Sunday, January 13, 2013

California International Marathon 2012 Race Recap

Alright, I am done licking my wounds. I wrote this a few days after the marathon but I felt a huge disappointment--so much so that I couldn't bear sharing the post publicly yet. Now that the new year is upon me, the sting somewhat wore off and it is time to get over it.

I had high hopes for this marathon. It was a PR-setting kind of a course, with rolling hills and net downhill from Folsom to the State Capitol. In the three previous times I ran this marathon,  I've set two personal best ('05 and '08) and a personal course record in 2011. That goes to show that, even I, can make improvements on this not-so easy course just like anybody else could. Having said that, I devoted a full cycle of marathon training into it, in hopes of breaking four hours. I even turned my eyes away to a few marathons that I could have run before this race so as to increase my chances of coming into CIM fresh and prepared.  As I write this the day after, I'm still coming to terms with my emotions. What went wrong? I'm trying to sort out my feelings about all the hard work and preparations that climaxed to a mere 4:17. This will be long, so you better get comfortable, get your feet up and get a cup of coffee. Here it goes...

Inclement weather had been a such major factor in 2012 for two world stage marathons. First it was the 90-degree heat endured by runners in the Boston Marathon. Then came Hurricane Sandy, barely a month ago from CIM, that ended the 40-year streak at NYC Marathon. Now CIM is faced another not-so perfect running conditions. Runners on Facebook clamored for a postponement or even a cancellation. CIM was was steadfast on their "rain or shine" policy. The show must go on.

I was glued to site two weeks out from the race. I saw showers fore casted and I was the least bit worried.  I have run in the rain many times in training and quite recently in the last week or so. I've ran in two previous Napa marathons that included rain and (high winds in one). No big deal, I thought. Just as we got closer to the day, upgraded the forecast with 18 mph winds advisory.  I've run in that kind of wind on Los Osos Valley Road before: on one of my 20-miler training runs last year for Napa. The next day, my abs were sore from fighting the wind. I know what it takes to run against it. I was a little worried, honestly. One more thing to make the marathon that much more harder: gusty winds.

A week before the race, the forecast became gloomy, literally and metaphorically. Heavy rains with potential for flooding in the flood prone areas and winds up to 30 mph were now advised. My heart sank. Are you freaking kidding me? I kept a hopeful disposition and tried my very best to stay positive, but deep inside, I know I can't possibly handle such weather extremes. Other people thrive in this, I know that for myself, this will be a matter of survival in the end. I want to run an honest race and not fool myself into thinking I can still PR. The surest question came to my mind. What other marathons in California can I run in the next few weeks with hopefully better weather? That's just it. Weather is unpredictable.  I was reserved to go through with this.  I planned to run CIM, no matter what.

My running partner Heidi and I along with a fellow club runner, Dave, drove to Sacramento the day before race day to claim our bibs and runner's packets. It was the 30th year running of CIM, so the giveaways were a bit more substantial than usual. The commemorative year brought us, long sleeve tech tees black for men and green for women,  buffs, gloves, and was promised a coaster size finisher's medal. They were beautiful. However that didn't appease my glum attitude about my death march the next day. I sounded so negative, but I didn't let my running friends in on my feelings. I don't want my negativity to rub off on them. I was secretly hoping that the weather will change, at least hope that the third storm in a series of three, weakens by the time it reach Sacramento.

Fast forward to race morning. We woke up at 3 am. The weather outside looked calm maybe 3 mph winds. Then it became increasingly stronger as the hours passed. still has the wind advisory at 28 mph along with heavy rains from 4 am to 10 am. That's the exact running window for us middle of the packers. We'd be running in the rain for 4 hours. Rain I don't mind so much, gusty winds? That's putting it on another plane.

Duck tape over shower cap, once and twice around.

I hope I don't slip and fall

A bit paranoid about getting my feet wet?

Pictures above show how I "MacGyver-ed"my Nike Air Pegasus. I needed shower caps and duck tape to fend off water.

Our hotel had a shuttle which drove us to the start in Folsom. When we got there, the first order of business was the bathrooms. The minute we stepped off the bus, the wind and rain was so hard that it didn't take but a few seconds for my feet to be soaked.  So much for my effort. The thought crossed my mind to take off the duck tape since my feet were wet already, but I didn't.  We ran towards the lines of porta potties and got increasingly wet even with our dollar store find of a poncho. It was dark and it was sheer comfort to be inside the porta potties, shielded from the cold wind and rain. I thought of staying in there longer, but there were people waiting. So I got out. Funny thing was I was not the only one who thought of using the porta potties as a shelter. I heard lots of people talking about how they took the time to stay in there. Runners were trying to stay under awnings to keep dry. Lots of runners wore garbage bags and ponchos. Most stayed inside the buses until it was almost time. Just as Heidi and I turned in our bags with dry clothes for the finish, we ran into our other friends Myrna and Linda! How in the world were we able to find them in the dark with these many people. But we did. We gave each other a joyous hug and well wishes, but then along came Dave! We were complete we all found each other. It was a pleasant treat to see familiar faces against these incredible odds we were about to face.

There was hardly time to warm up. I just didn't have the motivation to go through the paces. But Heidi forced the issue and we tried to run a couple of strides. I got wetter and my shoes squeaked of water. Then everyone started running towards the start.  That was our cue to get in line. I said good-luck to Heidi and we went our separate ways.

As soon as the anthem was sung and the gun was fired, we ran. In the rain. With the wind. I was in the tail end of the 3:55 pace group.  It was so crowded, I could not get any closer to the leader. I told him that I would stick with him, for as long as I could. It was disappointing. The day after, he told me that he tried to look for me, didn't see me and wondered what had happened.

What happened?  This CIM start is the most unprepared start of all my races. My head was all over the place. I worried about all the garbage bags that went flying all around me. It was dim and the goal was not to trip on the slippery plastics that littered the course. I was in tune to my feet getting caught in the bags so I slowed down quite a bit. That meant that the 3:55 group ran away from me. By mile two, I adjusted my pace and dropped it to 8:38-8:40.  That pace went on for 3 miles. I realized after mile 4 that I was feeling dizzy. Surely I thought, I can't be feeling sick right now. It's way too early. I continued to feel bad. Never mind chasing the pacers that left me, the thought of DNF'ing became appealing. I thought I have an excuse. These were horrid conditions to be running. I wondered how many runners at that moment had the same thoughts of giving up as me. Why not just save the legs for the next marathon? No I could not do that. This was the 30th CIM--the medal is huge. I can't give up yet. I stopped at a restroom to regroup and gather my thoughts. All the negative thoughts so early on in the race--maybe I was just hungry. I fended off the notion, because it was way too early to be getting hungry. I was only at mile 5.  I decided to take a gel, hoping it would make me feel better. Just go one more mile.

After that bathroom stop and the gel, I was able to keep a better handle on the lows. I felt a little better but I got warm so I took off the poncho and threw it on the side of the road. I kept one foot in front of the other. I thought, even if this took me six hours to finish, I would do it. I'd come home with a medal. That was my motivation which kept me going until until the next porta potty break.  But I had to stop another time because my duck tape on my left shoe came loose and it was flapping under my feet like a wet tissue. It came off fast, but the right side was on there good and I struggle to tug it off. I must have lost a minute getting the tapes off.

I must have done something right with my hydration because I was like clockwork for potty stops.  This second stop I ran into Heidi. She was coming out as I yelled out her name. Quick hugs then she was off. What a sight for sore eyes!

I continued to pop the gels sooner than I normally needed because I figured, my body was working extra hard to keep my core temps warm therefore my glycogen stores were depleting fast.  I had to replace and top my reserves before I bonked like I did between miles 4 and 5.  I was drinking Powerade and water at every other aide station.  That seemed to be my saving grace.

Before I knew it, I was already halfway done.  I thought, 2 more hours of this test, then it's all over. I can do this. The roads were wet, there were parts with gushing waters. It rained hard at one point, I thought it was hail pelting me on my quads.  When I reached mile 22, the sun had come out. It was like day and night from the start to this point. Why couldn't it have been like this earlier? I was not at all interested in my time. Didn't look at my Garmin at all. At the same time, some markers were blown away by the wind. So I was totally in the dark about the mile I was in. It worked to my advantage though, since not knowing meant I could keep going.   That concern about time flew out the window when I bonked at miles 4 and 5. It was a mere survival game plan today. I was happy that a couple of hours ago, I seriously contemplated a DNF. And to think that I was 4 miles away from finishing brought a smile to my face.  I consoled myself, "40 more minutes and you're done."

The last 4 miles, I ran and I ran. I didn't allow myself to walk. I saw a lot of runners walking in the last two miles, I purposely looked away as I don't want my brain to be tempted to walk too. The only stops I made throughout the course was restroom breaks which was a total of 4 stops and one to discard the duck tape off my shoes. I was very happy about the fact that I didn't face the wall at mile 20. I must have done a great job with not missing my gels. I was also glad that I was able to run without any calf cramping although I felt tired and exhausted in the end, but no more than usual.

I was glad I finished, although 4:17 was not the time I had in mind. My initial reaction was I was way off my mark. But then again, if I hadn't put forth an extra effort in training harder, then my time could have easily swung the other way. As it was, my training probably helped me come out with a decent time.

I haven't given up. I'm still aiming for that sub-four finish. There's a lot more work to be done. CIM 2012 tested my spirit and my resolve to finish. I'm thankful that Marathon #27 miraculously did not end up in a DNF. I never felt so close to quitting today than any other time in my life.  For that very reason, this medal will hold a special place in my heart.


  1. Thanks Aileen for sharing your wonderful story. I really enjoyed reading it. Although it wasn't our best, we ran it with our hearts. It will be our story to tell for years to come. I know you will achieve your goal soon!
    Happy New year and good luck on your next race! I'm taking a long break from running, I ruptured a small tendon at CIM... :( but I'm getting better.

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