We’ve just arrived back from the USA having run the Phoenix Mesa Marathon. We are both a bit jet lagged but also very happy. This post explains why.

Ok so Arizona is a cool place to go in itself but to be clear that wasn’t the main reason for us going to the Phoenix Marathon at this point in time. It was actually to be able to race early in the year, on a fast course with good weather conditions so that Cam could get her Boston Qualifier well in advance of the September deadline. (This would be third year of trying. In 2017 the attempt was aborted because of stress fracture and in 2018 Cam ran 3:36 just one minute short of qualifying.)

I was also wanting to beat my current age grading PB for the marathon distance which basically would mean standing still (not literally) and running 3:49 again (my time at Manchester 2018) but this was definitely a secondary goal.

We’d also recruited another friend Mark to join us – his aim was to run a sub-3 hour marathon for the first time. A pretty epic goal. Mark and I had already qualified for Boston 2020 in previous races but sub-3 for anyone is never going to be easy….stakes were high.

The Task

The Boston Marathon is capped at 30,000 runners. Many people reading this post will know that it is one of the few races and the only World Major for which most runners (80%) have to meet a qualifying time based on age and gender. The remaining 20% of places go to charities and International Travel Operators. Boston is also the only World Major that Cam and I have not run together and this has been our aim for the past few years. 

The qualifying criteria are published late summer and runners have a window from mid September until the time of entry (following Sept) to achieve these times. From 2012 -2019 the qualifying times had remained the same (3.35 Cam, 4:40 me, 3:15 for Mark). (See interesting article about the history of Boston qualification). Unfortunately because of the number of places available and number of entries, in recent years not everyone achieving qualifying times could get a place.

2013 – Everyone with a qualifying time got a place
2014 – Only entrants who ran 1:38 faster than the stated qualifying time got a place
2015 – Only entrants who ran 1:02 faster than the stated qualifying time got a place
2016 – Only entrants who ran 2:28 faster than the stated qualifying time got a place
2017 – Only entrants who ran 2:09 faster than the stated qualifying time got a place
2018 – Only entrants who ran 3:23 faster than the stated qualifying time got a place
2019 – Only entrants who ran 4:52 faster than the stated qualifying time got a place 

Over 7000 qualifiers were turned down for the 2019 race and so the BAA decided to reduce times across the board by 5 minutes. Cam now needed sub 3:30.

The Training

As I said above Cam had tried to qualify for Boston the previous two years. She had been running consistently under 3:45 (PB 3:36) race after race but not achieving the target time. Despite a new PB of 3:33 in San Sebastian in November we decided that too many races were leaving her too tired to train properly to get the time she needed. So we took a good look at out timetable, and saw there was a gap after the Valencia Marathon in early December. Perfect timing – a 9 week break before Phoenix.

From Christmas onward Cam concentrated on getting more consistency into her training, running more miles, long training runs at pace, shorter tempo runs and shorter races. No marathons.

As the weeks passed there were encouraging signs – PB’s at 10K,10 miles and half marathon distances and more comfortable long runs at pace including an epic 3 laps of Richmond Park with Mark at 5min/Km pace.

Psychologically VO2 readings and race predictor times from Garmin helped with self belief, as too did our new Nike Vaporfly 4% (Kipchoge’s shoes). Feuling remained a bit of an issue but using a combination of the odd Maurten gel (which I was having a lot of success with) and some Cliff shot blocks (Mark’s recommendation), it was definitely improving. 

I pretty much followed a toned down version of the same training plan and was running my best times at short distances for years. Now to put it all to the test.

The Place

We flew to Phoenix on the Wednesday before the Saturday race- not the most direct route but incredibly good value. There were empty seats on plane so we both managed to stretch out. The hotel, The Hyatt Place, was in a great location just 5 mins from the expo and finish line. The staff were friendly and helpful and made us feel very welcome.

We spent Thursday in the Phoenix area travelling about by bus. It has to be said that downtown Phoenix is nothing to write home about but we loved the desert landscapes and the vegetation. Still a bit phased by the travelling we only managed a treadmill run in the gym but felt better for it then had an early night.

On Friday we went for a brilliant morning run just after sunrise. The trail started right outside the hotel and although we decided to only run 5K we both felt we wanted to run further. Always a good sign. Next up was a visit to the expo which was small but lively, we spent the rest of day relaxing in the sun by the pool – perfect.

Other runners started arriving and there was a great pre-race vibe around the hotel. Mark arrived at 8 pm and hadn’t slept in 21 hours. Not so perfect!

The Race

There were 10,000 runners in total spilt between the 10K, half and marathon. The race was a point to point course and started at 6:30am which meant getting up at 4.00am and being on a bus at 4:45am. 

When we arrived there were dispiritingly long queues for the buses but the marshals were very efficient and kept things moving fast. We travelled on the bus for about 45 minutes to the start point in the Usery Mountain Regional Park where we stood in the dark surrounded by desert and huge Sugauro cacti. It was cool but not cold and it wasn’t long before fireworks lit up the sky signalling the start of the race and we were off on a gentle downhill road.

As the sun came up we found ourselves running through very pleasant dormitory communities with attractive scenery and excellent support – even in places where with no supporters there were lots of motivational signs. 

At 5 miles there was a long uphill section – we tried not to panic as we watched our pace slow before finding the downhill again, soon that luxury was over and we hit the flat. It was time for heads down so as not to see the long, straight roads disappearing into the distance and to get on with the job.

The Results

This is the best bit.

Cam – 3:18:20 (15 min PB, Boston Qualifier)

Jacquie – 3:44;33 (36 secs off all time PB, Age Category win, Boston Qualifier)

Mark – 2:59: 36 (first sub 3hr, Boston Qualifier, London GFA)

The Team goes to Boston 2020!!