December 24, 2010

California International Marathon Race Report

Wow.  The past few weeks have been crazy.  I arrived back at my parents' house in Cleveland Sunday and have spent the last 5 days sleeping, watching tv, making Christmas cookies and partying.  What can I say?  I'm on vacation.  I did manage to get in two runs on the treadmill since I've been home, but haven't pushed it too much.  6000 miles of driving have my IT bands tighter than a fat guy in spandex.

Now for CIM.  Where to start?  It's been 2.5 weeks since the race so I think I can write a more objective review.  I have to admit that I was expecting a lot from this race.  It's the most expensive marathon I've run and the largest.  I'd really only heard good things months before the race, so my expectations were pretty high.  Maybe I would have been less disappointed with this race if I'd expected nothing, but as it is I found CIM to be a major letdown.

As you know already, I'd spent 3 days driving west before arriving in Sacramento for the race.  I had one day to recover and was able to loosen up a little by squeezing in a couple light 2 mile runs in the days preceeding the race. Having arrived in town Friday, I was able to hit the expo early and wander around the booths.  While the people there were very friendly, the expo was poorly marked and it wasn't immediately obvious where to go to pick up your bib, shirt, chip etc...  (While waiting at the information stand to ask about race day parking, all 5 people in front of me were asking where to go for packet pick-up.)  That was the first warning sign.

Piercings at Jack in the Box?  Um.  No, thanks.
At least you won't get hungry.
Saturday I checked out Sacramento and drove the course.  (That's where I snapped the lovely photo on the left.)  I'd been warned that despite being advertised as a downhill race there are plenty of hills.  Let's just say I discovered that this was the hilliest race I've ever run.  By far.  Sweet.

That night, I hit up a great Italian restaurant, Paesanos, for some carb loading and had their delicious Cappellini D'Angelo.  The place was crawling with people discussing CIM and I got to chat with a couple of them while I was there.  Always good to get some advice from veterans.

That night, I was kindly hosted by a resident at UC Davis who also happened to be running the race.  This is when the disaster began.  We went to bed around 10pm to get some sleep.  For some reason, I can sleep the night before other major events but the night before a marathon I toss and turn.  Always.  But tonight made all the other "Marathon Eves" look like hibernation.  The neighbors decided to throw a party so I awoke to "Barbie Girl" (with World of Warcraft or something playing in the background) at 11pm.  I'm pretty sure the last time I glanced at the clock is was 2am.  The combination of bad pop music and video games alone is enough to give you nightmares, but the cacophony of noise on the other side of the wall prevented any possibility of sleep.  I think I can safely say I didn't get more than 2 hours of sleep.

My alarm went off at 3:45.  I dragged myself out of bed.  The two of us drove downtown to catch the bus to the start.  I found an amazing parking spot pretty close to the finish line, which is probably the best thing that happened all day.  The morning was damp but not as cold as had been predicted.  The million buses shuttled us the 26 miles to the start where we had over an hour to mill around.  I'd decided to leave my sweatshirt in the car since it hadn't felt too cold with the tall buildings downtown blocking the wind, but now that we had an hour to kill outside I was regretting that decision.  Oh well.  The shivering & adrenaline kept me from getting too cold.  In fairness, I should say that I could have waited on one of the buses but I got in line for a port-a-potty and everyone in front of me seemed to be having problems so I was outside most of the time.

Before the start, I squeezed through the crowds to the 3:40 pace group and settled in.  I wasn't feeling great, but I wouldn't allow myself to think negatively so I kept repeating to myself that I had it in the bag.  The pace leader was really upbeat and encouraging so I focused on that.  When the gun went off I took a deep breath & we crowded through the start.

Miles 1-8:  Calm Before the Storm
For the first 8 miles, I was feeling ok.  The pace group had at least 100 people so I ran on my own for a bit to stay out of the crush.  The leader kept taking the downhills fast which had me a little worried but I tried to trust her experience.  The first half of the marathon is all rolling hills - something I have essentially no experience running - so I crossed my fingers and hoped for the best.  As the miles passed, I started having a pain in my right foot.  I discovered on the downhills that my right foot was sliding slightly forward in my shoe and slamming into the laces.  At first it was a mere irritation but by mile 8 my thought process went something like: "<pain> *step* <pain> *step*"  I kept waiting for when the pain would dull into something manageable and focused on the crowds and the runners around me.

At this point, I was rapidly realizing that the water stations were going to be a clusterf*ck the whole race.  Largely because there was a huge crush of people, but also because they were somewhat erratic.  They were sometimes on one side of the road, sometimes both, so you couldn't always tell until you were right alongside. Plus, the 3:40 pace leader was carrying her own water and therefore didn't stop or slow for water stops.  It meant that my pace was all over the map to stay on track.  (I realize now that I should have run my own race.)

Miles 9-14:  Unraveling
My mind wasn't in the game.  At mile 9 I hit "stop" rather than "lap" on my Garmin.  A small detail, perhaps, but it was indicative of a lot more.  I lost half a mile before realizing what I'd done and more doubt flooded into my sleep deprived brain.

On top of that, as the adrenaline from the starting line wore off my exhaustion also began to hit home.  Every time I saw patches of soft, green grass, my mind thought of how nice it would be to lie down for a while.  Each time I caught myself thinking that I'd refocus but I could feel the wheels slipping out from underneath.  My energy level was slipping and I began to feel that malaise associated with hitting the wall.  My legs were dead weight and I felt like I was moving through concrete.

On top of everything else, I started getting incredibly nauseous.  I never have stomach problems but choking down gels or water was an exercise in stubbornness and determination.  Knowing that I was actively bonking, I forced them down and kept moving.

Meanwhile, the pain in my foot was escalating.  The sensation became not only distracting but it was rapidly progressing such that any other thoughts were impossible.  Every time I put any weight on my right foot, a knife tore through my skin.  I tried to not let the pain alter my stride, worried I'd cause another injury, but it was severe enough that a stress fracture became an increasingly real concern.  Now I began to have a heated argument with myself:  keep running and risk serious injury or throw in the towel again and give up on my hopes of Boston this year.

Miles 15-26.2 Game Over
Near the mile 14.4 aid station, the pain won.  I was too tired to fight it anymore and I didn't want to spend the next few months sidelined with a stress fracture.  I moved to the side and tore off my shoe.  The foot didn't look great, but the pain improved significantly with the shoe off.  Luckily, I'd read a Runner's World article months ago about how to tie your shoes differently to minimize problems.  Once the laces were altered, the pain decreased but I'd lost 3 or 4 minutes for re-lacing and knew I couldn't regain that time.

It was over.  Any other race I struggled through, I could remind myself that I knew I could finish. This time it wasn't that I didn't think I could finish, it's that I didn't care.  Convincing myself to keep going was a huge challenge.  I stopped having fun as a marathoner.  The second half of the race was neverending.

CIM Review
Enough of me complaining about me.  Here come my complaints about CIM.

1.  The aid stations.  Wow.  I suck for saying that.  But the water stops were really poorly run.  The only reason I got gels was because I knew which station they were at and I shouted "Gels?!?!" the whole way through.  Even then, at 2 of them I had to grab a gel out of the hand of the only volunteer handing them out because they weren't paying any attention to the runners.  Nice.  To make things worse, Ultima is the beverage offered.  FYI:  Ultima has next to no carbs.  At a marathon.  How did that seem like a good idea to anyone?

2.  The crowds.  I know.  That's pretty douchy.  Sorry.  Normally I'm happy to have anyone cheering, but my expectations were high for a race like this.  And to be fair, there were some really awesome signs and people cheering.  But the vast majority of people weren't cheering.  Or smiling.  As hundreds of people passed in front of them, most of the crowd had their eyes focused on scanning the horizon for that one guy they know.  Once I finished the race I cheered people on around 25.7 and, though I was surrounded by people, I was almost the only one cheering.  When I started shouting & cheering, a couple people briefly joined in.  That's about it.  What's the point of doing these huge races if it's little better than an empty course?

3.  The post-marathon event.  Once I finished, I was famished.  I headed over for food only to realize there was a 30-some minute wait to get food.  Really?!?  Since I'd found such a great parking spot I went to my car first to get a Powerbar.  That way I would have something to eat while waiting for food.  That's a first.  Sad.

I'll leave it at that.  Would I run CIM again?  Probably not.  But now, it's time to think about plans for the coming year.  More on that later.  In the meantime, happy holidays!  I wish you all the best.


  1. Oh I'm so glad that you made it back safely to the midwest - I have to admit I was worried something may have happened to you. The graphics in your post cracked me up!!!! Totally fantastic. I'm glad you're enjoying your well deserved rest. Thanks for the race recap - sounds like it was a learning experience. I'm sorry it wasn't all great - there's always next time. Merry Christmas!

  2. Man. Sorry you had a such a crummy race! I hope you're having a really great Christmas though!

  3. That is crap! If I don't have food the second I cross the finish line I say "FAIL"!!