Training for Chicago with Andrea, Carrie, Russell and Julianne was an amazing experience. Working towards a shared goal with friends with a fun vacation weekend in addition to the race was the perfect way to cap off months of hard work.
I was looking forward to repeating the experience in New York, with what remained of my fitness from Chicago, I signed up for Richmond and ran the time qualifier (beating my previous half PR by 10 minutes) but was disappointed to find out my qualification was declined. Meanwhile the training group dissolved as Julianne and Russell had new additions to their families, Carrie set her focus on Houston and likewise Andrea’s focus on Boston.
Around the same time I met Erin and she introduced me to several of her friends including a Catherine and Tyler. Catherine entered California International Marathon as a beginning to a week vacation in Northern California. Motivated by my Chicago experience, I signed up shortly afterwards. Unable to get entry into Chicago, Erin followed.
Erin shared her training plan for Marine Corps Marathon. Catherine’s husband, Chris, offered to modify some of the workouts to keep the plan from becoming monotonous. The four of us met over coffee and discussed goals. Much like Chicago, with two much stronger training partners, I felt completely in over my head!
I took most of July off to allow a tendinitis in my foot to heal and started back up after a 3 week work trip to Honolulu. Luckily, if you avoid the Loco Moco, Hawaiian food is fairly healthy and I avoided putting a lot of weight from eating restaurant food every meal.
Chris wanted us up to 50 miles by the beginning of September. Starting at 0, I had my work cut out for me! August weeks went like 17, 33, 43, and 47 when the first week of plan arrived.
The first two weeks were a struggle as the mileage pushed into the 60s. If it wasn’t for Kari Smith with Run Raleigh, I would have broke down quickly. A few weeks of mileage building gave way to track and tempo workouts with long runs and pace miles in the final third of the plan. Somehow, I was able to hold on for most of the workouts, in part reminding myself, “if there is a sub-3 in me, this is your best chance of finding it!” Even more unbelievable, towards the end, the 6:40 target pace for the marathon started to feel easy. What?!
Sadly, Erin struggled with injury and decided not to race, however she and Cameron sent us off with care packages loaded with goodies for during and after the race!
CIM is a point to point race from Fulsom to Sacramento, mostly through a few neighborhoods then urban streets. We boarded the bus to the start at 4:45am, and the convoy of school buses left for the start at 5am. It didn’t feel as early because we were still on east coast time but the drunken Saturday night revelry on the street outside the hotel made for a somewhat sleepless night.
When we arrived at the start, a race representative stepped abort the bus and gave directions to everything, no wandering around confused like other big races. This level of organization held true for the entire event. The race advertises “the best portajohn to runner ratio of any major race” and to their word, the lines were very quick. We didn’t take advantage of it, but the buses stayed parked if anyone wanted to go back to stay warm.
The starting area was on both sides of a median-divided road. In the pre-race fog of confusion, most of the runners lined up on the right side of the road behind the male elites on the right side of the road. After we did a short mile jog to warm up (a first time for me before running a marathon!), we were able to easily walk to the front on the left side of the road to the barrier behind the female elites.
The race starts off on a gradual downhill, which made it easy to come up to pace. The course generally followed the American River to the Sacramento River, but far enough inland that you ran in and out of valleys. There were a few groups out cheering and music which provided a boost but the crowds were generally small early in the race.
The 3 hour pace group was directly behind us for the first few miles. I was hoping to lose them to avoid getting swallowed up in the chaos but held to our pacing plan. Fortunately they were gone by the 10k point.
The Bull City Track Club singlet proved to be a great conversion starter and we ended up in a group of 6-7 runners with Triangle connections. Most of the discussion was about restaurants, which made me realize that I don’t get out nearly enough to take advantage of the great food in the area!
We passed through the small town of Fair Oaks and had a few quick turns and the steepest uphill of the course, mile 13 began the “middle miles” section of the course with many large groups out cheering and bands playing. The energy of the crowd provided an antidote from the sense of endlessness that sets in (at least for me) during that part of the race.
Mile 15 was the mental low point in the race for me as we passed through long rows of strip malls. Flat started to feel like uphill. Thoughts of dropping back crept into my head. The theme of mile 15 was “you owe it to your training partner, you owe it to yourself, you’ve worked hard for this day, KEEP GOING!” Luckily that soon passed and a little downhill restored my legs. We caught up with Rita whose race strategy was to start much harder in anticipation of fading later.
Catherine’s plan was to start accelerating at mile 20. Given my problems late in the race, I decided to wait to mile 22 after the bridge over the American river. Catherine edged away as I held steady. Mile 22 brought the bridge and a spin class lined up cheering runners over the bridge! After the bridge the numbered streets and countdown to 8th st began.
Throughout the race we encountered a many visually impaired athletes running with guides, which is not unusual, but I was surprised to see so any this far in front. Some of them were very fast, Mike Wardian was at the race pacing a paraolympian Chaz Davis to a 2:31 finish!
During this part of the race, there was a guy behind me announcing the pace. Like every 15 seconds. 6:30. 6:40. 6:45. 6:25. In part it was annoying in the way that everything becomes annoying when you’re tired. In part it was helpful knowing that I was still on pace without looking at my watch. I (mentally) forgave the nuisance believing that he was pacing a blind runner.
Mile 23-24 brought the first cramps in my right calf along with the blisters on my right foot. I knew I had to just keep moving. I locked up my foot and sped up my turnover, still unable to push off, my pace gradually dropped to 7:15. I spent the last hour hoping to lose him, but not this way! It turns out he was not a visual guide after all. He was just announcing the pace out loud. over and over and over for his friend.
Passing the Capital, the cheering was incredible! It was almost sensory overload but propelled me to the finish! I crossed the line at 2:56:32, a 10 minute improvement over my PR in Chicago!
- Hydration, drank every time I got up at night (admittedly twice), no further liquids 3hrs before start time
- Stop at goodwill before the race for throwaway clothing. XL was large enough to stretch over my legs waiting for the race to start
- Huma gels about every 6 mi
- Stryd footpod kept fairly accurate pace calibrated at 0.98. Don’t use the averaging app, it always reads from the GPS even when set for use footpod for pace.
- Disable auto-lap and click off the miles manually for accurate pace.
What didn’t work:
- Still calf cramping problems. I did a few plyometric drills during training but not regularly, maybe more exercises for strengthening? Maybe the easy runs were too easy if my gait changes and not exercising my calves enough? I had no cramping problems in Chicago where the easy runs were in the 7:40-7:50s
- Residence Inn was a great hotel for the race, next time request an inside (odd numbered) room because of traffic noise)