Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Race Report: California International Marathon

Somewhere near the Mile 17 marker, I sat inside a port-a-john, listening to the tireless rain tap-swishing on the roof. I had not ducked in there seeking shelter--unfortunately for the first time in six marathons I was in there because I had to be--but getting out of the rain was a nice side effect.

There were numerous "lakes" and "rivers" to run through on this course. Photo via hmgiraffy.
However, even on a bad weather day, a potty is not a place to linger. Plus, there were other runners waiting in line. So I pulled my soaked shorts up, adjusted them in a fruitless effort to get them to stick to me a little less and opened the door, holding it for the next person. The guy who followed me in there? One of the 4-hour pace group leaders. He looked in good spirits, but the sight of him doused what was left of mine. His presence meant I wasn't going to meet my secondary goal of finishing under 4 hours.

But damnit, I thought grimly, I am going to finish.

The race had been a crazy adventure since Tricia and I climbed off of our warm yellow school bus that morning at 6:30 a.m. It was dark, and the rain cascaded down on us in horizontal sheets. Despite her parka, my garbage bags and our hodgepodge of throwaway clothing, we were both soaked in seconds, including our Vaseline-coated feet inside our shoes. We easily found potties and used them, but in my case (ominously) I couldn't "go". Usually I'm good for at least two pre-race trips. Something about that cold and wind had caused my entire digestive mechanism to halt, I think, and that's what I paid for at Mile 17.

We sought shelter inside an open convenience store that was packed with soggy runners in various stages of undress, but soon it was time to say good-bye to each other and venture out again for good. I found the 3:55 pacer as planned, and my spirits lifted a little. I didn't hear the gun go off. As always in a marathon, it was a relief to start running.

The fast guys line up in the rain.

After the gun (photos borrowed from the Sacramento Bee; hopefully my blog is small enough I won't get in trouble for using them)
Once moving, I warmed up quickly and didn't mind being wet any more. In fact, I felt good. The headwind wasn't pleasant, but the first few miles felt like nothing, the rolling hills felt like nothing and I was hanging easily behind the pacer and felt plenty distracted by the conversation of a large group of Canadians who were also sticking with him. They'd shout enthusiastically when their Garmins beeped a kilometer mark. My own Garmin was staying nicely close to the actual mile markers, a testament to the wise moves of the pacer and the few sharp turns on this course. It's true, my pace was off...it was slow by just a bit less than what I'd been warned the day before (they said 30-40 seconds per mile; I was off by about 20-30 at that point). But I had been expecting that.

Even by the halfway mark, I still felt good. I'd managed to take my Shot Bloks every three miles. That's more often than usual, but the pacers had also warned us the day before that running in a headwind requires more fuel and water. I had carried my bottle through 10 miles and ditched it at an aid stop when it was empty, but since then had had no problems grabbing water from volunteers. I was pleased at how my legs felt and how little the hills had bothered me. I wasn't happy or chatty, but I also wasn't grouchy. The rain kept sheeting down, and the wind kept blowing...but it had just become the way it was.

Mile 1--9:19
Mile 2--8:57
Mile 3--8:39
Mile 4--8:51
Mile 5-- 8:56
Mile 6-- 9:00
Mile 7--9:07
Mile 8--9:01
Mile 9--9:00
 Mile 10--8:47
Mile 11--8:45
Mile 12--8:59
Mile 13--8:51

 Mile 14-- 8:53

It was my stomach that did me in. It started speaking at Mile 15 and by the time I rolled up to the port-a-john line at Mile 17 it was urgent. I think Darren was right when he said I need to work on using sport drink of some kind instead of gels and Bloks. But it was too late for this race.

Mile 15-- 9:00
Mile 16-- 9:06
Mile 17-- 11:36 (there's the stop!)

When I started running again, despite wanting to get as much time between me and the 4-hour pacer as I could before he finished in the bathroom, I never got the early paces back. There may have been a bonk involved as well, right on schedule after Mile 18.

Mile 18-- 9:04
Mile 19-- 9:14
Mile 20-- 9:17

The 4-hour pacer caught me in Mile 20. With him was a woman about my height and weight, but much fresher and happier. I followed behind them as best as I could, listening to them talk. She told him how she was feeling great, had started with the 4:10 pace group and now "just knew" that a sub-4 was possible. Her original goal had been 3:50, but she was really happy with how she'd done. He told her she had been smart to start where she had. And I thought, "That's what I should have done, too. I wasn't conservative enough. I went out too fast."

Mile 21-- 9:05

Sometime between Mile 20 and 21, the rain stopped. I first saw blue sky peeking out when we crossed the bridge over the American River and headed toward downtown Sacramento and the finish line. But instead of feeling heartened by this, I kept thinking how the wind was still there, and I started slowing down again.

Mile 22-- 9:12
Mile 23-- 9:18

With three miles to go, I stopped to walk. My legs felt as though they were done, and I was so so sick of that wind in my face. I watched the smart happy girl and the 4-hour pacer with his red sign recede in the distance ahead of me.

Mile 24--11:40

Mid-way through Mile 25, though, with the crowds thick, I started to shuffle-jog again. I just wanted to be finished.

Mile 25-- 11:08

The park around the California state capitol building, where I knew the finish line stood, appeared on my left.

Mile 26-- 9:57

We rounded one corner, then another to the women's finish line.

Final .2--9:02 pace

I crossed the line, barely raising my eyes to the beautiful state building and the towering Christmas tree in front of it. The sun shone brightly, and soggy but mostly happy runners were everywhere. I drank some chocolate milk, but otherwise all I could think of was getting my drop bag and getting into dry clothes. I did wonder how Tricia had weathered the storm (very well, it turns out), but I also knew she'd understand my impulse to change and then get back to the hotel for my shower. When she got back, and after she got her well-deserved shower, we made our way down to the hotel bar. It was only then that I started to feel better. We had just finished a really hard, really wet and windy marathon. She had a beer, burger and fries, and I had a mimosa, a huge plate of nachos and some sweet potato fries. Man, did that ever taste good!

The final result: 4:06:32, a 9:24 average pace. I was 163rd out of 534 in my 35-39 female age group (top 31%) and 2544 out of 6496 total male and female finishers (top 39%). I was 817th among all women, but I don't have the total number of women in the race yet. It was a "personal worst" among the most recent three of my six marathons, but it was still better than my one-time "personal best" of 4:14 set in New York City in 2005. I guess there's something to be said that my standards have changed.

You've now heard all the things that went wrong. Here are some good things I did:

1. I lowered my expectations for a bad-weather day. Turns out I didn't lower them enough, but at least I knew not to expect to qualify for the Boston Marathon in that wind. I listened to the smart veterans around me. This led to much less disappointment than I might have felt (disappointed though I was anyway).

2. I learned the power of Vaseline. The only spot I chafed in all the wetness was on my neck where my headphones hung out until Mile 18. That's the only spot I didn't lube LIBERALLY with good old petroleum jelly. My feet didn't bug me at all during this race, whereas usually they are blistered in some way. Going foward, Vaseline will be part of all my long runs and long races.

3. I recognized the overall goodness of the CIM course. I'd love to go back and do it again next year because even amid the bad weather I can see why people like it.

4. The strength training I did with Colleen....a godsend. My legs are the least sore they've ever been after a marathon. To the extent that they are sore, my quads and hamstrings are feeling it equally, and it's the "good sore." I've had no trouble with going down stairs or going for short walks. I'm eying other runners I see out and about with envy. I'm going to continue to hit the weights hard going forward. It seems I've not done enough of that ever, for any prior race.

I've traded a few messages back and forth with Darren about a spring marathon. It's uncertain whether that will be the plan, or whether we'll tackle some more half-marathons in the spring and go for another big one in the fall. I'm hoping to try again sooner rather than later, but I will leave the ultimate decision up to Darren. He's smarter than I am with this stuff!

Thanks again for all of your buoying comments after the race and all of your encouragement before. Will 2013 be my lucky year? Will marathon number seven (wherever it is) be the One? I don't know, but I'm going to keep trying until some year and some race prove to be the Golden Ticket.


  1. Great write up. I'm very bummed the conditions were so bad that it you didn't get your BQ but I'm confident it will happen and as long as you keep to the western half of the US, I hope to be there. It was so fantastic to meet you and room with you! Here's to more races and more fun.

  2. Bummer on the rain and wind!! Those pictures are incredible. Ah, the adventures in marathoning - it is all worth though even the bad and crappy races :-) Keep trying and you'll get your goal. It took me 3 yrs to qualify and when I finally did it - it wasn't by a minute but I ended up qualfying with 8 minutes to spare.

  3. Bummer on the rain and wind!! Those pictures are incredible. Ah, the adventures in marathoning - it is all worth though even the bad and crappy races :-) Keep trying and you'll get your goal. It took me 3 yrs to qualify and when I finally did it - it wasn't by a minute but I ended up qualifying with 8 minutes to spare.

  4. Ooooooh girl.

    That just sucks all different kinds of ways. The wind. The rain. The GI issues. Ugh. Props to you for getting it done.

    Come down to Yuma and run the marathon here with me on January 26th. Flat. Fast About 97% guaranteed good weather (could be a tad windy like last year).

    Boring as heck though! :)

  5. I am in awe of you. That is all.

  6. Oh girl....I have a story for you one day when we get together. I don't think people who haven't been in this situation fully understand just how difficult this feels. You deserve time with your emotions and them with you right now....but you will get that BQ, I have absolutely no doubt!! Rest up. Let's go celebrate sometime soon when you're up for it!!

    ((Big hugs))

  7. raina_smalltownrunnerDecember 5, 2012 at 1:15 AM

    You are one TOUGH lady, Terzah. The weather was terrible, and you did well in it. SO smart to use the vaseline. It is something i had not thought of reminding you about, mostly because I haven't been in a Looooong wet run in a long time and I forgot what it does to a person's skin. (my turn is coming) . Glad you were prepared.

    Also, the weights DO magic things, don't they? So happy you aren't sore much!

    You are a brave lady, making a goal and trying to reach it- publicly. I admire you much for it. I think maybe you should consider Allison's offer. You are prepared YUMA is not WET :)

  8. Those pictures are just so insane! I don't know if I could have made it through. Congrats on your finish. So sorry it had to be such a soggy, miserable day.

    You will get the right combo of training, weather, and "good fortune" or God's grace, however you look at it, for your BQ in an upcoming race. I almost though you'd try for Houston, but I suppose Darren doesn't recommend that. :)

    I hear the Twin Cities is beautiful in October. :-)

  9. Given all the adversity thrown your way that day, you did a fantastic job! And I'm glad you can look at the day and find the bright spots. Each marathon is a learning session--take what you have learned and apply it next time. As to when that next time is--don't pull the trigger for a couple of weeks. That's my plan. I need to recover and emotionally get to a better place before I make any decisions.

    Your BQ is still out there--I know it!

  10. Wow Terzah, this sounds intense! I'm so glad you aren't giving up and I want to hear how your next race goes! I also feel some extra motivation to keep up with my strength training since you said it helped so much.

  11. Isn't amazing how much one or two other people can impact how you feel about your race? (Seeing the 4 hour pacer, the chatty happy girl) This was a fun read- I wish it was an easier race with a happier ending, but you ran an amazing race for those conditions. Does this mean you'll keep blogging beyond 2012? I have to know how the future race turns out! :)

  12. great report.....and a great run on a tough day....you ran smart and FAST! Well done!!!1

  13. Anyone can run a marathon in perfect weather. It takes a true champion to slog through 26.2 miles in a monsoon. You, my friend, are a champion!

  14. Man, this just sounds miserable I have to tell you. I've done one race where it poured the entire time, and it still sticks in my mind as the worst race experience ever....and that was a half. I can't imagine a full. You did awesome!

  15. I have to admit, I got a little teary reading your recap. What a tough race to go through! You are one heck of a woman, and very inspiring. I can't wait to hear what Darren has in store for you next, maybe we'll end up at the same race some day soon!

  16. Thanks, Bill--I think you're being a little too kind, but thanks anyway. The race was a lot more fun to report than it was to run, that's for sure.

  17. First, I love the way you wrote this. Second, I wish your ending was the happy one you trained for, but I am SO impressed with you. Seriously. The conditions were ridiculous, and you were still out there running an awfully impressive time.

    The saga reminds me a little about my Dirty Kanza experience, where you go out pretty sure your hopes are doomed but you do it anyway. Of course, it's very different because you actually trained and conditions were against you, while I didn't train nearly enough and had perfect conditions, but still.

    I will not be at all surprised when you BQ, and when you do it's going to be that much sweeter because of experiences like this.

  18. Does this mean you'll keep blogging? Please say yes :)

  19. 2013 WILL be your "lucky" year. As I said before "luck happens when preparation meets opportunity". I'm anxious to see what Darren plans for you. I still can't believe you ran in those conditions - CRAZY!

  20. I'm so glad you're going to keep trying - you WILL get your golden ticket to Boston! And

  21. Ah Terzah. This is a tough one to read. Although I knew the outcome, it was tough to follow your journey to realizing that it was going to be a less than A goal attempt to start and then to read how difficult the race itself was. I am so not looking forward to your blog going away, and was REALLY hoping that you would get to go away with your big BQ. BUT the good news is that I am running Eugene too! So I am beyond excited to see you there and hopefully we will get to give each other BIG BQ celebration hugs post-race!!