December 5, 2010

California International Marathon

I ran my first marathon ever this year, the California International Marathon from Folsom to Sacramento. About 8,000 people participated. There was also a four person marathon relay and a 2.62 miles maraFUN run in Sacramento. The registration fee for the marathon varied based on how far in advance you registered. The fee included a race shirt, timing chip and goodie bag that doubled as a sweat bag. Bib pick-up was at the race expo which took place at the Sacramento Convention Center on the Friday evening and all day on the Saturday before the race. Aside from various product and event booths, there was also a Medical Symposium that covered topics such as "How to Run the Course" and "Nutrition and the Endurance Athlete". I picked up my bib, walked through the booths, sampled some Cliff Crunch Bars (they weren't bad) and bought some arm sleeve warmers before leaving the expo. Rain was in the forecast for the entire weekend and we did see quite a bit of it on Saturday night. We stayed in Folsom the night before the race to be closer to the start. We headed out in the rain on Saturday night for a pre-race pasta dinner. There were a few well known Italian restaurants in the area so we picked one and it was busy. We got there early for dinner and still ended up waiting for about 40 minutes. If I do it again in the future I would definitely make a dinner reservation.
 I didn't sleep much that night, partly because of anticipation and partly because I could hear the rain hitting the building. As soon as I got up on race day I looked out the hotel window and saw that it was still raining. Despite all of the nerves and anticipation in that moment I accepted that my first marathon was going to be a wet one. I gathered my things and headed down to the hotel breakfast which started at 4:30am that day to accommodate runners. I got my bagel with peanut butter, banana and hot tea and headed for the shuttle bus. When I registered for the race there was an option to purchase a shuttle bus ticket from certain hotels to the race start for $10, which I opted for. The school bus was half full when I boarded and as I sat waiting for it to leave I noticed that the rain had stopped. At about 5:30am the nearly full bus left the hotel room. About 15 minutes later we were parked with all the other shuttle buses near the start line. I stayed on the bus for about another 15 minutes with some other runners, to keep warm. Once off the bus there were trucks taking sweat bags, several porta potties all with a long line and a separate "VIP" area for the people who stayed in Folsom hotels. This area had a private warming tent and 8-10 porta potties that had a short line. I would stay in Folsom again just for access to this area.
Since there was still no rain I checked my sweat bag with my jacket in it and headed towards the start line. I lined up with a pace leader that would be running a little slower than my anticipated finish time since I thought it would be a good way to keep me from going out too fast early in the race and not having enough to finish. Just as the sun was poking through the clouds we started the race.  The route took us through streets in Orangevale, Citrus Heights, Fair Oaks and Carmichael before running along Fair Oaks Blvd, close to the American River. After crossing the Fair Oaks Bridge the course headed through the streets of downtown Sacramento leading to the finish at the Capitol Park. There were about 18 aid stations on the course route, each offering water, and a sports drink. The first few aid stations were very crowded and confusing as it was not made clear who was dispensing water and who was dispensing sports drink. To make it a little more confusing the sports drink was clear in color so you could not even just take a glance at the cup and tell by its color. As the race went on the aid stations were more organized with volunteers shouting out where the water and sports drinks were. GU energy gels were provided at three different points in the race, mile 13, mile 20 and 23. There were also a few areas in the last eight miles of the race where orange slices, peanut butter filled pretzels and bananas were offered. Porta potties were supposed to be with every aid station but they were not, there were fewer than expected porta potties with very few in the first 6 miles. There were people lining most of the course with supportive signs and cheers.
The three relay exchange zones were particularly busy with lots of friends and family members cheering but they did a good job of keeping them off the course and making obvious which way to go if you were a relay participant or marathoner. The finish at the Capitol was exciting with a separate finish chute for men and women. After passing the finish line a few minutes ahead of the pacer I had been following for the majority of the race volunteers got my timing chip, gave me my finishers medal, blanket and a bottle of water. Finishers photos were also taken with a CIM backdrop. Sweatbag pick up was on the lawn in front of the Capitol and was easy since it was well organized. There were separate changing tents for men and women nearby. There was a long ling to get the postrace food but it moved quickly. There were bagels, fruit and pancakes as well as warm tomato soup and cookies. Physically I felt better postrace than I had anticipated. Mentally I was thrilled that it had not rained at all. As we walked to our car to head home, I felt a few rain drops falling. The race is very well organized as I imagine it always is. The route is great and despite a few small rolling hills it has a overall elevation drop of just over 300 feet. I would do it again.