Gene Hanson Website


A First Marathon Story

Driving the Course


Ron drove with Nicole in the passenger seat and I navigated from the back seat with the map shown below. I was already a little disturbed by the heat, and now there was this horrendously long trip just to get to the starting line. What have I got myself into? We arrived at Usery Pass Park and found the starting area. Ron reset his trip odometer and we were off. We made various wrong turns because the course seemed to be designed by the pen of Rube Goldberg. He had to reset the odometer many times as a result. During the race they'll set red cones marking the way and traffic control, but for now the only indication we were on course was the blue port-a-potty huts along the side of the road at the mile markers.

2003 Valley of the Sun Marathon route.  Design by Rube Goldberg.

As we drove and the mile markers turned from 8 to 9 to 10, I wondered how I would be feeling at this particular spot during the race.  What have I got myself into? True anxiety set in at the 17-18 mile mark when we climbed a very steep hill; it surely be a killer the next day. I knew this was the mark when my little adventure might well turn into an ordeal. We had driven such a long way already and there was still 8 miles to go and we were in the comfort of an air-conditioned car! The mantra in my mind was now constant.  "This is really crazy. What have I got myself into?" I was tired and wished I were napping at that very moment. I could be having a nice day of rest, but nnnooooooo! The reality of the marathon was now really hitting me. Maybe, I thought, just maybe, I'd feel a lot better in the morning. Maybe if I would have bought some of those power bars. In the meantime it was, "What have I got myself into?" This is surely the worst part of a marathon. I had spaghetti for dinner as part of the plan to load my body with carbohydrates.

 It is a bad idea to drive the marathon course.

Marathon Morning

P552.jpg It was very early in the morning! Though the start of the race was set for 6:30, they wanted everyone at the high school at 4:30 where the all the runs would finish. We boarded a white school bus for the 10 mile trip to the starting area. (Obviously, we'd be taking the long route back!) I got up at 3:00 (My wife, Cindy, too, since she was going to drive me there) to very little sleep. You're supposed to get a good nights sleep, but how can you? This is the worst part of a marathon. I packed up everything I needed: basically drinks, food, and extra clothing since it would be a little cold before sunrise. Cindy was first thinking of making the 50 minute ride back home after dropping me off, but she decided she could sleep a little in the car and then study. After all, if it took 4 hours to complete (I was really thinking optimistically), I wouldn't be back at the school until 10:30. My breakfast was a banana, a couple of rolls, and some fig newtons.

At 3:35 we headed out as I drove the freeway to Mesa. There weren't many cars until we reached the end of the freeway. Cindy said several times that a lot of these cars must be going to the marathon, why else would they be out on the road at 4:00? As we exited the freeway, I knew she was onto something because nearly everyone was making the same turn toward the school and the car in front had a license plate frame that said, "I'd rather be running." The temperature registering on my display panel of the car was not encouraging: 57 degrees! At some locations it went down to 54, but still much warmer than I would have hoped.

P554.jpg I had a plastic bag with Gatorade, fig newtons (some in two sandwich bags that I would carry with me to eat during the race), the race info, and a sweat shirt and sweat pants. Before the start of the race you can get your bib number marked on the bag, turn it in ,and they'll have it for you at the finish line. I would be bagging all my sweat gear since I'm always immediately warm. Other runners will bring older clothing to wear during the earlier, colder stages of the run and discard them as they go. Any clothing discarded along the race route is considered a donation to charity.

As the bus left the parking lot of the school, you could see cars backed up for nearly half a mile waiting to enter the school! I was glad to have been there early. It was still very dark and I actually tried to rest, trying not to think too much about the ordeal to come.

You probably shouldn't refer to your upcoming marathon as "the ordeal to come."


I think the worst part a marathon is this long bus ride to the starting area. It was dark and my thoughts were filled with what's to come and really hoping it would just get underway. The bus stopped well short of the staging area and an official stepped in to announce that we would have to get off here (there was not enough room for the buses to turn around) and walk almost a half mile to the staging area. The actual starting line was approximately where the bus was stopped to let us off. The staging area was a large gravel parking area for the park and they had set out at least 30 of those blue port-a-potty restrooms. The lines for these were so terrible that many people were braving the dark desert, avoiding a lot of cactus, to relieve themselves. And you have to go because you've drank enough to drown a fish because it's important to be fully hydrated.

At any marathon you'll find an incredible number of port-a-potties at the starting line and lines at least a dozen deep. Seasoned marathoners are not shy and will find alternative facilities that may not be very private.  So if you don't want to see something you'll regret, keep your eyes on the ground!


At 5:00 I found Ron, Nicole, and her friend Julie. They and many others stayed huddled together because Usery Park is higher and away from the concrete that keeps nighttime temperatures high here in Phoenix. But it was the wind that was making it just a bit chilly. I knew the wind would probably die down with sunrise, but even if it didn't it was blowing in the direction of our run. Otherwise it was very disconcerting to be just sitting around with an hour and a half to go. Can I say this is the worst part of a marathon? It was also disconcertedly quiet for the number of people.  You could hear conversations going on here and there, but everyone kept their voices down, almost reminiscent of a wake.   I wished we could get started now when it was still relatively cool, but it did mostly take my mind off of how warm it might get in the run. Staying warm became easier as more and more arrived via the buses, providing body heat and shielding from the wind. Nearly 2000 were signed up and looking around it looked like everyone showed up. Only runners were allowed here. I noticed a lot of runners wearing their tee shirts from 10K and marathons past. I can hardly remember what we talked about for the next hour. My mind was virtually numb thinking about the run.  

At 6:00 an announcer gave the instruction that everyone should start moving toward the starting line a half mile back down the road. There was decidedly little movement! Everyone figured they had a lot of time left so why the hurry? Eventually the announcer started saying, "I don't want to treat you like cattle, but, ‘‘Mmmmooooooowwwww!!" He used that several times and I think he was on to something. We all started what I can only refer to as the "walk of death," a slow motion movement toward the starting line like a heard of cattle being lead to slaughter.

At the starting line area it was still dark, but you could see the light of dawn spilling over the side of the mountains and the wind was noticeably calmer. They had temporary generator lights that provided ample visibility but the one thing we could not see was the starting line. The reason: it wasn't set up yet! At 6:25 was supposedly the wheelchair start (they move incredibly quickly as the course starts downhill so they'll be well out of everyone's way - or more accurately should I say we won't be in their way), but that was obviously delayed. It didn't seem like there were more than 5 entries in the wheelchair event and I wasn't aware when that group took off. These minutes just before the gun must be the worst part of the marathon. I wish I could get going! At 6:30 the starting banner appeared and they started hooking up the carpet sensor. We were all lined up sort of jockeying for position. The etiquette is to line up with the group of people who are going at your pace, the fastest to the front. As the time went past 6:30 I was now wondering where the guy with the megaphone was. I was joking that we should all start saying, ‘‘Mmmmooooooowwwww!!"

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