Prescott, Arizona, USA
Whiskey Row is the oldest marathon in Arizona, and notorious for its hills and its altitude. The course is out-and-back, part street and part trail.
I check into historic St. Michael’s Hotel to discover that my room directly overlooks tomorrow’s starting corral. Score! The altitude has me out of breath after three flights of stairs, so I resolve to stick with the stairs in a possibly vain attempt at acclimatization, and skip the old-fashioned elevator (with the gate & door you open yourself) until after the race. The pasta buffet downstairs was quite good including tortellini, and both salad and broccoli for the veggies. Downtown Prescott is packed with shops selling everything from handpainted teatowels to customized vinaigrette blends, but just try finding dental floss! I finally found a lone package in a candy store after a lengthy stroll that served as a nice stretch after being cramped up in the car.
One of these days I’ll get a good night’s sleep before a race. Despite the earplugs blocking out the bar noise (they don’t call it Whiskey Row for nothin’) I kept waking up – and at one point dreamt that I woke up to pouring rain outside my window (maybe this was from a conversation at dinner the night before – a guy who trained on this route two weeks prior and ran into snow flurries!). Around 4:30 I gave up and rolled out of bed. At 5:00 I was surprised by an announcer’s voice, then remembered that full marathoners had the option of an early start. At 6:00 I stuck my head out the window to cheer on the official start of the full. Then inflict a Mojo bar on an unwilling stomach and downstairs to grab half a cup of coffee and join the other halfers warming up in Courthouse Square.
The weather was perfect for running, absolutely gorgeous. Clear blue sky, calm, just cool enough that you don’t get overheated. There are a little under 500 halfers, and we all cram into the single corral on Montezuma Street, and suddenly it’s 7:00 and we’re off!
I’ve been coming up to Prescott for the annual folk festival for over ten years, so the early part of the course is familiar territory. The actual Wiskey Row – a scant block’s worth of century-old saloons – flashes by and we are quickly over Granite Creek, around the back of Sharlot Hall Museum, and starting the gentle ascent towards Copper Basin. The other flatlanders puffing around me remind me to dial it back and save it for later in the race. We hit the suburbs and the road begins to seriously undulate. The first of the humorous signs start to appear: “What the hill is this?” Mile 3 and per usual I have to hit the porta-potty – what @#$(*& peed on the seat?! Back on the road I fall in with a new set of pacing buddies. There’s a guy about my age in floral Hawaiian shorts that I’ll trade positions with most of the rest of the way, and a local guy, a septuagenarian with calves like ingots, who’ll remain tantalizingly out of reach.
Hills, hills, hills – it’s all uphill now until the turn-around. I run as much as I can, but don’t feel too badly about walking the tough bits. Until I think of the Kitt Peak Ascent in another month, and grudgingly break into the granny shuffle. It’s a great day, though, we’re winding through the forest now and the pine trees smell wonderful! The first marathoners are coming back from their turnaround, and the closer I get to the turnaround for the half the more halfers I see on the rebound. We shout encouragement to each other; as a guy behind me says to his wife, “this is a friendly race!”
The turnaround has the best damn oranges I have tasted in my life. But I have to quickly shove mine in my mouth as flowered shorts calls, “Come on, honey! You’re my running buddy!” Then whee! it’s all downhill now, and I give way to gravity and just go flying. There seem to be more people out in their yards now, cheering the racers on. Now we’re meeting the 10K-ers, who started later, coming the other way. At the aid station around Mile 10 I accept a kid’s offer of a “spray down”, only to realize too late that he’s armed with a super soaker! Well, I certainly won’t overheat now! The last three miles are really rough; my feet hurt like they never have in a race before, probably from all that downhill, and the legs just don’t want to keep going. Around Mile 11 or 12 or so I finally pass Ingot Calves, who I believe has been impressively holding the same pace metronome-like from the start. At the penultimate turn someone encouragingly calls “that was the last hill! No more hills!” Well, that’s true strictly speaking but there’s still an uphill grade to the finish line. I find myself yelling “Go go go” at my legs on the final dash because the normal method of communicating with them via neural pathway has broken down. I’m greeted by happy volunteers with medals and water and a guy dressed as a giant slice of pizza. Woo hoo, it’s a PR at 2:30:43! I PR-d at Whiskey Row!
Seriously. They should not have food-based mascots at the finish line, where hungry runners are likely to be hallucinating.
I hung around to cheer the arrival of Flowered Shorts, who I had left in the dust during the downhill, then headed over to the goodie tents to refuel. I didn’t mind the nearly hour-long wait at the massage tent; it was nice lying on the grass under the trees, wandering around to take photos and watching the Zumba flash mob that showed up.
After a shower & a lie down at the hotel, came back to take advantage of some samosas and a microbrew at the beer garden. I just had a tremendous time this weekend, even took a stroll up Thumb Butte Trail next morning to stretch out those stiff legs.