Good things happen to… those who put in the work and run a (fairly) smart race.
The first weekend of December, I ran the much loved California International Marathon (better known as CIM). I had run it once before in 2012, the first time I ran a marathon in pouring down rain. And if you follow me on Instagram, you know this year it was one heck of a race for a very different reason: I scored an 11 minute PR, crossing the finish line at 3:16:32.
I knew I wanted to run this after I ran the relays last year. And then after Boston’s rainy weather and what I felt like was a disappointing finishing time, I knew I really wanted to run CIM this year.
The hubs, the kiddo, and I headed up to Sacramento a little after lunch the day before the race so that the kiddo would sleep on the drive (score, she did!). We went straight to the expo where I saw Katie, Naomi, and Jackie. I grabbed my bib and shirt, I don’t hang out much at expos, and then we headed to a local pub, Firestone, for a beer, nachos, and avocado rolls. We checked into the hotel and quickly headed out again to meet my best friend and her fam who lives in Elk Grove at the new Drake’s: The Barn. A couple more beers and a pizza later, as well as some good times with old friends, and I was fully carbed up and ready for bed.
The alarm went off at 3:45am. I quickly dressed and walked down to another hotel about a block away to meet up with Janet, Erin, and Meredith where I proceeded to eat my breakfast: hard boiled egg, banana, and a sleeve of Ritz crackers because I forgot my oatmeal. I found this to be a pretty good breakfast anyway. We hung out a bit and then Leilani showed up before we headed over to the shuttles. Before we knew it, we were on the bus headed toward Folsom.
Erin, Janet, and I had talked about having similar race goals (sub 3:20) and I had hoped to start the race with them. I knew being with friends would help me from overthinking my run and settle my nerves a bit. But once we got to Folsom, Erin and Janet needed to use the bathroom while Meredith and I wanted to stay warm on the bus a little longer. Finally, I convinced myself to head out into the cold (I’m a California kid through and through and 39º is cold). Mary (co-founder of Arete) saw me waddling while gliding at this point, which I imagine looked pretty silly. Meredith and I tried to connect with Erin but after the gear check, I had lost everyone and the race was only a few minutes away from starting. So much for the warm up I was going to do! The corral was very crowded and I could barely make it in near the 3:20 pacer, but I thought I’d probably see the crew after we started so I didn’t stress.
Coach Aaron had told me to average a 7:37 pace for the first half, coming in no faster than 1:39. Yeah… I failed at that. I sped ahead in the first couple miles trying to find Erin and Janet (apparently they were behind me, starting after the 3:20 pacers). Then I ran into Saige and Monique and hung with them for a few miles before settling into my own groove. I took my first gel around mile 5.5. Around mile seven is the first relay exchange, which is just full of excitement and energy. I felt really good. I saw Lisa and Krystal riding their bikes, cheering us on – loved it! My first seven miles were generally quick but it felt easy and comfortable, so I went with it: 7:20, 7:28, 7:19, 7:31, 7:31, 7:27, 7:30.
Somehow I was still running with my hand warmers and gloves. I tossed the hand warmers around mile 9 and not long after got rid of my $3 gloves from Walgreens. I was still scanning the runners ahead of me for Erin’s neon orange singlet but was beginning to lose faith I would find her. I think around mile 10 or so I ran into Elyse, @milestomedals on IG, an Arete member from the Sacramento chapter. For a bit we ran side by side without speaking and then we chatted about our goals (I knew she would be aiming for a faster time than me) and the course. But we were also quiet for long stretches too. It seemed to work well for both of us. I took my second gel around mile 12. It was nice just to be around a teammate and have that support. At the halfway mark, there was another relay exchange so lots of energy. And then I saw Michelle, Sam, Kim, and Elise. I was elated to see them and I was feeling really strong. It was just a great moment. I came through the half at 1:37:48… not exactly 1:39. Oops. I did some math and figured that even if I slowed to an 8 minute pace for the rest of the race I would still PR. So I kept on plugging along. Around mile 15/16, Elyse picked up the pace and headed toward securing her PR (3:14). I saw Lisa and Krystal a few more times through this section and also got an idea of where Erin was, about 5 minutes behind me, doing well (for all I remember, this might have happened later in the race but it all gets a little muddled in my memory). Miles 8-15: 7:37, 7:32, 7:24, 7:25, 7:25, 7:21, 7:25, 7:25
After Elyse pushed forward I started giving myself new things to focus on because let’s be real, 26 miles is a long time to be running. My first was to focus on getting to mile 18 where I would take my third gel. Mostly I just hung out and zoned out, trying not to think about my feet, which were feeling a little sore. I just looked forward to when I would see Lisa and Krystal again. Every time I saw them it really helped to keep me going. I also think it was in this section that a guy runner asked me what the A stood for and I told him it was my team’s name, Arete. He thanked me and told me a whole bunch of us kept passing him! I should mention here that there were 70 (!) Arete women running CIM this weekend, so it really was a sea of blue. I saw many teammates from different chapters at different points during the race and many of the spectators were cheering for us, even if they did not know each runner personally. It really was a great feeling. After I took my gel at mile 18, my goal was to focus on getting to mile 20 where I knew CIM had an arch labeled “The Wall.” I had my two fastest miles in this stretch but definitely began to feel tired: 7:17, 7:20, 7:17, 7:20, 7:21.
The last 10k. I felt ok the first two miles and focused on just getting to Sacramento. My focus was getting to mile 23 where I would take my final gel. I was tired and it was hurting. I was telling myself that if I saw Elise cheering at any point, I was pulling her into the race with me. I didn’t expect to see her, but it motivated me. At mile 22, I was definitely hurting and slowing down. I took my last gel at 23 and from there just focused on completing each mile. I still knew dropping to an 8 minute pace would get me that PR, but I tried to stay below 8. Mile 24 saw my slowest mile, 7:52, and from there I focused solely on staying in the 7:40s. Somewhere along this point I heard someone cheer for me, now I know it was two teammates from the Arete Oakland chapter who made the decision to surprise and spectate. So awesome! I saw the hubs, the kiddo, Elise, Monica, and Kim just before turning the last corner into the finish line. I knew I was going to get sub 3:18 and I felt pretty strongly that it would closer to 3:16. I felt like I could cry… but apparently didn’t have any tears. I gave them my biggest, cheesiest smile and pushed as hard as I could for that final stretch. Miles 21-26.2: 7:30, 7:38, 7:39, 7:52, 7:45, 7:41, 1:51 (final .2, 7:43 pace). Official finishing time: 3:16:32!
After the finish line, I ran into tons of friends and reconnected with Elyse. I waited to see Erin but was getting cold, so I headed toward gear check and the family and friends. The kid was so excited to see me – she ran to me and then fell flat on her face. Oops! Something I would totally do. Then We celebrated at Fox and Goose in Sacramento with mimosas and pancakes (well that’s what I had) before making the drive back home.
Some final thoughts: I ran my best tangents here, my GPS had me 26.23. Usually I end up closer to 26.5. As many have reported, the weather was pretty much perfect. Finally, having a two year old cheer for you is maybe the best thing in the world.