Monday, December 06, 2021

California International Marathon 2021 (#34)

Hello blogosphere,

The last two years have been trying times (and I'm sure Covid is not done with us yet) but this marathon was back after missing 2020! 

Predawn school bus
from hotel to start area
I thought of running my own solo marathon (supported by Toni) but just didn't have the heart to do that. A marathon is not just 26.2 miles or 42 km. It's also  many people running with you, spectators cheering on total strangers, volunteers handing out food and water, police closing off traffic, etc. 

It's an event.

Yes, a marathon is a long run ..but what a long run: a run mixed with the theater of huge physical+mental effort with goals and hopes... and potential miscalculations, failure and crushing disappointment. 

So, yeah, more of a big deal than 'going for a run'.

Why CIM? It was not my first marathon (that was Napa) but it was the first marathon where I went sub-4 (back in 2011 at age 56). 

In the 4:30 corral
looking back
It is a hilly race but point-to-point...very rare. At CIM the start is up at Folsom dam and you run west through Sacramento suburbs. You finish in front of the old California State house (which is now a museum).

Usually a city course snakes you all over the city and back to where you started. A point-to-point course makes it clear you are going somewhere, i.e. you have a mission.

All participants had to be verified as vaxed or tested negative. Admission to the expo was timed. I, like most folks, just picked up my bib and shirt and left. I know the course from having run it twice so didn't need to see the blow by blow on that. 

And after reading every decent book about marathon training and attending dozens of previous expos seminars I've heard all of it before. 


Normally I nerd out over my training, but for this race I was more laid back. 

I have been running a *lot* during Covid, probably an average of high thirties miles/week

Can you see the starting line banner? 
View from the 4:30 expected
time lineup area.
(more typical would be high twenties). Over 12 weeks  did the usual ratcheting up of the Sunday long run every other week, going from 13 on the off week  to  16, 18, 20, 20 20 for the on week.

But I haven't been doing all the other things you really need to do to get ready for a marathon, e.g. strength training, hill sprints, intervals, etc. I did do a set of Yasso 800's at one point. I did try to mix in more hills (CIM has 850' of up, 350' of down) but I live 2 miles from the nearest hills around here and I was lazy.

So I knew that aerobically I was ready but I needed to be careful with the hills. 

Race Morning

Toni and I drove up Saturday morning to stay at one of the partner hotels in Folsom closer to the start. The weather forecast was absolutely as good as it could possibly be, which had me excited: 

Cloudy all day,  44F at the start time, rising to 55F at my anticipated finish time. No wind!

These temps are ideal. You generate a lot of heat running and if your body temp starts to rise you will slow down (and feel like crap). Great to know that water loss / overheating would not be worrysome.

The school bus pickup to the start closest to my location was to depart at 5:30am from the Trader Joes nearby (about half a mile from the hotel). The night before I laid out my kit of stuff and used my pre-race checklist to make sure everything was the morning it is not a good time to be rushing to get things together.

At 4:30am (after a night of fitful 'sleep') I got up and dressed.  Toni had bought me a super fancy running jacket and shirt that were both uber lightweight and svelt, just for this race 8). I also had three old throw-away t-shirts to wear under the jacket to keep me warm before the start.

It was good I wore these extra shirts. Normally if you are staying at a Folsom hotel they have a special 'keep warm tent' at the start area, but this year, due to Covid I assume, they just had an area at a gas station that had a cover over the pump area and a bunch of folding chairs to sit in. It was still 44F there. 

CIM is famous for having the most generous set of porta-potties for the runners of any race on planet earth. Typical ratio might be around 1f or 100 runners. At CIM it's 1 for 30! 

With thousands of runners that is a LOT of porta potties! Take a look:

~800++ foot line of porta-potties

Eventually it was time to line up. The fenced and roped off chute for runners had signs marking off pace group areas. I headed for the 4:30 pace group sign and slipped in. After last minute chatter from the announcer (who's talking the entire time ......trying to entertain and help pass the time) we are ready to start. 

But don't get excited. With thousands of people there could be lots of bad accidents with a gang-start so instead each pace group is walked up to the line and started independently. Of course your bib has a small chip that only starts the clock for you when you cross the timing mat. 

Finally, after a couple of minutes, our group gets to start!....well, we can't really run yet but we trot ahead and over the next minute spread out and hit full pace. 

Finally we are running a marathon again! I'm hoping to meet up with Toni and 10 miles and again at 20 miles.

Start to 5 miles

 First let's take a look at the elevation profile and see what we're in for:

You can see the net downhill of 350'.. hey that's nice! But look closely at all the little squiggles going up an down along the turns out if you count them up you actually have another 850' of up/down added in. 

Downhills are good, but not all good. You can easily blow out your quadriceps on the down if you run them too hard. The CIM org has lots of recommendations they throw at you that basically tell you to be very conservative, especially in the beginning.

Paces for miles 1 to 5: 10:07, 10:23, 10:07, 10:22, 10:26 (HR ~ 120-125)

Considering all the downhill, I took these miles super carefully. The ups I took very easily at 15s slower (10:30-ih) than my intended overall marathon pace and on the downs I only let myself speed up to 15s faster (10:00-ish)

During a marathon you get to observe the people that are running near you..i.e. at similar pace. There are all types out there....many people are clearly running there first marathon. How can you tell? They are huffing and puffing in mile 5. 

You know these folks are in for a long day of walking (or a DNF).

There is so much writing about how to figure out your personal marathon pacing but it seems most people just figure if they ran a half marathon they can run two of them back to back. I love talking about running but draw the line at trying to suggest a slower pace to these people during the run would just be super rude. And who knows, maybe they *always* huff and puff at any running pace?

I was slowly remember all these ups and downs from my previous races there and also from the very nice time-laps course movie (taken with a stabilized GoPro camera) that I had watched. But the reality was of course worse ;)

I thought had been very careful not to drink too much before the start, but I was already feeling my bladder starting to let me know it was I knew there'd be a pit stop sometime in the next hour. Argh.

Paces for miles 6 to 10: 10:27, 11:17, 10:19, 10:14, 10:01 (HR ~125)

I don't remember exactly the 11:17 split mile but I remember a looonger stretch of up. My HR was up to 130 so I just didn't go faster.

Along here I ran across the first of three blind runners with guides. They were all young (I would say late 20's) and the guides the same. I got to listen to them a few times and I could hear the guides warning about broken pavement coming or right turn ahead. 

My watch was reporting my current pace and average pace and the latter pace was stabilized at 10:19 or so. This was a little off my goal pace for 4:30 marathon of about 10:18 so I was worried...usually there can be up to 5s of slowdown due to not running the tangents and gps noise fooling the watch thinking you are going faster.

The other problem was that the Garmin 945 I use, which I dearly love, does not have as sensitive a GPS receiver vs the 935. So the instant pace bounces around a huge amount. (The cloud cover reduces the signal too so that didn't help). 

Upshot was I was nervous about this.....I was running the tangents well (many people NOT doing that..noobs) and I remember that my finish distance for my previous CIMs was 26.35. That is only .15 mile of extra distance. 

Just before mile 10
Of course my watch was chirping mile splits before I reacted the CIM split signs ..but the distance was small and not getting bigger very fast. I decided I didn't need much of a pad over the 10:18 pace to hit 4:30. 

Which was good because with all the hills I really didn't think I could or should go faster. 

Somewhere in this stretch I popped into a porta-potty. Took less than one minute.

I was expecting to see Toni at mile 10 but instead she caught me a few tenths of a mile earlier. She was ringing the cowbell and shouting my name so it was easy to spot her 8) 

She took this pic of me there.

Paces for 11 to 15: 10:03,  10:17, 10:15, 10:10,  10:19  (HR ~ 131)

Mile 10 was a major spectator point, lots of fuss and bother and cowbells! 
We zig-zag a bit there. Mile 11 has a full 100' drop and then climb back about 80', ugh.

I'm really getting tired of the hills and the effort level to hold pace is going up. I'm holding steady on the average pace at 10:19 on the watch.

Still not done with hills. We climb 80' to get to the mile 15 marker.

Paces for 16 to 20: 10:11, 10:09, 10:19, 10:37, 10:16 (HR ~ 134)

You can see my HR is inching even though my paces are similar..this is called "cardiac drift". 
It occurs from dehydration (thicker blood harder to pump) and also from muscles getting tired
and taking more oxygen to get the same work done.

So let's talk about water for a bit....

Hydration  and proper water stop technique

Staying hydrated is a must, but actually no matter how hard you try you can't drink enough at these paces..having cool temps and no sun on the body helps slow it though.

I had a belt with a single bottle and it saved me navigating the crush at the water stops which was nice, but now I had run out and so had to hit the stops. They were about every two miles, which was good, because you only get a small cup of water that is half full at each stop.

I will now tell you how to navigate a proper race water stop:

1) As you approach the commotion, look for a helper that is holding up water and looking around.

2) Stare directly at the person to get their attention and when they look toward you as you approach (they will) point to them to confirm you are going to take water from them.

3) Hopefully they have been told to pinch the cup any case as you approach slow down a little bit and keep your pointing arm ahead with hand set to grab the cup and hold that same pinch (thumb vs all other fingers).

4) This is the fun part: as you pass slow a bit more and simultaneously pull your hand back so your hand velocity goes very close to zero for a split second ...then grab the cup with your own pinch...and move the cup forward with smooth acceleration to bring it forward back to your lips as you accelerate away. With luck you don't spill a drop.

5) Drink!

6) Throw the cup away TO THE SIDE or even better in the barrels they have downstream a bit. NOT in front of any runners, (so they don't slip on them...what is wrong with people...sigh).

I learned this online and always do it and lose minimum seconds mucking around confusion. For almost every stop I noticed a slightly surprised reaction from the person.

Back to miles 16 to 20.......Eventually the hills started to get smaller but they were still happening and I was a bit chagrined that I had forgotten that only at mile 20 would I be rid of them. 

I held pace..but it was getting hard and harder.  I did not have a problem with aerobics...yes my heart was speeding up but my breathing was ok: for the first miles my breathing was so called "2:4" breathing. This means inhale on two steps (left, right) and then exhale on four (left, right, left, right). At this point I started to flip to 2:2 breathing on the uphills. 

Finally at mile 20!

Toni caught me approaching. I was feeling pretty good and knew that now it would start to flatten out.

Excited to see Toni!

Toni took this shot. One of many funny signs. 

After you have run 34 marathons you have seen them all....many many times. 

But it's still fun to see them and hear them cheering everybody on!

Didn't get a shot of it but they have some big drawings of brick walls mounted on sawhorses to signify that at 20 miles you are breaking through the wall (you hope).

In previous years this was differently was a HUGE fake wall with an opening in it. 

Paces 21 to Finish: 10:31, 10:19, 10:00, 9:53, 9:53, 10:47, 9:49 (HR 143)

Knowing all the hills were done was a good feeling...and now was the time to see what the last 6 miles would bring me. On my first CIM where I broke 4 hrs for the first time going over the H -street bridge is where I got emotional and realized I was not going to fade and I would make my goal.

The same thing happened again. I just started feeling a lot better..even my hill battered legs! I gradually sped up a wee bit even getting some <10 m/m splits. 

If you look at the Race Splits section below you can see that except for the 5k to 15K section where I went purposely slowly I gained on the crowd at each split. 

For mile 26 I started to fade badly and logged 10:47, but then as I neared the end..and heard the crowds,  the last .2 I kicked in sub-10 again.

Marathon 34 done!

Very happy with a 4:31 at age 66. 
39 / 74 in my age group
5596 / 7622 overall

It was really easy to find Toni and
we got some pics taken of us

Whats next?

Note: there seem to be glitches in the data below

Number of total "overall" people that triggered each split was different at each split..if the number dropped it could be due to people dropping out, but it also went up....perhaps the final results will come out in a few days.

Or perhaps somebody did some cheating. Sadly, that happens all the time. 

Race Splits
of 7833
of 4621
of 76
of 7813
of 4612
of 77
of 7779
of 4593
of 76
of 7631
of 4510
of 74
of 7605
of 4492
of 74
Full Course
of 7622
of 4502
of 75