I signed up for the California International Marathon after a successful go at the San Francisco Marathon in July, and some polite (yet persistent!) encouragement from a friend. I had heard about the race’s notoriety for being a flat and fast course from many others, and the combination of a few friends already confirmed to run and the event at 99 percent capacity months out, my FOMO got the best of me, and I signed up.
As per my usual race weekend shenanigans, I traveled with a group of friends—Victor, Jeremy, Erika and Nick—to Sacramento the day before the race to hit up the expo and get our bearings before race day. We stayed in an Airbnb about six miles from the Sacramento Convention Center (where the race expo was), which I like to do versus staying at a hotel because there is more room to spread out the night before (and there’s a kitchen to make breakfast the morning of the race).
After visiting the expo, grabbing dinner (we ate at Big Stump Brew Co—I got a chicken sandwich), and stopping at a CVS to grab last-minute necessities (vaseline for Victor, cold brew for me, toilet paper for all of us), we retreated back to the house, made a quick game plan for the morning and most of us were in bed by 9pm.
I lay out my race day outfit before going to bed—rabbit hopper shorts, an old race t-shirt from the North Face Endurance Challenge I feel comfortable in, 2XU compression socks, and my Brooks Glycerin 16 shoes—along with the nutrition I would carry (two GU Shot Bloks and 2 GU gels). I winded down for the evening by catching up with my boyfriend over the phone while foam rolling the bejeezus out of my calves. I had slept shitty on Friday night, so was happy to find I was exhausted and fell asleep pretty easily on Saturday night, which was great because my alarm was set for 3:30am… yikes.
I stocked up on throwaway layers at Goodwill of Berkeley the day before, so when my alarm went off when it was still pitch dark outside, I got dressed immediately and put on my Goodwill fleece (which was surprisingly comfortable and warm!). I brought bagels, and had a bagel with peanut butter and a banana for breakfast. We were out the door by 4:30am and in line for the buses that were to take us to the start line right around 5:05am, where we found Erika and Nick’s friend V, who had high hopes for a Boston BQ that day.
The line for the buses ended up being longer than we anticipated, so we waited in the cold for over 20 minutes. Once we finally got on the bus (yay!) we found seats and anxiously waited to reach our destination of Folsom… which, was it just us, or was it taking longer than expected? Welp, our bus driver got lost. Twice.
We emerged from the buses at 6:40am., with just 20 minutes to find the Port-A-Potties, check our bags, and get to our designated starting corals. It was mayhem. I was legitimately afraid what might happen (what?! I’d had a lot of coffee) so I broke into a jog in the direction of the Port-A-Potties. Soon I had lost all of my friends except Victor. We agreed to divide and conquer—I held our spot in the Port-A-Potty line while he ran to find out when bag check closed. As soon as he left, the nice group in front of me informed me that bag check would not, in fact, close before the race. Sorry Vic.
Anyway, after getting in a good Port-A-Potty session, Victor and I jogged to bag check: Now, there was a line. We frantically waited in it as the National Anthem began playing, and dropped off our stuff right as the first corals were being released.
F@&k, I thought. I should be in there.
As we made a dash to the starting corals, I lost Victor, but was able to find an opening in the fence near the 3:30 pace group. It still wasn’t where I wanted to be, but it was close enough. I know that the race doesn’t start for you until you run over the timing mat, but I hate weaving unnecessarily at the start of a race.
The race began, and I already felt behind, so quickened my pace to try to get as close to where I wanted to start as possible. I wasn’t sure how to approach this race—I had been in a good training groove until a bunch of factors (finals, getting sick, not being able to run/workout outside) stifled my training so much that I wasn’t sure what my fitness level actually was. I decided I’d try to push it and find out—maybe I’d surprise myself! (Hot tip: I didn’t).
I was running close to 7 minute splits, which was definitely too fast due to my lack of training/whirlwind couple of weeks, but I just kept moving. The first few miles flew by pretty fast, but by the 10k, I realized I should probably slow down—I hadn’t trained for this pace and was bound to blow up. However, that’s also when I heard a voice next to me: “Mind if I run with you for awhile?”
It was Jeremy. I didn’t want him to lose his momentum, and it was really nice to have someone to run with, so I held off on scaling back for another mile until I realized the rolling hills of the course (way more than I expected) were going to wreck my quads if I wasn’t careful. He went ahead, and I finally started to slow my roll. Around the halfway mark I realized I had kind of screwed myself over, but would have random miles (mostly downhill) where I’d drop a super fast split and let myself think it was all going to be OK. Instead of using the downhills to recover, I used them to make up time.
I knew I was not racing strategically and a little recklessly, but to be honest I didn’t really care. I had nothing to lose, nothing to prove, and I had been so stressed from finals and school over the past few weeks that I just didn’t feel like overanalyzing it. Around mile 16 or so I had slowed to high 7:20s, and by mile 20—the part where it’s supposed to be a smooth ride to the finish line because it’s pretty much literally ‘All Downhill From There’—I was cranking out 7:45s. I wasn’t in crazy physical pain, my legs were just not up for moving any faster. I decided to just get through the last few miles of the race.
If my legs hadn’t been totally locked up and I had felt good, the last 10k would’ve been a dream to cruise through to the finish line. I’m jealous of all the runners who ran a smarter race than I did and were able to experience that feeling!
Over the last few miles, I realized if I didn’t totally bonk I would still beat my PR time, which I ran in San Francisco in late July. I pushed myself through the last mile to make it happen, finishing in a 3:14:44 (results here).
Past the finish line, I downed a bunch of Nuun and sat on a curb until I was able to gain the strength/courage to ask a stranger to help me up. Later, Jeremy found me while I was sulking on the steps of the Capitol building. I wasn’t upset with my time or performance, just kind of like… ‘Ugh. That hurt. And I have to face my physics final now.’
Eventually we found Victor and Nick, too, and I was able to watch Erika finish. She smiled and even did a little dance about 400 meters from the finish line, which as a coach is so great to see—if they are smiling you know you trained them well enough to not only get through it, but to enjoy it!
We limped to a place called Squeeze Burger to eat massive cheeseburgers that are notorious for their cheese skirts (yes, a real thing) and then headed to Firestone for a celebratory drink with V and her boyfriend Dirk (she BQ’d, btw!) before heading back to Berkeley.
As per usual, the best part of the experience was the time we spent joking around before and after the race. Even though I technically PR’d, according to my Strava, I actually ran faster in San Francisco—I just ran the tangents of CIM better.
It’s hard to compare a race where I felt literally invincible for 90% of the time (San Francisco) to this one, but I’m grateful for the experience because not only did it give me a much-needed break from finals, it also gave me the opportunity to test the waters in a situation where I’d usually play it safe. I feel like in the past, if I’m not sure my fitness level before a race, I scale back and run a conservative first half and try to build on that later. In this race, I did exactly the opposite. I paid for it, sure—but sometimes it’s better to go for it and know you tried, versus play it safe and always wonder.
Also, even though my fitness isn’t nearly as strong as it was before San Francisco, it was nice to see that it’s still pretty good. And every day I get to run is a good one.
The biggest thing that disappointed me about this race was the lack of organization with the race transportation, but I overhead others talking about how well-organized their mornings were and feel like our situation was a unique one.
Until next time,