Sunday, December 18, 2016

California International Marathon -- 2:57:49

The weather was perfect for my 6th running of the California International Marathon and apparently I was in better shape than I thought! I finished the race, feeling quite sore and very happy, taking 2 hours 57 minutes 49 seconds to cover the 26.2 miles. This was my 26th road marathon and my third fastest.

I had a busy year with racing (a 50K, two 50 milers, a 69 mile race across England, a hundred miler, and a 10K), but no road marathon. I like this race because it's nearby and well-organized, has great volunteers, and isn't too crowded (6,177 finishers this year). I also like staying qualified for the Boston Marathon and a good race here would keep my options open for 2018. (I'm already entered into the Boston Marathon for 2017.)

Based on my 10K time being about a minute slower than in previous years, plus with a few pounds of Halloween and Thanksgiving weight gain, I wasn't expecting to have an especially fast race. On the other hand, I had a handful of especially long runs leading up to this race which I think gave me an endurance boost.

  • 101 miles on 9/25 -- this race, Mountain Lakes 100, was super-slow as far as marathon training is concerned, but I think it increased my aerobic capacity and muscle resilience.
  • 55 miles on 11/5 -- I paced a friend and running club member for the last 55 miles of Rio del Lago 100. This "run" involved hiking for about half the time, but I think this again helped with my aerobic capacity and resilience.
  • 20 miles on 11/13 -- I attempted a workout of alternating between slow and fast miles. I had gotten this idea from an article about U.S. elite marathoner Ryan Hall. Unfortunately, I faded towards the end and I couldn't run my 10th fast mile. My marathon training was in trouble! This run also took me 2 hours 56 minutes on relatively flat ground (the coastal trail near where I live), which is slow for me and did not bode well for a 3 hour marathon finish.
  • 20 miles on 11/20 with 65 miles for the week and two weeks to go until race day. I repeated the previous week's workout and it went much better! I had increased my mileage this past week, plus attended the Coastside Running Club's track workout. I ran the 10 fast miles at a solid race pace, right around 7 minutes a mile (or the equivalent effort when going up hills near my home). This run took me 2 hours 43 minutes. Much better!
  • 13.6 easy miles on Sunday, 11/27, in a lovely park I hadn't run in before -- Arastradero in Palo Alto. This was one week before the race and this run gave me 64 miles for the week. Time to taper!
  • 3 easy miles the day before, and 5 easy miles on the Thursday before the race. Worryingly, on that Thursday's easy run, my foot hurt! I've had on and off again discomfort on the outside of my right foot, as if my shoe were pinching my foot there, but this feeling has happened with many different pairs of shoes. It started to hurt and I stopped half way through the run and took off my shoe and massaged my foot. By the end of the 5 miles, though, I felt completely comfortable. Weird! I hoped this problem wouldn't show up on race day.
Day Before
I was visiting family near Sacramento and I had to get to the race expo on time, and so I was on my own for dinner. My wife very thoughtfully bought me a large can of BBQ Pringles as a snack, knowing that I prefer to eat processed foods without a lot of fiber the day before a race. I got hungry and somehow between 3pm and 6pm, I consumed the entire large can! 987 calories! Plus I ate a scone (320 calories) and a handful of tortilla chips! This wasn't my usual dinner, but I thought it might work!

The race expo was excellent, as usual. They have a "loyalty program" for repeat runners of this race, and so I received my 5 year insulated coffee mug. Nice! (This was my 6th year running the race, but the previous year, I hadn't known that I could receive this.)

Before going to sleep, I took two allergy-relief / sleep-aid pills of diphenhydramine HCl (25mg each), which I think is going to become a pre-race ritual. That plus earplugs allowed me to sleep well and I got almost 8 hours of sleep and woke up easily around 4:10am.

Race Day
After a quick breakfast of a scone and Clif Bar, I walked a mile to meet the buses at 5am in order to get to the start at Folsom Dam in time for the 7am start. There were a few other runners walking this path with me, in the cold (40F) dark morning. I was glad I had brought a headlamp.

It was cold! I had to play the game of timing my last porta-potty visit while still having time to drop off my stuff in a drop-bag. I was near-shivering for the last 20 minutes before the race, but it all worked out. I also decided to wear my arm sleeves for the first time in a road marathon, but no gloves or hat or pants.

As I was stretching and warming up a bit before the race, someone called out my name from behind me. I didn't recognize her at first, but Bethany was one of the (many) runners I met through the Half Moon Bay International Marathon training runs that I had led. Cool! She went on to rock this race with a 3:19:30! Congratulations, Bethany!

I looked for my fellow running club members Margaret and Jim, but I didn't find them this time.

I positioned myself near the 3:03 pace group, listened to the national anthem (the singing was beautiful). The mobility impaired and the blind runners started first. Then we were off! Woo hoo!

How would the next several hours go? Would my foot be OK? Did I have any chance of running a 3 hour marathon again? I really didn't know. It was an adventure! It occurred to me that I had forgotten to put Body Glide on a couple of spots where my shorts can rub; well, too late now!

Mile 1 -- 7:13. Might be a bit on the fast side, but I felt great! I had to run around a dozen or so slow runners who didn't appear to belong near the front of the race, but it wasn't too bad.
Mile 2 -- 7:01
Mile 3 -- 6:43. Too fast! Be patient! A 6:52 per-mile pace gives 3 hours exactly.
Mile 4 -- 6:39 I started wondering if I could beat 3 hours. I started thinking that I should run the first half faster than 1:30:00. Oops, I ran this mile a bit on the fast side.
Mile 5 -- 6:57
Mile 6 -- 6:57 I sometimes felt a bit warm in my arms. I didn't need the arm sleeves.
Mile 7 -- 6:49 Passed the 3:03 pace group.
Mile 8 -- 6:49 The miles were passing by easily. I felt great! I was working hard and I didn't want to run any faster, but my breathing felt easy.
Mile 9 -- 6:51 I heard someone call out to a runner in front of me, "Hey, Scott!". I saw his curly hair from behind and I thought, "Could that be Scott Jurek?" Yes, it was! He's an ultrarunning phenomenon, who has won Western States 100 seven times in a row, for example. He was leading a blind runner on track for a 3 hour finish! Awesome! They were chatting away, so I didn't try to say "hi".
Scott Jurek (r.) guiding a blind runner. (Source)
Mile 10 -- 6:47
Mile 11 -- 6:43
Mile 12 -- 6:44  I decided to pass the 3 hour pace group, which is a large group of maybe 40-50 runners. I didn't want them to pass me again (it would be embarrassing!), so I felt committed to going under 3 hours at this point.
Mile 13 -- 6:32  Oops, too fast again.
Half-marathon -- 1:29:21. I took stock of my body. I felt the effort, like I had had a good hard workout, but there were no signs of cramps and I seemed to have plenty of energy left.
Mile 14 -- 6:43 The bands along the course were fun to listen to, briefly.
Mile 15 -- 6:48 I thanked aid station volunteers and gave thumbs-up to spectators.
Mile 16 -- 6:40 10 miles to go. I'm doing well, but that's still a long ways.
Mile 17 -- 6:42 I thought of my first two marathons where I fell apart around mile 18. I continued eating an energy gel every 40 minutes and getting a small cup of sports drink every 2 to 4 miles.
Mile 18 -- 6:48 8 miles to go. My calves felt tight. This is getting harder.
Mile 19 -- 6:42 A spectator called out to me, but I have no idea who he was.
Mile 20 -- 6:45 Struggling a bit. I couldn't seem to speed up any more and maintaining this pace was taking more and more of a mental effort. I wasn't feeling desperate and there were no signs of cramps. Only 10 km remained, but that was plenty long enough to fall apart. Stay focused.
Mile 21 -- 6:46
Mile 22 -- 6:46 Could I set a personal record? I'd have to run about a 6:30 pace.
Mile 23 -- 6:48 Struggling more. I couldn't seem to avoid slowing down a bit. Setting a personal record wasn't going to happen, but I still had a chance at an excellent time, perhaps beating my time from the previous year.
Mile 24 -- 6:49 Slowed down a bit more. This was getting difficult but there were no signs of cramps and my breathing was hard, but under control.
Mile 25 -- 6:48 Trying to stay focused and keep moving. There was a big arch across L Street a few blocks down. Did they change the finish line?! No, it was something motivational. OK, I've got this! Just one mile to go! Push hard!
Mile 26 -- 6:40 I looked for my family who might be at the finish area by 11am, but they weren't. (I don't blame them! I don't think this is a good spectator sport!)
Last 0.2 miles -- 1:23 (6:32 pace) I sprinted past a guy in the last 100 meters. Hands in the air! Whew!

I was really pleased with my race execution! But wow, was I now sore. A medical person asked if I was OK and I smiled and said "yeah, I'm fine". I received my medal and had a race photo taken. (But I think they're too expensive to buy.) I heard an announcement about a blind runner finishing; hopefully that was Scott Jurek's runner. (Update: it probably was! Matthew Rodjom finished in 2:59:10! Results. Article.) What a day!

What Went Well
  • I had an enjoyable solid race. The perfect weather helped, of course.
  • I generally sped up over time and I ran the second half slightly faster than the first half (thus doing a "negative split") which I think is a sign of good pace control.
  • I didn't injure myself or have any chafing.
  • My equipment and clothes worked well.
  • I had no bowel issues or any urge to urinate during the race.
  • No cramps.
  • Maybe Pringles are an OK pre-race meal? Maybe they should sponsor me! "I'm Ron Little and the night before a race, I make sure to eat a large can of Pringles!"
Things to Improve
  • In spite of the 39 F temperature at the start, I don't think I needed the arm sleeves and I would have been better off without them.
  • I should probably use a checklist so that I don't forget simple things like putting on anti-chafing cream in certain sensitive spots, but it worked out OK this time.
Random Data
My top 10 fastest marathons:
  1. New York City Marathon 2010 -- 2:55:52
  2. California International Marathon 2011 -- 2:56:40
  3. California International Marathon 2016 -- 2:57:49
  4. California International Marathon 2015 -- 2:58:55
  5. Oakland Marathon 2010 -- 2:59:03
  6. Las Vegas Marathon 2010 -- 2:59:04
  7. California International Marathon 2007 -- 2:59:36
  8. Napa Valley Marathon 2011 -- 3:00:06
  9. Chicago Marathon 2014 -- 3:00:52
  10. California International Marathon 2012 -- 3:01:32
Thank You
I want to thank the volunteers and organizers of the California International Marathon for putting on another great race. I'm very grateful! And as always, I want to thank my wife for supporting this significant hobby.