The California International Marathon is my hometown marathon race. At the time I ran this race, the CIM was the only full road marathon in the Sacramento region. Since I did this race in 2013 another full marathon started last year (Pony Express Marathon). Perennially the CIM is ranked as one of the fastest marathons in the west and a great Boston Qualifier race. I decided to run this race with KP as my 2nd full marathon. After my 2011 race where I finished 3 minutes over 5 hours, I wanted to give it another shot and see if I could break the 5 hour mark. Given my half marathon times fell between 1:55 and 2:15 regularly, I figured that breaking the 5 hour mark should definitely be doable for me. The other big selling point that most magazines and web sites tout for this race is that it is a net downhill race. When you look at the elevation profile for the course it is true, though not many mention the rolling hills that you experience through various parts of the course. The other neat thing I like about the race is that you actually run through 6 different cities from start to finish (Folsom -> Orangevale -> Citrus Heights -> Fair Oaks -> Carmichael -> Sacramento).
The Expo for this race is held at the Sacramento Convention Center, located in downtown Sacramento. Unlike the majority of other races (the various half marathons and 5Ks) where packet pickup is at Fleet Feet and is a relatively small affair, the CIM Expo is a true race expo with a lot of various vendors and other races set up in a large open space. One of the strangest and coolest things about the Expo was the booth from one of the sponsors, Erdinger Weissbrau. You might think it strange that a German beer company is a big sponsor of a marathon and I thought the same. Erdinger actually has branched into the endurance drink market with their Erdinger Alkoholfrei (alcohol-free). While they always say don’t try anything new the day before a big race, I had to try this. It tasted somewhat like beer but without the alcohol. I don’t know that it is something I’d drink regularly but it is nice that its something that is like beer but doesn’t have the alcohol to dehydrate you.
The night before the race, my alma mater Michigan State played in the Big Ten Championship game in football. I had every intention of heading to bed early to try and get some hours of sleep before the race. I knew that I’d be getting up super early to prep for the early start (7 am start time, though it’d take us at least an hour to get to the start). It was a very close game that wasn’t decided until the late fourth quarter, which also meant that I ended up staying up later than I anticipated. My pre-race meal, as per usual, was pizza. As per usual before a big race, I didn’t sleep restfully and was up by something like 2:20 am. I had some GI disturbances that made me question whether or not I’d even be able to do the race. I worked out some issues in the restroom and before I knew it, KP was at the door. My lovely wife graciously offered to drive us to the starting area (as opposed to going downtown and hopping on a bus to the start line).
The course is a point to point starting in Folsom (right near the Folsom Lake). Folsom is known for its prison and Johnny Cash. I guess Johnny Cash did some concerts there for the inmates. There is actually a half marathon called the Folsom Blues Half in honor of the Man In Black. The drop off point for the race still required that we hop on a bus for a short (5 minutes) ride to the starting area. At the drop off point – in front of a strip mall – I had to relieve myself so ran into the McDonald’s. I wasn’t the only one to think of this as there were already 3-4 guys ahead of me in line. After finishing and meeting back up with KP, we boarded the bus. From there we had to walk another 1/4 mile or so to the start. Along this walk, there was a table set up in front of an apartment complex that had various gels and other items with a sign that they were free. I thought it was nice that this individual had set up a table to provide some goodies for runners. I grabbed a Gu to go with the ones I already carried (for this race I was using Tri-Berry Gu).
Race day proved to be a cold one. Most people don’t think of the cold weather we experience here in Sacramento. Yes, we are known for heat and hot summers but our winters can get cold as well. Race morning started at 25 F, which is probably the coldest I’ve felt since living here (having lived in the midwest for 8 years, this wasn’t too terribly cold though it had been years since I lived in such cold). I thought that it would warm up over the course of the race, but the temperature when I finished at noon was hovering around 32 F. I had an old long sleeve t-shirt that I planned on wearing over my technical t-shirt. I figured that once I was warm, I’d ditch it on the road. The race said all collected clothes from the course would be donated to a shelter so at least that was something. I also had some wind-breaker pants that I had over my shorts and planned on taking off before the race started so I could put the pants in my gear check.
Since we arrived at the start about an hour before the race start and it was below freezing, KP and I were looking for ways to stay warm. I actually had joined the SRA (Sacramento Running Association) that year and had access to their warmed tent and bathrooms but I felt bad because KP wasn’t and I’d have to leave her in the cold (literally). Some people had elected to camp out in a nearby gas station convenience store. We walked in and stayed for awhile but it was getting pretty crowded and I’m sure the store manager wasn’t too happy about it. We then moved over to a strip mall and there was another convenience store that we stayed in for a short while. Finally it was getting close to start so we used the porta-potties. I liked the porta-potty setup because there were banks of them but spread in various side streets so not everyone was crowded in one area trying to use the restroom. This also allowed for more numerous shorter lines rather than a few very long lines (I think this is much more efficient). We dropped our stuff (gear check) off with the big trucks and lined up with the group ~4:45 marathon pace. 7 am (start time) came and went and nothing happened, but then all of a sudden we were off! Since this was a larger race (though still not super large at like 4-6,000 marathoners plus relay racers, there is no half-marathon component to this race), the beginning was a bit congested. This actually worked for me since I didn’t want to start too fast as I tend to do with shorter races.
The beginning miles start in a somewhat rural residential area. What I mean by that is that most properties have a fair amount of land. The house is usually set back from the street and many people had some livestock in the yard (horses, chickens, goats). As we came up to the first few water stations, we noted that there may be a bit of an issue with the temperatures and the water stations.
I noticed that people were slowing down considerably leading up to the water station. Normally I expect people to move to the side of the street as they slow down but everyone seemed to be doing it. As we came closer, we could see why. The runners that already went through often drank the water/sport drink and then tossed the rest (many times in the street). The cold weather actually froze this water on the ground creating large patches of slick ice. I actually watched two people who had slowed to a walk actually fall on their butts! From here on out I told KP that we should probably walk through the water stations. She agreed. I definitely had a few episodes where I almost ate it.
We then traversed through Citrus Heights and more standard homes and then into the city of Fair Oaks. Two of my (at the time) co-workers lived in the area along the route and I did actually get to see them and say Hi! One of them snapped a picture as we ran by.
I was still feeling pretty good at that time but it was only around mile 9-10. I still hadn’t warmed up and wasn’t sure if I actually would. As we wound through Fair Oaks, there were a few sections of up and down hills that definitely slowed me down. I did stop here to use a porta-potty really quick (maybe 30-45 seconds). I was overall still feeling good as we came to the halfway point. By then we were mostly running through a more urban area (strip malls and bigger grocery stores and other businesses lining the street). There were definitely some good crowds. It was also here that I decided that even though the temperatures were still cold, I was going to ditch my long sleeve t-shirt. I tossed it somewhere in Carmichael and continued along. KP and I luckily have similar paces so ran together, sometimes in silence, sometimes chatting about things. I definitely appreciate having someone who runs a similar pace and it’s nice to just have someone to share the experience with.
As we made it more towards where I live and the 18-20 mile area, I definitely started to feel the fatigue. I had not actually done a 20-miler in anticipation of this race and only made it to 18 miles on my longest run. My training had also been in much warmer weather (unusually hot weather in Sept-Nov leading up to the race). I told KP that I didn’t know if I could keep running and may need to take a walk break. She urged me to dig down and just keep at it. I managed to continue at least at a jog and we passed through “The Wall” at mile 20. There’s a real estate office at this spot and kudos to them for being festive. They had an inflatable “wall” that you could run through along with a lot of people out just partying in the area. That gave me a little bit of a push as we continued to wind closer to downtown and the finish.
Around mile 21 and crossing the H street bridge (metal bridge with some incline), I couldn’t maintain my jog/run. I slowed down. KP initially saw this and turned around to get me. We continued on at a very slow pace for awhile but I urged her to keep going since she was still feeling good.
The last time I saw her before re-uniting was around mile 22-23 in East Sacramento. East Sacramento is nice because it is tree-lined with beautiful houses. I drive through a lot to get to downtown so was familiar with the area, but it definitely has a different vibe when you’re running through its streets. As I entered the eastern side of downtown (midtown), I started to cramp. I had been walking since around mile 22. My quads started to seize up and became rock hard. I tried to massage them a bit and after a few minutes they’d start to ease a little. Then I’d try running but could only go for about 20-40 seconds before they’d seize up again. With the taller buildings, there was also no sun and it was getting really chilly (especially since I was walking).
As I made my way through midtown and the businesses, I could see people at restaurants having brunch and enjoying themselves. Of course I asked myself why I put myself through this. I also figured I was depleted on nutrition so took whatever people were handing out at this point (I had gone through maybe 5 GUs up to this point). One person handed me an orange quarter which I ate. Another person had some twizzlers and I took this as well. I continued mostly walking with a few short spurts of jogging. Eventually I made my way down near the Capitol building. You run down L street along the side of the Capitol and past it, then hook around the come back towards its front. This race was also interesting because there are actually 2 different finisher’s chutes. I hadn’t experienced this before. After making a left on 8th street, the women’s finish turned left again much sooner than the men’s. By this time I managed to get some energy together and was actually running. I crossed the finish line and felt a huge relief. Luckily they had some space blankets and I picked up some water and chocolate milk and sports drink. I found KP, who had finished about 15 minutes before I did and we got our gear check bags so we could put on some warm clothes.
The finish area is at the steps of the Capitol and there were a ton of people (family, friends, finishers) strewn about either stretching or eating. KP and I took a pic and then went to find some food. The food area was actually a ways from the finish line but they had some warm soup and bread (provided by Whole Foods), along with bagels and such. I wasn’t particularly hungry but ate some food and kept the soup.
My wife was again kind enough to come get us but with the road closures we actually ended up walking something like 10-15 blocks before she picked us up. It was probably good though to do that walking after the race.
It was only after I was done for awhile that I checked my official chip time and then realized that I missed the sub-5 hour marathon by 4 seconds. 4 seconds!! That finish has definitely been a strong influence on my continuing to pursue the marathon distance. I know I won’t ever be fast, but I at least would like to do a sub-5 hour marathon at some point.
Chip Time: 5:00:03 (marathon PR)