Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Race Report: California International Marathon 2016 (My Race)

Sooooo it turns out that if you get your act together and actually, like, train hard for stuff, pretty amazing things can happen.

WHO KNEW besides everyone?

On the plus side (at least as far as CIM was concerned), my talk in Monterey on Saturday was cancelled, which meant I was actually able to get some good sleep Friday night and get to Sacramento before dinner time. Don & I got to the expo on Saturday around 4pm, a little later than intended due to bad traffic, but still in plenty of time for me to grab my bib & shirt & hunt around for a pair of sunglasses (having left mine in Palm Springs a few weeks back).

After that we checked into the hotel & then headed to dinner at Hook & Ladder. It was great to catch up with everyone pre-race, talk goals, hopes, & worries, & make very important arrangements to get spectated by Cat around mile 12-13.

Clockwise from bottom: The Dude, Mr. Cat (aka #ironballz), K (who I met at Berkeley Half a couple weeks back), Jen, me, Don, & Cat

PRO TIP: If you're spectating & want to be sure your runners see you, procure a distinctive balloon.

I know I've been very anti-time goals, but I did admit during our dinner conversations when pressed by Cat that if I ran about 3:35 and beat my 3:36:27 PR, I'd be satisfied that I'd had a solid race, and that if I somehow magically managed a 3:30 I'd probably run around screaming like a crazy person. (For the record, I didn't think there was any real chance of that, but a gal can dream.)

Post dinner, Don & I headed back to the hotel where Bib Lady was assembled, runner tracker put into place, and post-race meetup plans finalized.

Ick, terrible yellow hotel light.

I spent a few minutes flipping through the CIM program booklet (something I've never seen before but was actually kind of cool), then set my alarm for 4am & put myself to bed. (Alas, I woke up with a full bladder around 3:15 & never really slept again after that. :P )

Around 4:40 I headed out to catch the 5:00 shuttle. It was a bit surreal when the elevator doors opened on a lobby full of bright-eyed, bushy-tailed runners. I'd been a little concerned about finding my way to the shuttle stop (having never taken it before); for some reason it never occurred to me that, duh, my hotel would be packed with fellow runners and all I really had to do was follow the herd.

Clearly still asleep. Or terrified. (Look, I tried.)

Waiting for the buses

Thanks to a bit of good luck I was one of the first people on one of the first buses, and we actually pulled out a few minutes before 5. I spent the trip choking down a bottle of Osmo pre-load mixed with a gel, & when we rolled up on the starting line forty-five minutes later, a SRA rep jumped on the bus to welcome everyone and give us the spiel. (Congrats on making it to the start, potties to the right, starting line to the left, bag check straight ahead, feel free to stay on the bus or come and go until 6:45.) I decided that I would stay on until 6:30 sipping my water & nibbling on bagel #2, then go hit the potties, check my bag, & get in a bit of easy jogging to warm up.

Something that's been different about this training cycle is how completely exhausted I've been these last few weeks, even after I started tapering. Sometimes people start asking you a few weeks out if you're ready, and sometimes in the past I've been like, "Yeah, I think so" or "As ready as I'm going to be!" but this time, every time someone asked me if I felt ready I'd be like, "No. Oh god, no. That's not for, like, two more weeks." One week out I felt completely exhausted. Even this last week, my legs have felt achy and heavy. My two-mile shakeout on Saturday felt woefully shaky, and even sitting on the bus at 5:30am I was thinking, "Wow, I really really do NOT want to run a marathon in an hour & a half. What I would really like to do, actually, is take a shuttle right back to the hotel & climb back into bed, plzthnx."

But then, suddenly, at 6:20am, I was ready ready ready. I was awake & alert & twitchy & sweating already and HELL YES bring me that starting line right now because I am ready to DESTROY this thing.

As predicted, it was 40F when I got off the bus, and I went back and forth several times on whether to wear arm sleeves and/or gloves or just go without. If I got too warm I could always give them to Cat at the half; on the other hand, I have never once in my life been cold in a race & wished I was wearing more clothes. Once I was off the bus & in the potty line, I was surprised that I really didn't feel that cold, so I decided to go with my gut & go bare.

Unfortunately, said potty line ended up being the slowest I have ever been in in my life, very unlike my first two CIM experiences. Although there were toilets as far as the eye could see, the lines were LONG, and I swear people were spending like 5 minutes each in there. I finally got my turn 20 minutes later with only 10 minutes til the start, and of course by then the bag check was a mob scene and the corrals were packed. Trying to drop my bag was like negotiating a mosh pit and I made it up to the general vicinity of the 3:38 pace group with literally seconds to spare. This was definitely the most stressful part of the day, but all's well that ends well, I suppose.

Nothing like watching the sun rise over the port-a-lets. #classic

Starting line

I know I just said in another post that I had a kind-of sort-of pacing plan & running by feel was out because I don't really know what I'm doing in marathons, but for some reason as they counted down to the gun & I sucked down my pre-race gel I kind of went, "Ehhhhh screw it, we're doing this by feel," & just went for it. My revised, completely-on-the-fly plan went something like "Run pretty easy for at least the first half & then gradually speed up." I knew that by the first 10K, I should have a reasonably good idea of what pace "pretty easy" would translate into today.

Honestly, I'm glad I threw out the "just run 8:12s through the half" pace-based plan because I had completely forgotten how downhill that first mile is! I felt like I was jogging super easy but my pace was consistently in the 8:0xs, which I took as an encouraging sign. Determined not to wreck my plan to negative split, I went out of my way not to try to juke around people in front of me or catch up with the 3:38 pace group (which was already a good ways in front of me in spite of the fact that I was running a good bit faster than that pace). I did remember that mile 2 has a decent uphill, so when my pace started to creep up toward the mid-8:00s, I told myself, "Excellent! As it should be going uphill in mile 2! A nice little boost for my negative split!" (Guys, this is serious progress. Not so long ago I would have totally panicked & done something stupid.)

    Mile 1: 8:07
    Mile 2: 8:20
    Mile 3: 8:00

The first half proceeded more or less like that. I forced myself to stay super easy and relaxed, back off & take the uphills nice & easy ("That negative split!"), & use the downhills to cruise down as effortlessly as possible & gain some free time. I had the estimated finish time screen up on my watch, which shows that, distance remaining, and average pace; during this time my average pace hovered mostly around 8:15, with my estimated finish time oscillating wildly between 3:28 & 3:40. I can't say I didn't feel a little twinge of panic any time I saw a split slower than 8:15-8:20, but I really tried hard to be honest with myself about my effort level, keep it SUPER super easy, & think about that negative split. I was doing gels every three miles, which really helped mentally break up the distance & keep me from getting too overwhelmed by the number of miles left to go.

NBD, just out having fun. :)
    Mile 4: 8:18
    Mile 5: 8:15
    Mile 6: 8:29
    Mile 7: 8:23
    Mile 8: 8:11
    Mile 9: 8:09
    Mile 10: 8:05
    Mile 11: 8:02

At mile 12 I started looking for Cat & her penguin balloons. She'd asked me when I thought I might hit the half and I'd said, "If things are going well, around 1:47-1:48," and I kid you not I cruised past the 13.1 timing mat at 1:48:xx. (According to my chip, I hit the half at 1:47:43. Am I good or am I good?) I finally saw the penguins and Cat around 13.5 and we both screamed our heads off at each other.

At this point I was still playing it very safe. I felt great & my average time was hovering right around 8:13, but I was terrified of pushing too hard too soon & jeopardizing my ~3:35 (which at this point I felt very confident I could get) & my negative split. Finally I made a deal with myself that if I still felt this good with 10 miles left, I'd start tapping the accelerator ever so slightly.

    Mile 12: 8:15
    Mile 13: 8:13
    Mile 14: 8:06
    Mile 15: 8:19
    Mile 16: 8:05

Well, mile 16 arrived & I still felt pretty darn good. I didn't let myself go crazy, but I did stop easing up so much on the uphills & let my stride open up just a bit on the flats. Honesty I pretty much stopped looking at my splits at this point, but I did see my average pace drop from 8:13 to 8:12 to 8:11, & my estimated finish time had began to hone in right around 3:35, then 3:34, then 3:33. (Sidenote: At this point I was still behind the 3:38 pace group and had been for the entire race, so part of me started to wonder if they were really that far ahead or if maybe my GPS was just way off.) My screen held steady at 3:33 / 8:11 for a while, which was when I started to feel like I was actually working for it a bit. I could run faster, but it took real effort and again, I didn't want to jeopardize the things I really cared about with a 10K still to go.

    Mile 17: 7:57
    Mile 18: 7:57
    Mile 19: 8:00
    Mile 20: 8:01

I think something changed for me mentally when I passed mile marker 21 & had my second-to-last gel. For some reason 6.2 left felt significant but 5.2 felt like almost nothing. At that point I found myself checking in with my body & going, "We can totally run this pace for 5 more miles, yeah?" And without hesitation the answer was, "Oh hell yeah." (Also, Vince Lombardi: No one is ever hurt. Hurt is in your mind. Demonstrably false, but still useful in the heat of battle.) I'd done much longer race pace runs during training when I felt much worse and was working much harder; this seemed completely manageable. So, the next question, of course was, "Can we run faster?" Answer: "Let's find out!"

(Another amusing side note: My mantra whenever training has gotten really tough and I felt awful has been, "Better figure out how to deal with it now, cuz ain't no one gonna feel fresh and peppy at mile 22." Guys, I kind of felt fresh and peppy. Well; maybe not fresh, exactly, but quite strong and like I had plenty left in the tank. So, put that in the win column. Or potentially the "needs improvement" column if you look at it as evidence that I took it way too easy for too long & could have pushed a little harder a little sooner.)

I had no idea what my pace was for the last 10K. All I knew was my estimated finish time and cumulative average pace, and it became a little game of "How much can we notch those numbers down?" I got it down to 3:32, then low 3:32, then watched it rise again a bit. Something in me saw that, went "Oh HELL no," and found a little bit more to give. Back to low 3:32, then ever so gradually I started to see 3:31:5x.

This was the real work. I was getting to the point where I couldn't feel my legs and wasn't 100% sure for how much longer I could maintain that effort level. Any time the numbers started to creep back up into the 3:32s, though, I thought "FUCK NO!" and doubled down. Somewhere in those last few miles, I passed the 3:38 pacer (???), then eventually the 3:33 group as well.

    Mile 21: 8:01
    Mile 22: 8:03
    Mile 23: 7:55

I had no thought for how much was left or what my pace was; the only thought in my head was Goddamn I want this so fucking bad and I am going to fight to the goddamn death for it! By then it was obvious I was going to get my PR and BQ and negative split, no question, so the 'it' I was fighting for at that point was I think just honestly running as hard as I possibly could and finishing knowing I'd given it every last drop I had in those last miles. I also kept thinking about how I was going to ring the SHIT out of that BQ bell, and the faster I got across that finish mat, the sooner I'd get to do that.

In that last mile I was a freaking berserker. "Can I pass you? Yep! You? G'bye! How about you? See ya! 400 FEET TO GO HOLY SHITBALLS TURN ON THE AFTERBURNERS!!!!!"

    Mile 24: 7:46
    Mile 25: 7:32
    Mile 26: 7:20
    Last .2(6): 1:53 (7:07 pace)

I stopped my watch as I crossed the line & almost couldn't believe what I saw there. I grabbed my medal, got a picture, found Don, & promptly collapsed onto him & started sobbing, not even joking.

And then I went to find that damn bell.

So satisfying.
    Official: 26.2 miles/3:31:45/8:05 pace
    Garmin: 26.26 miles/3:31:44.7/8:04 pace

    Overall: 1367/6174
    Women: 314/2838
    A/G: 58/505

I knew I'd run a wicked negative split thanks to that last 5-10K (and also taking it so easy on those early hills), but it was super gratifying to actually see it so clearly in my official results. In terms of halves, I ran the first half in 1:47:43 & the second half in 1:44:02 which is good but not insane. On the other hand, I ran the first 23 miles at 8:09/mile and the last 3.2 at 7:40/mile which IS a bit insane (for me). Honestly, I have no idea how that was even physiologically possible.

I have no words to sum up what this race meant to me. It's been 3.5 years since I ran a PR of any kind and thanks to being injured so much part of me had kind of wondered if it would ever happen again, so that obviously means a lot. And if you've been coming here for any amount of time, you know the BQ thing has been a bit of a monkey on my back for a while, as shallow as it feels to admit it. And finally being able to run a smart marathon & make good decisions & finish strong makes me feel like maybe I'm not so terrible at this after all!

Of course, I put a lot of work into training for this race and I don't want to sell myself short on it, but when we talk about having a really good marathon, there's always so many things you can't control and this element of needing the stars to align just right. I think all that happened for me on Sunday (near perfect weather, no illness or injuries to deal with, travel logistics all working out, etc.) and I am incredibly thankful for that. Yes, I did my share of the work, but I also had some good luck in my side (if only in the form of lack of *bad* luck).

I'm also thankful for everyone who has supported me and encouraged me and rallied around me over these last few years and months and weeks--to my incredible friends & family, both runners (picking up bibs, keeping me company through long runs, encouraging & inspiring me with your own amazing accomplishments & stories) and non-runners (understanding when I am late to everything or have to leave early or miss things altogether & not making me feel terrible about it); to my employer and work colleagues for their incredible flexibility; to my coaches Tom & Ashley at RunCoach for pushing me to do the hardest workouts of my life, even when they scared the pants off of me, and realize "Wow, I really CAN do that!"; and of course Don for never complaining when I am gone for hours at a time on the weekend or missing football games to drive to a race the night before and giving up the occasional weekend to come support me.

Oh, and also SRA for putting on the most perfect marathon experience in existence. It's still my firm opinion that CIM is the only marathon anyone in the western US really needs. :)

This day has been a long time coming, & I could not have done it without all of you!


  1. HUGE CONGRATULATIONS!!! From reading your posts it's clear that you trained really hard and it's paid off. Very motivating as I slog through the last 5 weeks of training for my first full!

    I'd be curious to know more about your experience with Run Coach while training for CIM. I used the cheapest plan over the summer while running mostly base mileage. It was good to have a little structure while I wasn't officially training but I seemed to constantly mess up the algorithm when I'd move workouts around. Perhaps paying for the actual human coach is the way to go?

    1. HmmIm, you know, I didn't really pay attention to anything it changed. I know that since I base trained so much more this summer, it did definitely up the volume in the weeks leading up to CIM significantly. But then I also have a habit of not logging stuff for 2-3 weeks at a time & then logging it all at once, which is maybe not great. I would say mostly the human element has been most helpful for, "This is what I'm thinking for next year, what do you think?" or "Here's the course map & elevation profile, what do you think my strategy should be?" etc.

  2. Congratulations!!! I knew you were going to do terrific, but holy moly, that negative split!!!

    Lady, you earned this. Yes, you didn't hit bad luck and that's great, but do not minimize the amazing work you put into this achievement. CELEBRATE!!!

  3. I thought of you and the other runners as I drove past Sacramento on Sunday afternoon and was looking forward to this report. As one of those who has enjoyed your blog for a number of years...this is just fantastic. Congratulations! Looking forward to the Boston report...

  4. Yay! Congrats! With that negative split, you even qualify for free shoes from Strava.

  5. YES I've been waiting for your race report. You had a killer training cycle and it was a pleasure to read all about it! Can't wait to see what you do next.

  6. Longtime lurking, first time commenting. YAAAAAAAAAAAAYYYYY!!! I'm so happy you finally had the race you deserved! Way to go on the negative split, that's amazing! I agree on the last part, CIM is such a classic race, it puts all the other west coast marathons to shame.

  7. Also: I ran too and something about the long porta potty lines and mosh pit gear check crowd was different this year. I normally like the road runner crowd, but on Sunday I experienced way too much of that pushy, entitled asshole business that people is stereo-typically associate with them.

  8. MASSIVE congratulations!! I'm so glad you had the race you deserved :) I was tracking you guys and might've let out a little 'yippee' when I got the texts with your last two split times! Those were some terrifying RunCoach workouts, by the way. I hope you're sleeping a lot, and eating all the things, and just generally celebrating as you deserve.

  9. CONGRATS!!!! I just love reading about hard work paying off so much! You deserved to ring that BQ bell so hard :)

  10. This was such an exciting recap to read! Congratulations on not just a PR and BQ, but a really, really strong race. Yes - it's totally absurd that you can run such a fast last 5k. Absurdly awesome! You put in a ton of work and miles for this race, and it really paid off: congratulations.

  11. Fuck yeah! Way to go! Given the amount of work you put in, you definitely deserve it!

  12. Wow just wow!!
    So freaking awesome that you smashed this race!!! I also ran a negative split (not nearly as fast), but hell yes it is an amazing feeling to charge down the straightaway at the end as opposed to just finishing.

    Great race report, I'm so glad you captured all of the little details, and wow again 7:40 for the last 5k?! You are a beast!!

  13. Nice work, Lady! So happy for you.

  14. Sooooooo thrilled for you. After a good 3 years myself of PR failed attempts in 26.2, I get how discouraging it can be. Everything you said resonates with me. I am SO glad it all came together for you!!!! Celebrate, celebrate, celebrate!

  15. Your splits for the last 5K are INSANE. Congrats again! I'm so glad that you and K had such great races on Sunday; it seriously kept me afloat knowing that my friends crushed it.

  16. Comgratulations!!! What a great race you ran! And thanks for the awesome recap, I always love reading yours cause they are so thorough. Congrats again.

  17. Silly question... Where did you hold all of your gels? Did your shorts have pockets?

    1. Not silly at all! The shorts have one small zipper pocket in the back (where I put my inhaler). They do have some tiny little non-zipper pockets in the front but I don't find them very usable. I usually wear a flip belt right at the top of my shorts, which holds 8 (that's what I did this time) & then that top has a zipper pocket in the back as well where I stashed a couple extras.

  18. I stopped reading after your first sentence... so how'd it go out there on Sunday? ;)

    CONGRATS! Not that I need to tell you, but this really was a perfectly run marathon on a perfect course for it. And any BQ hopeful who’s on the fence should pay attention to what you did, because negative splits are GOLD. Amazing to run 22 miles and *then* start kicking in the sub-8s. No doubt your positive attitude helped.

    Now comes the (next) hard part, and that’s staying motivated in the 16 months until Boston 2018. Luckily you’ll have plenty of time to fully & deservedly bask in this accomplishment before you have to think about ramping up for the next one. Because one word of (unsolicited) advice I can give is that it's tough to stay motivated to train hard after a hair-on-fire effort like CIM. But you can cross that bridge when you get to it.

    And a much more impressive BQ bell than we got in 2014, good to see they’ve upgraded!

  19. Hoky shit, congrats! All your hard work paid off like a mfer! Your LAST 5k beat my 5k pr lol. Also, what kind of a freak am I that I almost wept while reading this??

  20. You!! Badass!! Bursting with happiness for you.

  21. Damn, that was a fun read. You really worked for that BQ/PR, and I'm so glad you got it. Congratulations!!!

    I loved this part, and I think it was a pretty good indication of what was about to happen: "But then, suddenly, at 6:20am, I was ready ready ready. I was awake & alert & twitchy & sweating already and HELL YES bring me that starting line right now because I am ready to DESTROY this thing."

  22. Love, love, love this report. Also love that you love my hometown race. CIM is the best and I'm so glad you got the most out of it. Kick Ass in Boston.