The California International Marathon calls itself the Fastest Course in the West. It is run from Folsom (366 Ft. Elevation) to the state capital in downtown Sacramento (26 Ft. Elevation). This was the 24th running of this race and it certainly reflects that experience- every aspect of the race was extremely well organized. The weather in this part of the state is perfect for running in early December- mid-30s at the start and 50s by late morning, with no wind and lots of sunshine. There are rolling hills early on with more down than up, and basically flat through the streets of downtown near the end. The community really embraces this race and the crowds were amazing. Despite all these qualities, there are less than 5,000 runners (the only companion race is a 2.62 mile fun run). That made everything run even more smoothly.
My background: This was my third marathon. I ran the Nike Women’s Marathon last October, after running for less than a year and finished in 3:55:10. I trained harder for the Avenue of the Giants marathon this past May, and finished in 3:45:14. I learned a lot from both races, and was really happy with the results, but I suffered in the final miles both times and had a pretty significant fade in my pace. I knew I could do better if I could just hold it together in the late miles.
My training: This time I felt I was ready for the next level of training, so I used Pfitzinger’s 12/55 schedule. I was seriously intimidated by the mileage, but I ended up not only getting in the miles, but really enjoying the variety and challenge of the schedule. The tempo runs were tough, but got easier. The speed workouts about killed me at first, but I got faster. The long runs (and mid-week medium long runs) were always a joy. I never felt burnt out and my confidence grew. I ran a Thanksgiving Day 5k 10 days out from the race, and smashed my previous best, finishing in 22:07 (and getting 3rd in my AG!). I felt amazing throughout the taper, and my outlook was very positive.
My goal and strategy: My goal was BQ: 3:40. I knew I was trained for it, but I was nervous. I decided to run with the Clif Bar Pace Group, as they have a really strong reputation at this event. I even went to the little seminar at the expo and met the guy. Mike Hernandez has run like 9000 marathons and ultra marathons. He’s done Western States 8 times. I was beyond impressed. He was also really nice and seemed to really want to help us finish. My food/hydration plan was to bring my Clif Shot Blocks and carry my own water bottles -one in fuel belt and one in hand, hoped to see husband for replacement hand-bottle mid-race.
Race Morning: I got up and had half an English muffin, and half a banana, my stomach too nervous to eat the whole thing. I bundled up and my husband dropped me off downtown at the shuttle bus area. I met a nice lady in line and sat with her, and we chatted the whole way and hung out together before the start. That was really nice! I ate half a Luna Bar (again with the half!).
I hit up the porta potty twice, and the second time the line was so long I had to rush to the start (dropping my sweats bag along the way). Luckily this race is small enough that it wasn’t a giant problem.
The Start: I got a close as I could to my 3:40 dude, but I was a good 20 feet back. This seemed close enough, but when the race started and the people spread out, I found myself more like 100+ feet back. Gah! I was not letting him get away.
I spent the first mile catching up with the group. I knew this meant running too fast (I must have crossed the starting mat a good 30 seconds after them), but I needed to be with them. I got pretty close and settled in. The group was also running a little fast in the first few miles, so I didn’t gain on them as quickly as I wanted. But I did catch up by about the 2 mile mark. After that, I calmed down a little, and the pace felt easy. At this point we were in a pretty rural area and it was COLD. The course was mostly downhill at first, then we started hitting little uphills. The uphills were never bad, just a few blocks long, and always followed by a longer downhill. Pretty gentle though. I wore my long sleeve shirt up until about mile 5 or 6 and was drinking on my water bottle.
Mile 1: 8:00 (average)
Mile 2: 8:00 (average)
Mile 3: 8:05
Mile 4: 8:19
Mile 5: 8:17
We were a good minute+ ahead of pace at this point, but I wasn’t worried. I felt very comfortable. I tied my long sleeve shirt around my waist and was good in my tank top. We were in more of a residential area at this point, and a few people had come out to cheer us on. There are more rolling hills, and the pacer is keeping us together and involved (“how are we feeling?” “stay relaxed!” etc). We slowed down just a little. Pretty uneventful, until just past mile 9. That’s when I ate it. I ATE IT. I tripped over one of those raised yellow reflector deals in the middle of the road and skidded hard. Ugh. I got up right away and started running again, amid lots of “are you okay?”s. I was fine. I wasn’t even really embarrassed, just a little shaken up. Someone ahead retrieved my water bottle, which catapulted when I hit the ground, so I moved ahead to get it back. I was still with the group, feeling ok. Whew. I look down and I’ve got a healthy streak of blood going down my lower leg. My hands hurt too and one is bleeding. I knew I was ok though, so I just let it go. I saw my husband at the 10 mile mark, and he didn’t even notice! Haha. I still had some water in my bottle (although it kind of hurt to open it, due to my injured hands), so I didn’t take a new one from him.
Mile 6: 8:24 (first mile on pace!)
Mile 7: 8:14
Mile 8: 8:33
Mile 9: 8:36 (crash!)
Mile 10: 8:25 (average)
Still feeling good, staying with the group, eating my Clif Blocks. Still residential, but there were quite a few more crowds at some of the intersections and shopping centers, and there were a couple bands and cheer squads and stuff. I loved running with the 3:40 pace group because people would cheer “Go 3:40 group!” Our pacer has us shaking out our arms at various intervals, and is keeping us involved. I love this guy. There were long stretches of gentle downhill in this section, and it was flattening out. We were backing off our pace a little. I saw my husband at mile 15 and took a fresh water bottle. He noticed my bloody leg and I laughed at myself.
Mile 11: 8:25 (average)
Mile 12: 8:32
Mile 13: 8:27 (HALF: 1:49:10)
Mile 14: 8:27
Mile 15: 8:38
I was feeling great. There’s a little space between me and the pacer, but I wasn’t concerned. The course is flatter at this point, and there are more crowds. It was warmer but still really nice. I continued eating my Clif Blocks as planned, and drinking plenty of water. I saw my husband once more at mile 20, and I tossed my half empty water bottle to him (I still had the full one in my fuel belt). We’re 45 seconds or so ahead of pace overall.
Mile 16: 8:15
Mile 17: 8:39
Mile 18: 8:26
Mile 19: 8:20
Mile 20: 8:21
Home stretch! We were in the beautiful tree-lined streets of Sacramento, which was generally flat with one bridge crossing. Our pace group was smaller… but I was feeling really good. I had a couple of low-ish points in this section, where I was getting a little mentally tired. My body felt strong except a sort of sore right leg. My breathing was a little labored, but not bad. I counted down the mile markers, 21, 22, 23… I couldn’t believe I was still running. I have NEVER run a whole marathon, I always have to walk a little. This time I just was never at that point of exhaustion. I got a little excited about finishing, but didn’t let myself get distracted. At about mile 23 or 24, the pacer rallied us all up, and had us stay close. There were only a few of us left, but he was still doing his thing, talking to us and encouraging us. As we got closer to downtown, there were tons of crowds!! I’ve never ran a race with so much community support (SF kind of hates the Nike marathon, and the Ave is in the wilderness). It was so exciting! I got a little ahead of the pacer during mile 25, and he was saying (probably to me and others, too) “hold it back, 3:40 group.” I felt strong, but he was right, I didn’t want to do anything stupid. But right at that 26 mile mark he said “go for it 3:40 group!” (I don’t honestly know if there were any others “going for it,” he may have been just talking to me! He yelled “it’s all yours! Enjoy it!” And I did. I had a giant smile on my face and everyone was cheering! As I got closer to the 26 mile marker, I sped up more and more. I was pushing, I was smiling, I was high-fiving!
Mile 21: 8:18
Mile 22: 8:25
Mile 23: 8:24
Mile 25: 8:29
Mile 26.2 : 9:43 (8:06 pace)
Final time: 3:39:22
(8:22 average pace)
(second half: 1:50:12, a 1 minute and 2 second positive split)
I can’t believe it. I mean, I can, I knew I could do it, but WOW. I am going to Boston. I am going to run the Boston Marathon. I just can’t believe it.
I got my medal, I got my picture taken in front of the sign (always wanted to do that!), and I borrowed someone’s cell phone to call my husband. He found me- he had missed me coming through so he didn’t know my finish time, so it was so awesome to tell him! I cried a few tears of joy and then called my parents. I made a stop at the first aid tent to get my scrapes cleaned up (they were a lot nastier than I thought), and then went out and cheered in the runners for a good half hour. I was just so happy- it felt good to yell and cheer!! I saw my friend come through later, she had a really tough race, but I cheered super loud for her too. Every finish is amazing.
The one thing that is just as exciting to me as my BQ time, is that I RAN every step of the way (well, except those few feet I slid…). I never thought I could do that. I felt incredible the entire 26.2 miles. I sped up at the end! I know I can run a faster marathon. I really love that Pfitz.
So, that’s it! I am actually planning on going to Boston this year (2007). I know it’s late and I know my training won’t be what it could, but I just have to do it. I will make my hotel reservations ASAP and could use any advice from those who have been there. Thank you so much for reading, and thank you for all your support. I think one of the best things about this awesome race is getting to tell you all about it. Thank you!!