Monday, December 12, 2016

Race Report: California International Marathon 2016 (Logistical Info)

(This post is about the all the logistical stuff you might be interested in if you're thinking of running CIM. If you want to read about how my race went, check out this post.)

Location: Folsom to Sacramento, CA

Date: Early December (Dec 4, 2016 this year)

Why run it? CIM is my favorite marathon to date, but the reason I was running it this year in particular is because when I had to skip the Santa Rosa Marathon in August 2015 due to a stress fracture, I'd signed up for CIM that December, thinking I'd let my leg heal, then keep building on my summer 2015 training, & be ready for a strong marathon in Sacramento. Alas, the healing took longer than I expected, and I lost a lot more fitness than I thought I would. I probably could have run CIM that year and finished just fine, but I didn't want to just finish, I wanted to run my best marathon ever. So instead I deferred my entry to 2016. (Pure luck that that was the first year they offered deferrals!)

Field Size: 6174 Finishers. The cap is 7,500 plus the guaranteed entries (see below) and CIM always sells out, so this number of finishers seems awfully low to me. I wonder if that is partly due to the new deferral option.

Pricing & Deadlines/sellout factor:

The pricing & deadline structure works a little differently than most other races I've run.

  • “Re-Run” Registration Special: $89. Available to finishers only, immediately after the race. Limited to 500 registrants.
  • “Re-Run” 2: $99. New for 2017, I think? Apparently the $89 "Re-Run" entries sold out super fast so they offered a second round at $10 more. Also limited to 500 registrants.
  • Early Registration: $125 (1,001st registrant through May 18)
  • Standard Registration: $139 (May 19 through July 13)
  • Late Registration: $150 (July 14 to race sell-out)
  • Guaranteed Entries: $175 (October 1 to October 16). Basically, if you've met the guaranteed entry standard in the last year (10 minutes slower than BQ times), you have this window to sign up even if the race is officially sold out.
  • 200 Charity entries available $275 (Until sold out)

The Expo:

At ~7000 runners, CIM is a reasonably big race (though obviously nothing like NYCM or Chicago), and the expo is fairly sprawling as well. It usually runs for two or three days, I think, usually closing at 5pm the day before the race. It's held at the Sacramento Convention Center & involves many of the usual suspects--running shoe/clothing purveyors, fueling companies, booths for a variety of California races, car raffles, etc. Picking up my bib & shirt has always been super easy & straightforward, as has finding last-minute accouterments (like sunglasses).

It's big enough, anyway, to have a giant 'CIM' you can take pictures with.


Incidentally, quite close to the Johnny Cash Bridge, where Folsom Blues Breakout Half started. I totally did not realize at the time that when I hit .2 miles or so into FBB Half, I was running right across the CIM starting line! Basically the shuttle buses park on the bridge, & the start is staged on Folsom-Auburn Road--starting line to the south, potties to the north, & gear check right across the road.

Starting line. (It was actually a lot darker than it looks. My phone is over-enthusiastic in low light.)

There have always been massive numbers of port-a-potties at this race, but for whatever reason this year those lines were LONG and SLOW. In the past I've stood in them for max 5 minutes, and this year it was over 20. So if I ever do the shuttle bus again, I will definitely get my butt out there before 6:30am.

The finish is at the State Capitol Building, which makes for a pretty background what with the architecture & giant Christmas tree. They also do separate finish lines for men & women so that the female winner can break the tape, which I've always thought was nice.

Bask in my mad photography skillz. Just kidding, I stole this picture from the SRA website..

This was the first year I used the bag check, and it was quite easy to go up to the "bag yard," have a volunteer take my bib number, & then go grab my bag for me. The only reason we weren't out of the finish area immediately was because I was bound & determined to ring that damned BQ bell, for which there was a very long line by the time I got in it. (Seriously. People were doing full-on photo shoots up there. TAKE YOUR DAMN PICTURE & MOVE ALONG!) Yes I know boo hoo hoo poor me.

Literally any excuse to post this picture from now until forever.

I assume there was food or something but I had absolutely zero interest whatsoever.


Given that it's a point-to-point course, you have two options: 1) Stay in Folsom near the finish, sleep in a little later, but find yourself showerless at the finish, or 2) stay in Sac within walking distance of the finish (super easy as there are many many hotels near the finish) & do a late checkout, but be sad because you're catching a 5am bus (or your friend/loved one's car) to the start. Super creative options include #3) get a buddy or a group together so you can justify a reservation at each end, or #4) be lucky enough to have friends or family who live at one end or the other. Given the choice between #1 & 2, I prefer 2, because I HATE not being able to quickly & easily clean up after.

There are many perfectly fine hotels in Sac within walking distance of the finish line at the Capitol building, but this year we stayed at the Holiday Inn by the freeway, about 6 blocks from the finish, for $159 + $16 parking, which was nice but not super fancy or anything. It was also less than 2 blocks from one of the shuttle bus pickups, key since it was ~40F outside & I was not trying to walk a long way in the cold 2 hours before a marathon. There was a bit of road noise from the freeway that I was worried about but ended up not bothering me at all. Solid recommendation, though there are plenty of others. As always, I recommend making a hotel reservation as soon as you think you *MIGHT* want to run since they fill up fast & you can always cancel it.

Our hotel lobby at 4:40am.

Waiting for buses on L street.

The Course:

If you've been hanging around here for any length of time, you know my feelings about this course. It is gently rolling for the first 20 miles, basically flat for the last 10K, with a net down hill of ~300' or so. There are a grand total of like six turns. That combined with the location & time of year, at least in my book, means your chances of fast, favorable race conditions are significantly better than in the vast majority of places. (I mean yes there was that one year there was a monsoon, but it was only one year. And yes there was the year it was like 15F at the start, but let's just remember that everyone & their grandmother ran, like, 20:00 PRs that year & not get too worried about it.)

Now, let us talk about the hills. To be honest, I talk about the hills in this race differently depending on who I'm talking to. When I'm talking to people who train in relatively flat places I say, "There are near-constant, gentle rolling hills in the first 20 miles. None of them are long or super steep but you should know they are there and you should train for them, especially the downhills. Don't go crazy on the uphills & prepare your quads for the descents so that you can enjoy that last flat 10K, less the freeway overpass at mile 21-22 (I forget exactly). Just be sure to do some hill training & you will be fine." When I'm talking to people who train in places like San Francisco where significant hills, up and down, are more or less an unavoidable part of your daily training, I say, "There are no hills in this race. You will be completely fine." Personally I like the variation in terrain because it lets me alternate muscle groups without totally wearing anything out too early, but I'm also used to it. (Also I kind of suspect I might not run as well on a pancake-flat course because of that.)

Aid stations are maybe every 2-2.5 miles or so for the first 20 miles, then more frequent after that (so basically, the perfect distribution). Now, this brings me to my one complaint about this year's CIM, which is the sports drink issue. In the past it's always been something with actual calories in it, like Gatorade or Ultima or something. LIKE YOU SHOULD BE DRINKING WHEN YOU'RE RUNNING A GODDAMN MARATHON. This year, as with Berkeley Half, there was goddamn fucking Nuun. God, I hate that stuff. I know it's super trendy or whatever but it is a) utterly disgusting and b) NOT appropriate for long distance fueling. You want to stay hydrated & have a few electrolytes during your yoga class? Fine. Bring a bottle of Nuun. If you're running 26+ miles, you need something with some goddamn calories in it. [end rant]

Let's finish on a positive note. I love the spectators at this race. Love love love. They're not constant, but there are pretty solid corridors at several points throughout the race, and they are among *the* most earnest, sincere spectators I have encountered at any race and they are absolutely screaming and cowbelling their hearts out for you, whether they know you or not.


Long sleeve logo tech shirt & finisher medal, plus post-race snacks (I assume?).

I know some other marathons give you like fancy backpacks or duffel bags or furry ponchos or whatever, but this is how they keep the costs down and the focus on running a fast, competitive race rather than tourism.

If you decide to run:

  • Reserve your hotel early. You can always cancel it.
  • Make your dinner reservations early. There are lots of good restaurants but they WILL fill up with large groups on Saturday night. (We quite enjoyed Hook & Ladder & it was about a mile from the expo.)
  • Train for the hills, if you're not used to them.
  • Don't wear too many clothes. Yes, it's cold at the start (except when it's cold & wet) but people are always shedding clothes like maniacs 4-5 miles in.

Overall Assessment:

Guys. You know my feelings on this. CIM is basically God's gift to marathons and if I had to run only one marathon for the rest of my life and forsake all others, it would hands down be this one, no question. Some people will tell you it is hilly and cold and boring and not as fast as everyone says but those people are lying liars. There are reasons people come from all over the country to run BQs and OTQs here. Ask the BAA. CIM is hands down the best marathon there is, the end.

(Even if they did pour f---ing Nuun this year.)


  1. So I ran CIM for the first time this year. And I with agree with everything you wrote.....especially the Nuun drink! I hate that stuff! I started feeling really nauseous around mile 15 and I really thought I was going to have to pull over to the side of the road and be sick. I totally think it was the Nuun cause everything else I ate was my normal long run fuel. I stopped taking it then and stuck with water, which isn't ideal. But I just couldn't stomach it anymore!

    Congrats on your amazing race!

    1. THANK YOU!!!

      Ugh. Nuun is just vile.

  2. At least the Nuun wasn't HEED! #blech

  3. #blogtwinz #raceshirtphototwinz