If you came here to read something short and sweet, I’ve got news for you: You’re in the wrong place. Get ready for an epic tale of the longest race of my life!
Saturday (day before the marathon):
I spent the morning packing and making a playlist, then we headed to our favorite bagel place in Berkeley. We each had 2 bagels with cream cheese (truth be told, they Gypsy Runner had 2 bagels and a 1/3 of mine). Yes, we are pigs. But I was supposed to carbo-load, right?
It was a fairly uneventful drive out to Sacramento, though we did drive through about 5 different weather patterns.
We got to the expo at the Sacramento Convention Center around 2pm. Bib pick-up was a cinch, though the line for the t-shirts and swag could’ve been better organized. Altogether, the process took 10-15 minutes. We also met up with a couple of friends (bt and Roserunner) and listened to a few talks before leaving to get dinner at New Hong Kong Wok, a Chinese restaurant recommended to me by a friend. We ate at 4:40 p.m., which is the earliest I’ve ever eaten dinner, I think. Miraculously, there was one other couple at the restaurant eating at that early hour. We ordered potstickers (meh), a rock cod clay pot, and braised tofu with baby bok choy with mushrooms… not realizing that the clay pot came with tofu as well. Talk about tofu overload! Even though the food was just okay, I’d still rather eat at a local joint instead of the Old Spaghetti Factory. (No offense if you like that place, it’s just not for me.)
The original plan was to check into our hotel, then go watch Skyfall, but seeing as the Gypsy Runner and I hadn’t made a concrete plan for spectating yet and I wanted to be in bed by 10 pm, we decided to just relax at the hotel. We stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn, which I highly recommend for anyone running CIM. I found out upon check-in that I’d be eligible for the VIP tent after all, and that the shuttle to the start was complimentary to hotel guests (and didn’t require the $10 pre-paid ticket like I thought). I opted to skip the shuttle due to the 5:15 a.m. departure time, though I’d regret that decision the next morning. After doing a little bit of marathon-related business (pinning my bib, attaching my chip), we took advantage of the heated pool and hot tub. They were both outdoors, so we sat in the hot tub with rain coming down on us. It was the first of many surreal experiences over the next 24 hours.
We spent almost an hour plotting out various places along the race route to meet, based on what Mike had said worked for him and his wife at last year’s CIM. The reason it took us so long was that a lot of roads would be closed, so we had to consult a map and figure out the best routes… which then required us actually going to the neighboring gas station and buying a map (the Gypsy runner does not have a smart phone). With that done, my to-do list made, and wake-up call scheduled, I was in bed by 9:45 p.m.
Sunday (Race Day!):
I managed to get to sleep OK, but woke up at 1:30 a.m. and could not get back to sleep for almost an hour. I got a couple of restless hours of rest before the alarm went off at 4:30 a.m. Because I failed to bring my regular iPhone charger, I had to go sit in the car for 25 minutes to use my car charger. I was afraid that it would die during the race, rendering it useless should I need it to call the Gypsy Runner. One of the main reasons I kept using my phone was to check the weather. This is what I woke up to on Sunday morning:
I finished getting ready, packed up my stuff, and was good to go at 6:15 a.m. I even applied a temporary tattoo that I got at the expo, with a goal time of 4:30.
Here I am, in my finest monsoon-ready running gear:
So, here is where I made the one mistake that I could’ve easily avoided if I had been a bit smarter, and you probably sensed it coming: I should have taken the 5:15 shuttle. I was awake in time for it, and I could’ve been ready to go. I just thought that hanging out in the hotel room would be so much nicer than at some “VIP Tent” for over an hour. I also didn’t think there would be any issues with the getting dropped off at the shuttle pick-up only 2 miles from the start line. Well, I was wrong. Our hotel was only 5 miles from the shuttle pick-up, but we were less than 2 miles away when we ran into a wall of traffic. We managed to crawl forward about a mile in 15 minutes, at which point (6:45 a.m.), I decided to hop out of the car while we were stopped in traffic, grab my drop bag from the trunk, and book it down to the shuttle. I wasn’t the only one — there were over a hundred runners in line, huddling in the rain and wind, hoping to get on a bus A.S.A.P. I managed to get on a shuttle in about 5 minutes. Everyone on the bus was relieved that we were headed to the start at last, but that sense of relief quickly dissipated as we got off the bus and realized that the start gun was about to go off in less than 10 seconds. I still had to use the porta potty, so I ran into one, peed as quickly as I could, and ran out in a panic, trying to find the bag drop. Luckily, the trucks for the drop were on the way to the start line, and I found the right truck (for my bib number) on the second try and handed my bag over to the volunteers. Then, I dashed toward the start while trying to take my sweat pants off. Somewhere in that mess, I crossed the start mat, about 3 minutes after gun-time. And that, my friends, is how I started my first marathon.
Since I thought of the whole race as 4 x 10K’s with 1.4 miles at the end, that’s how I’m going to recap this thing.
Miles 1-6: I started off very conservatively due to the weather, which at this point was heavy rain with strong winds and very strong gusts. (Weather Underground reported max wind speed at 24 mph, with gusts up to 35 mph, and 1.26 inches of rain. For more on the conditions, see this local CBS news story and photos from Heather’s blog.) I even lost my hat on the way to the start, but did not have any more issues with it for the rest of the race. Besides trying to pace myself, I also ran a bit slower to avoid any slippage issues — there were so many ponchos and garbage bags littered everywhere, not to mention the usual road hazards of manholes and slippery road markings. Fortunately, I didn’t have any issues with slipping the whole race.
It was a bit crazy with the weather, but I quickly embraced it and was even, dare I say, enjoying it? Something about this mass of runners who decided to show up to run 26.2 miles in a Northern California monsoon filled me up with such emotion. I just kept thinking, “Isn’t this insane? Am I insane? Are we all insane?” And of course, the answer was, “YES!”
At the end of mile 1, I managed to shed my sweatshirt without taking off my poncho. I gave myself serious props for that. Somewhere in mile 2, I saw the 4:25 pace group. I thought: that’s strange. I don’t think I’m running as fast as 4:25 (10:07 pace), how come they’re coming up from behind me? I tried to keep up with them for about 2 minutes and quickly decided to bail. Then, I ran into bt. It turns out that she had started off with the 4:25 pace group, but detached from them after the first mile, where they clocked between a 9-9:30 pace. Yikes. No wonder I had a hard time keeping up with them! bt and I chatted for a few minutes before I came to the conclusion that I could not talk and keep our pace. I told her I was going to hang back, then we wished each other good luck and parted ways.
Shortly after saying goodbye to bt, the lady in front of me dropped something (her Gu?) and ducked down suddenly. I managed to hurdle/jump over her and miraculously avoided: (1) kicking her in the head, and (2) tripping over her and eating it. The lady came up to me shortly afterwards and apologized. I responded that I was just glad that neither of us got hurt. That was pretty much all of the excitement for this section of the race. The Gypsy Runner was supposed to meet me at mile 6, but due to unforeseen issues with longer-than-planned road closures and street flooding, he was unable to get to the meeting place. *Sigh.* But, I felt really good with my pace — not too fast, but not too slow. Just right.
Here are my splits for the whole race:
Miles 7-12: Fairly uneventful. I recall my initial surge of emotion/fascination beginning to wane. The wind and the rain were still there, and I continued on like the drowned rat I was beginning to resemble. I still felt pretty strong. There were some rolling hills, but nothing as bad as Healdsburg. I got to mile 11, the second meeting spot with the Gypsy Runner, only to find that he wasn’t there. *Sigh x2* The flooding was apparently insane on the back roads, with many vehicles getting disabled in the water, so it could’ve been worse — at least he didn’t get stuck.
Miles 13-18: I passed the halfway point about 2 minutes under the 4:30 pace. I was feeling really good, but I also knew from my long runs that this is where fatigue tends to creep in. I kept up my fueling strategy of alternating between a Clif Blok and a Gu every 3 miles, and that worked fantastically. I felt very steady for the whole race. However, my water bottle was getting pretty heavy and wearing out my biceps — very unusual, since I had never experienced this during training. So, I guessed it must have been due to the rains, soaking the thing and making it a couple of pounds heavier. I decided that if I saw the Gypsy Runner at our 3rd meeting spot at mile 18, I’d take out any remaining fuel from the pouch and give him the water bottle. There were plenty of water stops on the last third of the course.
As I approached our 3rd meeting spot, I kept scanning the crowd. Finally, I saw the Gypsy Runner and ran towards him, waving my arms like a mad woman. I was SO happy to see him. I gave him a kiss and handed him my water bottle, then he ran with me for a short distance, saying that he wished he could keep running with me. Aw. We parted ways at the next intersection, knowing we would see each other at the finish.
Miles 19-24: With that emotional boost, I ran toward the dreaded “wall” at mile 20, not knowing what to expect. My pace continued to slow down, but I fortunately did not bonk. I also ended up walking through 2 aid stations, which, in addition to the time I saw the Gypsy Runner at mile 18, were the only times I slowed down the entire race. I’m proud that I never took a real walk break. I can credit some of my fortitude to AEW, who came and met me at mile ~20.4 and ran with me for more than 5 miles. She somehow managed to bring the sunshine with her, because as we started running, the rain stopped and the clouds parted ways to blue skies. After 3.5 hours, I was finally able to shed my poncho. We chatted, or actually, she talked while I intermittently grunted, chuckled, or nodded. Without AEW, I’m pretty sure I would’ve dragged on more slowly than I did, and would’ve definitely started counting down from 59th street in an obsessive fashion (the race ends at 9th and 10th St.). So, a big shout-out to AEW, who braved the crazy weather to drive out to Sacramento, just to run with me. You made it so much more pleasant than it would’ve been otherwise!
Miles 25-26.2: Somewhere around mile 24-25, I realized that I was not going to make 4:30 after all, unless I ran 8 or 9 minute miles for the remainder of the race. I was disappointed for a brief second, but quickly realized that I was just fine with the pace at which I was running and let go of the 4:30 goal. AEW and I ran together until the last half mile or so. After we parted, I saw the Gypsy Runner again. I was surprised to see him with about a third of a mile to go, as I was expecting to see him at the finish. I gave him a high-five and turned on my booster engines to finish this marathon with as much kick as I could muster. Turns out it’s not much of a kick (9:41 pace), but it sure felt like a lot at the time! CIM splits up the finishing chute between the sexes, where the ladies turn first and the men keep going and then turn left. There were two women who finished just before me, and they had their arms raised triumphantly, which reminded me to do the same for the finishing photo. (I secretly wanted to do a crotch-chop, but did not know if I could manage that at the end of a marathon.) VICTORY!
There was a mix-up which prevented the Gypsy Runner from getting to the finish line to see me cross the last mat. We found each other after I got my medal and chip removed. AEW caught up with the Gypsy Runner (they were on the other side of the corral) and chatted as I stood in line to get my finisher’s photo taken. After what seemed like an eternity, I finally got out of the runners’ corral and met up with them.
AEW ran back to her car (yes, she’s a trooper), and I went to fetch my drop bag and change into dry clothes, which felt AWESOME. The changing tent was a funny experience — basically, there were 4-5 women in there, all sharing where they were chafed and how many toenails they had lost. Surprisingly, no one had any blisters, and I haven’t heard any stories of blisters from the blogosphere either. So at least we had that going for us! I ended up with 2 areas of chafing at each armpit and a little bit at the sports bra seams, but that was it, thankfully. The food tent was kinda lame, probably one of the low-points of the whole event. They had pancakes where you could help yourself, but there was limited supply. They also had a separate tent with fruit, cookies, and bagels (no cream cheese) where you had to ask for the food through a little screen. I don’t know if this set-up was because of the rain, but it felt like they didn’t trust the runners to help themselves to the food. I gave up on that spread, and we eventually made our way to Lalo’s, a hole-in-the-wall Mexican joint that I found thanks to Yelp. I got a delicious cantaloupe agua fresca and possibly the best enchiladas I’ve ever had.
How I feel about the race:
I’m extremely satisfied with how I ran this race, my first marathon. Besides the debacle with the morning shuttle, I wouldn’t change anything about how the day went. Sure, the weather could’ve been better, and I most definitely could’ve had a faster time given better conditions, but since I’ve never run a marathon before, I really didn’t care too much about time. I ran the most even race I could, and I was very thankful that I didn’t have any issues with fueling, injury/pain, or GI distress. I accomplished my goal of crossing the finishing line with a smile on my face and a feeling of accomplishment. I got choked up a couple of times during the race, but I knew I couldn’t run very well if I started crying, so I held off. Then, I thought I would cry after I finished, but I never did. Weird, huh?
Physically, I definitely could’ve pushed harder. I never got to that level of discomfort that I usually feel during a race, where I’m questioning why I registered in the first place. I figured that I can save that feeling for future marathons (if I do run one again… which I probably will, but haven’t thought too much about it). That said, I’m very, very sore today and will probably be hobbling around for the next few days, which only reinforces my feeling that I ran at just the right level of effort.
Overall, I had an excellent first marathon experience from the first week of training to race day. There are so many people who I want to thank for helping me along this incredible journey, where I learned so much about myself physically and mentally. Thanks for all of your kind words on this blog, in text messages, on dailymile, twitter, and Facebook, and in person! A special thanks to all of my running partners during this training cycle: the Gypsy Runner, AEW, KP, and bt!
OK, end of sappy portion. Here’s the logistical nitty-gritty:
Organizers: Sacramento Running Association
Cost: I think I paid $95 for registration. It went up around August 1st, after which it promptly sold out. (The race was capped at 8000 pre-registered runners.)
Distance: 26.2 miles (my Garmin read 26.28)
The course: Widely touted as “the fastest course in the West,” CIM has a net downhill of ~400 feet. The key is “net downhill.” There are actually plenty of rolling hills for the first 20 miles or so. The last “hill” is the bridge at mile 21, after which it’s pancake flat. I think that the reason it’s a fast course is because the weather is usually optimal, it’s point-to-point, and it finishes flat. In terms of scenery, it’s okay. There are a few pretty parts, going through small towns and in front of nice houses, but there are also ugly/boring portions with strip malls and such. It doesn’t really matter to me — scenery barely registers with me during a road race anyway. It finishes in front of the capitol building, but I was so tired that I didn’t even notice it until 30 minutes after the race.
Gear: The key pieces turned out to be my shoes, running hat, arm-warmers, and poncho. I was worried about running in my Merrell Pace Gloves, since I had slipped and fallen while wearing them on wet rocks this summer. Fortunately, they came through like a champ! Since they have very little cushioning, they didn’t sop up any extra water. The large mesh holes let in a lot of water, but just as easily let the water escape. The running hat was enough to keep the rain out of my eyes. The arm warmers and poncho combination was just the right amount of warmth without overheating. That dollar store rain poncho was awesome, keeping me (mostly) dry and it didn’t interfere much with my aerodynamics (there were lots of people running in trash bags ballooned up with air).
Parking: This is a point-to-point course, with no parking at the start, so it behooves you to take a shuttle. I believe the shuttles from Folsom hotels are free, but check with each hotel to confirm. The shuttles from Sacramento are $10 and the ride is 45 minutes long (or so I’ve heard).
Aid stations: There were 17 aid stations, all offering Powerade towards the front and water towards the back. Some aid stations had Gu, and there were a few points along the way with volunteers giving out orange slices.
Bathrooms: So many porta potties at the start that I didn’t even have to wait. Anywhere from 2-4 porta potties at each aid station. (Actually, I don’t recall if every aid station had bathrooms or not.)
Swag: Choice of long-sleeve or short-sleeve tech tee, medal, and reusable drawstring bag. Since it was their 30th anniversary, we also got a gaiter/headband and a pair of gloves.
Misc.: Well-organized, for the most part. The tents at the end could’ve used signs — a lot of runners had trouble finding the drop bag tent, the changing tent, and the food area. I think the size is just right — not overwhelmingly large, but big enough to draw spectators and good support along the course. I would definitely recommend CIM!
Garmin Stats: 4:32:43 (26.28 miles @ 10:23 min/mile, 520′ elevation gain + 864′ elevation loss = net loss 344′, which I think is wrong?)
Unofficial stats, chip: 4:32:39 (10:24/mile)
p.s. There will be two CIM follow-up posts: one featuring official race photos, and the other recapping the whole training cycle. Stay tuned!