CIM Race Report 2021: BQ in Marathon Debut
The Lead Up to the Race
This report of my running of the California International Marathon actually has to begin earlier in the Fall when I learned that my mother was diagnosed with cancer. Things look good for her now, but because of the diagnosis, I felt a certain responsibility to be with her and family over Thanksgiving. And because it was a week before my first marathon, I thought it would be better to fly to Philadelphia where my parents live. While there, I had a pretty serious flare up of allergies which led to some pretty serious ear pain on the descent into Indianapolis, where I live. My ears did pop when I came home, but it was a little painful. I went on some allergy drugs that I hoped would drain my sinuses without affecting my ability to run. Tuesday after Thanksgiving–the week before the race–I ran a couple miles at MGP and felt pretty good. Then Thursday I did 3 miles easy and some strides and my legs felt good and my lungs felt clear. Then I got on a plane and the descent on the first leg messed my ears up and they still haven’t popped five days later.
On Wednesday before I left for Sacramento, I got a message from my Airbnb host, which I expected to be information about how to check in, and instead was a cancellation of my place. I reach out to my teammate from Rogue She Squad who was also running the race and she very kindly agreed to share her hotel room with me but recommended that I find my own room the first night I would be there. I went on Expedia and I reserved a room at the Hyatt. Then my teammate texts that I should probably get a room for the second night, too, because she is getting in late. I get back on Expedia and see that I can’t add a night to the original reservation, but I can just make a new reservation. First, I try to do that with a customer service person, but the price they quoted me was different from what I saw online, which seemed weird, but comes to make sense later. I go and make my own reservation on Expedia.
I get to Sacramento, unpopped ears and all, and Lyft to the Hyatt Regency, one of the race hotels. I go to check in and the person working the counter tells me that my reservation is in fact at another Hyatt seven blocks away. I ask her about the second night, and she says, you are back in this hotel. I made two different reservations at two different hotels. I kept reminding myself to be grateful. I read Deena Kastor’s Let Your Mind Run this last year, and I try to practice gratitude when I can. I was glad to have a hotel room. I was glad the second night was back in the race hotel because that’s where I would be staying with my teammate. It turned out to be much easier to navigate to the race events from the hotel than it would have been to the Airbnb. I walk the seven blocks to the other hotel, which was right down L Street.
I wake up Friday, my ears are still unpopped. I do some Netti pot saline solution to try to clear things up. I do some yoga with some careful breathing. By Friday night, my ears haven’t popped, but I don’t feel as congested. The Hyatt Regency let me check in at noon, which was nice. I went and had sushi at Mikuni Midtown – some miso, edamame, and nigiri for a good protein and carb combo.
After lunch, I went to Target, which was walking distance from the hotel and the Expo. I wanted to get some small bottles of water to carry on race day. I could only buy a pack of 12. And I picked up some oatmeal for race morning. Then I went to the expo. No line. Runners had to show proof of vaccination or a negative test. I show my vaccination card, and am given my bib. The expo was pretty small. I have been to Thanksgiving race expos that are larger! I talked to the Garmin guys about how to turn off the notifications for achieving my steps on my watch, because I really didn’t want them on during the race. Turns out, they cannot be turned off, but you can increase the goal so that it is impossible to achieve so you never get notified. I asked someone at Fleet Feet about whether they had a 26.2 sticker and no, they did not. I basically went to Sacramento for that sticker!
My highlight of the expo was the compression legs, which I paid $5 to relax in for five minutes. I could really use them now, post-race, but it was very nice to sit in pre-race.
The Mental Game Prep
I went back to my room and relaxed for a bit, but mostly started to get a little nervy, so I went to dinner at Mayahuel around the corner from the Hyatt. I got pumpkin dip with nachos and pistachio molé. And a virgin fancy drink – I took a break from alcohol in the month leading up to the race. While at dinner, I worked on my mental game.
I was completely confident I could do the plan through mile 10, and pretty confident in the plan through 17; 18-26 I didn’t know. My plan was to do a negative split starting at 8:50 and then speeding up gradually to finish at 8:05 for a goal of 3:40. Boston qualifying for my age was 3:50, but I wanted a healthy buffer to make sure I could get in. At dinner, I spent some time talking myself into it being doable. I took solace in how my easy miles had ended up being faster lately without feeling like I was pushing it, which I took as a sign that I was rested and ready.
I expressed some anxiety to my coach and she asked me to think about three questions, which I tried to think more explicitly about.
One: Why do you run and why are you here?
I like to run because it makes me feel strong and capable, because I can see myself executing the task I set for myself, because I find myself surprising myself. I like to experience the unknown, the test of the run. I’ve put so many miles in this year (more than 2000), and I did a base build in April where I did four weeks of 60 miles weeks with 20 mile long-runs because I wanted to be ready for the marathon. The process of seeing training pay off in performance seems miraculous.
Two: What have I already gained and learned?
- I can do hard things. Many times I went out and killed a workout I didn’t think was possible. Some times I didn’t. But much more often and more recently, I executed. I can do it.
- The importance of following a race plan.
- How to fuel and how to hydrate.
- The importance of salt pills
- Rest is important.
- Running is a team sport.
- The mental game is so important. Practice positivity. Turn fear into expectation and confidence.
Three: What happens if you don’t hit your goal time?
I didn’t want to think about this one. I really really wanted the time. I’d still qualify for Boston if I made it under 3:50, but I wanted to confidently make it at 3:40. I knew it would be ok if I didn’t make my goal, but I really really wanted it and I really felt like I needed it. I’m doing this for me. I need this. I’m enough of a reason.
Saturday morning I woke up and my ears still hadn’t popped. Grrr. I met up with the Rogue group to do the shakeout run. I suggested we all introduce ourselves and say something about what the race is for us. There were a lot of folks running races much faster than I was trying to run, but I reminded myself that if we are running our hardest, my hardest is as hard and easy for me as their hard is hard and easy for them. We ran about 3 miles around Capitol Park and saw the finishing line. Then I went to breakfast and relaxed in the room for a little before going to meet my roommate and move to the third hotel room of my time in Sacramento.
We relaxed a bit, and then talked to our coach, and then went to dinner – steak and a baked potato, and had an early night.
Race Day Morning
We woke up at 4 AM. My ears were still not popped. I did the Netti pot saline solution clearing. Got coffee and oatmeal at Starbucks which was amazingly open at 3:30 AM. We headed over to the buses at 4:45 and left on one of the buses at 4:55. There were some nice tourist buses, but we were too late to get on one of those and ended up on a school bus, which was fine. CIM definitely has plenty of port-a-potties as they are famed for. I used the bathroom three times between 5:45 and race time. There wasn’t really a line until the last go at 6:30, which was then a ten-minute visit. I had some nerves after the last visit, and I was really glad to have my teammate there with me because we gave each other a little pep talk about how we had done the work and we could do this. Then I went off to my start corral of 3:40.
I took off my warm-up clothes that I bought at Good Will and put them in the Good Will bin. It was chilly and spitting rain, but I had arm sleeves and I wasn’t that cold. Turned my Aftershokz on at 6:45 – they only lasted for three hours or so – they went out around mile 18, but that was ok because it was nice to pay attention to fans.
In the first mile, as we started, I was overwhelmed with gratitude thinking, “I’m running a marathon!” I focused on holding back. During the first 10k, I was just soaking it all in. I kept reminding myself, don’t fight the hills. And OMG were there hills! I don’t know who out here is saying CIM is a flat race. Yes, it is a net downhill race. But so is Boston, and absolutely no one thinks that is a downhill race. It’s an example of a scientific truth that is not the truth of lived experience. Yes, it is a net 300 feet downhill, but there is an up for every down, maybe not as up, but it is up. Even through to mile 24 and a half or so.
Nutrition and Fueling
Around 4.5 I felt just a tinge of calf cramping, which I hold my Saucony Endorphin Speed responsible for and which I think may have contributed to my difficulties at the very end. I took my first salt pills at mile 6 or so. I would have taken them at 4.5, but I was waiting for the next water stop. I had one Ucan salted peanut butter bar and 24 ounces of caffeine nuun on the bus, then I carried a 12 ounce bottle of nuun which I downed by mile 4. I took the second ucan at mile 11, another salt pill at 19, a Honey Stinger at 20 and another at 24 for the final finish.
Finishing the Race
In the 2nd 10k, I continued to maintain pace but maybe I slowed a little bit because I really kept trying not to fight the hills – did I say there were many? The 3rd 10k continued to feel good — honestly I felt good until 40k. I really started to say to myself then, embrace the suck! Earlier in the race, I’d feel a small issue — calves, left quad, 2nd toe on right foot (which is now coming off), and then I’d say no, and repeat my mantra, “I feel strong, I feel powerful, I feel capable.” It helped that my playlist included Dj Khaled’s All I Do is Win, Taylor Swift’s Shake it Off, Queen’s Fat Bottomed-Girls, Cake’s The Distance, Nina Simone’s Sinnerman. At mile 13, I was like, another half, I can do that. I was getting faster with each mile, and I felt like I could do it, even as I also kept trying not to charge the hills. I remember the thought at mile 20 that it was already mile 20. Some guy said as we were approaching the bridge that this was the last hill of the race. That was a lie. Mile 24 felt hard, but I still ran it at 8:11 — I was supposed to be doing three miles at 8:05 at the end. I wasn’t quite there. I don’t like to blame my equipment, but I think the shoes were not quite right. I realized at certain points that I was running on the balls of my feet (thus the calf pain) and so I tried to force myself to land midfoot on the whole shoe and I realized the sneaker actually made me a little flat-footed. I knew when I ran in these shoes for a couple quality runs that they felt a little awkward, but I just thought, maybe I don’t know how a racing shoe is supposed to feel. But I think a racing shoe is supposed to feel really really comfortable. Now I know. Anyway, at mile 25, I did run 8:06. But mile 26, my calves felt tight, I felt stiff, I was talking myself into each tenth of a mile. I was seeing people ahead and thinking I can try to stay this close to them. Mile 26 was the same pace at the first mile, which I found disappointing because I wanted to really finish strong. I was saying that to myself and I did in fact do the last 2 tenths a bit faster at 8:21. It surprised me that I had sped up because I thought I was just hanging on at that point. But I did it. 3:42:32. 7 minutes and 28 seconds ahead of the BQ time. I was so happy with myself. I just walked around the circle at the finish with a smile on my face. My legs hurt. I felt a little queasy. But I ran my first marathon. I qualified for Boston. I got some fluids and some bars and walked around to the finish line to cheer in my teammate.
I’ve run many halves, and I remember some hard recoveries. Reader, this is of a different order. At one point, right after the race, I dropped a glove, and stood staring at it wondering if that glove was just dead to me (I’m cheap as hell, so no, I suffered the pain of bending over to pick it up — and the gloves were free!). My calves and quads are not just sore, they don’t really work. Quads do all that eccentric load work to soften the stress when you hit the ground, so now walking downstairs, they are like, sorry, we are off duty. Everyone who raced was walking around the airport like zombies – legs mostly straight, just swinging from the hips. And my toes were really inflamed, because my second toe was pushing up against those shoes. My office is on the third floor of a building with no elevator and it took me quite some time to walk up and down, especially down, the stairs. I took an ice bath before getting on the plane and then walked backwards around the gate for awhile to try to ease the pain. I’m excited for what is to come, but also, to recover fully!
I ran into a New Balance rep who ran a very fast PR at a Rogue Running happy hour after the race and he was talking about how his only social media post was about how he was grateful and who he was grateful for. I was stopped in my tracks for a second because I posted on social media the whole day and included no thanks. But not because I am not grateful. I am. I am grateful, well, for so much, really truly, but the highlights are, that I’m grateful for:
- my coach, Ruth England, who, did not bat an eye when I told her of my goal time.
- Colleen Reutebuch, my teammate and veteran marathoner, who was in Sacramento with me and who very graciously let me stay in her room and whom I got to cheer in to the finish.
- my virtual team RogueSheSquad. Running is a team sport.
- my husband who couldn’t come to Sacramento, but whose enthusiasm at my success and my progress (he followed me on the app) made me feel like it really was an accomplishment. And for the roses and champagne he bought me.
- Sacramento, CIM organizers, fans
- my body, unpopped ears and all, and the ability to run.
There’s more. I’m hopeful for more. I haven’t maxed out. Run hopeful. Run strong.