California Int’l Marathon

My first road marathon is in the books. Why it took until 2014 I’m not sure, but the timing was right to attempt a fast road effort after a summer of trail and mountain running. While 2:27:28 still leaves some to be desired, CIM was an awesome introduction to big city running and a great time with my family who came out to support.

The Buildup

After two weeks down from Flagline 50k, the calendar allowed nine weeks to prepare for CIM. Sufficient but not extended. Advice from more seasoned marathoners said it was better to be a little undercooked than overcooked, which is exactly what my buildup turned into. I did do a decent amount of the requisite training including several long runs over two hours, marathon paced (MP) runs between 4-13 miles, generally more road miles, and a few hills for good measure. But I admit lacking consistency in the “little things” like core, strength, and speedwork.

My weekly mileage ranged from 70-90 (8-11 hrs), again following an undercooked strategy. Several MP workouts were done on the treadmill, the result of repeated early snow and ice in Bend. I was banking on the monotony of these particular efforts building a secret reservoir of strength. One time I stared at Max King’s 2002 All America plaque for over an hour, right next to the altitude tent. Another time I rolled to Macklemore in an airy garage and dreamed of Montana dirt roads. A keynote workout came two weeks before race day, the EWEB half marathon in Eugene. I ran comfortably to the finish in 72:15 for the win, and hoped I could double the distance at the same pace. Trying to dial 5:30 pace during these workouts it occurred to me that’s the same pace as the Luther cross country prologue workout (2:45 800m, 1:00 jog 200m), and a marathon would equal 52+ reps, no breaks. Steve cut us off at 10-12. Whew. I knew 2:24 or better would be a major effort, I knew I was still undercooked, but I was ready to go for it. Cheering my buddy Dan Kraft the previous day at the North Face 50 in the Marin headlands, along with so many other great runners, got me sufficiently amped.

The Race

There was no secret porta potty. Normally before races I can find some out of the way bathroom with minimal wait time, but this was the biggest start line I’ve ever been at. I got in just enough warm up to not feel cold, wormed past the camelback racers crowding the start, and we were off, 26.2 miles from Folsom to the state capitol. It was 50 degrees,¬†overcast, and calm. The leaders immediately galloped away and I consciously held back from the swollen pack trying not to do anything stupid. I had no idea what pace I was running and was relieved to see 5:25 at the mile. Time to settle in. Over the next few miles a contingent formed and everyone agreed they were looking for 5:30s. Perfect. Unlike my other races this year, CIM would be almost entirely time centric. Instead of chasing places and jerseys, I was chasing minutes and seconds. We all were.

Our group clicked off mile after mile, 5:33 on the dot. We rotated the lead and passed around bottles at aid stations, strangers on a Sunday morning helping each other make the long straightaways and curving hills a little easier. My parents, sister, and Claire were out there cheering, ringing the ol Norwegian sheep bell. I was soaking up the miles and the crowds, really floating the streets. At one large intersection I held out my arms airplane style and soared past the police barricades. Through halfway in 72:35, our group had swelled to over ten strong. Our splits were a touch slower than I wanted, but with so much race left and an empty road ahead for over a mile, it made more sense to stick with the pack. Be patient with the trigger I thought, because you’ve heard plenty of stories where latter miles trump early ambition.

In the pack near halfway

In the pack near halfway

After mile 14 the group started stretching out to ones and twos, no longer four abreast. I hitched onto the pace setter as we continued to roll, occasionally catching someone who’d blown up from the hot pace ahead. Mostly, the road was wide open and empty. It was around this time I started noticing my upper hamstrings and glutes, a tightness I’ve known before and that tends to get worse with provocation. Mile by mile, the clenching crept up until it was the only thing on my mind. Our group of three clocked 20 miles in 1:50:56, still exactly on pace, but thoughts of tightening the screws over the last 10k were evaporating. When they pulled away at mile 21, I knew I was in mild damage control mode. As at Flagline 50k, no amount of sports drink, GU, or shaking out could relax those muscles; I was going to have to press on regardless and try to salvage as much time as possible. You could say this is where my race really started.

Miles 22-24 were a blur, mentally and meteorologically. A fog had descended on the course, runners and aid stations suddenly appearing out of the mist, the American river passing beneath. I stopped checking splits and just kept going, hoping the next mile marker brought good news. Call Me Maybe echoed from a street corner and briefly brought me to a better place; if only my Headwaters teammates were there with a van and non-stop motivation. Inside the last mile, a police motorcycle pulled up and hovered near. Could he sense my exasperation? The cheering got louder but seemed directed behind me. Enter the lead woman into my periphery, accelerating past a cadre of bicycles and yours truly. Fortunately, her move saved me. She was riding a wave of crowd energy down L Street, and I knew I wanted a piece of that too. I matched her stride and together we bore down on the capitol building, my legs hurting, my goal time lost, but my finish salvaged. Encouraging her seemed to bounce back and buoy me. Around the final turn I surged and gained a few strides, then it was all sound and noise sprinting those last yards, the capitol dome gleaming overhead. I ended up getting her by a few seconds.

Later, it was pointed out how funny our finish looked, her swarmed by a crowd of officials and photographers, me stumbling into the post race area alone draped in an emergency blanket. But I didn’t care, my legs could relax. Soon I had my own crowd and photographers, my mom and dad, Annie, Claire, and Dan. I caught up with fellow Bend runners and old Eugene friends, soaking it in. The palm trees and Christmas lights still seemed out of place. We spent the rest of the weekend in wine and redwood country, a great break from the taxing of the race. Wine helps sore muscles right? The company definitely did.

Final Thoughts

A few days removed from the race, I think I can put my effort at CIM in perspective. While a little disappointed with my final time, I executed great for over 20 miles, and hung tough when the race turned. I might have only been a few muscle groups away from running 3-4 minutes faster, as my engine and energy levels were still strong. Muscles can be improved, especially strengthening my hams and glutes for the latter stages. While I like the undercooked, fresh-at-the-line strategy, I could probably stand to do more miles and more pace work. And as far as Olympic Trials, it’s hard to say what is realistic. Ten minutes seems like an awful lot to shave, but maybe wisely doubling down it could be possible. I ran solid, but have yet to knock it out of the park. Either way, I want to see just how fast I can go, standard or otherwise. I’m already drawing up a racing wish list for 2015, and I think this excitement shows I’ve got a lot more to give.

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