If you’re looking for a fast course with generally pretty perfect running temps, then add the Phoenix Mesa Marathon to your list. I’ve completed the half multiple times and have lots of friends and athletes who do the full when looking for that Boston Qualifying time. Let’s look at why!
5500 to 1000 feet = automatic PR, right?!
That’s what everyone seems to believe about training high and running low.
And a race that isn’t a massive downhill, but instead a slow and gradual descent over the full course is a MASSIVE win. While steep downhill courses like the Revels can be fast, they are often super hard on the body and athletes come away pretty miserable.
Phoenix Mesa Marathon Tips
With any race, I have a few standard recommendations for our athletes:
- Try not to walk around a ton before the race
- Have your pre-race dinner and morning of meal with you or planned out, so you know it’s food you tolerate
- Don’t get sucked in to driving the course :) you should have been training for whatever the elevation looks like and that’s all you can control
The EXPO has grown, so just remember to take advantage of seats to sit down. A fun outdoor space with a number of different vendors, free chair massages, Kind Bars, snacks from Sprouts and a band. Made for a great way to hang out and connect with a bunch of other runners from Instagram the day before the race.
#1 Race Gear (Start Line Clothes and Finish Line)
Both years it was SUPER IMPORTANT to have throw away gear for the start line. You’ll be there for a minimum of an hour and one year it was 32 degrees, another about 44.
Staying warm not to waste energy is huge.
After that, I ended up running on long sleeves and I ditched my throw away gloves around mile 4 in 2019. In 2017 it was colder and I kept on my gloves and hat for the duration of the race.
However, plenty of my friends run in tanks…they’re chilly but like the push. SO you do you!
I am not always great about gear checking a bag, but in 2019 I was SO THANKFUL that I did because it was windy, I was sweaty and so very cold.
If you want to hang out and enjoy the festivities, consider tossing some dry clothes in your gear check. It’s right by the finish line, so really easy to quickly change and feel good.
#2 Train for the Flats
One thing that many runners over look is how running a race that’s so flat can actually be harder. You’ll be using the same muscles throughout the race. If you’ve been training on rolling hills, you may find that things start to ache or fatigue.
In Colorado, I made a point of driving to an area where I could do a long run and only get 250 feet of elevation gain. Which is still more than you’ll see across this entire race.
#3 Stay Near the Start
If you can stay at the Hyatt Place it’s literally at the expo, bus pick up and finish line which makes life incredibly easy.
We did that in 2017 and in 2019 rented an AirBNB with friends less than a mile from the finish line, which meant an easy walk to the bus pick up as a warm up in the morning and easy access after the race to shower then head outside and cheer for marathon runners.
Those who drove in waited in some really long lines to park cars. This can be nerve wracking as you know you need to get on a bus to the start line.
#4 Don’t Start Too Fast
One of the major issues with any net downhill race is we can easily start too fast. Just remember that while it is downhill, your body is still used to running a certain pace.
If you get your HR up too high too quickly or simply overwork your legs, then the last few miles are going to be much harder no matter whether it’s flat or downhill.
#5 Aim for Even Pacing
Try settling in to your goal pace and then trying to maintain that throughout the race. If you’re still feeling really strong at mile 13, you could pick it up maybe 10 seconds.
If you’re still feeling strong at mile 20, try picking it up another 10 seconds per mile.
And if you’re still feeling good at mile 25 then give it a push and see what you’ve got.
Phoenix Mesa Marathon Race Review
There’s not a ton of course strategy here because you aren’t dealing with any massive climbs or massive crowds like the Miami Marathon. The only real variable is how well you deal with the cold or if it happens to be a wet day.
There are a TON of winter races in Arizona thanks to the perfect morning running temps, but I’m definitely partial to this course.
SO let’s dig in to the good, great and ehh of the Phoenix-Mesa Marathon. As you can see the half is just slightly down, nothing of note at all!
The marathon does in fact have a hill at mile 4, but it will really feel about like that 1% incline on the treadmill and nothing that should have a massive pace impact. Plus once you crest the hill, you are back heading down, down, down.
This is a pro and a con for me.
I love that you get to see different areas, but I hate the nerves of waiting to catch a bus to the start line. For me that’s just added stress and an earlier morning.
However, we stayed at a hotel where the buses loaded and the race finished, so that was fabulously easy. Hanging out in the cold for 90 minutes before running…not my preference, but you forget after a few miles of running that your nose is numb.
They do have heaters at the starting area, so find your spot and cozy up.
Roughly 7000 runners in the half and the full marathon – however you star at different locations, so the course was never crowded which is a major bonus in my book.
Also kind of nice that you don’t see runners peeling away at the halfway mark knowing you still have another 13+ to go.
Pros (built for a PR):
- The total race elevation is a loss, which means you’re effectively running a gentle downhill
- Almost 17% of runners Boston Qualify
- Not a ton of turns, which makes for a faster race
- Plenty of room on the course
- Plenty of aid stations and well manned
- Run with the sun at your back so no squinting
- No major hills – like none
- Killer post race food – french toast, snacks from Sprouts, (they said Chick Fil A – but they were out by the time we walked through, which meant only a 1:30 half finisher who walked right in got them, BOOOOOOOO)
- I really like the medal
Cons (not interesting):
- Catching early bus to start line and hanging out in the cold
- Very quiet course – no music, few spectators
- Mostly staring at brick walls and street lights
- No timing clocks on the course
- All of the roads are cambered, so find your way to the middle if you have any knee, IT Band or shin issues
2019 Race Recap
Understandably none of you care about my recaps, but this blog has been kind of my race journal since 2012, so I’m leaving them in here anyways!!
Coming in to the race, I wasn’t 100% sure what to expect out of my body. I really wanted another post surgery PR, but I was mentally pysching myself out a bit. Couldn’t even tell you why!
In October, I ran the Long Beach Half in 1:59…we ran Phoenix in exactly 1:53:00!This gives me HUGE hope to get back to my pre-injury PR. It’s a process, but I’m doing it the right way by getting stronger, not rushing and staying injury free.
Overall this race was just a mix of me learning to trust myself as a pushed just beyond my comfort zone, but not so far that I was going to crash and burn. This is usually due in part to David, who is really good and going just a bit too fast, which means I go a bit slower and we meet in the middle for a pace we can both hold, ha!
Mile 1: 8:50
Mile 2: 8:37
Mile 3: 8:37
Mile 4: 8:36
Mile 5: 8:32
Mile 6: 8:41
Mile 7: 8:42
Mile 8: 8:39
Mile 9: 8:37
Mile 10: 8:43
Mile 11: 8:32
Mile 12: 8:31
Mile 13: 8:13
.01 – 1:08
Avg HR 157
Lots of fun this year to enjoy having some friends in town as well! I may have forgotten my wallet and that made the air travel very interesting, but once here life was pretty great.
2017 Race Recap
I promise to keep this part short, but for my own memories I’ve got to recap it!
Start line – Luckily catching the bus meant walking straight out of our hotel, unluckily I didn’t realize that and we got to the start area earlier than I’d have liked since it was 40 degrees. However, David for once listened to me and was wearing throw away clothes or I think he’d have frozen his you know what off.Uncrowded start made it easy to find your pace group. The marathon and half start at different locations since it’s a one direction course.
We settled in to roughly an 8:52 pace and David found pretty quickly that once I find a pace, I don’t waiver, no matter how hard he tries to push or slow. Unless forced to like at mile 9 when he vanished and I spent 2 minutes going in circles freaking out, until his little hooded head waved at me.
(Checkout these tips to run with your spouse sans fighting)
He stopped to stretch his knee without warning, tsk, running partner etiquette. Mostly I wasn’t sure if he’d somehow gotten ahead of me or was stopped because his knee had been acting up. Luckily all was well and the day resumed.After that we settled in, attempting to be nerds when a photographer appeared and just focused on enjoying a sustainable pace. And yes I was being conservative with pushing after everything lately, so instead we found a nice pace that wasn’t red line and wasn’t a normal easy run.
We finished strong, felt good and can still enjoy our vacation. I definitely could have pushed a bit more, but not worth it based on my knee looking like a basketball.
The first 7 miles, I spent looking around focusing on my form and breathing, then I needed a little boost so I finally turned on the iPod. I had my 3 songs ready to go on repeat — yes their is a method to this! Turns out listening on repeat to songs helps you get focused and in a zone!
Breakdown of the miles
Mile 1: 9:09
Mile 2: 8:56
Mile 3: 8:49
Mile 4: 8:47
Mile 5: 8:51
Mile 6: 8:55
Mile 7: 8:54
Mile 8: 8:52
Mile 9: 9:28 (the where’s David mile)
Mile 10: 8:59
Mile 11: 8:51
Mile 12: 8:42
Mile 13: 8:16 – that just makes me happy
.12 – 8:04
Final time 1:56:something
Previous PR 1:44…oye, time to work back
Avg HR: 157 — pretty awesome considering my training in Colorado focuses on LHR meaning I don’t go above 145 and that’s pretty much been a 10 minute mile.
Fuel: Nothing, just my breakfast noted below and carried my pre-workout to sip for most of the race.As David said when we finished, “damn you’re consistent“. He walked at water stations and then would sprint back to me, I just plowed along at the exact same pace. Turns out that’s actually the best way to PR, in case you’re wondering!
Now time to do some hiking and checkout the rest of Phoenix!!
Other race questions I can answer, let me know!
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