Just a few months ago, I was in the Phoenix area visiting family. When we planned the trip last year, I looked around the southwest for a race and was pleased to find that the highly rated Phoenix Marathon was going to take place while I was in town! Sign me up!
Important! Today (June 22) is the last day before the next registration fee hike for the 2019 Phoenix Marathon! Sign-up here today if you want to run it (tip – you should! 🙂 )
The Phoenix Marathon Review
I had planned on making the Phoenix Marathon a big comeback marathon for me (I had not run a marathon in the previous 2 years). In fact, I even entertained the idea of winning or placing in the top 3 for the Clydesdale category (men who are over 200lbs). 🙂 Unfortunately, a lot of things happened that really derailed my training. In fact, I only averaged about 24 miles per week in the 16 weeks leading up to the race! At that point, I decided I would just run it so that I knew I could run 26.2 miles still and to enjoy the beautiful countryside.
TL:DR – The Phoenix Marathon was run on an absolutely beautiful course with great support and in a nice time for the weather. There were large enough crowds of running that I was never alone and the crowd support in various areas was very refreshing. There were just a couple of things that were negatives that I think could easily be fixed to make a more enjoyable race – being more careful with warning cones and street obstructions for the first couple of miles of the race due to darkness and spreading out the porta potties more. Other than that, great event!
Ease of Access
The boarding/finishing area is in the same place – the Mesa Riverview shopping area. There is plenty of parking as there are shops and hotels all around and the organizers did a good job of making sure that the traffic moved nicely after the race and that there was sufficient viewing range for the spectators for the finish line.
I mentioned boarding area above as the race actually does not start at Mesa Riverview. Instead, buses line up, starting at 3:30am, to take runners to the starting area to the Usury Mountain area, which is where the race begins.
This is actually quite easy as far as access because the race forbids people from being dropped off at the starting positions. It is in a rather remote area controlled by police cars allowing access on some roads so you won’t be able to get there on your own. So, the bus is the only way! This means getting dropped off or parking at the finish area and then you are ready to go at the end!
The expo was in the same area as the finish area. It was setup outdoors but inside of large tents and canopies. They had a lot of retailers and other tables offering up other races or organizations – the normal expo lineup.
There was one retailer that had a sale on shoes that was the best I have seen at an expo! So, definitely check around to see if you can find some deals here! I actually bought that pair of shoes as well as some arm warmers. I had come packed for Arizona weather but it turned out it was quite a bit colder than I had anticipated (the temperature was actually 46 degrees at the start!).
I definitely give the expo a “thumbs up” as everything was laid out very well and the amount of retailers was perfect for this race. Plus, all the volunteers were very friendly!
Starting Line | Phoenix Marathon
As I said, you were transported to the starting line via buses – and there were a lot of them! I think there were something like 2,000+ people running the full marathon and they were doing 40-ish people to a bus. Plus, once the buses got up there, they did not come back for more people! Let me say – thanks so much to all the fantastic bus drivers!
The starting area has a bag drop truck (which I actually forgot to revisit after the race so lost my hoodie) and fires going. It was quite cold at the start and I was really shivering (rare for a NY boy!). I stayed on the bus until almost the last moment just to stay a bit warm.
The race organizers did a good job of having fire pits enough for everyone or heaters set up.
Entertainment, Crowds and the Course | Phoenix Marathon
The race went off with the 6AM start. From what I was told, this was the first time that the race started this early. In the previous years, it was a 6:30AM start. So, this may have been the reason for some near-disasters.
The organizers (or someone) had placed cones and directional markers (metal) in the middle of the road for the first mile or so. This was a very bad move as it was so dark that many people almost had collisions with them (some may have – I don’t know about those in front or behind me) because you could not see them so well. People had to jump out of the way at the last minute when they did see them so that caused some pileups as well.
Advice – stay away from the middle of the road! And, organizers, please make sure these have little strobes or reflective tape on them for next time if you go with the 6AM start again!
Back to the Course!
The course they chose for the Phoenix Marathon is absolutely beautiful! It showcases the beautiful landscape and some of the finer neighborhoods with the rising morning light and is just really something to see! Note: due to the direction of the course, you really do not need sunglasses. Do yourself a favor and leave them home! Many people had them on and the sun was at our back most of the time!
The course winded us through some neighborhoods and there were some brave crowds out to cheer us on throughout the early morning! The course itself had a mostly downhill profile with one significant hill around mile 8 and then again around mile 25 (it just felt more significant there due to tired legs!). But, overall, it is a fast course with a negative elevation gain so this is a nice place to come if you want to attempt a faster marathon.
We entered more of the neighborhood areas after the first few miles, which worked our very nicely. It let us get a few miles under our belts with the beautiful landscapes before heading into town.
The aid stations were all really good! There was plenty of water at all the aid stations as well as some stations with the bananas, oranges, and energy drinks.
The volunteers at these aid stations were also great. I loved how happy and pleasant everyone was – and they don’t get paid for doing any of it! It was really a nice thing to come up on each station.
I will say this – I think the organizers need to do a better job of spreading out the porta potties. I did not do an exact count but there were not that many at all before the half-marathon mark. At that point, there was a line of like 15 of them. I definitely think they need to spread them out a little earlier because I saw many people searching for some place to use around the miles 7-10 spot.
Finish Line and Recovery Area | Phoenix Marathon
As you approach the last mile or so of the marathon course, the crowds definitely pick up. They kind of wrap some of it around the general vicinity of the finish area so you can definitely hear some noise as you run through those streets!
The finish area had plenty of room for spectators and I was thrilled to have my family at this finish line! Most of my marathons are run when I am traveling solo so I have not had family at a finish line in years – definitely a push to help me get to the end quicker!
The recovery area / food area was incredible! Everything was being done in a very orderly fashion (the volunteers were, again, fantastic) and the runners were guided into the right area.
The food available for runners was simply fantastic! One of the tents had french toast from a local restaurant/bakery and it was the best finish line food I have ever had! In fact, it was the best french toast I have ever had! I actually tracked down this bakery later to buy some for my family but they were out at the time. Seriously, I would run this marathon again just for the french toast (or I guess I could just go buy some!).
The medal was a very nice one (will upload a photo later) and the shirt given was also quality. In fact, at the expo, they had the previous year’s tech shirts on sale for just $5 – a really great bargain for a tech shirt!
The Phoenix Marathon was a fantastic community event! Everything about it (except the two small points I already mentioned) made it a really nice race. There are other distances available as well, including a free kid’s fun run. All of my kids did this 1K run and they had a blast! The race organizers provided free t-shirts for all the little runners and snacks at the end – all for free! 🙂
If you plan on running the Phoenix Marathon, even if you are local, I highly recommend you stay at one of the many hotels in the Mesa Riverview area. I was staying with my wife’s family about 25 minutes from Mesa Riverview and still chose to stay at the Hyatt Place (just 5,000 points for the night!) since I had to get ready to board the bus by 5:30AM. As we left the area on the buses, I saw cars just lined up trying to get in to the Mesa Riverview parking. Just save yourself the headache and book a hotel at Mesa Riverview! Plus, you have just 1/4 mile to walk after the finish to shower and change – win/win!
The Phoenix Marathon is a quality family event and one that I highly recommend. It is a fast, downhill course (with just a couple of slightly challenging hills) at a time of year that yields cooler weather. If you want a Boston Qualifier, definitely check out the Phoenix Marathon!
Featured image By Harald Nagel [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], from Wikimedia Commons