How to Run the Mesa-Phx Marathon
The following post is written by Mike Wares, a Mesa-Phx Marathon veteran, Ironman and seasoned distance runner.
Whether it’s your first marathon and all you want to do is get to the finish and collect your hardware, or you’ve trained for a marathon personal record (PR), or maybe you’re trying for a Boston Qualifier (BQ) time, the Sprouts Mesa Marathon (formerly known as the Sprouts Mesa Phoenix Marathon) is the perfect course and in my opinion will most likely exceed your expectations.
That’s not to say you won’t have to work for it. It’s still 26.2 miles — no matter how fit and fast you are, those last 6.2 miles always seem to hurt. But if you have trained for it and you have some patience on race day, I believe you will have a great day on this course for several reasons:
- It’s a mostly downhill elevation change with several long straight sections on a smooth asphalt surface.
- Cool desert temperatures. Average high in March is 74 and low is 43. Combined with an early start and low humidity, this will result in nearly perfect conditions for fast racing.
- Awesome aid stations and support throughout the race will keep you motivated all the way to the finish.
Let’s break the course down in more detail and talk about strategies for your perfect race.
Overall, the course has a very nice downhill elevation change of 1000 feet (see website for map and elevation). However, most of the elevation change comes in the first 13 miles. You might think that the way to take advantage of this would be to “bank” some time in those early miles. In my experience, that would be a mistake.
The best way to take advantage of the early elevation change would be to hold back your effort and let the course help you run your pace. Nearly everyone struggles in the last 10K, so holding back early will help you keep your pace later. This course offers the perfect recipe for that strategy. My recommendation is to aim for nearly identical first and second halftime splits. Your effort will feel much less in the first half, but you will be rewarded later with being able to finish strong.
The race starts at 6:30 a.m. Make sure you get on the bus and get to the start with plenty of time. I like to have some time to collect my thoughts and relax a bit, talk to my friends and get fully prepared rather than being rushed. The first buses leave at 4 a.m. Take advantage of getting there on time and avoid the crowds. The race starts near Usery Pass in the open desert and it could be quite cool at the race start, so be prepared with some warmer clothes that you shed just before the start. There will be a drop-off location for your pre-race clothes. I like to wear a throw away T-shirt and cheap gloves for the first couple of miles also.
About 15-20 minutes before the start, I like to do about 10 minutes of warm-ups. If you have a warm-up routine that you prefer, follow it. I like to do 5×2 min builds. During each 2-min interval, build your effort to race pace and then repeat. The objective is to get your blood flowing and heart rate up so you’re ready and relaxed for the start.
Miles 0-4 have the most elevation change. The road is smooth and you will feel as if you could run 1-2 min faster than your race pace without even trying. This is where you want to hold back and be patient. When you see people flying by you, just remember their number because you will see them later in the day as you pass them. Try and stay smooth and relaxed with very low effort level. Enjoy the beautiful surroundings, the cool weather, and then smile and say this is going to be a great day!
First Aid Station – Mile 3
There are aid stations every two miles starting at mile 3. When I did my first marathon, I made the mistake of not taking enough time at the aid stations to stay well hydrated. While running through the aid stations I would grab a cup of water and try to throw it down quickly. I realized later that I was only getting a couple of ounces of fluid, which was far less than I needed. Unfortunately, I paid the price in the later stages of the race and had a very slow finish.
Take the time to get your fluids and nutrition at the aid stations. I typically will walk for 2-3 seconds, just to make sure I get at least one full glass of water or Gatorade. The 2-3 seconds I walk are never lost in the end. Also, if during the later stages of the marathon you are feeling warmer, I like to pour water on my head and upper body. This helps keep my core temperature down throughout the race.
And also, don’t forget to thank the volunteers at the aid stations. They really appreciate it and it will give you a little boost to see them smile.
I may have forgotten to tell you that there is one short uphill section on this course. Don’t panic! It’s still early in the race, your legs still feel good and it’s not that steep of a hill. Stay smooth, focus on your form and keep your effort level relaxed. Your heart rate will climb a bit, but you will enjoy the opportunity to give it a little more effort at this point in the race.
Once you crest the hill at mile 6, you are rewarded with a nice downhill section. Since you just increased your effort over the last couple of miles to get over the hill, you will naturally want to keep it up and go faster on the downhill. Just like miles 0-4, this is where you want to be patient and let your effort level come back and stay smooth and relaxed. There will be some nice views of Red Mountain in front of you as you turn on to Power Road and then turn down through Red Mountain Ranch. Enjoy the fact that you’re still feeling fresh and nicely cruising to the halfway point.
The downhill continues throughout this section of the course but it’s a much more gradual change. The halfway point is just after the Boeing Apache Helicopter Plant on McDowell Road. Check your halfway split and note how you are doing. Hydration good? Nutrition good? Blisters? Cramps? Restroom? Make corrections as needed.
This part of the course has three nice, long, straight sections of road. This gives you the opportunity to really settle into your pace. Now that most of the downhill is past, your effort level may come up a little but you should be ready for it because you were patient. I always find that miles 13-16 feel pretty good. After mile 16 the first twinges of fatigue start to appear. With the longer straight sections of the course you should “get into the zone” and stay really focused on your pace and effort level. You should start to see some of the people that went out too fast come back to you at this point also. Make note of it and smile a little to yourself as you go by.
You’re getting closer now. Time for a little tour through downtown Mesa. The crowds will be out cheering you on, which is exactly what you need at this point. Legs are starting to feel it, but this is what you trained for. This is the point in the race that you really have to dig deeper. It does not matter whether you are an elite runner or back of the pack — there is just no getting around it, you’re going to suffer through the next few miles. Take consolation in the fact that the course is flat and the weather is cool.
You have been out on the course for some time now; make sure you get your hydration in as well as some nutrition to keep you from bonking. Take in the energy from the crowds and aid stations. Look for children to high five as you go by. Do whatever you need to take your mind off the next few miles. At the same time, stay focused on your pace and effort level. Try to keep good form with an upright position; chest, shoulders and arms relaxed, and a high cadence. These few miles will gradually tick by and before you know it you are headed to the finish.
24 to the Finish
Whether a straight marathon or the last miles of an Ironman distance race, when I hit mile 24, I know I can make it. I get a little burst of energy and start thinking about the finish. In a short time I will be seeing my friends and family cheering me through to the finish. I just need to get through the next 2.2 miles. If you have been patient, you should be holding your pace and you are on track for your PR.
As you head down Alma School, you are rewarded with a slight downhill section less than a mile from the finish. Take advantage of it and try and keep your pace into the finish. Every pass you make during this section builds your adrenaline. Once you make the left turn into the shopping area you can see the finish. Take it in and enjoy it! The noise of the crowds, the music, the finish line in front of you — you did it, what an awesome finish!! Whether it’s your 1st or 50th marathon, be proud of yourself and what you just accomplished!
One of my most favorite things to do after any race is to hang out and enjoy the post-race fun and food with fellow runners, friends and family. The Mesa-Phx Marathon race organizers have made sure that you will have an awesome post-race experience. Volunteers will be there to help as you cross the finish line. Be sure you collect your Mesa-Phx Marathon finisher medal. Put it on and wear it proudly! If you need any assistance with anything, be sure to ask.
You just used a ton of calories out on the course and now you need to start the recovery process by replenishing. There will be plenty so take advantage of it all. Don’t forget to get a massage for those stiff muscles if you want. Go to the results area and check out your time, splits and age group results. There will be an awards ceremony at approximately 11:30 for the top finishers overall and in each age group.
Hopefully this gives you some helpful insights into how to run the Sprouts Mesa Marathon (formerly known as the Sprouts Mesa Phoenix Marathon). I hope your training and preparation goes well, and you have a great race. If you have any specific questions, please contact me through the website. See you on race day!
Mike Wares moved to Mesa in 1986. He started running with friends in 2002 to lose weight and get fit. He has since run numerous full and half marathons, including qualifying for the Boston Marathon four times. Mike started competing in triathlons in 2005. To date, he’s completed numerous Olympic and 70.3 distance events, 7 Ironman distance events, and is a two-time Ironman World Chamionships (Kona) qualifier. Mike has been married to his wife, Vicki, for 37 years. They have 4 children and 11 wonderful grandchildren.