30-second version: Race day conditions were perfect and I felt good at the start. I took it out a bit more aggressively than in previous marathons, but I kept my effort easy. The first 10K flew by and I felt great. The second 10K took a bit more effort, but I was hanging in there. By the halfway point, it was obvious that I was starting to bonk. I tried my best to beat it, but I continued to slow down and my breathing grew more labored. I was fine with shuffling along, but then calf cramps took over around mile 22 and plagued me for the last 4 miles. I kept moving forward and tried to keep my spirits up, crossing the finish line in 4:37:17. I ran a 24-minute positive split and almost 5 minutes slower than my first CIM, but I was so happy to be done. This race experience reiterated to me how important it is to have process-based goals and that sharing the event with others can turn a personally disappointing performance into a positive experience overall.
Now for the (much) longer version…
Before the race
Everything went super smoothly leading up to the race. KH and I drove to Sacramento, picked up our bibs, checked into our hotel (The Inn off Capitol Park, which I highly recommend), and relaxed for the rest of the afternoon.
For dinner, we met up with Angela, Angela’s partner DH, and Cathryn and her family at Hook & Ladder Manufacturing Co. The food and company were great, though in retrospect, I should’ve ordered something more carb-heavy than roasted chicken. I was in bed by 9:45pm.
After a sleepless night, I woke up groggily to our 4:00 a.m. alarms. We got dressed, ate breakfast, downed some espresso (KH wisely brought her Aeropress, though I had some Starbucks Via instant coffee as backup), and headed to the shuttle. There was a huge line to get on the bus, but it moved quickly. It took us about 15 minutes to get on the bus. We arrived in Folsom around 6:00, which gave us plenty of time before the 7:00 start to use the bathroom, make any last minute decisions (I decided to eat my Honey Stinger waffle and change my socks), and drop off our drop bags, do a short warmup, etc. I was in the start corral at 6:45, standing a few rows behind the 4:08 pacer.
The National Anthem was sung and some welcoming remarks were made by the mayor of Folsom and the race organizers. Then the race began. I crossed the start mat about 3 minutes after gun time.
It might be easiest to tell this story if I post my mile splits, along with the course elevation profile.
The first 10K went by quickly and effortless (seemingly). I was so happy that it was finally race day and my legs felt great. I noticed my heart rate was elevated, but sometimes it’s wonky, so I didn’t give it a second thought. I was following all of my process-oriented goals – staying in the moment, thanking volunteers, etc. I had forgotten how many small rolling hills there were, but I was taking them as they came. I crossed the 10K mat at 59:13 (9:32/mile pace).
From mile 6.2-13.1, the fatigue started to set in. Plus there was a pebble in my shoe that was bugging me, so I ended up stopping by the side of the course at the end of the 8th mile to get it out. I recall cursing yet another hill in the 9th mile, wondering when the rollers were going to stop. That was red flag number 1. I tried not to think too much about how early it was in the race for me to be cursing hills and just accept the fact that there was nothing I could do about it except keep moving forward. And yet, every time I went up another hill, I thought, “I really should’ve done more hill work.” Followed immediately with, “Well, too late now. Suck it up.” I started to focus on getting to mile 12 where I could take another Gu and look for Cathryn, who promised to be spectating between mile 12-13. I crossed the half marathon mat at 2:06:46 (9:41/mile).
I didn’t end up seeing Cat (with her son A and their three giant penguin helium balloons) until after the halfway point, but when I did, I was really elated to see her smiling face. I threw my sweaty buff at her, which, upon catching it, she exclaimed, “That is DISGUSTING!” Oops, sorry Cat!
After that welcome distraction, it became clear to me that I was starting to bonk. I decided to take my 4th gel early – at the mile 14 marker as opposed to waiting until 16. It couldn’t hurt right? And it didn’t, but I don’t know if it helped either. All I could focus on was getting to mile 20, which in my vague recollection was when the hills would finally end.
My pace was getting slower and slower. Every time I got despondent about my pace, I would come back with, “It is what it is. Keep moving.” I decided to take gels at 3-mile intervals instead of 4. I don’t remember much between miles 14-19.
I recall the 4:23 group catching up to me. I tried my best to stay with them, but gave up after a few minutes. I eventually caught up to NT from the Trivalley Running Club, whom I had met at the Dream Mile Half Marathon in October. As much as I felt I was suffering, NT was dealing with an actual injury and running with hamstring issues. Over the next 3 miles we pushed and encouraged each other – though I’m pretty sure he helped me a lot more than vice versa. I crossed the 20-mile mat at 3:19:52 (10:00/mile) and saw Cat again.
Despite how I was feeling, and knowing that my chances to PR were out the window, there was a small part of me that thought – maybe I could at least still pull off a course record (4:32). NT literally pushed me up and over the final bridge (and last hill) into Sacramento at mile 22 – he placed his hand on my back and pushed me up the incline. I was pretty resistant to his attempts to motivate me and helpful reminders to use my arms and clean up my running form. Eventually, the twinges in my calf became full-blown cramps, and I urged him to continue while I took walk breaks.
For the last 4 miles, I wrestled with debilitating calf cramps. I would shuffle along for about a block, then succumb to cramping in both legs. Some were so bad that I almost tripped and fell. I began doing walk/jog intervals and tried to limit my walk breaks to no more than 20 steps. At some point, a lady came up to me and put her hand on my shoulder and said, “I’ve been following you this whole time and I’m not going to let you walk. Come with me.” I desperately tried to stay with her for a few steps before my cramps took over and I told her to go on.
Despite how terribly everything was going, I never fell into that negative head space that has plagued me previously (see: MCM 2013). I wasn’t whining or thinking, “Why? Why me? Why now?” Even though I was fairly quiet and probably appeared outwardly sad/down, I never thought about giving up or even just walking it in. I got a text message saying that KH had crossed the finish line in under 4 hours and I let out a quiet, “Yay!” I was really happy that she had gotten her sub-4 goal – at least one of us had a good race! I continued along with my walk/jog intervals. Miraculously, with about half a mile to go, the jog intervals got longer and longer, and I hoped to be able to get down the entirety of the final chute (50m) without walking. The cramps stayed at bay until the second finish mat – then I was officially done with marathon (or longer) #8!
Official time: 4:37:17 (10:35/mile)
309/507 AG; 1600/2838 F; 4104/6174 overall
Garmin time: 4:37:20 (10:32 for 26.33 miles)
After the Race
My cramping caused the volunteer at the finish line to ask if I needed help. I thanked her and said no, I’d be fine since I’m not running anymore. I got my medal, heat sheet, water, and food, and met up with KH at the finish. It took a while to get my drop bag and then I ran into NT and MA, also from TVRC, so of course we had to take a photo.
KH and I eventually met up with the rest of the crew for post-race lunch at The Pilothouse on the Delta King riverboat in Old Town Sacramento. I had fond memories of the place since eating there after spectating FL in 2013 with bt and KP. I was really happy for Angela, who ran a huge PR and beat her BQ time by 9 minutes! SP also fought to the finish and got just under her goal time of 3:55. Cathryn’s husband finished strong despite leg pain and some of the gnarliest blisters I’ve ever seen. Congrats all around!
Now that I’ve had a few days to digest what happened on Sunday at CIM, this is how I’m feeling:
First of all, I’m grateful – for the fitness to be able to run a marathon; that I was still upright (though cramping) at the finish; that I was able to share this experience with wonderful people; for the fantastic conditions, volunteers, and spectators; for the privilege of being able to train and race and afford for all of the race-related things; for being in a better place mentally than I was 3 years ago (at MCM) when race day didn’t go my way.
As for the race performance itself: yes, I’m disappointed that I didn’t run better on Sunday. I still believe that I was (am) capable of running a 4:10 marathon, just not on a course with any hills.😉 If there’s anything I’m regretting, it’s forgetting the simple rules of marathon running, the first of which is: Train for the course you’re racing. I had totally forgotten/underestimated the rollers and I paid dearly. I know that the causes of muscle cramping are controversial, but I personally believe that cramps are due to muscle fatigue – particularly due to the neuromuscular junctions that are required to transmit neurotransmitters over and over again for your muscles to fire. When your body isn’t used to that level of activity, it starts freaking out, in the form of cramping. What’s weird to me is that I’ve run a few hilly routes during training (Healdsburg, Tiburon, and Berkeley), but I guess because they were “only” half marathons, and all of my other runs were on flat routes, it wasn’t quite enough stimulation to get me past mile 22?
Another thing that’s frustrating (and confusing) to me is that bonking feeling that came so early at CIM. I don’t know if that was due to pushing the pace too early, not eating enough carbs for dinner and breakfast, or an unusually high heart rate even before the race started – for which I blamed race day adrenaline. At Santa Rosa, I went out very easy…maybe I should’ve lined up behind the 4:23 pacers instead of 4:08? But, I wanted to challenge myself though, so… no risk, no gain? Go big or go home?
Like I alluded to above, even though this was not the race I had hoped for, I also don’t feel terribly depressed about it. It is what it is, marathons are tricky, and I learned a bunch of stuff about racing and about myself along the way, some of which I’ve already mentioned, such as:
- Train for the race course
- When things aren’t going your way, adapt, don’t dwell
- The marathon is a long race. Better to start too slow than to bonk at mile 14.
- Eat more simple carbs for pre-race dinner and breakfast.
- That I’m stronger mentally and emotionally now than I was 3 years ago. Progress!
I feel like it’s time to take a break from training, especially the longer stuff. I don’t find as much joy in it as I used to. I don’t know what my goals are yet for 2017 – and for the first time in ages, I don’t even have a race on the calendar. I’m looking forward to resting, eating, and spending quality time with friends and family.
If you’ve made it this far, thanks for reading. Look for a separate post about race logistics – coming soon! (Spoiler: CIM is a super well-organized race and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to anyone.)