Friday, December 9, 2011

Race Report: 2011 California International Marathon, Part 1 (My Race)

CIM Course Map

GarminThe Bottom Line:

Garmin - 3:47:07, 26.27 miles, ~8:38 pace
Official - 3:47:04, 26.2 miles, ~8:39 pace

Overall: 1834/5754
Women: 482/2484
Age/Gender: 99/393

Heh. So, apparently, the longer the race, the longer the race report. When this one started getting kind of insane, I decided to split it into two. Part 1 (this) is about my race & experience and is more of a recap. Part 2 is more like a review of the race itself ("just the facts, ma'am").

Without further ado!

The 30-Second Story: Other than running with asthma for miles 2 through 26.27 (déjà vu, anyone??), I could not have asked for a better race or a better experience. Although I almost certainly would have run a faster race if not for the asthma, given that it was my first marathon & I only trained for it for about two months (plus a few weeks of not running thanks to a super fun upper respirator infection), I really have no room whatsoever to complain. I swore that if I finished I would be proud of the accomplishment no matter what my time and avoid getting bogged down in coulda-shoulda-woulda's, and that is exactly what I intend to do. :)

The Longer Story:

Asthma aside, I am still elated about so many things that happened as well as so many things that did not.

Things That Happened:
  • Awesome pre-race dinner & sleep-over with Courtney, Alyssa, Michelle, Sesa, Layla, and Karin. These ladies were so awesome & supportive and I am so grateful that I got to have my first marathon experience with them.
  • Fantastic logistical coordination thanks to Courtney, Layla, & Don. Sleeping at Courtney's parents' place meant we were only ~20 minutes from the start. Layla volunteering at the finish meant she could drive us to the start, then take my bags with her to the finish. Don coming with me & staying in Sac walking distance from the finish meant he could meet me with my recovery bag, that I could be showered & changed within an hour of finishing, & also that I wouldn't have to drive myself home with marathon legs/brain. All of this couldn't have worked out more perfectly.
  • Charmed packing. Although I tried to be super methodical, I was so afraid I'd realize Saturday night that I'd forgotten some key piece of clothing or equipment, but I had everything I needed.
  • Perfect weather. Yes, we couldn't feel our toes at the starting line (a news report I read said it was 28°; I really think it was more like 40ish), but within a few minutes of the gun I was completely comfortable in a tank, shorts, arm warmers, & gloves. Even at the finish, I think it was still only ~55ish (though sunny).
  • All my clothes & gear worked out about as well as you can possibly expect. I have a little chafing in places and a few small blisters on my toes, but nothing debilitating. (I did have one blister burst at mile 23, which, if you'll indulge me, SUUUUUCKED for about 90 seconds.)
  • Sweet cheering section courtesy of Jana, Beth, & Karin, who made awesome signs & screamed their heads off for us at multiple points on the course. You guys rock!!
  • Sweet tangents. Even if it was a perfect 26.2 course, I'll take .07 over any day.
  • My pace did slow over the course of the race, but it never went completely off the rails & for the most part I stayed between 8:30 & 9:00 / mile the whole way.
  • Yes, the last 10K was hard, but I enjoyed it & actually felt pretty good the whole way, & it never got so tough that I seriously worried about not finishing.
  • I heard Don yelling at me at mile 24 & I was so happy that he'd actually spotted me before the finish. He even got a couple of pics. :)

Things That Did Not Happen:
  • Rain
  • Wind (we were worried about this because it had been insanely windy the day before, but as far as I could tell the air was perfectly still)
  • Overly warm temps
  • Garmin malfunctions
  • Shin splint pain (woo!)
  • Tendon pain (double woo!)
  • Calf pain (though I did have one small, minor cramp during my last mad 200 yard sprint to the finish)
  • Any new & exciting injuries
  • Digestive issues / pit stops
  • Cramps (excepting the aforementioned)
  • "The Wall"
  • Bonking/low blood sugar
  • Dehydration

Just really almost a perfect day.

The Play-By-Play

The weekend got off to a nervous start -- Don & I ended up leaving SF a little on the late side & then running into some bad traffic on 24, and I was a little worried about getting to the expo by 5 pm to pick up my bib. We just made it, though, & after stopping by the Econo Lodge to check into the room that Don would be staying in, we headed up to Courtney's parents' place in Granite Bay. They are wonderful, wonderful people and I appreciate so much that they let us all crash there!

marathon eve

Layla, Alyssa, Courtney, Michelle, Don, me, Sesa

Before we arrived, the other gals had made some tasty pizzas & salad (not to mention the delicious pastries by Courtney's grandmother) & we all proceeded to stuff ourselves. After that it was time to lay out race gear & get to bed. After the incident in Clarksburg, I'd decided to carry my inhaler at CIM, but I hadn't actually been worried about asthma until last weekend when I spent Thanksgiving in Texas. For whatever reason, I had some HORRIFIC allergy problems, which inevitably leads to near-constant asthma. I hoped that as soon as we were back in SF this would all go away, but it never did completely, in spite of pumping myself full of all kinds of allergy medicine. I'd even been waking up at night with breathing problems & the night before the race was no exception, so I had pretty much prepared myself mentally for having to deal with some amount of asthma issues during the race.

But, since there was nothing I could do about it at that point besides carry my inhaler, I suited up, mixed my sports drink, double checked my Garmin & gels, & hopped into Layla's car with Alyssa, Courtney, & Michelle.

pre race

As promised, the start was a) quite cold and b) port-a-potties as far as the eye could see.


port o potties


I wept at the beauty of this as we all waited in (extremely short) lines & froze off our fingers & toes. We arrived a little after 6:30, so after visiting the toilets and dropping off sweat bags, we didn't have long to wait.

Around 6:50 we all made our ways to our respective pace areas. I went with Alyssa to the 3:45 section, not because I had any particular attachment to that time, but because Alyssa's plan for the first few miles (basically warming up with a few 8:20-8:30 miles) sounded like a good one to me. She was planning on 8:10's after that; I figured that if by some miracle my asthma stayed under control and I was having a good day, I might be able to hang with her, but if not, I would have at least established a manageable but solid pace. As much as the competitive part of me wanted to shoot for an ambitious time, I knew my chances of having a good first marathon were much higher if I stuck to my plan to run conservatively & go by how I felt rather than trying to stick to a more challenging pre-determined pace.

I started having trouble breathing almost right away, and by mile 2 I knew sticking with Alyssa the whole way was off the table and managing the asthma & making sure I finished was now the name of the game.

There was also the issue of how often to use my inhaler. I quickly established that one puff bought me about 8-10 minutes of semi-normal breathing. Taking it every mile, though, was out of the question. (Albuterol is a stimulant; a "safe" dosage is 2 puffs every 4 hours, & heart attack and stroke are among the more serious consequences of an overdose. I know from experience that I can safely take a lot more than the "safe" dose, but I wasn't keen to try 12x that amount.) My plan was to take gels at miles 6, 11, 15, 19, & 23, so at first I tried to only use it when I took a gel, but soon realized that wouldn't work. Ultimately, I ended up using it probably around every 2 or 3 miles & just putting up with feeling as if an elephant were sitting on my chest a lot of the time.

But enough about asthma!

spectatorsThat aside, I felt really, really good for the first 20 miles. My legs felt solid & pain free, & although my pace felt a little sluggish I had no problem maintaining my form. Definitely credit all the strength work I've done in the past few months for this! (I can't tell you how many crunches, planks, bridges, clam shells, & squats I've done in the last six months. Cannot. Even. Tell you.)

Around mile 7 I spotted Jana's awesome "Jana {heart}'s You!" sign, which was a nice boost. Thanks to the cool weather, my disposable bottle of diluted Gatorade lasted for nearly 15 miles, which is WAY beyond what I'd hoped for. Happily, that was about when the aid stations started getting really close together. I made it a point to take a cup of water & a cup of grape Ultima (GAAAAAAG) at every stop & continued gelling every 4-5 miles.

I also mastered the art of the fake-smile-&-surge every time I spotted the race photographers. One of my mini-goals for 2011 has been to improve the quality of my race pics. The bar was pretty low, though, so this has not been a difficult goal to achieve.

race pic 2race pic 3

*Nailed it.* If only these pics didn't run ~$17,289.67 per image...

I kept up a pretty steady sub-8:30 pace until right around the half. At that point the lack of oxygen was starting to get to me and I just couldn't keep it up any more. The same level of effort was putting me more in the 8:45 / mile range, but all things considered, I figured that was probably a pretty safe place to stay.

Not until the last 10K did I let myself think about how many miles were left. Instead, I just tried to focus on each. individual. moment. of running while I was in it, to just run and run well and continue running well until I finished without worrying about how much farther there was to go.

Passing mile 20 gave me kind of a spooky feeling because before then 20 miles was the farthest I had ever run. I knew this was where things were likely to become significantly harder both physically & mentally & really started digging into my tool kit of positivity. Sure enough, my quads started to burn (thanks, downhills), and I had a few moments where my left knee sort of failed to function as knees really should. But I kept ticking off in my head everything that was going well, telling myself how great I was doing, especially with the asthma, and thinking about how great it would feel when I crossed the finish mat and that theoretical "I-know-I-could-run-a-marathon-if-I-wanted-to" I'd carried around in my head for so long would become a real, tangible "I-know-I-can-run-a-marathon-because-I've-done-it."

For all that I was ready to be done, I think I mostly got through those last 6.2 miles by mentally talking to myself & laughing at the absurdity of how long I'd been running, and how much I still had left to do.

Mile 20:

    Me: "OK, only 10K left....ugh, that's like almost another HOUR of running."
    Other me: "LOL -- I know, right? CRAZY! But what can you do except keep running? :D"
    Me: "Heh, fair enough. Guess I'll just keep running!"

Mile 21.5:
    Me: "OMG, how are we STILL on mile 21?? Are you freaking KIDDING ME??"
    Other me, smiling & nodding: "Haha, for real! But seriously, just keep running! :D"
    Me: "Well okay then."

Mile 23.1:
    Me, laughing: "OMG. I cannot believe I have to run a 5K at this point. That is just absurd."
    Other me: "Haha. For realz. But hey, it's not going to run itself, is it?"
    Me, with a shrug: "Guess not. Well, here we go, then...."

It was a weird combination of exhaustion & positivity & absurdity all rolled into one.

I remembered Aron mentioning the last real hill going up to the bridge somewhere around mile 21-22, and I'm so glad I knew it was there. It is not a big hill, but at that point I think knowing it was coming made a HUGE difference for me mentally. I kept waiting for "The Wall," for bonking, for that death-march Pit-of-Despair feeling, but it never happened.

mile 24ishAround mile 24 (I think), I thought I heard someone yelling my name & spotted Don at the sidelines with his camera. I did manage to smile & wave, & he got a couple of pictures before I was gone. It was so nice to see him before the finish! (Unfortunately, one of those pics reveals some pretty deteriorated running form...3.5 hours was apparently long enough to revive the infamous dropping left hip, not to mention some horrific posture.)

If you've never run a marathon, you might think that 25 miles and 26.2 miles are really almost the same, and what is 1.2 more miles after you've already run 25 of them. It was around mile 24.5, however, that I had a grand epiphany, which was that 25 miles and 26.2 miles are about as vastly different as it is possible for two things to be. Seriously. I could not for the life of me at that moment understand why 25 miles had not been good enough for somebody and they'd felt it necessary to tack on an additional 1.2. I mean really. Who is too good for only 25 miles?

finish picAs soon as I passed mile marker 26, it was ON. I gave it everything I had left and sprinted towards the finish, which brought on my only cramp of the race in my right calf. "Oh, hell no," I told it, sticking my toe up in the air and half-heel striking it all the way across the mat. I hadn't been watching my pace or time really at all for the last few miles, so I was pleasantly surprised to see that I had not only managed to come in under 4 hours but hadn't been all that far off from the 3:45 pace group I'd lined up near at the start. Completely unintentional, but kind of cool.

I took one last puff of albuterol as someone thrust a space blanket into my hands (I'm with RoseRunner on that one -- I have no idea what to do with a space blanket). I looked for Layla who was volunteering at the finish, but missed her. This resulted in my wandering around the finish area like a dazed and/or stunned person for a good 2-3 minutes; I'm actually surprised that no one started trying to guide me towards a medical tent, or at least shoo me out of the finish area. At some point I realized that I'd never gotten a medal & went back to get one from one of the dudes who was not Layla.

post cim 2After wandering aimlessly around the finish area for maybe another minute or so, I heard someone yelling my name again & spotted Don on the other side of the fence. This was the only time I almost got a little emotional. I told him about my asthma problems and he showed me how he brought my recovery bag. I fought my way out of the finish area (which was really hard, as everyone and their mother seemed to be trying to go the other way). I tried to stretch a little, then kind of gave up & sat down on the ground on my space blanket (I guess it was good for that) & started pulling off bits of gear & stuffing them into a plastic bag. Don directed me to the women's changing tent, where I got straight up naked without a care for anyone else in there. Re-dressing myself in dry clothes was quite the ordeal and almost resulted in more things cramping. It was only then that I remembered Layla's advice to eat something solid & inhaled the Luna Bar in my bag with such urgency that I think I might have actually frightened Don. I also had a coconut water in there, but I really wasn't thirsty at all after the race & only drank it much later.

We walked back to the hotel where I showered & changed, checked out, grabbed a couple of muffin sandwiches from Starbucks, then met back up with Layla & Michelle at Layla's car to grab my stuff. This was the first account I had of anyone else's race, and I was thrilled to learn that Michelle, Alyssa, and Courtney had all set HUGE PRs!

After, we all met up at Tower Cafe for brunch, where I learned that Sesa had also put up a fantastic time (her first as well, so automatic PR!), and although Katie didn't have the race she wanted, she still finished with a SMOKIN' time. Sunday night and Monday morning also brought exciting news of other runner friends & bloggers -- my friend Teresa (who kind of inspired me to sign up for this race to begin with) set a 21 minute PR, RoseRunner KILLED IT in spite of serious leg pain, and both Healthy Diva & Shelby from eat, drink, & run saw all their hard work this year pay off with awesome PRs and BQs. Way to go, ladies!!! You all inspire me to no freakin' end.

post cim brunch

For the last couple of days, I've been hobbling around kind of like this (thanks, Teresa, for the perfect link). But other than that, I feel pretty good. Thanks so much to everyone who helped make my entire first marathon weekend so fantastic -- I had a blast!


  1. Last weekend was so fun & you seriously nailed it! No doubt that if your allergies/asthma are under control, I will be trying to catch you next year. :) Great job & a solid debut marathon!! (Aren't miles 25 and 26 THE WORST????)

  2. Congratulations on a fantastic first marathon! You did so well especially considering you were fighting asthma the entire way. Such a great recap to read too!

  3. First: I know this is creepy, but your body is INSANE. Gimme your secrets ...

    CIM was the perfect first marathon. I had a great time, my family had an even better time. Does anyone have any negative thoughts about Sacramento, because really, I cannot think of a single bad thing about this event.

    Pulling a 3:47 on asthma -- whoa. That is one BAMF performance! Congratulations on an awesome race. We need to meet up and have celebratory beers!

  4. Wow, what a race report! It was fun to read your report, you did a great job of conveying everything going on during the race. Huge congrats on your first marathon! 3:47 is a fantastic time! Bummer about the asthma coming up, sounds like you dealt with it pretty well.

    And I've only done one marathon, but right at the start of mile 25 is where the wheels completely fell off for me. So I totally feel your pain about that last 1.2. I was running at consistent 9 min miles, then the last 1.2 was run at 10:20 pace. And my body seriously wanted to die the last 1.2.

    To get a 3:47 on a somewhat abbreviated training plan is awesome. I have no doubt you will improve even further the next marathon you do!

    Oh, and I saw your favorite buddy Amol Saxena this week - he diagnosed me as having a stress fracture last month, but now it is healing he said. He said that I could still run, he put me on a running rehab plan. So it could have been worse.

  5. I am so, so bummed that I somehow missed you!! And you were looking for me! :-( I am so sorry!

    However, you ran a fantastic race, and I'm so glad you had a good first marathon (except for that not-so-minor asthma issue). You went into it with such a great mind-set, and that obviously paid off. You now know what you're capable of doing while battling asthma, which means you could run an even fasther marathon without that factor. Congratulations on an amazing race!

  6. Amazing!! Fantastic time for your first! I look forward to see what you will achieve next!

  7. Hi, Great report and an awesome job at CIM for your first marathon!