Gonna Make You Sweat: My First Arizona Road Racers Summer Series

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I’m as fit as I’ve ever been in August.

This revelation came the day that I finished the last of five races in the Arizona Road Racers Summer Series, “the Valley’s one and only summer race series.” Included were four 5Ks and one 4-miler, spanning May 25 to Aug. 11.

I signed up thinking it was a great way to stay active during the summer, when I usually join the rest of the Phoenicians under a collective rock. Most important, my continued training would take me through my 20-year high school reunion at the end of July. (Read: I’d be in the peak physical condition requisite for gloating around my classmates.)

It all seemed simple enough.

In fact, coming off my best season of running yet—during which I set PRs at 5k, 4.2 miles (Pat’s Run), 15k, half-marathon and marathon—I set some fairly simple, yet aggressive goals.

Goals Before the Series

  • Have fun.
  • Train properly.
  • Set a PR.
  • Break 22:00 (stretch).

Nice, right?

Although I follow the schedule-friendly Furman University FIRST training program for my halfs and fulls, I wasn’t sure where to begin for quicker 5k times. I decided to keep my three-day-a-week training program, only faster paces over shorter distances.

Hoo boy, did that plan ever suck wind.

What I failed to consider was the unrelenting, unforgiving Phoenix summer weather. (Um, how could I forget?) When the overnight low is 89 degrees, you can be sure that it’s already going to be low-90s for your crack-of-dawn loop around the neighborhood.

I was used to training in 30–50 degrees, not 80–100. And it makes a BIG difference. So much so that I had to cut some of my speedwork days short, and then I abandoned that day altogether. The most humbling day was my first weekend “long” run of 5 miles. I hit a wall at mile 2. (Wha?!)

For the first 5k race, I ran with a friend, who was also out of practice. We both shot for around 25:00. I was OK with my 25:25, but not OK with how much I struggled to get there.

After a similar result in my second 5k race (25:14), and with my inability to do speedwork effectively or finish a 3-mile training run, I decided to revise my goals.

Goals During the Series

  • Train as much as you can.
  • Don’t walk during the race.
  • Finish every race.
  • Try to have fun, OK?

Also nice.

Races 3 and 4 were similar to 1 and 2. In fact, they were the closest together of any of the races (10 days), so I went for all of zero runs in between. But you know what? I was OK with that.

Then, in the last raceafter a cruel, cruel summer—something strange happened. I went and very nearly beat my PR! I don’t think I would have done so well had the course been flat. The first half climbed up a road heading to South Mountain trailheads (low 8:00 miles), and the second half coasted back down (low 7:00 miles!). Regardless of the climb, I had a fantastic race. I started strong and finished much stronger. It was a perfect ending to the summer series.

In the end, I ran almost 100 miles in 15 weeks this summer, with no run longer than 5 miles. That’s some serious calorie burn! I am so glad I signed up for the ARR Summer Series and found the time and the motivation to train for it.

» What About You?
Do you have a tried-and-true 5k training program? Leave a comment below!

3 thoughts on “Gonna Make You Sweat: My First Arizona Road Racers Summer Series

  1. Thanks for this, Matt. It’s about 15 degrees here in NY, but as I’m reading about your summer races in the Valley of the Sun, I was starting to feel overheated. The 5K is my least favorite distance, but I think the key to racing a fast one is fairly simple: You have to get on the track and train fast. When I set my 5K p.r., some years ago, I trained with my buddy Mike, a very fast runner, and followed him on seemingly endless repeats of 400 and 800 meters. These, plus, of course, the longer runs like you were doing. My goal was to break 18 minutes. I had been knocking on the door for a couple years prior. I had a target race in mind for my big attempt at sub-18, and about a month prior Mike and I decided to do a tune up 5K to see where we were at. To my shock and surprise, I ran 17:40. And I have not run another serious 5K since! :)

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