My first attempt at racing a marathon was atrocious! Two years ago at CIM, I imploded somewhere around mile 12ish, and then it got real ugly. If you want to read through all the details on how a race goes from bad to not sure if I should watch, please refer to the CIM post from December 2015. With splits of 1:24 and 1:33, for a finish time of 2:57+, I had some serious unfinished business at the marathon distance.
Coach Joe and I talked about training for a late year marathon, as it would be an excellent way to spring into the 2018 ultra season. Although my race was a disaster in 2015, the training was definitely helpful in preparing for not only the Grand Slam, but specifically for flatter spring races like the Austin Rattler 66k. With raw speed being my glaring weakness in just about any race less than 100 miles, even slight increases in turnover should translate to significant improvements at the longer distances. Also with all the focus on form throughout the early months of 2017, we were both interested to see how it would translate to a race that rewards both speed and efficiency.
After the Angeles Crest 100, a storybook wedding and an amazingly relaxing honeymoon in Costa Rica, we kicked off marathon training in perfect trail running fashion… a 50 miler with nearly 11k of climbing!
With a descent amount of fitness and small exit wound post AC, 10 full weeks of marathon-specific training, plus an additional two weeks of “sharpening” (Joe doesn’t like the term “tapering”), we felt this should be enough time and stimulus to drive a better result than 2015. One of the interesting parts to this training plan was not attaching a goal time or marathon pace (MP) to workouts, as we had no idea what it could or should be.
Heading into marathon weekend, I really wasn’t sure what to expect. With no specific time goal, other than to run at a comfortable pace that I could settle into for 20ish miles before pushing the last 10k, there were very few expectations. In reviewing my CIM training block, it seemed relatively uneventful. Yes I felt good throughout these 10 weeks, minus some soreness after a really fun Lululemon weekend retreat and several weekends full of yard work after moving into a new home, but I didn’t feel like I had any breakout workouts that really displayed my fitness. Looking over my training log from late 2016 and into early 17, there were a significant amount of days that felt either “ok” or “bad.” Even though it’s a very subjective measurement of improvement, I literally didn’t have a “bad” day throughout this training block.
In thinking about my improvement in running over the past several years, it’s not surprising that it would be a boring story. Since I don’t have an inkling of raw speed and very little natural talent, of course my improvement would have to come from consistent and SLOW increases in quality and volume.
In looking back over these past five years of running, I’ve realized that thankfully my favorite part is “the grind.” Waking up at the butt crack of dawn to execute on a workout or log easy miles is something I truly look forward to. Sure it’s not always easy to get up, lace up and put the miles in, but it’s now just as much a part of my day as breakfast, or the glass of wine or two after work.
Having a training partner in Thomas has made this process all the more bearable, as there’s someone to share the suffering with. With his extensive background on the roads and trails, along with his ridiculous speed for a guy nearly 50, hopefully he’s not getting too tired of having to lead every workout.
If you ask me, Alejandra and I traveled up north on Friday after work to spend Saturday testing my 3% chance at the Western States lottery. If you’d ask her, she’d tell you it was to watch the Foo Fighters with her friend Liz on Saturday night. After unsurprisingly not being picked for the big dance in Auburn, we at least left with 10 free Red Bulls (thanks for the new WS sponsorship). After the lottery, we drove back to Sacramento for the race pickup and some lunch.
Forgetting that most races have more than a few hundred people, CIM’s packet pickup is held in the Sacramento Convention Center. With dozens of vendors, hundreds of volunteers and countless people swarming around trying the newest Cliff Bar flavor (disclaimer, they all taste bad after 80 miles), needless to say it was a packed house. Trying to find Alejandra after losing her right after check-in, I stumbled across a familiar face. Sean Garbutt, the first dirtbag runner I ever met at Luis’ Rancho San Juan race, had apparently moved up to the Sac area to work with Fleet Feet. We caught up for a few and then I spotted Alejandra eyeballing the expensive sweatpants, so I had to move quickly.
Later that afternoon, we met up with Liz for an early dinner and drop off of the ladies for the Foo Fighters show. With the wait at sushi being nearly an hour, we walked around mid-town until finding a small Mexican restaurant. Being Yelp approved, we decided to give it a try.
Drinking water all day and having the bladder of a six year old, being near a toilet or bush was high on the priority list. After being seated in this small restaurant with an interesting layout, it was difficult to spot the bathroom. Walking around the kitchen and bar, I spotted an employee and asked in my best Spanish accent, “Donde esta el bano?” Being a bit loud, I didn’t hear his response as he walked away. After finally finding the bano and cleaning up, I was ready to hammer some dinner.
Knowing only enough Spanish to normally find a bathroom and order a beer, I stared blankly when the same waiter and rattled off about 10 sentences in Spanish to me. Alejandra, Liz and the waiter started laughing, and I just sat there with a chip in my mouth. Apparently the waiter heard my question and in Spanish said to “follow me,” as he walked toward the bathroom. When he turned around, I was gone.
I need to learn some damn Spanish!
Race day started earlier than usual, as Alejandra and Liz stumbled into the hotel room sometime after midnight. Thankfully they didn’t get too crazy, as Alejandra hit the sack right away. Waking up again around 5ish knowing Alejandra needs a lot of sleep, I knew she wouldn’t be too perky when I had to wake her up for a ride. Thankfully the hotel coffee was strong, as she dropped me off right before the start. Again not remembering that more than three hundred people race these events, I found myself starting literally several thousand places back when the gun went off.
Thankfully CIM uses chip timing, as it took nearly a minute to waddle up the several hundred feet to the starting line. Looking at the 8:45/mile pace group sign over my shoulder, I was worried these first several miles were going to be spent bobbing and weaving through the crowds. Although not surprised by everyone starting faster than they should, I still had to double-check my watch as we passed the mile mark in 6:24. Although a few seconds slower than I would have liked to start, I hadn’t passed anyone in this first mile. What the hell were these thousand runners thinking, racing over two minutes faster than their goal pace during the first mile??? Maybe this is why no one runs even splits these days.
The next few miles were spent trying to find my “comfortable” pace, as hundreds of runners were still passing me like I was walking. Trying to keep the blinders on and focusing on feel versus pace, especially as these first several CIM miles are where the significant hills are, I didn’t stress clicking off 6:21, 6:10 and a couple 6:20’s. Thankfully after five miles into the race, some separation started to occur, with most runners finally settling into their pace. Feeling like I had no one to run with and this being somewhat true as I started a minute back, I was forced to get comfortable running my own race.
An interesting trend started to arise as we clicked off these early miles. As we hit an uphill in an effort to keep my heartrate stable, I would decelerate and get passed by a ton of runners. As we peaked and descended, I would then open up and pass the group, settling back into position. While my effort would remain relatively constant, I could hear the labored breathing from fellow runners as they worked to settle back into the flats. What type of impact this type of racing has on performance I have no idea, but the relative stability in output gave me confidence in being able to hold this pace throughout the day.
The moment of truth came earlier in this race than it likely does for most, as the wheels fell off around mile 12 during my first CIM experience. Feeling comfortable passing the half-marathon mark in 1:23:06 (6:21/mile), and nearly a minute faster than 2015, more than anything I was just happy not to be falling apart so early.
The next several miles were relatively uneventful, as we crept into the middle stages of the race. One interesting point was that no one was passing me like the flocks of runners in the earlier miles. The opposite was beginning to happen, as the packs that I had previously chased were slowly working themselves back. Checking the watch, my pace had remained constant, so it seemed as though the majority of runners were starting to slow down.
With my quads surprisingly more sore after 20 miles than they are in most 100’s, ratcheting up the pace wasn’t as easy as expected. The last 10k was much more enjoyable than 2015, as although it hurt, it thankfully went by faster than the first effort.
With this race being the 2017 USATF marathon championships and a great event for nailing an Olympic Trials Qualifier, I found myself catching up to the tail end of elite women in the final miles. Not certain where I was in regards to time, I assumed it was close to 2:45 pace (OTQ for women is sub 2:45), as these last several miles were full of really, really fast women leaving it all on the course. Had I known how the race would have turned out, it would’ve been a blast to run in this pack of awesome ladies for the day.
Finishing in 2:45:22 (1:22:16 second half) and good enough for 296th place, I was really happy with the day. With little expectation other than running by feel and being comfortable enough to pick up the pace over the last several miles, it felt great to execute on a plan. An incredible day for US marathoning, as 87 runners qualified for the Olympic Marathon Trials in 2020. Not sure when I’ll tackle this distance again, but I’ll be shooting for an OTQ next time, even if it’s the B qualifier for women…
What I Learned:
- Don’t speak Spanish unless you can understand it, especially if you’re in need of el Bano
- Going out too hard happens to too many people, in too many races
- If you have the fitness and get lucky with the weather, CIM is a perfect spot for that OTQ
- Marathon training and racing is tough!!!
- Why are my quads still sore four days later???