I ran the California International Marathon (CIM) last Sunday on 12/8.
Here are some notes and reflections.
The course is point to point that starts in Folsom, CA and ends by the state capital building in downtown Sacramento. I’ve never been to this city and truthfully, I really enjoyed my brief visit.
The number one reason I liked Sacramento is because nearly every single person I interacted with seemed genuinely really ‘nice’. From the shuttle bus driver, waitress at the breakfast dive to three different people I passed as I slowly limped back to my hotel from the finish who said “congrats” or ‘way to go’. Both to and from the airport, 4 or 5 others in the shuttle, and especially the driver, just chatted like we knew each other. Such a simple, basic, positive experience.
One note about Folsom. I saw the HUGE damn but not the prison. Sorry Mr. Cash.
Another note about the downtown area of Sacramento is that its is compact, very walkable and holds dozens of 100+ year stately old Victorian-ish homes probably left over from all the money that flooded into town related to the gold discovered at nearby Sutter’s mill.
Race day began at 2:15am. Yeah, I know that is an INSANE time to get up but it really doesn’t matter what time I get up on a race day because I haven’t slept much. Truthfully, I hadn’t slept well in several days. I might have gotten about 2 hours of sleep Saturday night but I wasn’t really worried.
My morning pre race routine consisted of:
- eat 3-4 hours before the starting gun at 7am. Today, I would have more time since I had a long bus ride. I consumed a small yogurt with granola, bagel with peanut butter and jelly, and banana
- drink about 16 ounces of water and bit of OJ
- get dressed. For most of the race I’d wear my Marathon Maniac shirt, shorts, calf sleeves, gloves, fuel belt and jogging cap. Add a performance long sleeve on top for the first few miles. And for the bus add sweat pants, heavy shirt, fleece jacket.
- Pop a few Ibuprofen (3)
- drink an alkali-seltzer
- apply Petroleum jelly liberally. I joined club 11 once and never, never again.
- went outside for a short 10 minute jog to help get the digestion moving.
- last but certainly not least important, clean the pipes. Today it didn’t happen at the hotel but mission accomplished before the gun.
I walked out of the hotel about 4:45am. Only needed to go around the corner to the location of the (school) bus pick up. This was in front of the host hotel. I ran inside to use a non porta-potty one last time. Came back outside and the line to get on the buses was at least 3 blocks long. Luckily, it moved pretty quick.
Oh, I haven’t mentioned the weather. Sacramento was having a near record LOW, it was about 28 degrees when I boarded the bus. When I arrived at Folsom, it was 26. Likely, the entire race would be below freezing. I had not completed a single training run in temperature below 32 degrees. Add that to the long list of things to worry about.
Speaking of the weather, though cold there was no rain/snow/sleet and just a light breeze. I felt lucky.
I chose this race because of the date, the course itself and the location. After the tunnel marathon in July, I wanted at least 18 weeks to ‘fully’ train for the next race. Since I wanted to attempt a Boston Qualifier (BQ), I searched for a mostly flat, overall downhill with a few rolling hills course. CIM is nearly an ideal course for these requirement. You don’t want the course to be too flat, because having some short, rolling hills exercises different leg muscles. And lastly, I prefer races geographically close to save $, usually within driving distance but this 1.5hr flight wasn’t too expensive.
My “plan” was to hang back, stay behind the 3:25 pace group but keep their sign in site. The pace leader runs holding a red sign with “3:25”. The pace groups normally run pretty close to even splits and the target or magic number was 7:48 pace per mile to come in under 3:25(hour) to eaern the BQ.
I think about 10,000 runners lined up on the dark and COLD city street, somewhere in Folsom. This number included about one thousand marathon relay team members. The gun sounded right at 7am and we were off, slowly. I was in the first quarter of the field, since you are ‘supposed’ to line up by expected finishing time but the road was crowded. The street was physically nearly full. Actually, that was ok with me because the start goes downhill and I didn’t want to run that first mile too fast, maybe 8:00 pace.
The first few miles was a struggle because I debated with myself the entire time if I should stop and retie my right shoe. (no joke). It was a bit lose and I was concerned my foot might slide around and start a blister. A reason not to tie it is that during a race you feet swell so I knew at some point the shoe would no longer feel loose. And it was only a bit loose but just enough to worry about it. I decided not to stop.
These early miles also were a struggle because it took about two miles to stop shivering. As long as I kept running, I wasn’t worried about the temperature. Until I entered the first water station.
As hundreds of runners grabbed water/power ad and tried to keep moving, a bit of spillage will happen. And what happens when that liquid hits the ground and its 26 degrees….. Yup, there were dangerous ice patches all around the water stations. And it was dark so you couldn’t really see them. I didn’t see anyone go down but numerous runners and volunteers were screaming, “ice, watch out for the ice.” I did hit one patch and slid but didn’t go down.
Concerning my race strategy, the day before the race, I attended the CIM Expo to listen to a group of runners discuss race strategy. They broke the course into four segments:
- (mile) 1-7
During the first segment, they suggested just try to relax, and spend as little emotional and physical energy as possible. Don’t let the crowd of runners bother you, this will thin out by the half way point. I tried to run smooth or glide, running light on my feet and keep my head clear. Not worrying too much about what I knew was coming. Drink and fuel as you planned. The end of this segment, I felt good, my calf muscles were not too tight and the nerves disappeared. Running on target pace.
During the second phase, the experts said find and maintain your running form. Get into the ‘rhythm’ of the run. Again, make sure you follow your drinking and fueling plan, even if not thirsty. As before, I tried to run smooth and even. I ditched my long sleeve shirt at the half way (13.1). Unfortunately, about mile 8 or 9 both calf muscles tightened. This was a concern.
Half way point, clock read 1:41, still running at target pace.
Segment three, things get tough. The experts said remain loose, focus on getting to mile 20. Mission critical, must drink and fuel since your body only naturally store enough energy to get to about 16-18 miles. Also, the mental aspect of the race emerges. As the physically strain on my legs increased I begin to talk to myself to ‘hold pace’, ‘run smooth,’ and “this is your day!” This segment is where many will hit THE WALL. Memories flooded in from last October when hit the Wall HARD by mile 19, in Victoria. Again, using positive mantras, kept telling myself, “just hold pace until 20 miles, just get to 20 miles.”
As I first glimpsed the 20 mile sign, still on target pace.
Segment four, this is where the race really starts. This is what I’d been worrying about for days if not weeks. If you hit the wall and run out of gas, it is such a helpless feeling, on top of all the pain. To hold pace, my mental strength must carry me just 6 more miles. Six miles, that is just two laps around Green Lake. And I’d run that loop literally a hundred times.
I’m tired, my legs are heavy, and both calf muscles are gripped like a fist. I once read an article about running marathons that said, “your marathon time isn’t determined by how fast you run but how much you slow down.” And during this segment, the vast majority of runners will slow down. Mile 21 and 22 were tough and I found myself further behind the pace group then I’d like. I could still read the pace sign but I needed to be physically close to the remaining members of the pack to feed off their energy and hear the pace leader’s instructions. The last (minor) hill is crossing a bridge and that minor 50 yard uphill slog slowed me to a near shuffle. But on the down slope, I picked the pace back up and fell back into the tail of the pace group.
By mile 23, I could now see the downtown buildings. I told myself there was NO WAY I was going to slow down now, after holding pace for 23 miles. The crowds on the street drastically increased and their cheers of support helped tremendously.
By mile 25, for the first time, I caught and ran right beside the pace leader, most the pack had put the hammer down and surged ahead. I spoke with “Charlie” for a few sentences and he said he was about 15 seconds ahead of pace and urged me to push it, give it all I got so I (slowly) picked up the pace and moved ahead of him.
The finish line is a blur although I do remember as I approached it, two runners were just feet ahead of me. I pushed my pace all the way across the timing mats, looked up and noticed the official time displaying 3:24:(something).
My chip time was 3:24:29. I beat the 3:25 cut off by 31 secrets. I qualified for Boston!!!!!