Tuesday, December 09, 2014

California International Marathon 2014

Nothing takes the sting out of being a double lottery loser like having a race to focus on the next day. It was all part of the plan! Seven of us sat together at the Placer High School auditorium for the Western States lottery on Saturday, and seven of us walked out into the rainy morning disappointed but alarmingly philosophical.

“Next year!” declared Chaz, who did not get picked for the fifth year in a row.

I laughed and shook my head. I mean, what else can you say, really. Four of our seven had also been entered in, and shut out of, the Hardrock lottery that same morning.

“On to CIM!” implored Molly.

And that was that.

I had been enticed to enter into the CaliforniaInternational Marathon by friends while running 173 miles on the Tahoe Rim Trail this summer. A flat road marathon is essentially the opposite of four days romping 173 miles on mountain trails, and I was excited that people other than me found both to be appealing.

The training had also provided some structure to what you might call a fairly fluid time in my life. My goal was to better my PR (3:11:44at Eugene in 2013) and hopefully sneak under 3:10. I don’t run a lot of road marathons, but I do love doing them occasionally to see where I am with my fitness. I couldn’t really see spending the money on CIM, as well as taking the time to train, if I wasn’t going for a PR.

By the time race day rolled around, I knew I had some holes in my training which made me uncertain about my prospects, but I had felt similarly before Eugene. I didn’t feel overwhelmingly confident, but I’d had a few really strong workouts, and I thought running 3:10 was at least a possibility.

Ready to head to the start with Jamie

Thus I found myself on a perfect Sunday morning in Folsom, lining up with the 3:10 pace group, along with friends Chaz and Chris who had similar goals. All three of us expressed doubts, but smiled in excitement at the possibility of the day. I had already seen Helen at the gear truck, and Jamie and Molly who were leading the 3:35 and 3:45 pace groups respectively. Curt gave us a quick hello before moving up to start with the fast guys. Regardless of speed or goals, it was already worlds more fun than my previous CIM experiences because of all the friends. Also, the lack of rain and wind helped.

Sunrise over the start

At the start with Helen

Chris and Chaz ready to go!

Running a 3:10 marathon meant holding a 7:15 average pace per mile. I told myself that if it felt too hard, I would slow down by mile three. At mile two, I already knew it was too fast.

I ran with Chris and Chaz, and soon we came up behind Jenelle.

“Hey, what are you doing up here?” I demanded. “I thought you were only planning on running 3:30!”

“Well,” she breathed, “I plan on running fast now and then blowing up.”

“Oh good!” I cheered. “Then you can pace me through the first 20 miles.”

Mile three came and went and I was still admonishing myself to slow down.

“By my own rules of pacing,” I told Chris, “I am definitely working too hard right now.”

Part of the problem was that I was running with friends. It’s so hard to slow down when it means letting your running partners go. Finally I bid them farewell as I ran off toward a bank of port-a-potties. I used my need to pee as a way to force myself to let them go. Upon reemerging 15 seconds later, I toned it down to about a 7:20 pace.

And then, running by myself, the day went by in a blur of images: watch still says 7:18 average; funny sign says “Smile if you’re not wearing underwear!” and I had to smile; there’s Carrie!; watch says 7:20 now, good; there’s Jen!; there’s J.P. and Avian!; funny sign says “Great Job, Random Person!”

This might be my favorite running photo ever. Clearly taken in the early miles before the pain set in. Perhaps I thought I was the princess in a parade?? Proof that I was having fun! (Photo by Avian Borden)

Around mile 16 I knew it was time to pick up the pace if I wanted to hit 3:10. I will admit, I did not feel great, but I didn’t yet know what would happen. I didn’t feel horrible, and ten miles isn’t all that far to an ultra runner. I choked down my second GU of the race and started working on inching that average pace back down toward 7:15.

I kept scanning the horizon for any sign of Chris or Chaz, and after a few miles I thought I spotted them – Chaz in the highly recognizable gold of the DPMR shirt, and Chris wearing a red shirt and UD running vest. For the next mile or so, I focused on closing the gap.
By the time I came up behind Chris at about mile 18, Chaz had put some space between them.

Chris and I exchanged words of encouragement, and when he asked me how I felt, I shrugged and said, “Like this is going to get real ugly in about two more miles.”

Either I am about to throw up, or I am trying to yell something really witty to Carrie. (Photo by Carrie Hyatt)

I couldn’t deny it at that point, but I could still try to hang on for as long as possible. Chris seemed to be feeling similarly, and he didn’t make an attempt to go with me as I turned my focus toward catching Chaz.

Even though he appeared to be right in front of me, it took me forever to catch him. Miles. Days. I don’t even know. Finally, I was close enough to say hello.

Unfortunately, I think the push to catch Chaz was my last hurrah. He asked how Chris was, and I said I’d just passed him. Then I remembered that it had been days since I had seen Chris. I was completely delirious, all sense of time and judgment gone.

It appeared that I had passed Chaz, but in reality I knew he was right behind me. I kept waiting for him to pull ahead because, seriously, if he was going slower than I was, then he was in a world of hurt. C’mon, Chaz! He finally went by me somewhere around mile 22. Sweet, maybe one of us could still pull off a 3:10!

I would say mile 22 is probably where it all fell apart, although I had seen the writing on the walls back when I told Chris it would get ugly. I’ve been too chicken to look at the splits from my Garmin, but I can tell you that my average pace started to plummet with about four miles to go. God I felt awful. So awful.

And the hard part about trying to run a PR and falling short is that “second fastest marathon ever” doesn’t really feel like enough incentive to keep going. Like, once I saw that I would miss my PR, I pretty much just wanted to walk it in. Because, dear lord, did I mention it hurt? Ugh.

When I heard a fan cheer for the 3:15 pace group, I wanted to cry. Instead, I swore aloud. I was going backwards. They passed me like a thunderous train, on their way to marathon glory. The only reason I could come up with not to walk now was that it would just make the pain last longer. Even my pathetic jog would at least get me to the finish line sooner than walking would.

My friend Tim told me later that he had passed me somewhere around here but refrained from saying hi since we were both clearly dying - confirmation that my inner pain and horror were evident to all. Eric Toschi cheered for me from the sidelines around mile 24, and although I tried to smile my thanks, I feel certain it was more of a grimace that said Oh God, two more miles, no, I can’t do it, kill me now, please!!

You know it’s bad when you look down at your watch to see how far you have to go and realize you haven’t even gone a tenth of a mile since the last time you looked.

Finally, the finish line was there. I was done. Curt and Chaz were waiting with congratulations, and I was never so happy. Woo Hoo! Finished!

I hurt. Like, a lot. But it was so fun to have friends at the finish. (And the leg spasms only lasted about 10 minutes – nothing compared to after Way Too Cool last year!)

After a couple minutes, Chris crossed the line and we all celebrated together. Somehow, the pain of the final 30 minutes of racing, seemed a fleeting memory. I was so happy to be at the finish line, I really didn’t mind being five minutes shy of my PR and seven minutes short of my 3:10 goal. Rena Lantz, whom I ran into later, told me that she basically ran the time she deserved, which I thought was a great way of putting it. I would have loved to run 3:10, but in truth, I deserved 3:17.

Somehow I missed all of my other friends finishes, even though I am sure I was standing right there when Helen crossed in sub-4. Perhaps I was still delirious.

After the race, Tyler had a bunch of us back to her place for beer and pizza. Except for our two pace group leaders, we had all come up short of our goals, but you would never have known it to hear the chatter at Tyler’s house. Everyone was in good spirits (I suppose the Lagunitas didn’t hurt.), and we talked excitedly of adventure running destinations for next year.

One thing that marathons have in common with ultras – it’s pretty easy to forget all the pain once you’re done running! I can’t say I plan on signing up for CIM next year, but I might just follow the crowd again and see what my friends are doing. It’s a plan that certainly worked for me this year.

Congrats to all the finishers, and a huge shout out out to everyone who shared training miles with me - both on the road and online. The support of friends was definitely the highlight of the weekend.


  1. I love how you claim a 3:15 pace to be dying slog. ") The truth is, your description of working hard, blowing up and reaching far is enticing. I should run a marathon, again, as well. May be I'll be slogging a 4:15 pace! Congrats!

    1. Thanks, Olga! Considering how quickly my average overall pace dropped in those last four miles, it was definitely a dying slog. But fun in a sick way, right? ;) Marathons do have their place!

  2. Carrie Hyatt12/10/2014 6:19 AM

    Loved this! Thank you for sharing, Gretchen :)

    1. Thanks, Carrie, and thanks for being out there and taking pictures. So great to see a friendly face when you're in pain!

  3. You DO look like the princess in the parade!

    1. Oh yes, I'm quite lovely. Ha ha ha! :)