The Sacramento Running Association, who host the big California International Marathon (CIM), decided to put on a new event this year. They timed this race so that it was about 4 weeks from the CIM. They called it a “training race” because they had a 20-miler, in addition to a half marathon distance and a 5K. For many marathon plans, a 20 mile training run is recommended anywhere from 3-4 weeks from race day and some plans call for more than one 20-miler. The race also benefits the American River Parkway Foundation. Since I live near the parkway I utilize it on a weekly basis for one or even a few of my runs. I figured that it would be good to give back to this great resource. As I am not training for CIM, I signed up for the half marathon (they had an option to change between the half marathon and 20-mile distance for free at the packet pickup). When I signed up for the race I flirted with the idea of bumping up to the 20-miler but with my lack of proper long distance training I stuck with the half marathon.
Packet pickup was at the usual Fleet Feet in midtown Sacramento. I had some errands to do beforehand so couldn’t make it to packet pickup until the mid afternoon. The store was quiet and pickup was quick. I realized this was a very no frills race as I literally was given a bib and a shirt and that’s it. I’m used to at least a few other things to pickup like some other race flyers and such but this was barebones. Being the inaugural race, I wonder also if they just weren’t putting a ton into the race like some other races (the CIM has a huge race expo at the Sacramento convention center). The other slightly odd thing about this race is that it was being held on a Saturday. I’ve done a few Saturday races but not usually half marathon distances. I actually liked this because it would give me Sunday to recuperate before having to go back to work on Monday.
I had my usual pre-race pizza the night before. We got a large combo pizza from a local place called Roma II (we haven’t actually been to the original Roma but have had Roma II a few times). We also got a side order of some meatballs (not pictured).
Then it was an early night for bed (which the wife enjoyed especially because she was feeling a bit under the weather). I slept well and woke up early at 3:40 am. I need some time in the mornings to get my stuff together (breakfast, bano, bano, bano). Surprisingly this was the second straight race that I’ve slept fairly well. Prior to these last 2, I almost always have a restless night of sleep and then get up. I do wonder also if it has to do with the fact these last 2 were “home” races and I slept in my own bed. Or maybe it has to do with the fact that this was half marathon #18 and I’m just getting used to it finally. Either way I’m happy with being able to sleep before a race.
Since the start/finish of the race was at the familiar to me William Pond park and this is also where the start/finish was for the 2 half marathons I’ve done previously (American River Parkway Half Marathon), I was quite familiar with the parking situation. After parking in the neighborhood by the park, I trekked into the park in search of the porta-potties. They weren’t set up as well as I thought but since I arrived about 40 minutes before the start time, the lines were still short for the porta-potties. It is quite hard to use when it is super dark outside and inside the porta-potties. People were using their cell phone flashlights as well as the better equipped who had headlamps. The race officials understandably pushed the race start time from 7 am to 7:10 am so there was some more light on the trail. Just prior to the start, the race people played a recording of the National Anthem – with recorded cheering and everything. People were chuckling with the cheering that was from the recording. And then we were off.
Immediately after the start, we crossed a long foot bridge that took us over the American River. We’d also cross this bridge at the 13th mile just before finishing back at the starting line.
The first few miles were run in the pre-sunrise haze and fog. It was quite beautiful and peaceful. This section of the river trail is quite remote with the river on one side and fields on the other side. I’m used to running in the area of the river trail that is relatively close to civilization (roads, buildings, other people). I don’t know how comfortable I’d be running in that part of the river by myself. But it was pretty and peaceful.
Eventually we made our way off the river trail and did a very short stint in a small neighborhood. Essentially we went through one exit on the trail and made our way about 2 streets over and onto the entrance of another part of the trail. At this point, the trail was not paved and was more packed dirt and gravel, with a few areas of unevenness. Eventually we made our way east and back onto paved roads. And then at some point we hit a turnaround and came back the way we started. I continued with my 4 minute running, 1 minute walking at an average total pace of about 10 min/mile. Throughout miles 4-10 I continued to feel good. I took a GU gel around mile 6. I picked up another gel around mile 7 and then took my 2nd gel around the 10 mile mark.
Overall I continued to feel good for the race and coasted into the finish line. I didn’t do a crazy sprint like I often do with the last 0.1 miles. I actually stopped a few times in the 12-13 mile range to get some good pics.
At the finish line, I picked up a banana, half a donut and had a beer. I went with the Erdinger because the Shipyard beer was an IPA and I thought that was a bit alcohol heavy for post-race.
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.
Christmas tree in front of the Capitol
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.
That free hat that I received for the 2013 race? It served me very well. It was one of two hats that I used on a regular basis for training races. Over the last 3 years I used the hat on hundreds of runs. However, as with most good things, my time with the hat came to an end when I was washing it one day and ripped through it. Much of the previous sweat absorbing material had already come out so I knew it was on its way out. But this was the last straw.
On my run on Friday morning I was stung by a bee. About a mile into my run I felt something land on the back of my hat. I used my left hand to swipe at it thinking it was a fly. I felt a sharp pain on the inside of my left ring finger. When I looked at the finger, I didn’t see a stinger as I expected. The pain continued though seemed to subside to a little bit of a throb. I’ve been stung about 3 times prior to this so hoped that I wouldn’t have a severe anaphylactic reaction as I know can happen when you’re stung for a second time. Usually the first sting is a freebie but sensitizes your immune system. That 2nd sting is when the body mounts an overwhelming allergic reaction causing people’s throats to swell and people to not be able to breathe. Since I was only at mile 1 and planned to do at least 5-7, I figured I’d keep running and see what happened (I don’t recommend this to others). I could see a small round white area on my finger, probably where I was stung. Overall aside from some pain in my finger, I felt overall fine so finished my 5 miler. To be safe, I took an anti-histamine after I arrived home. The pain dissipated but then the itchiness began. The entire inside part of my left ring finger was itchy. There was also some mild redness. This continued for the next 48 hours. My wife looked up some things and suggested I take my wedding ring off because it was tight on that finger and actually trapping the histamines I think. Once I moved the ring to my other hand, the itchiness subsided almost instantaneously. Lesson from this run is that if something lands on you during a run, let it be as it will almost 100% leave on its own without causing any problems. I feel bad though if it was a bee because bees die after they sting something.
We’ve been having some great weather for Sacramento. It’s been in the 80s here and so has allowed me to get some good runs in. This morning I did either my last run or second to last run with my good friend KP. She’s moving to Portland in August for work. She will be missed. We were just in Portland and I still need to post an update on that trip – it was a blast.
There’s a new race coming to Sacramento. This one will be a 20 miler, half marathon, 5K, and untimed 3K. The host organization is the Sacramento Running Association (SRA). This is the same group that puts on the California International Marathon, which I ran in 2013 (race recap yet to be published). I think I may sign up for the half marathon and consider switching over to the 20 miler if I’m at that stage of training. Check it out here: http://runtheparkway.org/