I did it! Successfully (mostly) completed my fourth full marathon. I am currently recovering from a hard effort. I’ll have a separate post about our time in Carmel that is unrelated to the actual marathon itself.
Let’s start with the race expo. We drove down from Sac on Friday late morning and went straight to the Portola Hotel, where the race expo was being held. We had the dog with us so I didn’t get to explore the expo too much on Friday but went back Saturday morning to get a better idea. I had read on other blogs that the expo is typically fairly small for a major marathon and they were correct. Packet pickup was very smooth. The organizers were great in sending out emails prior to the weekend letting me know my bib number since that was what you needed to get your bib. Because there is only one way to get to the race start, I also had to pick up a bus ticket (free) from my pickup location (which was in the heart of Carmel). There were about 4-5 different areas of pickup for the full marathon. After grabbing my bib and bus ticket, I got my shirt and gear check bag and the helpful volunteer put everything into the bag for me. The following morning I walked through the expo. There were a few of the usual booths for various races as well as a few gear booths selling everything from gels to water bottles to clothes. The largest merchandise area belonged to Asics, who is one of the big sponsors. Overall it was a nice little expo area but nothing to write home about. I did find my name on the Big Sur poster that is comprised of every runner.
I had all intentions of a breakout run on Saturday morning but that fell threw just because I was doing enough walking around with the wife. The day before the race, we did drive down Highway 1 to Big Sur because my wife had never been. Essentially we drove the course backwards on our way down and then in the proper direction on our return trip back to Carmel. The drive really showed me just how non-flat the course actually is. When you look at the elevation chart of the race, you go “okay, there are a few major hills and few minor ones,” but when you’re actually driving the course you realize the entire thing is essentially either “up” or “down.” There aren’t actually many flat spots to the course.
The drive is when I really did start to worry about my race and my training. I knew that my trip to Japan as well as my illness didn’t hep matters but I wasn’t that worried about it. After driving the course, I started to wonder a bit. I had an “A” and “B” goal for this race. The “A” goal was to PR the race, which I know is a challenge given the above regarding elevation changes. My “B” goal was to finish under the 6 hour course time limit, which given that I was overall physically okay I figured I should be able to do. Honestly I wasn’t entirely sure how I felt but knew that I had signed up, gotten in the lottery, and trained for it so I might as well give it a shot. Outwardly of course I didn’t reveal my concerns to my wife. Continue reading “2017 Big Sur International Marathon Race Recap”→
Last Sunday I completed by 19th half marathon. It was the 21st running of the Surf City Marathon/Half Marathon in Huntington Beach, CA. I grew up about 20 minutes from HB and so this was kind of a homecoming race.
I had originally signed up for the full marathon last year. Currently my overall long-term running plans are to complete a full marathon every other year (to hopefully give my body time to recover and just not tax myself too much given my history of injuries). I had been contemplating between Surf City and the Carlsbad Marathon. Eventually I settled on Surf City and my good friend KP was thinking of doing it as well (though in the end she couldn’t due to scheduling conflicts). I was excited about the race and the course didn’t seem too bad. One gripe I read about the full distance was that there was a lot of “looping” back and forth along PCH and the ocean. So it could be a little disheartening because you see the people that are a few miles ahead of you and realize you still have a ways to go.
The Big Sur Marathon lottery came a few months after I signed up for Surf City. I thought “why not sign up for the first timer/bucket list lottery and see what happens?” Sure enough, I received the email that I made it in and could register for 2017. So I did. Now I had a decision to make. Surf City was on February 5 and Big Sur is on April 30. With such a short time between races I knew that I shouldn’t try to do 2 full marathons in such a short time (see above about me being injury prone). I made the decision to drop to the half marathon for Surf City.
The race expo was set up in a large tent on one of the parking lots along the beach southeast of the pier. The organization for the bib and t-shirt pickup was well done. You had to know your bib number ahead of time because within the front of the tent, they had lines with a certain interval of number (1-1000, 1001-2000, etc). And then they had a separate area with lines based on your shirt size. So I was able to pickup my bib and shirt and tote bag within just a few minutes of arriving. This was good because I only had a few minutes to check out the expo as we were heading to meet friends for lunch. Continue reading “2017 Surf City Half Marathon race recap”→
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.
The Shamrock’n Half Marathon is another one of my hometown races in Sacramento. For whatever reason I’ve only run this race once in the 5 years that I’ve lived here. However it holds a special place in my heart because it is where I have my PR in the half marathon distance.
As usual, the packet pickup was at the midtown Sacramento Fleet Feet store.
The start and finish line was at Raley Field. Sacramento doesn’t have a MLB team though we do have a Triple-A affiliate team called the Sacramento River Cats. Their home field is Raley Field in West Sacramento. The first time I went to Raley Field was actually to see Incubus in a rock concert. I like Raley Field because of its quaintness. Compared to some of the other baseball fields I’ve visited (Dodger Stadium, Anaheim Stadium, Wrigley Field), Raley Field just seems more approachable and you feel like you can explore the entire area in a relatively short amount of time. It has that small town feel.
Race morning I woke up at the usual super early time to do my business, eat, have coffee and then drive on over towards the baseball field. Parking was at various places (baseball field parking, structures, street, etc.). I chose to park in a structure about 1/4 mile from the stadium figuring it’d make an easier exit after the race. After parking I walked over to Raley Field. It was still dark out and I had a fair amount of time to just walk around the outside of the field along with the stands.
As the start time came closer, we all lined up on the outside of the stadium. One cool thing about the race is that you actually finish on the baseball field itself. The other perk of the race is that you get to run across the famous Sacramento Tower Bridge – twice. Right at the start of the race you run across the bridge towards the State Capitol building. To be honest I do not remember a good chunk of this race. Looking at the map did remind me somewhat of the course. The first ~4 miles consisted of running around the Capitol building the streets of downtown Sacramento. We then headed north to a bike trail that took us across the American River and into the very large Discovery Park. We continued along the bike trail and then crossed over the American river again and this time ran on the east side of the Sacramento river.
We passed by the Tower Bridge because we needed to add in an extra 3 miles before making our way back to Raley Field. As mentioned before, the finish line was on the actual field so it was fun to run into the stadium and onto the warning track of the baseball field. The one cruel thing is that they made you walk up the stairs of the Field right after finishing the race. Overall the course is very flat.
I hadn’t been particularly training to run a fast race, however about 3-5 miles into the race I realized that I was on pace to run a sub-2:00 half marathon. I had been flirting with running a sub 2:00 half marathon for all of 2012. The Urban Cow half that I ran 5 months before the Shamrock’n half was a 2:01:14. Since I could tell that I was running a sub-2:00 pace, I decided to try to keep pushing it and see if I could run a PR. At the time of this race, I had my phone in my waist belt and didn’t run with a GPS watch. I had to rely on the on-course split timing mats. This was a little difficult to do but I just kept telling myself to “push it.” As I made it to the 10 mile mark, my legs definitely started to whine and I knew I’d be hurting the few days after the race, but I didn’t care. I crossed the line and was a bit surprised how far under 2 hours I actually was.