A Tale of Two Races – The Sedona Marathon Race Report

The Sedona Marathon was one of the most beautiful and most ugly marathons I’ve ever done. I can’t think of a better way to say it.

I went into this race with concerns about my back, which has been acting up since the Charleston Marathon in January, and overall health issues that caused me to DNF at Kiawah in December. Since I’ve had a goal for every marathon I’ve run since Omaha, I decided to try and take all of the pressure off myself for this race and make finishing the marathon my only goal. Seems like it shouldn’t be that hard, right? What’s a 26.2 mile run/walk among friends?

My mom, Shannon (my sister-in-law) and I headed to the Phoenix Airport to pick up Amanda on Friday morning and then immediately headed up to Sedona, which is about a 2 hour drive from Phoenix. After spending the week in Phoenix doing reviews for Ramblen, I was really hoping for some cooler weather – it had been in the 80s in Phoenix most of the week! I haven’t spent much time in the desert, so I really didn’t know what to expect. Phoenix had, in my opinion, the type of landscape you picture when you picture the desert – lots of sand, rocks, and giant cacti. As we headed north, the landscape changed, and all the big cacti were gone – we were now in something more like a wasteland, with gently rolling hills, tumbleweeds, and very little to look at. I’ve heard over and over again that Sedona is one of the most beautiful places in the world, but I’m not going to lie – looking around on our drive, I definitely had my doubts. Then, all of a sudden, the famous red rock appeared out of nowhere and I understood.

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Stole this picture from the interwebz because it was kind of rainy and I was driving and didn’t take a picture.

We headed immediately to the race expo, which was held in a cute little arts and crafts village called Tlaquepaque. I’m pretty sure that’s Native American for “fcking impossible to park in” because it was crazy trying to navigate in there. Despite that, it was a cool setting for a race expo and we enjoyed walking around as the clouds rolled in.

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This one vendor kept trying to rub cream on my calf muscle. I mean that exactly how it sounds.

Somehow, the temperature had dropped about 35 degrees on the two hour drive from Phoenix. It was actually really cold, and Amanda and I started worrying that we weren’t prepared for the race the next day. When I left South Carolina, the high for the race was 59. By the time the weekend rolled around, the high was 49, and it would be in the lower 40s when we finished the race. After nearly freezing to death in Charleston, I really didn’t want to experience that again, so we decided to buy some throw away sweatshirts. Afterwards, my mom, Shannon, and Amanda headed off to see Sedona and I laid down to try and get rid of my killer headache.

The Sedona Marathon doesn’t start until 9 am, so we had plenty of time to wake up and walk the three blocks over to the start line. I had booked a sweet room at the host hotel through RocketMiles at $90 less than the marathon rate using my own travel tips, and I got 4,000 frequent flyer miles just for the one night. The air was cool, but not freezing as we got underway.

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Wal-Mart sweatshirts cut down the middle = convenient throw-away gear that is also fashionable. Ha.

We knew that the course was super hilly and we also knew the day was going to be extremely sunny, so I wore my Headsweats visor in hopes of retaining my vision and my skin. You can get that visor here and use code TREXRUN25 for your whole purchase! As I started out, my back felt about like it had for the whole past 2 weeks – better than it had, but kind of teetering on the edge. It did feel better than Charleston, though. We saw my mom and Shannon about half a mile into the race before they headed off to go hiking. 

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Still in a running motion!

The course for the 10k, half marathon, and marathon is an out-and-back, so it wasn’t long before the fastest 10k runners caught up to us and then were coming back at us. The course was very hilly, but we took a slow and steady pace and enjoyed the incredible scenery of the early miles. I noticed quickly that the aid stations were not only plentiful (about every 1.5 miles throughout the race) but every single one was exceptionally well stocked – many flavors of Gatorade, bananas and oranges, gels, etc. We ditched our sweatshirts at the very first aid station, sadly. The volunteers were mostly retirees who live in Sedona for the winter, and they had lots of different themes at the aid stations! It was very cute.

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That awkward moment when Amanda is posing for a picture as the 10k runners sprint up the hill on their way back to the finish.

I knew that my back was not right, but it wasn’t killing me to run yet. We kept an easy pace and walked whenever we wanted to stop and take pictures, which, given the beauty of the early part of the course, was pretty often. Here’s a few for your viewing pleasure.

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Spiritual vortexes are apparently a big thing in Sedona. I took this picture specifically for my friend Bobbi, who requested that I go visit one while I was there. I figure running past one is the same.
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Amanda and I really upped our selfie game this race.

The first 6.5-ish miles of the race are run on pavement, and after that (the half marathon turn-around) it converts to hard packed red dirt. At this point, the race had left the red rock area and gone out into the surrounding areas. Around mile 8, we met a woman named Mesh while we stopped at an aid station to take a jumping picture. She ended up getting in on the picture with us, and we ran with her for awhile. It’s always nice to make new friends! I awkwardly could not stop myself from talking because I get so uncomfortable whenever there is silence, so I think we (I) maybe made her run away sooner than she otherwise would have…or maybe it was just because we were running too slow. Oh well.

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One of our better jumping pictures and sweet scenery to boot!

It might be hard to see from the picture, but the dirt road was actually a thin layer of dirt covering a surface of bumpy hard rock. It was pretty challenging to run on because your foot and ankle would keep rolling. I can’t imagine trying to run fast (even my version of fast) on that road, but it was still pretty. We reached the halfway point at exactly 2:30, which I honestly was very happy with. I knew we would be slower in the second half, as my back was getting increasingly worse, but I was ok with that. I just kept trying to keep it in my mind that the only goal was to finish the race and not get too discouraged by the slow pace.

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We wanted to take a picture with a big cactus, but apparently they only live at the lower altitudes, so this one had to do.

The race somehow seemed to get a lot harder in the second half, even though we just went back the way we came. We would run slowly for awhile, and then my back would spasm and my right leg would give out and I’d be reduced to a walk/limp. Then I’d get too annoyed with the walking, so I’d try to run again, and the process would repeat. I decided to use this time to try and interact with the 80 Japanese people who had come from Japan specifically to run the marathon. I figured it would do me good to practice my Japanese on them since I leave on February 18th for Tokyo! The problem? I do not speak Japanese. I have been looking at my phrase books, but it seems like something that takes 4 words to say in English takes 8 words to say in Japanese, and it’s very hard to remember. I’ve got “konnichiwa” and “sayonara” down, but that”s about it. I decided to try telling a Japanese guy who was running near us that “my name is Danielle.” I was pretty sure that the way to say that was “watashi wo [something] Danielle,” so I figured I’d try that out. Well, he looked at me like I had four heads. Turns out that “My name is Danielle” in Japanese is actually “Watashi no namae wa Danielle desu.” It’s going to be a long trip.

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Apparently Pink Jeep Tours are a very famous thing in Sedona, and my grandmother is obsessed with them from the time she spent there years ago. These were the runner assistance vehicles!

We were walking a lot more than we were running by mile 16, and by mile 18, I literally could not run anymore. The pain was too much. Amanda was a saint and said we could walk as long as I needed to. I think she was enjoying the scenery, and she hasn’t been running very much either. I started to get very, very angry for reasons that I couldn’t entirely articulate to Amanda. I was basically mad at myself because I was in so much pain and even continuing to walk was seeming like an increasingly bad idea. I was mad because as much as I wanted to say that “finishing is the only goal,” I was embarrassed to be reduced to walking and I knew my time was going to be among my worst. I was mad that I was embarrassed and that I cared about my time.  I was mad because less than two months ago I was so close to a sub-4 marathon and was running my fastest times ever, and now I couldn’t run at all. I was mad that I couldn’t just enjoy myself. I was mad that I was mad.

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One of my favorite pictures of the entire trip, taken during my hate spiral.

Around mile 19, we were desperately looking for the mile markers. My watch said about 19.1 when we came upon the sign for…mile 18?? WHAT?? I don’t think I have ever been that defeated in my entire life. Amanda and I looked around and asked other people what was going on and they were equally distraught. When you’re on a course that tough, every mile accounts, especially that late in the race. Then, just as strangely, we came upon mile 20 pretty much right on schedule. Apparently, there was just no mile 19 marker or they had put 18 in the wrong place. The horror!

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Good thing we were going slowly enough to avoid the rain…

I bet Amanda that at some point on the route, my mom would appear, and sure enough, she and Shannon showed up at mile 21. She leapt out of the car, so excited to see me and take my picture! She’s adorable, but I still wanted to stab her because I didn’t want anyone to take my picture.

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Ran for about 10 steps so my mom and Shannon could get an action shot. That was a bad idea, but it’s a good picture.

We walked. And walked. And walked. I walked as fast as I could. Sometimes, I would try to run, but I lasted only a few steps at a time. We started counting down by aid stations (since there were fewer aid stations than miles and it seemed less depressing) and when we got back to the first aid station, there were our beautiful Walmart sweatshirts! We were so excited, I cannot even tell you.

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Finally, finally, finally coming to the finish.

Finally, we made it to the finish, something like 6 hours and 13 minutes after we started. It’s my second or third worst marathon time, I think, behind only Bataan (which crosses a mountain range and much of which is run on sand) and Baton Rouge Beach (where I started throwing up at mile 8 and didn’t stop til the finish). My mom “ran” us in – she really is the ultimate marathon spectator and my biggest fan.

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See? She’s even more excited than we are. Probably because she wanted to leave. Hell of a finish line photo though, right?

So, that’s the marathon. I still have mixed feelings about it. Maybe I shouldn’t have finished, but I did. My right leg is all jacked up from running/walking like that, so I’ll add that to the list of stuff that is wrong with me. I did enjoy the scenery.  We did not come in last – there were plenty of people behind us, given that only about 200 people ran the full marathon. I loved spending the whole time with Amanda, since we haven’t done a marathon together lately. And really, the race is incredibly well done. It’s very tough, but if you don’t mind that and just want to look at pretty stuff for 26.2 miles, this is an excellent choice. The course was beautiful. My race was ugly. It is what it is.

40 thoughts on “A Tale of Two Races – The Sedona Marathon Race Report

  1. I am so sorry that your back is still giving you trouble! I hope it gets resolved soon! But I guess you can’t ask for a better course to be on for 6+ hours! I’m so mad that I didn’t do this race this year and instead did stupid NOLA! I can’t wait to run Sedona next year though!

    1. You definitely need to do this race! If you have to be out there for a long time, this is the place to be. I’m sorry you didn’t PR at NOLA 🙁 The weather looked miserable!

  2. 2 words (ha, that’ll be the day)-Vortex Revenging! I bet if we look closely at your photo before the start we’ll find me; cluelessly searching the crowd for you. ha. ha.
    I’ve a mighty, but pint sized back guy if you get desperate. Just sayin.

  3. Sorry to hear that your back is still hurting. I have scoliosis and I hate back pain but kudos to you for finishing, it must have been hard. Quite frankly after the 18/19 mile mixup I would have crumbled but you didnt so you should be proud.

    1. Oh, if you had seen it, we pretty much did crumble. Amanda and I both almost cried! It doesn’t seem like 1 mile should make that big of a difference, but it sure did.

  4. Way to gut it out! There must be something in the water causing people to downward spiral after hitting a peak. Mmhmm. Pictures are beautiful and I love the WalMart sweatshirt idea! You’ll get better. You finished!

  5. Glad you were tenacious! If you decide to run MB, you’ve got a place to stay. I can’t believe I haven’t run since Sunday before last, and probably won’t have time to run more than once next week, before I pace MB! Good thing I’m the 5:30 guy. Where is your next adventure? If you have any questions about Peru, I’ve been there 3 times for 6 weeks, and traveled most of the country. Hope you recover fully!

    1. Thanks so much, Murray! You are going to do a great job at MB. I am not going to be running, but I appreciate the offer. I hope you had a WONDERFUL time in Colorado! Next adventure is Japan next week. I want to talk to you about Peru when I get back!!

  6. Just for the record, I did try to get you to get in the car 🙂 I do respect your desire to finish things, just wish it didn’t hurt so much. Loved spending time with you as always! Love you lots, xxoo

  7. I can’t wait to hear all about your epic comeback – which WILL happen. Give it time, don’t beat yourself up and it will eventually fall into place 🙂

  8. I’m really proud of you for finishing and I loved reading your recap! As much as having to walk a ton sucks, and having a bad back sucks, I am kinda jealous that you got to see Sedona because it’s super beautiful. And, it’s great that Amanda stayed with you and your mom even checked on you and crossed the finish with you. To me, that’s so cool that you have such great support in life :). I’m glad you finished the race and am wishing you a speedy recovery and long-term recovery for you back!

    1. Sedona IS super beautiful! Even though the race was tough, I’m really glad I picked it for my Arizona race. It was worth it! I am very lucky to have such a great support system. I couldn’t do it without them!

  9. I loved the photos, Danielle. What gorgeous scenery! I only wish you’d caught the ointment calf-rubber in a photo 🙂

    I have all these races planned over the next 6-8 months — although nothing as ambitious as your goal — but today it occurred to me that I actually need to run the races. I know that sounds silly, but I think that just because I signed up they will run themselves. I still have major foot issues and although I’ve had an oddly zen about it, I’m scared. I’m scared that I can’t run anymore. I guess I just wanted you to know that I’m thinking of you and I’m really hoping that your issues with your back turn around.

    1. I was too busy trying to run away to catch the calf-rubber! Although I did think about the fact that I should have taken a picture after I ran away.

      HA! I 100% where you are coming from. I plan so many races and then when it comes to running them I’m like well, crap…I have to actually go out there! I wish the races ran themselves…

  10. I’m glad you finished and I do hope your back gets back to its healthy ways. Tomorrow. 🙂
    Don’t be mad at yourself, I think you did admirably – you certainly beat your body (even though it might not feel like that at the moment).
    I was told by my doctor that I should run more on non-concrete/asphalt type of surfaces as those are bad for the back (lot of hard impacts on the spine).

    1. Ugh, yes, I am supposed to do that too…I just don’t like running on trails. I need to, though. Unfortunately, we don’t have a lot of dirt paths around here. It’s either really hilly/technical trails or paved paths!

      PS I’m trying to convince my family to do a trip to Croatia for my 30th birthday. Yes, that’s like 2 years from now, but whatever.

  11. I’m really sorry to hear about your back. My dad had serious back problems a while ago and I cannot even imagine the pain going through it. Good for you during the races though.

    Also those pictures are absolutely stunning. It makes me wonder why on earth I live on the east coast.

  12. whew! I was totally afraid that you would hate Sedona-and I totally tout it to everyone as so beautiful I didn’t notice the hills! The vortex thing cracks me up-it’s very new-agey there, but the rest of us ignore that in favor of the red rocks.

    1. It helps when you know you’ll have to pay for another plane ticket, hotel and race registration if you don’t finish 🙂

  13. Just catching up – and glad I’m late so I could see your Mom’s adorable comment. She really is the best! I hope I’m that cute when my kids are your age in a few years 🙂

    The pictures … OMG. Never been to Sedona, but have had a few Arizona trips and always love it there. But I am a crappy photographer, so seeing yours was just awesome.

    So, so sorry about all of your pain. That really sucks. And I just don’t even know what else to say other than that. 🙁

    1. Isn’t she so cute? She is the best fan ever. Watching the Olympics right now, I was imagining what it would be like if I was an Olympic athlete. My mom would probably fall off the bleachers cheering so loud!

      I’m a crappy photographer too, but I got a new camera and watched a 10 minute YouTube video on photography basics. That’s honestly it. It’s pretty much impossible to take a bad picture in Sedona!

  14. Gorgeous scenery and some great photos. And you know, there’s no shame at ALL in walking a marathon. In many ways, it’s harder than running one. I’ve done three and on the last, I walked a good chunk of it with a guy who was planning to run a sub-4, but thought he could shake off an injury. By the end (6:30 or thereabouts), he had a healthy respect for walkers — we’re out there a LONG time.

    So quit kicking yourself. That’s the way to hurt your back and fall down in the rocks!

    1. There’s no shame in walking a marathon. It’s honestly not the time I have the problem with in theory – it’s just the time for ME. Does that make sense? It’s one thing to make the conscious choice to walk a marathon. It’s another thing to physically be unable to move any faster because of injury and pain. I’ve done plenty of slow marathons by choice, but not having any other options is just depressing. Walking is REALLY hard – that’s why I’d rather be done sooner 🙂

  15. If you’re going to hate-spiral through a marathon, best that you do it in a beautiful, otherwordly climate, right? I don’t know why I’m so drawn to desert races (Tucson, Hoover, Moab), but there’s something almost magical about them. I almost expect to start tripping out and start having deep conversations with cowskulls in the latter stages.

    So what’s next? I don’t mean from a race standpoint, but more on your structural integrity. It sounds like you’re dealing with a pesky injury that wants to stick around. I usually try and personify it – I imagine that the injury is an actual THING inside me causing all kinds of uproar and stirring the other muscles and bones into revolution. Then I imagine it getting beat to a pulp. I should probably see someone about this.

    Anyway, you’re fortunate to have such a robust support group get you through these less-than-ideal races. I know you’d do the same for them, and it’s a glowing reflection of your character that you made it to the finish line with friends in tow.

    1. Yes, definitely! I honestly don’t think I would have hate-spiraled through an ugly one, or without my friends. I’m really lucky to have people around me who will stick with me through the tough times. Of course, I would do the same for them, but it’s easier said than done when you’re out there and you just want it to be over.

      I actually just wrote a post about what’s next. Hopefully I’ll actually stick to the new plan. I wish I was the type of person who really liked exercise, but I just don’t. Cross training is hard for me! But I like your idea…I need to beat my injury to a pulp, or at least into a coma which it will not wake up from for like 50 years.

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