Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Race Report: California International Marathon 2012

One word: Finished.

Two words: No PR.

Three words: Could've been worse.

CIM 2011 was my first marathon, and with the exception of, y'know, having an asthma attack & not being able to breathe for 24 miles, I really couldn't have asked for a more perfect experience.

This year, not so much. I mentioned in a previous post that the only way I figured I wouldn't beat last year's time was if something catastrophic happened. And boy, was there plenty of catastrophe to go around.

First up:

For details on the weather, I suggest you google things like "atmospheric river" and "Pineapple Express" and "ARkStorm". 'Nuff said.

When it became impossible to any longer deny the fact that yes, we were going to be running in a torrential downpour and yes, there would be gale-force winds to contend with, I knew that I had to let go any notion of a time / pace goal. Many of us (rightly) toyed with the idea of not running, and (smartly) worked out DNF logistics ahead of time. I had no idea how much the winds would slow me down; I did know I had a limit as to how long I was willing to suffer out in the elements before it just wasn't worth it anymore, but I wasn't totally sure what that limit would be. I also knew the only goal worth pursuing anymore was finishing, and that I couldn't worry too much about anything more than that. If conditions magically improved and I was able to run a decent pace, then bonus, but realistically, getting to the chute however I could was now the name of the game.

Courtney, Kristin, me, & Alyssa, ~6 am. Photo by Courtney's dad. Go running hats!!

Because it wasn't actually supposed to be all that cold, I ended up wearing the same outfit I'd planned on all along, with a thrift store hoodie and a disposable poncho over it for pre-race. I think we had several moments of shock over the course of the morning, the first being when we opened the front door to pouring rain & crazy wind. The second was probably when we saw the size of the tree that had blown down in Courtney's neighborhood, completely blocking off the quickest route to the start--I think the trunk must have been 3-4 feet in diameter. The third was probably getting out of the car at the runner drop-off area. We huddled behind a building for as long as we dared in an attempt to stay warm & dry, which was sort of a losing proposition from the beginning.

(Also, a word of advice -- if you ever find yourself racing in a torrential downpour, just step ankle-deep in the first puddle you see & get it over with. It's going to happen anyway, and that way you won't have to worry about it anymore.)

It was so crazy & chaotic that we never managed to meet up with our other friends, but we did make it to the start on time and I managed to fight my way up into the mid-three's just in time for the gun. (I really wanted to try to run with Cate, but just couldn't find her in time.)

Just to give you a sense of what the starting area was like, here are some shots from the Sacramento Bee:

I couldn't talk myself into stripping out of my hoodie & poncho before the gun, so for the first half mile or so (which was a minefield of slick discarded garbage bags and ponchos) I ran with them on & hoped no one would get too mad at me for my bib not showing. After that, though, I started to warm up, & since I knew I'd end up soaked one way or another, I burrowed my way out of the extra layers and tossed them on the side of the road within a mile & was completely comfortable temperature-wise the whole race.

Body-wise, though, I just never really felt good. Even in the first 7-8 miles when I was hitting sub-8:10 miles consistently with what felt like a pretty moderate effort, my legs and brain just felt tired. Not the type that comes from running too fast too soon; this was more of an all-over weariness, just an out-of-phase, out-of-gas feeling that I couldn't shake, as if I'd run 40 or 50 miles already this week rather than 10. Still, I was holding the pace I wanted and even forcing myself to slow down at times, especially on the up hills, so Hey, I thought, maybe this will end up being a good race for me after all!

But it was not to be. Around mile 7 or 8 or so we turned south, and I was stunned by the force of the headwind. As luck would have it, that was also where the first real hills started. I knew I couldn't afford to fight for my pace this early uphill and into the wind, so I just tried not to watch as it gradually climbed from 8:10 to 8:40 to 9:15 to 9:45. Eventually I was able to pick it up a little, but I never got back down to my goal pace in any sustained way again.

Soon after came the next catastrophe. After my fantastic 21 mile run a few weeks ago, I had some pain in the outside of my left foot that had me limping for a day or so, but then went away. Nothing like that had ever happened before and hadn't happened since, but getting into mile 9-10ish, that same spot on my left foot start to feel worse and worse. At first it was just achey; then it got annoying. By the half, it was sending sharp shooting pains along my foot every time I took a step. If this had been a training run, I definitely would've called it quits.

Also around the half I started to feel some tightness in my right hip flexor / quad / IT band area that gradually turned into significant pain and worked its way down into my knee. I don't generally have problems in that area & at the time I was completely baffled by it, but in retrospect I think I must have been compensating for the pain in my left foot with the muscles in my upper right leg. As I've been limping around and favoring my left foot these past few days, I notice that it's straining those same muscles.

I'd say this shot from Giraffy at 365 Days of Awesome does a nice job of summing it up. There were also apparently falling trees & downed power lines. At a couple of points the police declared parts of the course unsafe & taped them off, & CIM officials had to re-route everyone on the spot.

By 14, I felt really, REALLY bad. I was in so much pain and barely able to keep my legs moving forward through it, let alone keep up a decent pace, and I just couldn't see how I could possibly run 12 more miles like this. That was probably the lowest point for me in the race emotionally. Occasionally I would look at my watch and see paces in the 8:00-8:20 range, but at others it would be 10:00+.

From then on, things just sort of spiraled. When my form is no good I tend to overuse my calf muscles, which is exactly what started to happen. I knew then that I had to stop and stretch. Had to. Yes, the current situation sucked, but I knew that if I ended up with calf cramps there would be no running through it & it would be game over right there.

My hardcore, super-competitive perfectionist side did not take this well at all, and at that point, the part of me that was still rational had to have a little talk with the part that was falling apart emotionally.

Listen. It's okay that you feel bad. It's okay that you want to stop. It's okay that you can't run 8:0X miles anymore. It really, really is. None of this makes you a weak person or a bad person or a bad runner. Don't worry about finishing or about all the miles that are left. Put it out of your mind. All you have to do is get to the next mile marker. Let's get that far, and go from there. Can you do that?

I wasn't sure that the answer was yes, but I wasn't sure that it was no, either, so I decided I had nothing to lose by giving it a shot.

I've heard people say sometimes that running a marathon is just running one mile 26 times (plus a little more); after mile 14, that is exactly what that race became for me. Grit my teeth & do whatever I have to to get to the next mark. Stop. Stretch. Fight cramps. Psyche myself up to start running again. Grit teeth. Fight to the next marker. Stop. Stretch. Fight cramps. Get psyched. Run. Grit teeth. Fight. Stop. Stretch. Fight. Pysche. Grit. Run. Fight. Stop. Stretch. Fight.

Around mile 17 or so I heard Kristen's voice & was so glad to see her coming up beside me, looking strong & doing great. I did everything I could to stick with her at an 8:30ish pace, but it wasn't too long before I needed another stretch break & had to wave goodbye to her.

For the most part, I really hate the signs people hold up at marathons, but soon after that I spotted this one.

    "Pain fades.

    Rain dries.

    Scars heal.

    Not quitting is forever."

I am not a super emotional person in general and in particular don't often have a lot of emotional energy to spare for running, good or bad, but when I read this sign I actually thought for a minute that I might lose it right there in the middle of the street and the pouring rain, because it got right at the heart of what I was trying so hard to be clinical and objective and analytical about.

It's no secret that the physical demands often keep people who are otherwise interested from attempting a marathon. But I wonder if sometimes people also hesitate to try because it's one of those experiences that has the potential to show you things about who you really are, to tell you the truth about yourself in certain ways, and I wonder if sometimes people are a little afraid of what that truth will turn out to be. At that point in the race, the only thing that mattered to me--and mattered deeply and desperately--was not quitting. Not because of a medal, or having to tell my friends, or feeling like a DNF would soil my record somehow. It mattered because I knew that whether or not I finished this race (barring dangerous situations or acute injury or risk thereof) would reveal to me something about my character. Am I the type of person who keeps going for as long as possible, even when things are hard and I'm exhausted and miserable and hurting, or am I the type of person who gives up? I knew what I wanted the answer to be, what I was pretty sure it would be, but there are a lot of situations in life where you can't predict what you'll actually do until you're in it. This was one I'd never been in before.

I don't always get sappy about running, but when I do, I quote Vince Lombardi:

    "The real glory is being knocked to your knees and then coming back. That's real glory. That's the essence of it."

    "It's easy to have faith in yourself and have discipline when you're a winner, when you're number one. What you got to have is faith and discipline when you're not a winner."

    "The good Lord gave you a body that can stand most anything. It's your mind you have to convince."

    "No one is ever hurt. Hurt is in your mind."

And some Patton:

    "Never let the body tell the mind what to do. The body will always give up." ~General George S. Patton

And maybe a little Short for good measure:

    "What counts in battle is what you do when the pain sets in." ~John Short

Mile 19ish. As miserable as I was, I still managed to smile & wave at my hardcore spectating friends & shout something to them about how this was the hardest run of my life. Thanks XLMIC for the pic!
I knew I could choose to be miserable about the situation, or I could choose to be positive. And since being miserable for an hour is a hell of a lot more work than being positive, I decided to go with that, no matter what I had to tell myself. Miraculously, the rational part of my brain still had it together enough to keep the emotional part soldiering on. "Yes, there are still 7 miles left, but 19 is bigger than 18, and the numbers are only getting bigger. Sooner or later, they have no choice but to reach 26. Then it's just a lap on the track."

I couldn't comprehend dealing with the pain all the way to 26.2 miles, but I could comprehend it for one more. And one more. And one more. In that way, I felt reasonably sure that mentally I could make it. What I was not sure about were my injuries. I felt certain that sooner or later I would no longer be able to put weight on my left foot, and that my right IT band / quad / whatever or one of my calves would cramp up and become unusable; I just wasn't sure whether that point would come before or after mile 26.

The good news, on the other hand, was that in those last few miles the wind and rain finally started to die down. In spite of stopping for around a minute every mile I was able to manage around an 8:30 pace otherwise which, under the circumstances, I felt was not too shabby. So it's nice to think that if not for my self-destructing body I most likely still could have had a PR (and I mean that in a positive way, not a shaking-my-fist-at-the-sky kind of way).

It was not until I saw the sign pointing for women to turn left, when I could actually see the finish line, that I knew for absolute certain that I would finish. I think I really did almost cry, I was so happy to have made it, to have kept going & not given up.

I've written before about my ambivalence toward finisher medals--I think they can be meaningful and special when they truly represent a significant accomplishment, like completing a new distance for the first time or taking on a new type of challenge that's made you ask more of yourself than usual (ie, your first triathlon / trail race / etc.). I get a little irked, though, when people talk about "earning" a medal for doing something that isn't a real challenge for them any more--ie, if I enter a half marathon & jog it as an easy training run that I would've done anyway, I don't think I can really say I've earned anything. Paid for, yes. Earned, not so sure.

Usually I just can't get too worked up about finisher medals either way, but this one feels a little different. Even though it was for a slower time, I think it's more meaningful to me than the one I got last year for finishing my 1st 26.2 because I worked SO. MUCH. Harder for it. Even running with asthma last year, I never really doubted that I would finish. This year, I was never sure. Not at 23 or 24 or 25 or 25.5. Not until I could actually see the chute.

Recently a friend of mine (who is a veteran of more marathons than I am sure I will ever run in my lifetime) ran a marathon at altitude that ended up being her toughest ever. She felt terrible and had to stop and seriously considered dropping out, but ultimately still got it done. Her post made me think about how pushing through tough circumstances for an inglorious finish can sometimes mean more than having an easy time and a fantastic finish, because you have to fight so much harder for it. This was definitely, by far, the hardest I have ever ever had to fight for an athletic accomplishment, physically, mentally, and emotionally. And because of that, this medal has special meaning for me.

    Tom Landry: "I've learned that something constructive comes from every defeat."

In a certain sense, I suppose we never really want to have to learn what our limits are, but sometimes it's pretty cool to find out what they're not.

I got to catch up with a few folks afterward, and was so glad to hear that overwhelmingly most of them were able to power through and finish, and some even set PRs, including Kristen! XLMIC also managed to capture my post-hardest-run-of-my-life delirium (right), which I think was kind of priceless.

Currently, I don't know what my official chip time or place were. The unofficial results list my gun & chip times as being the same (3:55:40), even though it took me around a minute to cross the starting line. I clocked 26.28 miles & 3:54:32 on my Garmin, which puts me at ~8:55/mile pace -- considerably better than I was expecting considering my twelve stretch breaks. For the first time ever I filed an inquiry about the discrepancy, though to be honest I don't really care that much & only did it because I felt like I should.

I am happy to report that in these first days post I've felt much, MUCH better physically than I did this time last year in a general sense. I have a little soreness in places, but nothing like the full-body misery that I suffered in 2012. For the most part my anti-chafing measures worked (Body Glide + Ride Glide + water proof bandages in strategic spots) and if it hadn't been for the rain I might have finished 100% chafe-free. Miraculously, I also got away without a single blister (?!?!).

By far, the worst of it is my left foot. It's gotten progressively worse since the race, and at this point I can't put any weight on it at all without serious pain. Fortunately, I was able to get an appointment at UCSF for Wednesday afternoon, so they're planning to do some x-rays & determine whether it's just soft tissue damage that needs time & rest or something more serious.

For logistical / event information about CIM, I refer you to this post from last year -- I think it's all pretty much still the same. Under the circumstances, you couldn't really ask for much more from CIM as an organization. Logistically, the race was still a huge success, and they really went out of their way to try to make things as easy as possible for us in a sucky situation.

Something I did learn this year is that if you're a chick, you can request a dude-colored shirt, and vice versa. (Don't ask me why they differentiate the shirt colors by gender.) The women's version was bright green this year, and I have this thing about bright green tech shirts, so I asked to switch my women's long sleeve medium for a men's small. They only had short sleeve ones left, but that was fine by me.

Also, since it was the race's 30th anniversary, we got a pair of cotton logo gloves and a neck gaiter:

(Thanks to Courtney for explaining to me what a neck gaiter is, though this one looks to me more like a tube of thin fabric than anything else.)

What next, you ask?

Freaking revenge, bitches. Already in the works.


  1. Amazing job gutting it out! Sounds like an incredibly painful and tough experience -- I hope your foot injury is nothing serious and gets better soon.
    I have similar feelings about medals, and this is also the first one where I've really felt like I've earned it.

    1. Thanks. Glad you had a good race too & made it through in spite of everything!

  2. Thanks for the awesome recap (I've been following everyone else's experience). And way to push through in incredibly difficult circumstances! Congrats!

  3. It's incredible how much easier it is to run 1 mile 7 times than 7 miles once when you're at mile 19.
    I know you're going to completely destroy your next marathon, and I'm sure we'll NEVER forget CIM '12!

    1. Heh, for real. So bummed I never managed to find you. I hope fate brings us to the same race again sometime so we can run together, time twin!!

  4. Neck gaiters can substitute as sexy tube tops. Just sayin'...

    I LOVE your rational self...and would even hang out with your emotional self in its deepest depths of despair. You are super cool. Can we be friends? If I get a little faster, will you run with me sometimes? Or maybe go out for lunch?

    This day tried to kick your ass. And you showed it up. You would have made Vince, George, John and Tom all very, very proud. Revel in your triumph...you deserve to.

    1. Thanks! Yes, we will totally have running and lunch. I will do my best to Jingle Bell Hell with you, though I may end up DNFing....

  5. What a race! I can't believe how awful the weather was :/ You are right though- you earned that medal. I would be very, very proud for finishing that race.

    I hope that they can find out what is going on with your left foot. I will keep my fingers crossed that it is nothing serious and that with some rest it will heal itself. After all you have some revenge to be taking care of!

    PS- I heard that the neck gaiter can also be used as a headband....

    1. Thanks! Yes, we've been having lots of fun around here coming up with all kinds of wacky uses for it!

  6. GREAT report. What a race. You really did well, every trying circumstance aside.

    1. Heh, thanks. Glad you were able to push through. :)

  7. This is such a great recap. I AM an emotional person and I nearly cried just reading bits of it. I am so impressed by you and all your running colleagues - it looks horrific, I would have stayed in bed. Congratulations on a fantastic run and an amazing achievement!

    Hope the foot heals very quickly.

  8. Awesome report. One of the best I've read from anyone. Props to you for finishing despite some tough odds. I hope your left foot turns out to only be soft tissue inflammation instead of a stress fracture or something. Hopefully it's just really sore. And those pictures are insane of the race/storm.

    Regarding the storm on Sunday, I was woken up by the storm, the wind and rain just sounded insane outside my window. It seriously sounded like a freight train was outside my window - sort of like what a hurricane would sound like if the bay area ever got a hurricane. I was guessing the wind was around 35-50 mph, and the rain was hard. Just awful luck - seemed like the bay area gets like 1 storm a year that strong, and it just so happened to happen during CIM. It was the loudest storm I could remember in recent memory going back a couple years.

  9. Funny, I was thinking, "This reminds me of how I felt at St. George," and then I saw your link. Sometimes the only way to keep going is to ask yourself if it would be worse to stop or worse to press on; I think that's where your analytical strengths really paid off. You earned the medal both by running 26.2 miles and by finishing 26.2 miles -- and I congratulate you for both.

    This was a great race report, and I can't wait to see you get revenge. Also, I love this line of yours: "In a certain sense, I suppose we never really want to have to learn what our limits are, but sometimes it's pretty cool to find out what they're not." I hadn't thought of it that way, but it is so very, very true.

    And I'm glad I'm not the only one who isn't an expert at "neck gaiters." I got one over a year ago at a race and only just recently found it and asked a friend what to do with it. "Umm, it's a buff. They're really handy," she replied. Oh, um, oops?

    1. Lol...awesome. I was totally thinking about your St. George recap during those last few miles.

  10. Wow, Angela, what a recap! What an experience! I'm so sorry to hear about your foot and hope that it gets better quickly! Congratulations on sticking it out even with the pain - I'm not sure I could have... Looking forward to your comeback!

    1. Heh, thanks. I don't remember whether you said your race was CIM or something else, but I hope it went / goes well for you!!

  11. You're a fighter, not that we didn't know that. YOU MADE IT, through all that rain and hurting, and that's quite a feat. Now, rest up and come kick my ass at the track again soon.

  12. Despite my trepidation on Sunday morning, I ended up having a blast out there. Pushing through boundaries with our bodies is at the core of endurance running, right? Plus, didn't the last mile, when the sun came out and it stopped raining, seem sort of welcoming? Like the end of a good movie!

    Good luck with your wheel, btw.

    1. Awesome!! I'm glad a lot of people ended up able to look at it that way. :)