This post was initially posted on our old Oregon Live site.
If you are a follower of our Facebook page, you may have seen a post asking our readers about their thoughts on a new monthly (or so) feature on destination races. As luck would have it, I was actually vacationing in Arizona when the thought came about and am taking on the role as guinea pig in previewing our first official Destination Race feature: the 44th Annual Y-Race Phoenix Half Marathon (and 5k), held on October 27, 2012 in Phoenix, AZ.
When I finally scheduled a date for our vacation to visit family in Scottsdale, the first thing I did was hit the web to see what races I may be able to attend. My uncle told me that October in Phoenix is prime running season and that the weather for running is darn near perfect. He asked me to look into the Y-Race Half Marathon, as he had ran it a few years back. As luck would have it, this was in the same week we were in town. I quickly signed up, and am glad I did!
Packet pick-up was held at both locations of Roadrunner Sports (Scottsdale and Tempe). This actually turned out to be a great thing as, embarrassingly enough, I left my running shoes in Oregon. I had all my other running gear, but the one piece of equipment I actually needed…well, those were tucked away nicely in the closet at home. Ugh. Races in Phoenix start really early (well, as in 7am early), which is a necessity to keep the race temperatures manageable and not cook the runners on the pavement. Therefore, I was happy there were two separate pick-ups. The location of the race, South Mountain Municipal Park, is quite a distance from Scottsdale (40 minutes). It is a lot closer to downtown Phoenix (20 minutes) and the nearby suburban areas, so having my stuff early made it so I could get a few more precious minutes of sleep (I was on vacation after all).
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South Mountain Park is really quite an incredible venue for a race. There are more than enough parking spots, plenty of room to run around and warm up, and features some amazing views of the valley below. Live music greeted runners bright and early and there were 8-12 tents offering info on upcoming races, free massages, and complimentary 5-hour Energy shots. The amount of tents were not massive (as they sometimes can be i.e. Eugene Race for the Cure), but offered a little something pre- and post-race for runners to “swag-up”.
The half marathon started first (and the 5k following shortly after) with a shotgun blast signalling the clock. This has been a tradition for years and fit really well into the desert and wild-wild-west backdrop. We hit the main paved road that led further South into the park just as the sky was being woken up by the desert sun. After a bit of a detour onto some smaller paved roads, we met back up with South Central Ave and eventually continued our out-and-back course on the long stretch of West San Juan Rd.
The environment during our jaunt to the halfway point was really unlike anything I have raced in before. Large desert mountains were on both sides of us and cacti greeted us with silent waves as we ran past. I was absolutely awe-struck and got some goosebumps as the sun started to peek over the eastern peak and filled the surrounding landscape with warm desert sunlight. The goosebumps continued as we reached the end of San Juan Rd, and turnaround, which yielded a (much too quick) view of the Phoenix city skyline.
The turnaround notified us that we were halfway, but also meant that the gradual downhill from miles 2.5-6.5 would provide a reversal of fortunes and make the return primarily an uphill run through mile 10.5. It was definitely not an easy run, especially since the wind was blowing into our faces on the return. Thus, my pace was 7:08 out and ended at 7:30.
One of the great things about this race was it’s benefit of the local YMCA. There were lots of YMCA teens happily and enthusiastically manning the check-in and aid stations. There was also a Kid’s Zone on site with YMCA staff so that both parents could choose to run the race without having to flip a coin or play rock-paper-scissors to see who had to stay behind (very important for a destination race).
Overall, this is a race that I would definitely return to. The experience was great and adding another state to my half-marathon list (now at 4) was icing on the cake. It was large enough to be competitive, but not too large where you can’t move due to the clutter of people. October is a great month in Arizona, and for those football fans out there, make sure that you check the future Ducks and Beavers schedules to see if they jive up with each other (the Oregon vs. ASU game was only off a week this year). Check out race pictures here to get some visuals of what you could be experiencing at the 2013 version of the Y-Race Phoenix Half Marathon and 5k.
Here is some of my vital travel information for this destination race:
Entry Fee: $80
Travel Expenses: $220 RT (EUG-PHX); $0 lodging (for me), but expect typical rates for the area.
What I got (race related): Tech t-shirt, Finisher’s Medal, Perfect race weather (with sun!), Great desert course
What I got (non-race related): A sun tan (did I mention incredible weather i.e 82-85 degrees every day), ASU football game
There were 270 half marathon finishers and 301 in the 5k. Check out the full results here.
Matt Rasmussen lives in Keizer, Ore. with his wife and three daughters. He enjoys watching hockey, going to as many breweries (618) and wineries (152) as he can, and all things Canada (he was born there). Matt was raised as a baseball player and officially transitioned over to running in 2010.