Monday, December 5, 2011

CIM–Love Letter, Race Report and Dire Warning all in One!

Consider yourself warned:  This is a tale of triumph, certainly, but I exhibit so much stupidity, stubbornness and downright foolhardiness on the way to said triumph that you are likely to find yourself quite frustrated with this post!

Dear California International Marathon,

I love you.  I’ve run your beautiful tree-lined course three years in a row now and the day registration opens for the 2012 race, you can bet I’ll be on with my credit card in hand.  You’ve done a great job keeping that hometown feel while getting bigger every year (though please, please, PLEASE don’t get too big – nobody likes wave starts!), and this year you really stepped up to the big time with a cute shirt and big honkin’ medal.  Thank you for that.  I’ve now run my three fastest marathons on your spectator-filled streets, and next year I promise to actually train for you.

Love and kisses,


So, about that lack of training.  Remember way back in early September when I was full of bright and shiny dreams about this year’s CIM?  (No?  Me neither, I had to go back and look it up.)  Things sort of fell apart right after that.  I was still running for a while, but my heart wasn’t in it.  Then, after a long run in early October I had a lot of pain in my foot that may have been tendonitis or possibly a stress fracture.  I never had it officially diagnosed (remember, you’ve been warned about the idiocy I demonstrate in this post!) because I couldn’t face a boot on top of everything else.  I was a good girl, though, and I stayed off my feet.  No running!  I became good friends with the elliptical trainer and the Stairmaster at my gym and I did A LOT of core work and strength training.  I wiped all thoughts of the CIM out of my mind and just focused on getting healthy.

After six weeks (let me do the math for you here – injury eight weeks ago minus healing for six weeks equals feeling better two weeks ago), my foot felt great and I was ready to get back to hitting the road.  I went out for very short, very easy-paced runs and felt terrific.  Then last weekend a terrible thing happened:  I thought about the CIM.  I thought about how much I love to run that race.  I thought about how I had already paid for it.  I thought about how long distance runs are more mental than physical and how I knew I could gut it out.  I thought about how it was the only marathon on my calendar this year and how much I would hate to miss out on running at least one.  To be fair, I also thought about how utterly ridiculous it would be to attempt a marathon after a “long run” of seven miles, but since this is, indeed, a race report, you already know how much credence I gave that last thought.  As Bugs Bunny would say, “What a maroon!”

I tried to be realistic about the whole running-an-untrained-marathon thing.  Obviously, I wouldn’t actually be running the whole thing!   I told myself repeatedly that what I would be doing was completing a marathon.  I decided to do a run-walk, starting with five minutes of “running” at a comfortable easy pace to one minute of walking and then making adjustments during the race as I fatigued.  Funny side story about this decision:  months and months ago, I had entered to win a Gymboss from Julie over at Adventure is Out There, but didn’t win.  I didn’t really think about it again, but I was on Amazon looking for a Christmas gift for IronHubs last Monday, when what should appear in my suggestions but a Gymboss?!?  Well, there’s no such thing as coincidence, so I ordered myself a hot pink one on the spot.  Here’s a little spoiler for the race report – that Gymboss is my new favorite thing!!  It was awesome and I love it and I am probably going to marry it!

Let’s get on to the actual race report, shall we?

Christmas Decorating and CIM 008

The expo seemed much better than usual this year, but I think that’s because I went at a very uncrowded time.  Plus I randomly ran into a friend from high school and scored a pair of Zoot compression knickers for ten bucks.  Sweet!

Christmas Decorating and CIM 037Trying to pretend like I wasn’t nervous, but who am I kidding?  I was a wreck, just like always!  You can see the Gymboss peeking out from under my bib.

Lining up at the start, I stayed in the way back.  The way, way, waaaaaaaay back.  I didn’t have a time goal, other than hopefully finishing before the six hour cutoff, so I didn’t want to get suckered into going out fast.  Ha!

So I went out fast.  Thankfully, I had the Gymboss beeping at me, reminding me to take a little break.  Do you have any idea how hard it is to take a walking break just FIVE MINUTES into a marathon??  But like the Pavlovian dog I am, every time the Gymboss beeped, I did what I was supposed to do and that meant walking breaks.  Side note:  the Gymboss lasted about ten seconds on my waistband, but not because it was uncomfortable.  Have you ever listened to 9,000 people running a marathon?  There is a whole lot of beeping going on!!  Some people had cadence beepers, others were fueling alerts, many were mileage markers and lots of runners had run/walk alarms like me.  I couldn’t tell which one was mine, so I kept the Gymboss in my hand so I could hear it better and look at it occasionally.  Well, not really “occasionally,” more like every 30 seconds.  But whatever.

The CIM bills itself as “net downhill,” which cracks me up.  Yes, technically that’s true:  the finish line is 400 feet of elevation lower than the starting line, but there’s nothing but hill after hill on the way there!

CIM Elevation GraphElevation chart from my Garmin.

With the scheduled walking breaks, I ended up walking a lot of the downhills, which I thought was sort of funny since everyone else around me seemed to be walking the uphills.  I couldn’t believe all the complaining I heard about the hills!  Seriously, didn’t these people look at the course profile at all?

In spite of the hills (which didn’t seem all that hard, thank you Stairmaster!) and the walking breaks, the miles just flew by me.  I felt great!  It was a mere 32 degrees at the start, but when the sun came up it warmed up very nicely without ever getting hot.  I kept my pace easy and enjoyed the scenery and the cheering spectators.  One of my favorite signs said, “You are all AWESOME!  crazy… but AWESOME!”  I also saw a group of people with “Occupy CIM” signs that made me laugh.  There was one family that I saw no fewer than a dozen times with “Go, Mom, GO!” signs.  I never figured out exactly who they were cheering for, but she must have been running just a little bit behind me the whole time.  They were very loud and much appreciated in the later miles!

Around Mile 5, I realized I was gaining on the 4:25 pace group ahead of me.  I couldn’t believe it!  I’ve already admitted to so much lunacy already that I’m not going to tell you how seeing them totally made me competitive and I’m not going to mention that passing them at Mile 6 was one of the high points of the race for me.  Even though it totally was.

Before I knew it, I was nearing the halfway point!  I was expecting to see my cheering squad somewhere around there, but I wasn’t sure where they would be.  IronHubs captured this totally funny sequence of photos as I found them:

CIM Halfway

Seeing my support crew at Mile 13 was a huge morale booster, even though I didn’t actually need it yet.  I was still feeling great until about Mile 16, when my legs started asking me why the heck we were still running.  Or walking.  Or, really, still moving at all.  Couldn’t we sit down for awhile, please?

You know, people talk about hitting the wall at Mile 20 and having to let adrenaline carry them through the final six miles, but personally, I find Miles 17 – 23 to be the hardest of a marathon.  You’ve run a really long way, but still seem to have an awfully long way to go.  By Mile 23, though, there’s an energy in the air.  You can smell the finish line getting closer.

Around Mile 17, the 4:25 pace group passed me up. I kept them in sight until about Mile 19, but there was absolutely no thought in my head of keeping up with them. It was never my intention to run this thing fast, so I focused all my energy on just moving forward at all times.  This is when I truly fell in love with the Gymboss.  All I had to do, all I needed to think about, was running for five minutes.  Then I got to walk for one minute.  Then I only had to run for five minutes - anybody can run for five minutes!  - then I got to walk for another minute.

I got an unexpected and much needed boost at Mile 21 when I heard my mom and my sister clapping and cheering and hollering for me.  I wasn’t expecting to see them there, so thank goodness they called out my name or I probably would have stumbled right past them.  What a lovely thing it is to see a friendly face at Mile 21!  They lied and told me I looked wonderful and reminded me I only had six miles left (they thought they were at Mile 20, it was sort of funny).  Their energy got me through the last of the cruel miles and pushed me toward the finish line.

By Mile 24, I was digging as deep as I had.  I was counting how many more times I would be able to walk and yet dreading both the walking break and the picking-it-back-up-to-a-run.  My muscles wanted nothing to do with changing speeds.  Slowing down was almost as awful as speeding up, but I kept doing it every single time the Gymboss told me to.  I thought a lot about changing the intervals and walking more, but I was so close to the end.  I kept telling myself that I had made it this far, I could go a little farther.

CIM Pace GraphLookit all those perfectly even intervals.  You can see where I stopped to hug my cheering fans at Miles 13 and 21.  I have no recollection of slowing down so much at what must have been Mile 24, but I think I was delirious by then.

My very last walking break should have been at Mile 25.5, but at that point on the course, the spectators are three deep on the sidewalks, screaming their heads off for you and waving signs that say things like “Only 8 blocks left!”  So I ran it all the way in.  I’m using the word “ran” very loosely here, you understand.

Christmas Decorating and CIM 108I was so freakin’ happy to see that Finish Line!!

Christmas Decorating and CIM 126Since I started in the way back, I get to subtract four minutes from the clock.  Official finish time – 4:35:16, my second fastest marathon to date!!

Ahhh, sweet marathon glory! 

Ok, now for the dire warning:  DON’T EVER DO THIS!  Seriously, I’m an idiot.  Nobody should run a marathon without training for it and believe me, my quads and hamstrings have been reminding me of that fact all day long today.  Respect the distance!