When I ran this same race in 2016, I had one of those rare marathon experiences: a negative split, smooth from start to finish, no problems at all. This year, I had to fight more during the California International Marathon. This didn’t mean it was a bad race. If anything, the 2017 California International Marathon reminded me how challenging yet rewarding and fun 26.2 miles can be.
I finished up 16 weeks of marathon training with the idea that I could run a 3:25-3:30 based on my training. I like to go into a marathon with a range rather than a strict finish time goal since so much can happen on race day. I dealt with some GI issues a few days before the race but was somehow remarkably calm about the race.
Ryan and I stayed at the Hampton Inn in Folsom, near the start line. I took the 5:30 AM shuttle from Whole Foods to the start line. We had the option to stay on the shuttles to stay warm, but I got out so my legs wouldn’t tighten up. I walked around, did my dynamic stretches, used the restroom, and felt oddly calm about the fact that I was about to run 26.2 miles.
California International Marathon is known for having ideal marathon weather, and this year did not disappoint It was partly cloudy in the morning with a temperature of 43 degrees at the start line – crisp, cold, and perfect for a PR
My GI system was not cooperating on race morning. I reiterated to myself not to worry about it. All I could do was follow my race plan, focus on the mile I was in, and control what I can.
Once the race started, I focused on the mile I was in: slower for the first couple miles. In retrospect, I think I lined up a bit too far back (I lined by the 3:35 pacer to help me start out slow), because I accumulated a tiny bit of extra distance in the first couple miles and was 0.05 off by the second mile marker (a total of 0.12 off by the end of the race). But still, it’s better to start slow in the marathon than too fast!
The first 20 miles of CIM features constantly rolling hills with a net downhill, which I love. You climb a bit – a nice change for the muscles – and then enjoy a longer downhill. Each time we approached an incline, I thought about floating up the hill and steadily gliding back down: controlled and strong.
Around my 9 or so, my right knee began to ache (the same leg on which I strained a hamstring, sprained a foot, and had plantar fasciitis). My knees rarely ever ache, so initially this alarmed me. I assessed that it was not bad enough to slow down and kept focusing on the present mile, up and down the hill in front of me. My knee ached for several miles, but never bad enough to change my stride or warrant slowing down.
Meanwhile, I dealt with some lower GI cramping. For a brief moment, I thought, Today is not my day. My knee hurts, I’m cramping, what if it just gets worse from here?
And then I thought, No. I am doing well – my pace is steady and where I want it to be, my breathing is in control, I am fueling and hydrating well, and I’m not slowing down. My knee will be okay. And f*** these cramps. I’ve run through far worse. I am stronger than them. Today is my day.
That became my mantra for the remainder of the race: I am strong. Today is my day. Mindset makes a tremendous difference.
After the 14 mile mark, I spotted an open porta-pot and seized the opportunity. To me, the loss of time was worth avoiding more issues later and not peeing in my shorts – I know some runners do that, but I refuse. I clocked that mile in at 8:36 (including the stop), my slowest mile of the race. My GI system didn’t feel 100% normal but it felt better, at least for a few more miles.
Miles 15-20 passed by steadily. I focused on staying steady and ran right in the range of 7:52-7:59/mile. I smiled and waved at spectators and photographers, because smiling really does work in the marathon – it lowers perception of effort, increases pain tolerance, and reminds you the whole reason you are running this is that marathons are fun.
I saw Ryan at mile 20 and his cheering gave me the boost I needed for the next few hard miles. During the last 10K, I held onto my pace with all I could. Each mile hurt a little bit more, as expected the final miles of the marathon, but the miles were still manageable. Every time I considered picking up the pace, my gut threatened me again and I would settle back into a 7:55-8:00/mile. Just hold that pace, I thought.
Every time I considered giving into the overwhelming sensation of aching muscles and fatigue, I thought about how in just ten days, I would be the sofa recovering from surgery and unable to run. I didn’t want to regret slowing down in this race. I knew I had it in me. I am strong. I thought. Today is my day. I picked a runner, caught up to them, and slowly passed, my eyes staying on the 3:30 group just ahead of me.
As I turned the corner into the Capitol, I saw the clock flashing 3:30:xx. I knew that about 70 seconds passed between the start and when I crossed the starting line, so I pushed with everything I had left for in hope of snagging that sub-3:30.
I was shaking and babbling after I crossed the finish line. Once I gathered my medal, finisher’s jacket, some snacks, and my sweatpants from the gear check, we sat down on a bench (I was very, very insistent that we sit). I checked my chip time: 3:29:43 – a 2 minute PR and a 5+ minute BQ. Even if just by 17 seconds, I did it.
Ryan and I watched the women’s awards for the USATF Championships, including Sara Hall who won with her second sub-2:30 marathon in just five weeks. I got down some easy calories in the form of the Sierra Nevada free beer for finishers and sea salt chips – the only things that I could stomach at that point.
Thankfully, my stomach felt better later in the day. We celebrated with lunch and beer at Whole Foods (the Whole Foods in Folsom had an outdoor beer garden, complete with heaters) and an incredibly delicious burger, fries, and a couple beers at a small pub in Folsom in the evening. Staying in Folsom for the night after the race helped my recovery significantly – I was only sore through Monday night and avoided the post-marathon cold this year.
Thank you so much to everyone who texted, messaged, and left comments on social media! And most of all, thank you to my husband, who supports me through all of training, traveled to this race with me, and drove all around Sacramento to cheer me on.
A part of me was tempted to think If I didn’t have GI issues, I probably could have run a 3:27 or 3:28. But that’s not the body I have. Marathons teach me, one at a time, to be grateful for the body I have and what it can do. And I’m proud of this race, those GI cramps and all.
I’ll see you in 2019, Boston.
What phrases or mantras have helped you get through a race before?
Are you ravenous after a race, or does it take you a while to want to eat?