04 December 2011

California International Marathon Race Report

Essentially, I signed up for this race to avenge my performance at Big Sur earlier this year.  Revenge running is awesome.

I cleverly avoided any sort of training plan that had the word "mortals" in the title.  I followed Hal Higdon's Intermediate I plan because it seems like the right progression for me at this time in my running life.

Even though the plan initially horrified me because I couldn't fathom doing it at all, I actually selected well.  The plan fit well in my life, or I fit my life in the plan.   It never overwhelmed but kept me busy and more importantly provided the right sorts of challenges for me.

I hope that I select well for my next plan.  It's all about evolving, right?

This was the first race that I had to drive up to the race without my husband.  He had to work and was going to drive up to Sacramento after he got off work.  My son was my traveling partner.  Sacramento is a little less that two hours from my house.  My son was bored about an hour away.  Somehow I conned him into finding the letters of the alphabet in people's license plates, but he had to discover them in order.  Surprisingly, it took us that hour just to get to the letter L.

The expo was an expo.  What can I say?  Fortunately, the Fleet Feet people were selling Honey Stingers.  I was OUT and thought that I would have to stomach (literally and figuratively) Gu.  I try to mix it up because I don't like too much of either.

Then I got ballsy.  I drove to the MALL.   Navigating the mall both in the parking lot and inside was only slightly easier than running the marathon.  Only slightly.  The mall was certainly more painful and more frustrating.

But the mall make my son happy because it had a LEGO store.  (Insert booming angelic chorus aqu√≠).  And I got some Christmas shopping done! Bonus!

We got back to the hotel in time to discovered that my Garmin hates me.  It had somehow chosen that day to commit electronic suicide.  At least I had enough time to go out and buy a new one.  I suppose that is the only bright side I could come up with.  I had trained too hard and for too long to not have the support of my watch.  I'm spoiled.

The time period between the discover of the Garmin suicide and the acquisition of the replacement was the most stressful time of the entire weekend.  I just didn't know what to do.  Eventually I caved in to just spending the money even though I hated it.  But the stress dissipated.  So money does buy temporary peace.

Before going to sleep, I decided on my goals.  I know most people make these decision well in advance.  I didn't quite now what to make my A goal.  I was flirting with the idea of making my A goal merely a PR, but I decided to challenge myself.

A:  Sub 5:00
B:  PR (previous marathon time 5:24:xx)
C:  Finish without injury

Race Day
My iPhone alarm went off at 4 am.  This is largely unimportant since my internal alarm woke me up at 3:30 am.

I'm embarrassed to share this, but somehow I got into the very bad habit of eating PopTarts before long runs.  I followed the cardinal rule of racing--don't change a damn thing--and had my PopTarts and coffee.  (And obviously water!)

I followed my complicated layering plan well and was out of the door at 5:15 ready to catch my bus to the start line.

Everyone else in the hotel was doing the same thing so I had to wait a few minutes at the elevator with other runners who had already been waiting for five minutes themselves.  Finally the chariot arrived and we were whisked down to the longest line of adults waiting to board yellow school buses that I have ever seen in my life.

The bus took us 26 miles away to the start.  It seemed like it took forever to get there.  I eavesdropped on the conversations.  Lots of comments about bagels and Boston and bathrooms.  But most of the conversation was about weather.  Apparently the 2009 CIM temperatures were legendary.

We arrived. I disembarked the bus and walked to the longest line of port-a-potties that I have ever seen in my life.  They were lined up at attention for what seemed like a half of a mile.  I hardly had to wait at all.  It was not what I am used to at all.  Why is CIM the least expensive race that I have ever run YET it had the BEST organization and runner amenities?

It was damned cold.  I waited until the last possible moment to take off my sweats.  Once time ran out. I handed over my meager possessions to a volunteer, activated the hand warmers, and found the 5:10 pace group.

Then I set my Garmin's Virtual Partner to a 11:15 pace which translates to a sub 4:55 marathon.  Crazy.  Where did that come from?

Cue anthem.  Cue wheelchair athletes.  Cue elites.  Cue the everymen and everywomen.

And we're off!

SPOILER ALERT:  I finished.  I love maps of point to point races.  It makes me feel powerful that I covered that distance.  



I stuck with the 5:10 pace group for the first mile.  Pacer wasn't running a 5:10 pace.  He was running faster than a 4:55 pace.  This confused me, but whatever.  He actually started walking at the one mile mark.  I wasn't going to put up with this, I went ahead.  But when I had to take off my long sleeved shirt (why this took so long, I don't know) around mile 1.5, the 5:10 group caught up with me, so I rejoined them.

During this time, I was annoyed by a constant jingle-jangle.  It sounded as if some runners wore a entire jewelry store's inventory on their wrists.  It wasn't the sound of jangling keys.  The pitch was higher.  Like bangle bracelets.  I quite seriously wanted to say something aloud.  Who the hell would wear anything on a 26.2 mile footrace that made SO MUCH NOISE.  For heaven's sake!  I hated humanity briefly.

Mile 4?  That was my bathroom stop.  I envy the men who can simply go behind the port-a-potty or duck off the road and go.  I'm guessing that I lost three minutes during Mile 4 waiting for a bathroom and using it.  THREE MINUTES!  I just checked Garmin.  I think I lost 4:23!  FOUR TWENTY THREE!  That is the difference between my time and my moving time!  My bladder hates me.

That 5:10 pace team?  GONE!  Clearly 4:23 ahead of me at this point.  Another dude from the group, I nicknamed him The Trojan because he wore a USC beanie on his head (BOO!), also hit the same bank of port-a-potties as me at the same time. He was about three people ahead of me in line.  Obviously he finished first and ran off.  I sighted him ahead in the distance, and make it my mission to slowly but surely catch The Trojan.  



I didn't realize it at the time, but I ran these miles a bit too fast perhaps.  I never really looked at the lap pace on my watch and really only paid attention to the average pace for the whole run, so I never truly realized that I was running too fast.  Ignorance was probably helpful to me in this instance.

MILES 9-12


I eventually caught up to The Trojan and passed him.  I then caught up to the 5:10 pace group and passed them.  I had hit 11:25 average pace on my Garmin, the magic number that I needed to go sub 5:00.  And I wanted to maintain that.  So I did.  I couldn't maintain my 11:25 with the 5:10 group.

While I was running, I remembered mile 10 of Big Sur and how I knew that I was in trouble then.  Mile 10 of CIM was no big deal.  I remember thinking that I would definitely have a PR for this race at mile 10 simply based on how good I was feeling.  Clearly, catching up with and passing 5:10 helped me scale my pace back.  I wisely slowed a bit.

MILES 13-16


I hit the half at 2:29:51.  A sub 5:00 seemed out of my reach at this point because I never run negative splits no matter how hard I try.  But I would do my best and hope.  I wasn't terribly optimistic.

I remember thinking to myself around mile 15 that the pain should be showing up within the next couple of miles.  My right hip flexor or my right IT band sometimes bothers me at the end of a run longer than 15 miles.  The feet can start hurting.  I told myself after I hit mile 15 to NOT do the math of how many to go, to FOCUS one mile at a time, and to FOCUS on each song that came on the iPod.  The iPod random shuffle gods were kind.

MILES 17-20


Mile 17 was slow because I walked while trying to move my Gu stash in my shorts pocket to the pouch on my handheld water bottle, it seemed to take an eternity to get them out.  An eternity during which the 5:10 group made a reappearance.

Oh hell no.

Clearly, I got away from them. I didn't see them again for the remainder of the race.  I just kept focusing on song lyrics and getting to the next mile marker.

One of my favorite moments from the race happened after I hit mile 19 and I passed two men walking.  They appeared to be around my age.  As I passed them, one of them said, "I'm stick and tired of being fucking passed all the time.  We've been passed this entire race."  Reader, I smiled.  I smiled big at this point.  My first smile of the race.

Mile Marker 20 was a brick wall that you ran through. I hit Mile 20 at 3:49:04.  My fastest 20 miles ever.

At Big Sur I wanted to die at Mile 20.  I had to fight to get a Gu down at this time at Big Sur.  At CIM I breezed through with no problems.

My watch was still showing an 11:25/11:26 average pace.  I realized at this point that I could finish sub 5:00 if I didn't allow my mind to mess with my heart.  Suddenly, I felt pressure to perform.  My A goal was possible.  I've never hit my A goal before.

MILES 21-24

My friend Linda ran the 4th leg of the relay, the final 5.7 miles of the course.  In her relay report, she called this part of the course where the devil lives.  The last 10K of the marathon is a strange mental zone.  I think that I just talked to myself over an over again to get through the pain.  I reminded myself of some facts.  Repeatedly.

Fact:  I trained a lot.
Fact:  Too many runs were early in the morning.
Fact:  My husband has to put up with me at my most stressed pre-race.
Fact:  I bought an emergency Garmin.
Fact:  Sub 5:00 sounds somewhat respectable.
Fact:  I can do this.
Fact:  I have to do this.
Fact:  Julie Moss finished her Ironman.
Fact:  My internal governor LIES to me about my energy stores.  I have energy.
Fact:  Julie Moss got up and kept going.
Fact:  It will feel awesome to hit an A goal.
Fact:  I'm passing everyone.
Fact:  Once you hit 24, you have to take your last Gu of 2011.  NO MORE GU!

MILES 25-26.2

I told myself that I must not stop running because when I stopped at the last aid station to walk briefly while drinking the water, my legs objected.  The pain of not running was intense.  I forced myself to just keep going.  Plus it felt pretty amazing to pass all of the fallen.

I had banked some time with miles 23 and 24 and my Garmin was reading an average pace like 11:21 which mathematically meant that with the way I was running, I would definitely finish sub 5.  I realized this as a Snow Patrol (don't judge) song came on the iPod and when the lead singer sang, "This could be the very minute I'm aware I'm alive" and then later, "This is the straw, final straw."  I attributed the lyrics of this song to my running experience at that particular moment.  I know that that particular Snow Patrol song has NOTHING to do with what I was doing but I felt alive at that moment because I was going to reach my A goal.  I was going to be what I wanted to become.  And that was the final straw.  I may have teared up a little.

The last portion of the race you go from 56th street all the way down to the Capitol.  I thought that I would be turning on 12th street to get to the finish.  I was wrong.  It wasn't until 7th street that we turned. This was just a little bit of agony.  Those five blocks took forever.

But then this happened.

A nice surprise at Mile 26--my kid with a sign!

I've never seen my family watching me finish a race.  Never.  This is the first time.  This was right at the 26 mile marker.  I only had .2 to go.  My A goal was secure.  I just needed to finish and be able to talk to my husband and our kid.

End with 5:02:59 on the clock, but a chip time of 4:58:11.  This was kind of a big deal for me.  It isn't faster than Oprah, but it is faster than many other celebrities like Eddie Van Halen's ex-wife Valerie Bertinelli, Katie Holmes and Mario Lopez.

Take that, Big Sur!

Finished!  Complete with PR.  26:24 faster!

I had to drive home.  The boy went in my husband's car, so I was able to drive home with only my thoughts and my playlists to keep me company.  Sublime.

Once I got home and could check out my results, I realized that I ran negative splits.  First half was 2:29:51, which makes the second half 2:28:20.  Not a huge negative split, but MY FIRST EVER NEGATIVE SPLITS!  And it was on a marathon!

My quads hurt.  It is difficult to get up from a seated position.  This is probably why this race report is so long.  I don't want to get up.  It will hurt.  However, I am running out of things to add, and I probably should go to sleep.


  1. "Oh hell no." Love it.
    Congrats Tara! LOVE the map - omg, look at that distance you RAN. It's incredible. I'm going to have to learn how to use my Garmin's virtual partner - know I can do it, just don't know how. Congrats also on your PR and achieving your goals. This was a huge race for you in so many ways!

  2. Rock on Sparkler Sister! Loved all the details, especially the boy at mile 26. Made me tear up! Congrats on a great race.

  3. Tara, this race report was DIVINE!!! I loved it. I saved it until the kids were in bed, and I could savor your glory. Truly, when one of us rocks a race this hard, it's so exciting. Your writing makes me laugh, and the details thrilled me.

    Congrats to you, my friend. You got past the devil's playground...