Tuesday, December 04, 2012

California International Marathon -- 3:01:32

Not your typical puddle. Photo source: here. Click to enlarge.
This was my fourth running of the California International Marathon, in Sacramento, and it had the most running friends and the worst weather of any of them! This was also my 19th road marathon. The wind and rain were comically bad, and were concentrated primarily before and during my running of it. About 30 minutes after I finished, it stopped raining at the capitol and was basically a nice cool day for the remainder of the day. Funny!

But back to the beginning...

It was great carpooling with my running friend Rachael and her husband, Bob. The Expo had lots of interesting things for sale or on display, as usual, and it wasn't too crowded in the early Saturday afternoon.

Me and Rachael
I ran into my friends Franz and Jen and their son, Max. Franz was aiming to qualify for the Boston Marathon and he had trained very well, successfully transitioning from ultramarathons, including many 100 mile races, to being ready for a 26.2 mile road race, which is basically a 3 hour sprint for him.

I got to meet up with my friend Dana who was also trying to qualify for the Boston Marathon. I had previously run the San Diego Marathon with her (it was a training run for me).
My training had been about 80% of the target mileage of my aggressive training plan. I had missed a number of runs, including one long run, to try to get over a sore left heel. Plus, life has been extra busy in November. So, I knew that beating my personal record (2:55:52, in New York City two years ago) was not going to happen, but I hoped to beat 3 hours. As the race day drew near, it appeared that the weather was going to be a significant factor.

The night before, I stayed up a bit too late (11pm) but had a fun time at a party with a friend of mine and my wife's, Elise. I even had a glass of wine and did a bit of dancing! (Thanks again, Elise!) I also had the usual pre-race excitement which made sleep difficult. So, I woke up at 4:14am, before my alarm went off, and was feeling rather groggy. I quickly ate some of my usual pre-race foods (banana, oatmeal, and bagel), and was looking forward for the adventure to begin at 7am!

Some other friends from my running club (Mor, Margaret, and Jim) picked me up at 5:15am and we got to near the start area with plenty of time. The rain and wind were very heavy now. I was anxious to get on the bus for a last short 2 mile shuttle ride and then I had plenty of time (50 minutes?) to use the porta-potty and drop off my drop-bag. It was cold, wet, and very windy. I was very impressed that so many volunteers were out there in the rain for us runners. I sought shelter at this gas station...

Looking for shelter wherever we could. The gas station store was packed.

Finally, the start time drew near and I was wearing a short-sleeved shirt and shorts and wrapped in a thermal aluminum-foil blanket. Although the air temperature wasn't bad (low 50s), with the wind and rain, I was nearly shivering and was anxious to start.

My plan was to take it easy at the beginning and to gradually speed up and to monitor my heart rate. I found my friend Mor again and we positioned ourselves with the 3:25 (3 hour 25 minute) pace group. This was further back than my previous runs of this race.

The national anthem was awesome, with an exceptionally good singer, and then a couple minutes later, we were off! The first noticeable problem was that so many runners threw away their garbage bags and temporary clothes directly on the ground behind them, right in the path of thousands of runners behind. So, even though only 3 or 4 hundred runners were in front of me, it quickly became hazardous. I bundled up my space-blanket and tossed it far to the side of the road.

It felt good to be running! I wished Mor good-luck and I took it real easy and gradually pulled ahead.

I tried to gradually increase my effort, keeping my heart rate below 150 bpm for the first 5 miles or so. A handful of runners passed me in the first mile, but mostly I was steadily passing people early on. The wind was coming from the south and the course mostly headed west at first, but at mile 6, we turned left on to Fair Oaks Blvd and the headwinds were ferocious. I tried to find other runners to block the wind for me. I hopped from one clump of runners to the next, recovering from the effort when I arrived at a group. My pace slowed down for these 5 miles of headwinds to slightly slower than 7 minutes per mile.

I was steadily passing runners and I caught up to the 3:10 pace group, maybe around mile 11? Another guy caught up to me and was running basically at the same pace, so we ran together for a few miles, steadily passing people. He introduced himself as Tim, from Yuba City, and said he had run a 5K race the day before. (Ouch!) And he said he completed an Ironman triathlon just two weeks earlier! (Double-ouch!) So, I felt like I was running with a super-stud but I also thought there was no way he could do his best in this race. I wasn't surprised when he fell off the pace and I pulled ahead. I looked him up in the results (hi, Tim Mallen!) and he had a great race, finishing in 3:08:01. Congratulations, Tim!

At the half-way point, I felt a bit tired, but overall was in good shape. The time was 1 hour 32 minutes. I wanted to finish the second half a bit faster. I was focused next on getting to mile 16 and gradually picking up the pace a notch. Then get to mile 18 and pick up the effort again, but still have enough "in the tank" for the most difficult miles, from 22 to the finish, and to have a strong finish.

Mile 16 -- only 10 miles to go! I realized that I seemed low on energy, so I ate another energy gel 20 minutes early. (I was eating one every 40 minutes.) I was also consciously drinking more sports drink than in past marathons, to try to combat my typical problems with cramps in the last miles.

I was becoming more and more focused on "keeping it together". The effort was becoming more difficult. My heart rate was in the mid-160s. I was still steadily passing runners and I caught up to the 3:05 pace group. Suddenly my left shoe felt loose. No way! My shoe laces were coming untied! I had double-knotted it! So, for the 2nd time ever in a marathon race, I stopped and re-tied my left shoe. I was quick about it (5-6 seconds) and I soon caught up to the 3:05 pace group and passed them.

Mile 20 -- just 10K to go. Finish strong! But there's still plenty of time to fall apart, so I tried to be cautious, too. "Keep it together" was my mantra. I thought I recognized the runner in front of me. I slowly passed him. It was Franz! I was so on the edge of falling apart that I couldn't really talk much and I focused on keeping the pace and I slowly pulled ahead.

The last miles were getting more difficult and I didn't think I could safely go faster for miles 22 to 24. Getting desperate. Plenty of other runners were struggling around me, but I was still passing everyone steadily.

Mile 25 ticked by in 6:41. A runner behind me called out, "Hey, Ron!" I think I waved, but I couldn't even manage to look back or to say "hi". It was my friend and running club member, Dan. At mile 26, I saw Jen (Franz's wife)! She took this picture:
Almost done, at mile 26! Photo credit, Jen Dill. Click to enlarge.

Almost there! I poured on the effort, rounded the corner from L St. on to 8th Ave and made the final left turn to face the capitol building and the blessed finish line. Hard sprint. Woo hoo! 3 hours 1 minute and 32 seconds. I was quite happy with that! Arms in the air!

Me and Franz, at the finish area. Photo credit, Jen Dill.
The sharp contrast between minutes before the race, where I'm running the fastest, and minutes after the race, where I'm suddenly extremely sore and hobbling around, is humorous to me. It took me about 30 minutes to get my drop-bag, say "hi" to Franz and his family, and start watching the race. The rain stopped.

I missed seeing Mor (3:37:02), who reported afterwards that he was on pace for a massive personal record right up until mile 23 when "a switch went off" and he hit the wall and bonked big time. He still set a personal record though, by about 5 minutes. Congratulations, Mor!

I did catch Rachael finishing strong and I took this picture.

Rachael, determined and focused at mile 26. Click to enlarge.
I managed to hobble over fast enough to see Rachael in the finish area and to share that special moment of happy relief at having accomplished a very difficult task. Tears were shed.

It was good seeing friends after the race. I commiserated with my friend Dana, who was bummed that she had missed her goal by just over 4 minutes. And then, it was time to leave, as Rachael and Bob (my ride home) had to check out of their hotel.

What a wild adventure! All-in-all, I'm very happy with how I raced and I did about as well as I could have hoped, all things considered. My left heel started feeling tender again and I had a couple spots of bad chafing, but basically, I survived, happy, tired, wet, and uninjured.

Random data
  • A good photo gallery from the Sacramento Bee is here.
  • Results
  • Weight, two days before: 166.1 lbs. Once again, I failed to lose 5 lbs.
  • My Garmin watch's GPS data, heart rate, and mile splits are here.
As usual, I need to give a huge thanks to my wife, for making it possible for me to train for and participate in this event. And I want to thank Rachael and Bob for the ride and their good company. And I want to thank my friend Elise for hosting me and saving me the hotel expense.