Race Recap: 2016 California International Marathon

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.

(If you don’t care about my experience at all and are researching CIM logistics, I’ve posted the elevation profile below, as well as an entire post on logistics here.)

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.

expo

I forced KH to take this cheesy photo at the expo 🙂

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.

hl

At Hook & Ladder, where we enjoyed a very relaxing pre-race meal served by uber hipsters.

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.

start

My view at the start, before it started filling up. Runners could line up on either side of the road.

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.

The Race
It might be easiest to tell this story if I post my mile splits, along with the course elevation profile.

elevation-profile

Elevation profile + pace overlay, according to Strava

splits_1

Pace, elevation gain/loss for the first 13 miles (Garmin Connect)

splits2

Miles 14-26.3. I don’t trust the elevation gain/loss totals… there were definitely some little hills in those mile listed as zero gain!

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!

mile13-5

Running toward Cat with a sweaty buff in hand… (photo credit: 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.

prof_17

All smiles for the camera while slowly dying on the inside (mile 17-18?)

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.

mile20

Plugging along with NT’s support at mile 20 (photo credit: Cat)

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.

prof_mile22

I remember NT saying, “Smile for the camera!”. Shortly after the last hill (mile 22).

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.

prof_mile-24

More smiles for the camera (mile 24?)

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!

finishchute_sesa

“Don’t cramp, don’t cramp, don’t cramp” (photo credit: SP)

prof_finish

I cannot get a good finishing pic for the life of me. I had just raised my arms or was in the middle of raising them in this photo. 🙂

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.

finish_kh

Post-race selfie with KH in front of the Capitol Building

tvrc

With the TVRC crew. A tough day for all of us, but we still have a lot to smile about.

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!

pilothouse

Not a great photo of any of us, but at least it documents the occasion.

Post-post race
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 – here! (Spoiler: CIM is a super well-organized race and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to anyone.)

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About

Howdy! My name is Jen and I live in the San Francisco Bay Area. I like to eat, run, and blog, but not usually at the same time.

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Posted in Race Recap
28 comments on “Race Recap: 2016 California International Marathon
  1. Jen I’m so sorry about the bonk. but I have to say your time is WONDERFUL!!! and if I could run that my next time out I would be deliriously happy. (2017? 2018?) you got a long-distance PR this year already for the half, which is incredible and I can’t imagine every PRing at the half again, so I’d say 2016 is a super impressive year for you!! well run. xo

  2. Sesa says:

    It annoys me to no end when people say CIM is an easy course bc of the elevation chart. It’s a very challenging course and it’s so easy to burn out my legs on it. I’ve run CIM five times and have only had one perfectly executed (read: no bonk) race there. It is possible to PR there, but like you said hill work during training and proper pacing is necessary.

    Even though I think you ran an awesome time on Sunday I also think it’s okay to feel disappointed. You had a great training cycle and were ready to smash 4:10. The thing is that when we run these longer distances anything can go wrong and we can easily fall short of expectations. Good news is that you really worked your butt off and that hard work will pay off in the near future – I really believe that. Xo

    • Jen says:

      Thanks, Sesa! I agree with all that you said, and it’s comforting to know that you’ve only had one bonk-free experience at CIM (though I’m sorry that you went through that!). Every marathon is a learning experience and I think most of us do it for the challenge, right?

  3. […] cried again. (I was very weepy).I got Jen’s final time and I cried again. (See her recap HERE).  So proud of her for gutting it out and continuing to fight to the end. Now it was just […]

  4. Angela says:

    Sorry things didn’t go your way Sunday. I think you may be on to something with the hills. I totally agree that so much of how you do on a given course has to do with what you’re used to & have trained yourself to deal with (ie, I think I would suck at straight, flat courses with no variation in terrain because I have nowhere flat to train & for me the monotony is mentally deadly). I also agree that cramps are almost always about fatigue and/or low blood sugar, not electrolytes. (I blame Gatorade for perpetuating that myth.)

    I am also so glad to hear that you are focusing in on all your victories re: process goals and not dwelling on coulda-shoulda-woulda, and I am remembering back to when I DNS’d Santa Rosa 2015 & was DEFINITELY wallowing a bit, and then I heard that you’d totally KILLED it and it pulled me right out of my funk & effing made my day. I feel super confident a race like that will come again when it’s the right race, and all the process goals you’re focusing on will set you up to have a great race & get the time you know you have in you.

    In the mean time, ALLLLLL THE LAZINESS!!! You’ve 100% earned it. 🙂

    • Jen says:

      Thank you, Angela! Yeah, it was a lesson learned the hard way – not just about hills, but there were a lot of things I neglected during training, such as core strength and strength work in general, that would have helped me tremendously. I know those things are important for running in the long term, so I’m starting to see that this is where my 2017 might be heading. As for Santa Rosa – funny that you mentioned that, because I just re-read my recap a couple of nights before CIM and thought, “Hm, I highly doubt I can have that kind of race magic two times in a row.” So, I kinda figured that it might be my day or it might not be. I know I’ve said it a million times, but I’m just so glad it worked out for you and K.

  5. Kira Heller says:

    Loved reading your recap of what was a very strenuous race! You left out how damn cold it was. Made me regret all that bragging I did about running in the hail in Wyoming. I was freezing my ass off. You pulled off a respectable finish in spite of a mounting number of difficulties, which is pretty great. And again, thank you for being so organized and on top of everything. Without you I probably would have been wandering the streets of downtown Sacramento at 7:30 am on race day wondering where all the shuttle buses were…

    • bt says:

      Super impressed with your gratitude and mental strength. I wholeheartedly agree with your comment day-of that the marathon is such finicky distance — keeping that in mind and respecting it and being grateful anytime you can finish one is very important, in my opinion.

      Re: taking some time off to not train for long races, I’m right there with you. I think I’m unlikely to race a single long run for this entire year of travel (for the first time since 2004) and now that I’m halfway through the year, it appears that the time off has given me an appreciation for running and for how lucky I am to be able to do it all that has been missing from my perspective for a while. Any time you want a buddy for a short run (or run walk, or even just a walk), if I’m in town, let me know!

      • Jen says:

        @bt – Thanks! I’m definitely becoming more grateful for every marathon finish. And I’ll take you up on that offer of shorter runs anytime!

    • Jen says:

      LOL. Well, I do think your Wyoming altitude training paid huge dividends. And maybe the cold weather helped you run faster? I think my dollar store gloves were key. Oh, and I’m definitely taking credit for your PR by helping you get to the right places in time! 😉

  6. Mike says:

    Nice recap! I know how tough it can be to write one of these when you don’t live up to your own expectations. And I know all about bonking at CIM, so we’re like two peas in a pod in that respect. But as perfect an ending to an already amazing year as a marathon PR would have been, c’est la vie, right? That’s life when you choose one of the toughest hobbies on the planet. And you’re right—your mental game has come a long way in the past few years. You have a lot to be proud of, and focusing on a finish time in lieu of all you’ve accomplished is not only unproductive but just plain wrong.

    And Kira, if you’re reading this (and I know you are, you silly blog voyeur you), CONGRATS on an excellent performance of your own in that frigid NorCal weather! 😉

    I’d agree about cramping, muscle fatigue is consistently the most sensible explanation. Have you heard of Hot Shot? It was actually created by Rod MacKinnon, a Nobel Prize-winning neurobiologist, and supposedly targets TRP channels to treat cramps, though I can’t imagine carrying it with me during a race, juuuuust in case…

    At any rate YES, take some well-deserved time off from this relationship—start seeing new hobbies! Explore new worlds! Find new challenges! Eat more donuts! And come back to running when it feels like fun again. Like a faithful puppy, it’ll always be here waiting for you.

    • Jen says:

      Thanks, Mike. I appreciate the sympathy and the encouragement. I actually didn’t have a terrible time writing this, unlike past race reports where I dreaded it… perhaps that’s the best indicator of how much I’m at peace with the outcome?

  7. gracechua31 says:

    Hugs! I’m sorry about the bonk. But you’re so mentally tough to keep going. I like ‘it is what it is. Keep going’ and ‘Adapt, don’t dwell’. So true. I know I’ve been in your shoes, and over the last 6 or 8 miles, just being like ‘ugggghh – why am I even bothering to stagger to the finish?’ and getting all whiny.
    I definitely think hills are a factor. I thought you’d done several hilly longer runs, too – but perhaps not the right combination of marathon goal pace + hills? I do think you’ve had an amazing 2016, racing-wise, and that you have that 4:10 in you! #unfinishedbusiness #teamgluteusmedius 😉

    • Jen says:

      Thanks, Grace. I think it’s normal to get whiny and feel self-pity when a marathon isn’t going well, but I made a conscious decision before the race not to waste energy on that kind of thinking. I think it helped! I had listened to a podcast called “the Dao of Running” and I kept saying to myself, “This is the essence of marathon running. It just is.” That really helped, actually – as cheesy as it sounds.

      I’m still puzzled by the hills, though Jess pointed out that maybe it was the downhills that did me in. All of the hilly runs I’d done had an equal amount of ups and downs, whereas CIM has 360 feet of net downhill. So maybe I killed my legs that way? But then shouldn’t it have been my quads and not my calves? I think Healdsburg had a similar amount ascent, and I managed to run that half in less than 2 hours (after running 3 miles as warmup). I don’t think my half marathon split was that ridiculously aggressive…Anyway, who knows.

  8. bitterkat says:

    Great recap Jen! Course elevations are so tricky. They got the best of me for my first 2 marathons. My husband bonked in Boston because of the downhills (and the heat) and since then he’s been a huge fan of training up AND DOWN all the hills and was the one who motivated me to add more into my training for NYC (which was a success). Kudos for keeping positive and going the distance!! Every marathon is a learning experience for sure.

    I’ve been reading your blog all year and I love your race recaps and insights on the sport. Also, I am really impressed with all you’ve accomplished this year. Looking forward to reading more in 2017!!

    • Jen says:

      Thank you, Jen! You’re right – every marathon is a learning experience. I totally agree with your husband about training for the downhills as well as the uphills. That might have been what did me in at CIM. Your NYC performance was so even – clearly your training strategy was a success!

  9. Cathryn says:

    What all the others said. Gutted for you because I know how hard you worked but still in awe of all that work and all that determination.

  10. […] Here are all of the little details that might be useful to those interested in running CIM. If you’re interested in my race recap, you can find it here. […]

  11. ErinAMG says:

    Late response here, but congrats on the finish. Like you said, falling short of what you wanted to achieve can sting a bit, but having a big-picture perspective — as well as a variety of goals that aren’t tied to the clock — really puts things into perspective. This distance is such a beast, and when things are good, they are soooooo gooooooooood, but if things go south….man, that can suck fast. Having such a good attitude about your experience and being able to take from it lots of lessons about what to do differently will go a long way. The process can be even greater than the product sometimes, and I think that’s especially true in this sport. I’m bummed we didn’t see you (or Angela, or Cathryn!), so that just means another race or meetup is in order 🙂

    • Jen says:

      Thanks so much, Erin. I think the more marathons I run, the more grateful I am to be able to complete the distance, period. I totally agree about process being greater than the product, however disappointing the time on the clock might be at the time. I really hope we get to meet up in person soon!!

  12. Dominick S. says:

    Holy CRAmP. Sorry you had to go through that but so great to see the positive perspective. Interested to see your plan of attack for 2017 and always, love the data!

  13. Layla says:

    Knowing how focused you were on training, I’m so sorry that you didn’t get the PR you are clearly capable of achieving. But your mental perspective, both during and after race, is impressive — and I think that will get you to the next PR. In the meantime, finishing a marathon is something to never take for granted.

    Let’s run trails!

  14. […] better. Some might accuse me of being bitter after having a disappointing race at my last marathon (CIM) – and I think that there’s some truth to that. But the more I think about it, the more […]

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