always thought of Arizona, I think of hot, desert, sun and extreme heat. Well apparently in January it gets really cold there too. There was snow on the ground for the two days we stayed close to the Grand Canyon, and temperatures at night go well below freezing. Luckily the RV rental we stayed in was toasty warm. Our experience going to the Grand Canyon was nice to see it in person, but honestly it was way too crowded. There were people everywhere and it took forever to get into the park (probably a 1 hour wait at the park gate). We are used to wide-open mountain spaces of our own, so while it was cool to see the Grand Canyon, I doubt we will be back a second time.
Wrapping up that portion of our trip we then drove south towards Phoenix, AZ which is not too far from the town of Buckeye where the marathon would take place. This part of the drive started to look how I pictured Arizona…we saw desert mountains and many large cacti. We checked into our hotel, and I hit the packet pickup area only a few minutes away, which was an easy in and out at another local hotel.
The Buckeye Marathon
The Buckeye Marathon itself is a point-to-point race. Runners park their cars and start at a local baseball field complex to the north, and then run south through a community and then along a long stretch of highway road ultimately finishing at an airfield by some large airplane hangars. I remember one review I read of the race compared the course to a “road runner cartoon”. Having never been in a desert area, I was looking forward to a new terrain experience for my latest marathon.
My family would meet me at the finish line with our rental car, so after getting ready that race day morning, I caught an Uber over to the race starting area. The weather was calling for perfect race conditions that day with a high in the mid to upper 50s and sunny. That morning it was pretty chilly waiting around at the start, but luckily I had brought some light pants and jacket which I was able to wear and then stuff in my hydration pack before the race. There was also a beautiful sunrise that I was able to take in while waiting around as well. As this was a small race with around 200 marathon runners, the amount of port-o-pots at the start were not that many (so if you plan on running this race, be sure to get in the bathroom line earlier rather than later). While waiting in line I happened to talk to a runner whose last marathon was the marathon I had just run as well a few weeks ago ( The Kiawah Island Marathon in South Carolina ). Small world!
As the race began I had high expectations. My A goal was under 3:40:00, my B goal was a PR under 3:43:56, and my C goal was under 4 hours. I wanted to keep my pace around 8:25 for the whole race, but I seem to always mentally struggle with the fear of starting out slow. Despite this being my 19th marathon, I get so excited and amped up that I continually start out way too fast and run way over my set pace at the start.
For this marathon the first three miles running through the surrounding community were slightly uphill, but then the rest of the race was flat or down hill. Since we ran along a desert stretch of highway, there was not much to look at other than a random cactus or two that you would pass. In fact it was odd…even though the course was flat, I read about and experienced first-hand desert hypnosis. This was the feeling of the course seeming like it was going slightly uphill due to the curvature of the earth, even though it was flat.
Obviously this course did not have much runner support aside from those at the aid stations which were every 2-3 miles. However those helping out at the aide stops were very nice, friendly, and encouraging. As usual I supplied my own fuel via hydration pack and energy gels, so I didn’t have to depend on the supplied snacks.
Running Too Fast, Again
Looking back at my splits, I can’t believe how foolish I was. For the first 17-18 miles my slowest split pace was 8:15 min / mile. I ran way to fast way too early. This mistake has plagued me for my last few marathons which have all been along flat courses. Because of this mistake, around mile 18 I got slower, and slower, and slower…until I flat out used up all of my energy. By the last few miles of the race, I was having to mix in some walking and runner…knocking my pace down to the 10 – 11 min / mile range. Ugh.
Despite this, with a couple miles to go I knew I could still hit my C goal of another sub-4 hour marathon. There were actually more things to look at now (aside from cacti) as I grew closer to the airfield. As I ran casually towards the finish line seeing that I would finish below 4 hours, another runner blew right by me sprinting to the finish line. She finished and immediately collapsed into a hunkered down position hurting from her last-minute sprint. Cutting off a few seconds didn’t matter that much to me, so I finished the race feeling pretty good slowly trotting across the finish line.
The post-race celebration wasn’t anything spectacular (standard fare of bananas and granola bars), but is always appreciated. I took a few pictures with my family and we headed back to our rental car to begin our drive back towards Los Angeles to catch a flight home the next day…but not before I got one last picture with a cactus!
As I wrote above, I was a fool for running too fast too soon yet again. Making a person vow to myself for my next marathon, I have written on my training board “Race Pace NOT TO EXCEED 8:25 MIN / MILE!” for the next marathon I run in which I try to PR. Despite that, I finished another marathon injury free and crossed another state off of my list, for which I am always thankful. 🐷
Official Race Results
Overall: 67 out of 163
Male: 48 out of 110
Male 35-39: 8 out of 20
Photos from Race Day
This race is part of Aaron’s 50 Marathons in 50 States Challenge:
Click on a state to see a recap of that marathon.