December 4, 2011

California International Marathon

For the second year in a row I ran the Calfornia International Marathon (CIM) from Folsom to Sacramento. It was my second time running CIM, and my second time running a marathon. When I ran CIM last year I was very nervous with it being my first marathon. Although I did feel much better at the finish than I thought I would, it was the most physically and mentally grueling thing I had ever been through. As my sore legs carried me back to the car after the race I was asked if I would do it again. I think I said something along the lines of "Nah, I'm glad I did it once and now I can say I did a marathon but I don't think I'll do it again". Well, as the soreness dissipated and time went on I started thinking about doing it again. Maybe if I continued to train I could beat my time. That thought became more and more appealing so after a few months I registered for CIM again. Aside from the marathon there was a four person relay and a 2.62 mile marFUNrun in Sacramento. Over 14,000 participants took part in the events. Bib pick up was at an Expo at the Sacramento Convention Center. It took place the Friday and Saturday before the race. Bib pick up was well organized but there did seem to be a lot of stops. First I got my bib and timing chip, then made another stop to check my timing chip to make sure it was programmed correctly, then made another stop to get my shirt and goody bag which doubled as my sweat check bag. Along with bib/shirt pick up there were various vendors at the Expo selling running clothing and gear. There were also several booths promoting upcoming races. There were also free cliff bar samples of new and popular flavors which were good. There was also a Medical Symposium  and Marathon Speaker Clinics where speakers discussed various topics related to marathon running such a preparing for CIM, avoiding injury and motivation. After the Expo we headed out to Folsom and did a little shopping before dinner time. Last year we had eaten at a well known Italian restaurant but we ended up waiting about 40 minutes and were disappointed with the food so this year we opted for pizza and it was great. After dinner we headed over to our hotel to check-in. We stayed in a hotel in Folsom again this year and glad we did because they had the VIP warming tent for Folsom guests again. The night before the race I laid out my clothes and gear and went to bed early. Weather for the weekend was expected to be cold and clear. I was thrilled since it was a rainy weekend the year before, even though it didn't really rain during the race. On the day of the race I got up really early after a bad nights rest. I kept waking up during the night worried that I would oversleep and miss the race. My plan was to wake up at 4:30am to be on the shuttle bus at 5:15 but I was wide awake at 3:30am and just kept going through my mental list of things to take. I finally got out of bed and got dressed. I had packed my extras like sweats, water and peanut butter sandwich in my sweat bag so I wouldn't forget them on race day. Just before 5am I made my way down to the hotel lobby where they were serving breakfast. They started it at 4:15am, much earlier than usual, because of the marathon. It was great for the runners participating in the race. I sat and ate my peanut butter sandwich and grabbed a banana for later. When registering for the race there was an option to pay $10 to take a shuttle bus from the hotel to the race start and I had opted for that. The "shuttle bus" (school bus) arrived at about 5am and seats began to fill soon after. It left the hotel at about 5:20 and made the drive over to the start. Last year when we had arrived we were one among several buses but this year we were the first ones to arrive. Although it was still dark, I could see Folsom Dam from the bus itself. We were given the option to stay on the bus as long as we wanted but most of us got off the bus and made the short walk to the warming tent. It wasn't too warm to start but warmer than just standing outside in the 27 degree air. Several chairs were set up in the tent and 6 portapotties were lined up just outside the tent. Like the warming tent, the portapotties were for use only by the Folsom guests. If I continue to run CIM the VIP Folsom area would be reason enough for me to stay in Folsom again. Back to the race. Race start was scheduled for 7am so I ate my banana at about 6:15 and started getting my gear together soon after. After a couple of bathroom stops I made my way out of the tent into the cold. I shed some layers of clothing and packed it in my sweat bag. There were three big rental trucks used to transport the sweat bags to the finish, they were organized by bib number. I gave mine to the appropriate truck and then started making my way towards the starting line. The sun was just starting to come up as I found the pace group I was planning to run with the 3:55 group which included Diedre Fitzpatrick.

My goal was to finish under 4 hours. Someone sang the national anthem and just as we were about to go I took off my last long sleeve shirt and tossed it away from the crowd. It took me about a minute and a half to cross the start line and then made a quick right turn. It was right then that I got a little ahead of the 3:55 pace group and never saw them again. The course was the same as last year, the same as it has been for the last 29 years. As I went through Orangevale, Citrus Heights, Fair Oaks and Carimichael I passed several spectators cheering on family members, friends and strangers. There were a couple of firetrucks with fireman hanging out of windows and offering high fives. I ran along Fair Oaks Blvd, close to the American River. The weather was great-cool and sunny. It was perfect. As I kept running I noticed that I was on pace to finish closer to 3:50. I was exhilarated. Even though the first 17-18 mills consisted of rolling hills I was still on pace to finish close to 3:50, if I could just keep the pace. At the 20 mile marker there was a fake brick wall that represented hitting the wall in the race. Thankfully I felt surprisingly good. After crossing the Fair Oaks Bridge the course headed through the streets of downtown Sacramento leading to the finish at Capitol Park. There were about 18 aid stations on the course route, each with water and Ultima sports drink. The first few stations were very crowded but this year it was much easier to distinguish between which volunteers had the water and which had the sports drink.
It was always water first, Ultima second. Last year I had a difficult time finding those with the water in the first half of the race. GU energy gels were provided at around mile 13 and 20. Gels were supposed to be offered at about mile 23 as well but I must have missed it. I had GU's and Honey Stinger energy chews of my own so I was fine. There were also a few areas in the last half of the race where orange slices, banana slices and licorice were offered. Portapotties were sparse in the first several miles but as I got closer to the finish they seem to be everywhere. Spectators lined much of the course with the usual cowbells and motivational signs and there were bands at certain points, ranging from high school marching bands to local rock bands. There were three relay exchange zones which were very busy with the relay participants as well as spectators. Race organizers did do a good job of keeping the course clear for the runners and making it clear where to go if you were a relay participant. Relay chutes were always on the right and marathoners always continued on the left side of the course. The finish line at the Capitol was great and there were tons of spectators. There was a separate finish chute for men and women. After crossing the finish line I looked at my time-just under 3:50, woohoo! A volunteer put a finishers medal over my head while another gave me a blanket, someone then removed the timing chip off my shoe,  and then I was ushered towards some chocolate milk, it tasted spectacular.
I got some water and then waited my turn for my finishers photo to be taken with the official CIM backdrop. I met up with my family and made my way to the food area. I was in and out quicker than last year. There was fruit, bagels, cookies, tomato soup and freshly made pancakes. I got my food and ate as I walked towards the sweat bags on the lawn. Sweat bag pick up was a little further than last year but it felt good to just keep moving. The sun was out, it was in the 50's, it was great. I felt better physically and mentally than I expected and better than last year. After getting my sweat bag we headed to the car to head home. Once again, the race was very well organized, from the expo to the course itself, to the post race food and sweat bag pickup. The course is nice and despite the rolling hills it's a fast course with an overall elevation drop of just over 300 feet. Can't wait to do it again, maybe I'll set a new PR next time.