Monday, December 9, 2019

My 26th Marathon: California International

Yesterday I ran my 26th marathon! The California International Marathon (CIM) in Sacramento. This race has a reputation for being very fast, and it attracts a highly competitive field. More runners qualify for the Olympic trials at this race than any other. So even though the race isn't as large as New York or Chicago, it attracts competitive runners who want to run fast.

For years, many runner friends had told me that I should run CIM. The race had never appealed to me because of the time zone change and how my body does not like to shift its schedule. Also, I knew there would be a possibility of warm weather. The weather has been good the past few years, but there have also been some warm years, and December in CA is not like December on the east coast. Finally, I knew it was a hilly course and I tend to run my best on flat courses. CIM is net downhill, but there are plenty of up hills to make it a challenge.

But I finally decided to do it so I could understand what all the hype was about. And if it didn't turn out well, at least I could say I did it. I had also been considering Richmond and Rehoboth again, but if either of those didn't go well, I wouldn't have even experienced a new race.

Below is the elevation profile of CIM. Notice all the little uphills that make this course more challenging than it would seem at first glance,

We arrived in Sacramento on Thursday, giving us plenty of time to recover from the long flight and just "chill out" before the race. We stayed at the Citizen Hotel, which we booked through Destination CIM. Destination CIM is the official hospitality partner for CIM and they offer VIP packages.

Post shake-out run, the finish behind me
I slept remarkably well on Thursday night and I found the hotel bed to be comfortable. We fell asleep at 6:15pm, which was 9:15pm east coast time. Our goal was to try to stay on our normal schedule. On Friday, we went to the expo to get our race packets. We had dinner at 4:30pm and were in bed by 6:15pm. But I think my body realized something was off, because I was awake again shortly after, and stayed awake from 7:30-9:00pm local time. I finally fell back asleep, but it wasn't long before I was awoken by the sound of a loud bass.

Even though we had a white noise machine cranked up, the low-frequency bass was still audible and prevented us from sleeping. We called down to the front desk and they said that there was a night club next door. So, I was awake from 11:30-2:00am. By the time the bass stopped, I couldn't fall back asleep because it was 5:00 east coast time, which is when I normally wake up.

Greg and I did our shake out run at 6:00am on Saturday morning since we were wide awake, and the Destination CIM breakfast was from 7:00-9:00am. I was the "special guest" at this breakfast, and it was great meeting up with some runners who follow me on Instagram and who have read my book.

We told Steve, the Destination CIM manager, that our hotel room was really loud, and he was able to get us moved to a quieter room. So after taking a quick, 30-minute nap, we moved all of our stuff into a different room, that was further away from the night club.

We spent most of the day relaxing in our hotel room and again had an early dinner at 4:00pm. To avoid any possible noise, we used the ear plugs that the hotel provided, which was a first for me. Once in bed, I laid awake in bed for two hours. Finally, at 8:30, I took the ear plugs out. I theorized that since I had never slept in earplugs before, it was something "new" that was keeping me up. Once I did that, I was able to fall asleep. Oh, the irony.

The room did end up being a lot quieter, not only terms of the night club music, but in terms of traffic. The first room was on the corner of the hotel so we could hear all the loud cars going by. Even though we now had a quiet room, my body was so screwed up from the time zone change and not having slept the night before that it didn't know what to do. As a result, I ended up only getting 4-5 hours of total sleep on Saturday night on top of the mere 4 hours I got on Friday night. I didn't freak out because I had run strong races on very little sleep in the past. Plus, I had slept very well Monday-Thursday and my adrenaline + caffeinated gels would keep my energy levels high.

Nutrition & Hydration
I made sure to stay extra hydrated Thursday-Saturday, given the flight and the forecasted humidity. I used UCAN Hydrate on Friday and Saturday (one packet each day), in addition to drinking regular water. I also put a packet of the UCAN Hydrate in my hand-held water bottle for the race.

As for nutrition, I kept it pretty simple. I had salmon for dinner the night before, with a side of bread. I ate my large meal at lunch, which was chicken and waffles, plus a large piece of banana bread.

Before the race
In the hotel on race morning
I had been sleeping on and off all night, but I was awake for good starting at around 2:30am. UGH. There was nothing more I could do about my lack of sleep, so I didn't focus on it and I refused to let it be a reason for not working hard during the race.

Greg and I got dressed and left our hotel room at 4:30 for the Destination CIM breakfast in the hotel. I wasn't at all hungry, but I made myself have half a bagel with peanut butter. I took a banana with me for the bus ride. At 4:45, we walked over to the VIP buses. These were coach buses as opposed to the school buses that most runners used. The best thing about the coach bus was the bathroom on board!

After a 40-minute drive, we arrived at the start line in Folsom. We entered the VIP tent, which was heated, and had a nice spread of food, water, and private porta potties. It also had chairs, which meant we didn't have to sit on the wet ground, or stand around for an hour. I highly recommend using Destination CIM to anyone running this race because it was so nice to have the upgraded bus and a relaxing place to hang out pre-race.

It was 55 degrees at the start line, with 95% humidity. The forecast had deteriorated quite a bit over the previous five days. I had originally been optimistic about the weather, even though it wasn't ideal. But the temperature & humidity kept rising, and the chance for rain kept decreasing. Mid 50's and rain is manageable, but we were looking at high 50s with 95% humidity, and only a slight chance of rain. I was as prepared as possible, having hydrated very well, with a plan to pour water over myself at all the water stations. I even poured water on my head before the race start so I'd have wet hair. My race outfit was as minimal as possible: shorts and a sports bra.

I finished my Generation UCAN energy drink in the tent, and then we walked to the start line. For the first time ever in a race, I put my phone in my checked gear bag. I had never done that before because I don't like the idea of it getting lost, but I really wanted to get a photo shortly after finishing the race. The start line was self-seeded, and that ended up working out just fine. Greg and I positioned ourselves in the second corral, which was a projected finish time of 3:05-3:25. Yes, they had an entire corral for sub 3:05 runners! Very competitive.

Race Plan
My original goal was sub-3:10. By Thursday, I had backed that down to 3:10:59. Given the humidity, I thought even that was unlikely, so my plan was to start at a pace that would yield a small PR, and if I could speed up in the second half, great! If not, I would still be able to PR. I figured starting out at around 7:25 would give me the flexibility to go faster if I felt good, or stay steady and still PR by a tiny bit. For reference my PR was 3:15:34, which is a pace of 7:27.

Unfortunately, humidity is deceptive-- you don't realize it's affecting you until it's too late. When I ran the Pike's Peek 10K last spring, the conditions were exactly the same- temps in the mid 50's with 95% humidity and overcast. I was about a minute off of my goal during that race, even though I never felt "hot". I beat myself up for not pushing hard enough because I didn't feel like the humidity was slowing me down.

Miles 1-6
The race started and I was impressed at how un-crowded it felt for the number of people. The road was wide, so there was plenty of room for everyone to run their own pace. I didn't find myself needing to weave my way around anyone, so the self-seeding worked beautifully from my perspective. I carried a bottle of water mixed with UCAN Hydrate, and I drank from it every 15 minutes. At the water stations, I poured 2-3 cups over myself to keep cool.

I ran with Greg for the first half mile, and then I pulled ahead slightly. His goal was sub 3:20, and he planned to start out at a pace of 7:40. As I crossed over the 5K timing mat, my watch read 23:00. I thought of the people tracking me and was happy that they would have their first split. However, my chip didn't register at that mat, and at many of the subsequent mats!

Everything felt pretty good to start out, although it didn't feel as easy as Rehoboth Beach had felt. I told myself to trust my training, and have the confidence to maintain my pace. When you get to the next level of fitness, it means you can push harder for longer, so that's what I would do.

When we got to mile 5, the sun came out. WTF!? It wasn't supposed to be sunny. My saving grace for this race was that the sky was supposed to be overcast the whole way. I started to feel the additional warmth immediately and I knew that if the sun stayed out, it would be a very difficult day for me.

Mile 1: 7:27
Mile 2: 7:23
Mile 3: 7:17
Mile 4: 7:24
Mile 5: 7:24
Mile 6: 7:20

Miles 7-13
I crossed the 10K checkpoint at 45:49, which is a pace of 7:23. I ran the second 5K 11 seconds faster than the first. That was exactly what I wanted-- a very gradual increase in speed. The course was rolling hills, with a slight net downhill. The annoying thing about the course was that no sections were flat. It was either up or down, and I found it hard to get into a groove. When I race, I like to set a pace or effort level and cruise along. I tried keeping my effort level consistent and letting the course guide me, but it didn't feel as smooth as a flat course would have.

I wasn't surprised by the amount of uphill, but I was surprised that there wasn't a single flat section. When I got to mile 10, I realized that things felt harder than they should at this point. I was working hard, and I could feel it. In Rehoboth, everything felt relatively easy at mile 10. So, instead of speeding up like I originally had planned, I decided to stay at around 7:25.

Mile 11, Elyse cheers for me!
I took my homemade Generation UCAN gel at mile 11, and at the same time, I saw a friend cheering for me from the side of the course! It was definitely nice to see a friendly face, and a much-needed pick-me-up.

The clouds kept coming and going, and thankfully parts of the course were shaded. But there was no rain, which is what I wanted most, so I kept pouring cups of water all over myself. The temperature had risen a few degrees, too, which made things even more challenging.

Mile 7: 7:22
Mile 8: 7:21
Mile 9: 7:28
Mile 10: 7:18
Mile 11: 7:24
Mile 12: 7:24
Mile 13: 7:27

Miles 14-17
My chip didn't register at the 15K, the 20K, or the half marathon point! I didn't know this while I was running, but apparently the people tracking me thought I was having major problems because my splits weren't coming through. Thankfully, I took a mental note of my half marathon split, which was 1:37:00. Back when I was shooting for a 3:10, my original plan was to hit the halfway in 1:36:00, but
We're all working hard!
I had already started adjusting my goal, so I was pleased with 1:37:00, which meant I could still PR, even if I ran a 1-minute positive split.

My legs were already tired and I was already feeling like I was pushing hard, which is not what you want at mile 13. So I made a conscious decision to back off the effort. I probably could have turned out a few more miles at a pace of 7:25, but I did not want to crash and burn. I figured if I ran 7:35s all the way to the finish, it would still be a solid race.

I finished the last of my water at mile 14 and tossed the bottle aside. It felt good to not be holding the bottle, and perked me up for a bit. There was a slight headwind here, but it didn't cause too much of a problem. Other people talked about this section of the course being really difficult post race, but I think I was so happy to have a cooling breeze, that I didn't really notice the wind as an obstacle.

The 3:15 pace group caught up with me during the 15th mile and I wasn't surprised. I thought I might be able to hang with them for a while, but they passed me pretty quickly. At that point, I knew I wouldn't be setting a PR, so my job was to stay mentally positive and run to the best of my ability. I knew I was well trained. My training was still relevant and would still get me to the finish line.

I had a caffeinated Maurten gel at 16.5, and hoped that would perk me up.

Mile 14: 7:32
Mile 15: 7:56
Mile 16: 8:00
Mile 17: 7:39

Miles 18-21
With 9 miles to go, I wondered how I would ever make it. I had rapidly declined and I had visions of run-walking my way to the finish. I reminded myself that walking would only prolong the pain. Also, I was still running at a decent clip, it just felt really awful. I told myself if I could keep the pace under an 8-minute mile, I'd be faster than I was at Sugarloaf last spring.

Somewhere around mile 19, it started raining. Hooray! It felt so good. But by that point, it was too little too late. The heat and humidity had already done their damage so the even though the rain was welcome, it wasn't enough to get me back down into the 7:20s. It was short-lived, too. After about 10 minutes, the rain vanished as quickly as it had come, and the sun was rearing its ugly head once again.

It was time to enter the flat portion of the course. What a relief to be off of those hills! Sure, I wouldn't have the help of the downhills, but my legs couldn't possibly do any more climbing.

Mile 18: 7:57
Mile 19: 7:54
Mile 20: 7:48
Mile 21: 7:52

Miles 22-Finish
I took my second Maurten gel and hoped that the caffeine would give me a boost. With five miles to go, I remembered how short 5 miles was in training. My shortest training run was 60 minutes, which was around 7 miles, so all I had to do was hold it together for a shorter amount of time than an easy run. The 3:20 pace group caught up to me and passed me. Not a big surprise, and I didn't let it demoralize me.

Not once did I let negativity creep into my mind. I made sure to smile, to not think about the misery I was in, and to instead focus on my form, and focus on getting to the next mile. At this point, I was no longer in control of my pace. I had no extra gears, the best I could do was to keep moving forward. By my calculations, I was on track for 3:24, which would be a respectable time, a solid BQ, and my 3rd fastest marathon.

I started to wonder when I would see Greg pass me. I guessed it would be somewhere around mile 21-23, and sure enough, I heard him coming up from behind me at mile marker 23. I was happy that he was having a good race and looking so strong. With just 5K left to go, I wanted to stick with him, but he was running in the 7:30's and I was in the low 8's. I simply couldn't make my legs go any faster. I kept reminding myself that I was still in the game. I smiled a lot and counted down the minutes left in the race. For me, it's always better to think about time left in a race rather than

When it came time for the last mile, I thought I could rally and maybe go faster. Nope. Nothing left in the tank! At mile 25.5, I wasn't even sure I would be able to make it to the finish. The race needed to end. Like, NOW. I was totally destroyed.

But, alas, I turned the final corner and saw the finish line ahead of me. There was no final kick. It was a struggle simply to get there in one piece!

Mile 22: 8:19
Mile 23: 8:12
Mile 24: 8:05
Mile 25: 8:15
Mile 26: 8:13
Last 0.3: (7:57 pace)

I crossed the finish line in 3:22:23. As per usual, my math was off when calculating my projected finish time. 7 minutes slower than my PR, and 12 minutes off of my goal time.

After the race
Greg had finished in 3:20:20, which was a PR for him by over 4 minutes! He saw me finish, and we walked through the finish line area together. I vomited, which seems to be the norm for me now, but there wasn't a lot in my stomach to come out.

I was feeling pretty wrecked. As we waited to get our bag from gear check, I started to see black spots, so I sat down on a bench. It wasn't long before Greg got the bag and found me on the bench. We sat there for a few minutes and then proceeded to take the post-race photos. I wanted to ring the BQ bell, but the line was really long-- once again, a super competitive field!

A few Instagram followers introduced themselves to me, and it was really exciting to meet so many people who had been following my journey. During the race itself, there were about 3-4 runners who said hi to me and cheered me on who knew me from Instagram. Definitely exciting bright spots in the race.

Greg and I finally made our way back to the Citizen Hotel and the shower felt amazing. Destination CIM had brunch waiting for us, so we didn't need to leave the hotel to get food, Even though I felt like garbage, my spirits were high. I was just happy to be done, and even though I missed my goal, I stayed strong mentally and ran a very solid race.

Final Thoughts and Takeaways
It seems that many runners struggled in the humidity yesterday. Most people I know missed their goal by a good bit, and slowed down significantly in the second half of the race. Some people, like Greg, can run well when it's in the 50's and humid, but I am not one of those people. I run my fastest when it's in the upper 30's, and I'm comfortable running in the 20's. Generally speaking, if I don't need gloves, I'm not PRing!

My coach's comments were:

That was a tough day for a lot of athletes across the board today. The slow down was crazy...almost to a point where I've not seen that in a marathon before. The conditions really effected most of the field so the way you kept pushing yourself hard through those later miles is so so impressive. I think you can be very proud of yourself and how you handed the race knowing that conditions were going to be tough for your body. I certainly am.

When I looked up my results, I realized that even though I got progressively slower throughout the race, I continued to move my way up in the field!

  • At the 10K point, I was in 2,144th place (includes all runners, male and female). 
  • At the 30K point, I had moved up 44 spots to 2,070.
  • At the finish, I moved up 61 more spots to 2,009th place.

This shows that I did not slow down as much as other runners, and I continued to pass people all the way to the finish. I started out a pace that was 10 seconds per mile slower than what I thought I could do in ideal conditions, and many runners probably did not make that kind of adjustment.

The weather and the sleep situation were unfortunate, and those were the exact reasons why I had reservations about CIM. But at least now I can say that I did the race, and had the opportunity to show my mental toughness. I'm one and done on this race and won't be going back. I prefer flat courses, and if I want hills, I have Boston for that!

Some days, a PR simply isn't available due to circumstances beyond our control. That doesn't mean we can't find satisfaction in our perseverance and effort level. Our race times do not define us.

My training served me well, because running a time of 3:22 in 95% humidity in the high 50's would not have been possible in previous cycles. This is a BQ by over 17 minutes, and I'm proud of it.

That being said, I have more fire in me than ever to run that sub 3:10. My next shot at it will be Boston-- a difficult course with historically bad weather. But I'm going to keep trying my best and putting in the work. I have 100% confidence in my ability to reach this goal, and it will happen when it's meant to. In the meantime, I am going to keep enjoying the ride.


  1. Holy Smokes, Fabulous Post - Proud Of Ya


  2. I'm sorry you had a tough race. I'm glad you gave CIM a shot, though. You never know until you try.

  3. Excellent post as all your blogs are! Congratulations on 26th marathon! You can't always run faster and break PR's and when you factor in the temps and humidity effects, you ran quite an excellent performance. Hopefully you can get that marathon PR 3:10 in Boston! Yes it's a tough course with the hills 16-21 miles, but it is not impossible to run your best there! I did my fastest 3:24:56 there in 2011 and it was on sunny and pleasantly warm side, but we had a tail-wind all the way! And in that cold monsoon rain in 2018 you ran quite a fast marathon in very difficult conditions. So you keep training like you do....keep that confidence I see you have nurtured so well these past 2 years...and you stand a real great chance of getting that PR in Boston. Sadly...after 11 straight years, I will not be there to run a 12th. Drat...was hoping to meet you in person there in 2020, but just did not work out for me this past year to re-qualify. But I will be tracking your progress on race day! Again, Congrats on being "tough as nails" and belting out very respectable FT at CIM.