Sunday, December 11, 2011

Race Report: 2011 California International Marathon, Part 2 (Just the Facts)

CIMSo this is the part of the race report that’s more like an event review. For details about my first marathon experience & how my race went, see CIM 2011, Part 1.

Location: Folsom, CA to Sacramento, CA

Date: Early December (December 4, 2011 this year)

The Deal: CIM was created in 1983 to be sort of a West Coast answer to Boston – a fast, net-downhill race where the focus is on running a fast race. Serious runners come from all over the country every year to run PRs, BQs, and OTQs.

Price: $85 early registration (through June 1); $105 regular price

Deadline: October 1st or 7,500 runners. From Oct 1 – Oct 15, runners who met the CIM guaranteed entry standard in the last 2 years (~10 minutes faster than the BQ times) could enter even if the 7,500 runner limit had been reached (I don’t think it was this year). From Oct 15 – Nov 1, registration re-opened for everyone.

Field Size: A big race (7,500 runners), but not stupid-obscene (less than 400 runners in my age/gender group).

Sellout Factor: It will sell out, but I think this year it actually didn’t sell out until sometime in November. (It sounded like it sold out in October in 2010.)

The Course

Touted as “the fastest course in the West,” CIM is net-downhill and many runners do come to Sacramento for a PR or BQ. That said, it’s gentle rolling hills the whole way and can definitely take its toll on your body if you’re not used to running hills, especially downhills. (Note to San Francisco runners – Don’t believe what anyone tells you. There are no hills in this race. Period.). I also appreciate the relatively few turns in this race. There are maybe 5-6 all told, which is INCREDIBLE for a full marathon.


You have a few options for getting to the start. Option #1 is to stay near the finish in Sacramento & take a bus to the start. The pros are that (presumably) the bus drivers know where they’re going, and when you finish the race you’ll be near your lodging. The con is that you’ll have to get up earlier as the last buses leave ~5:30 am (although apparently you can sit on the bus up until 15 minutes before the start at 7:00.)

Option #2 is to stay near the start in Folsom & get someone to drop you off at the start (or, if you are hardcore & can arrange to stay close enough, jog there). Courtney’s parents live near the start so we all stayed at their place, and Layla (who was volunteering) took us to the runner drop off point. The pro is that you can get up a little later. The con is that, if you leave your stuff in Folsom, you have to get back there somehow after the race.

There is a sweat check, for which you use the free sample bag you got at the expo, upon which the volunteers emblazon your bib number. I did not check anything but I think everyone else I ran with checked at least something. As with most races, they warn you not to check anything of value (keys, phones, etc.), but people invariably do. A lot of people have had no problem with the sweat check but I have also heard stories of people who ended up with missing items or missing bags altogether, so I would try to avoid checking anything you really care about.

There are about a BILLION port-o-potties at the start (seriously – port-o-potties as far as the eye can see), so fear not in that regard. However, do also be aware that, as my podiatrist warned me, the start is guaranteed to be either freezing cold or freezing cold & wet, so throwaway layers (and potentially trash bags) are a good bet. On the other hand, unless you generally run cold, resist the urge to wear too much. Although I was cold at the start (~38°), I was perfectly comfortable in a tank, shorts, arm warmers, & gloves after just a few minutes of running. I took off my gloves after about 10 miles, and it was ~55° when I finished around 10:45 am. I considered wearing tights and was SO GLAD I didn’t. Even the arm warmers were almost too much. (Then again, I do run slightly warm.)


Keeping warm at the start


Such a beautiful sight!

Aid stations were plentiful & easily accessible, especially toward the end of the course. Obviously I would’ve preferred something other than grape Ultima but I suppose you have to go with what you’ve got the budget for. (Also, I think the volunteers sort of got that they were offering a sub-par sports drink and that is why they were yelling “ELECTROLYTES!” rather than “ULTIMA!”) My one piece of feedback about the aid stations is that there were not enough trash cans as you left the aid stations, and/or the trash cans came too quickly, so that I had already passed all of them by the time I finished my water / electrolytes / whatever. I try really hard to be a good citizen & not throw my cups & gu packets on the ground, but several times during the race I ended up doing it because I was so sick of holding the damned thing.

At the finish, there is both a medical tent and a self-serve ice tent. This sounds great in theory but in reality when I ducked into the ice tent I was greeted by at least 2-3 dozen runners all waiting for ice & was told that it would be a long wait to get any. I inquired after ice at the medical tent instead & was re-directed to the ice tent. So no ice for me. This seems like kind of a logistical fail.

I was pleasantly surprised to learn that there were also changing tents near the finish. By changing tent, I really do mean a literal tent containing only chairs & sweaty people changing clothes, but it was still really nice to be able to get out of my sweat-soaked gear without having to walk all the way back to the hotel first.


For your trouble, a long-sleeve tech shirt and a heavy duty finisher medal (with a really nice ribbon, several of us observed!). (Note -- I’m kind of miffed that the men’s & women’s finisher shirts were different colors. The women’s shirt was powder blue & the men’s shirt was navy blue. If I had known this I would’ve totally registered as a dude because the navy blue shirt was MUCH more attractive.)


For the record, I wasn’t much of a fan of the shirt & medal art. The bear kind of falls into this uncanny valley between a realistic bear and a cartoon bear and frankly the whole thing is kind of weird looking. I would’ve preferred something more like the art from previous years.

The Upshot

I would *absolutely* run this race again! Well-organized, sweet course, great weather, fantastic volunteers, extremely reasonably priced, a *million* port-o-potties....What's not to love? (Well; alright. I'd pack my own ice packs in my finish bag. But in general, I have very, very few complaints.) Hope to see you next year, CIM!


  1. As you know, I love the bear. C'mon. It's smiling!

    Maybe this is because I neglected to do anything remotely close to hill work after Clarksburg, but I thought there were some rollers in CIM. Not huge hills, but significant enough to wear my legs out.

    And yeah, the number of porta-potties was glorious. Felt like angels singing when I arrived ...

  2. Nice review! Yea, after doing SFM I think running CIM would feel weird with the whole no hills thing, haha Hopefully next year I'll be able to run it.

    And Fiesta Bowl should be great indeed, seems like Stanford fans are buying a lot of the tickets that were allotted to Stanford!

  3. I think it felt flat to me at the time because there are so many big hills near where I live, & also because I was so worried about them being bigger! Even though it didn't feel hilly, I definitely felt the downhills in my quads in the day or two after.