California International Marathon is over and I am a finisher! It feels good to type it. What a moment, folks.
I'll give you the short of it and then go into the race recap. The really short version is that I did it in 5:06:06 and also I had no idea the level of physical pain that truly goes into a marathon. Not until I felt it could I really accept it. And also my family and friends are amazing and I love them so much. They are what motivated me to finish.
I like to start with positive stuff first so I want to make sure I get across that I had a really good time! I loved being a part of the race and the whole atmosphere and seeing my family, mom, and friend at the finish line was a picture I'll have in my mind forever. What a memorable weekend :)
Okay - here's the longer version. I ran the first half much too fast and paid for it later by walking some of the last 6-7 miles. Going into the race, I set some goals. My primary goal was to finish - and I did - and so I am very, very happy with myself. My secondary goal was to finish while running or jogging the whole time. I didn't hit that goal and I'll lay out the reasons why I think I missed it later. My tertiary goal was to finish in 4:41 or less. I was 28 minutes shy of that one.
On Saturday afternoon, Jon and I drove to Folsom. The plan was that I'd stay in a hotel room right near the starting line the night before the race. This would give me a better night of sleep (parents will understand this) and give me peace of mind that I wouldn't be late...what a laugh that ended up being!! (more later)
Look how tense I am driving!! Hahahaha. I'd like to say I'm only tense in the photo because I was in race-mode but honestly I don't pride myself on being a model for relaxation so...
I stayed at the Lake Natoma Inn mostly because it was one of the race-approved hotels that offered bus service to the starting line. It was super cute though smelled a bit musty. And let me say it was MASSIVE!!! There was a fireplace, a huge tub, two rooms, a couch, a desk, a huge bed, a vanity area, and a good sized bathroom. It was essentially the size of our flat back in the city.
Jon and I were laughing hysterically when we walked in because of the sheer size of it. We were calling it the Taj Mahal compared to the hotel in Sacramento! He asked why we didn't stay in Folsom instead of Sacramento and I didn't have a great reason other than I associate Folsom with a prison (we're Johnny Cash fans) and so I didn't think the family would be jazzed to stay there. Turns out, Folsom is an adorable town and the people are very friendly so I was wrong!
I told him to stay and watch the Ohio State game in style while we threw a Duraflame in the hearth, but then I was getting restless and weird about wanting to get through my pre-race routine (he gets me) so he decided to head back to Sacramento to relieve my mom and friend of kid-duty.
He is the best coach a person could ask for in the motivational sense. Here he is playing the video from Santa Claus is Coming to Town where they sing, "just put one foot in front of the otherrrrr." It was good advice and those words became my mantra during the last several miles!!
I told him to bring a coat, but he didn't. Now he has to wear the wife puffy vest of shame :)
One last kiss for good luck!
I watched the documentary of Meb Keflezighi where he puts his singlet over a pillow and then pins his bib on so he can get it just right. I tried it and still somehow managed to get it crooked.
I'm really glad I got a room for myself the night before. I was able to lay out everything in a nice tidy and accessible spot. In the shared room with the other three, I was sure to have forgotten something or other. It was a real treat getting everything ready with a fire going and my favorite holiday movies on TV.
I ordered room service that was some kind of pasta with chicken and roasted tomatoes. I didn't eat the chicken but the pasta was really good. It has roasted garlic in it too. My stomach doesn't have issues with garlic so I was all in!
I also had a side order of fries. Remember these fries. They'll come back into the story later.
Doing yoga in front of a fire while watching National Lampoons Christmas Vacation might just be one of my favorite happy places.
After eating and showering (and shaving legs/arms well to prevent chafing!), I went to bed early but didn't actually fall asleep until around 9pm. I set my cell alarm for 4:18am and the hotel alarm clock for 4:20am. "Two is one, one is none" as we say in our family!
My body clock must be in good shape because I woke myself up at exactly 4:17am before either of the alarms had a chance to go off yet. I saw it as a good sign, and another good sign was seeing these back-to-back IG posts.
I can't imagine living and not running.
Doesn't that just capture everything that is incredible and special about running? No one can take it away from us because when you gear up and get out there, you're a runner. You are!
And if this next one isn't a perfect encapsulation of grit and determination and grind, I don't know what is.
After eating my white bagel and preserves, and drinking one cup of black coffee, I got dressed. Nothing forces you to pack light more than having to confine everything into one drop-bag!
I checked twice with hotel staff to confirm that the bus would pick up runners at 5:40am, and I was ready in the lobby (along with a couple dozen others) at 5:25am. I met some really nice folks who were marathon veterans and helped alleviate some race-day jitters. But as the time progressed from 5:25 to 5:45, and then 6:00 and 6:15, and then 6:30am and still no bus had shown up, my jitters were in full effect!! It turned out—actually I have no idea how it turned out for the buses because they never showed up at all!!—so when a complete stranger pulled up to the hotel entrance and opened his back door saying, "hop in there's room!" I looked at the woman next to me and threw everything we learned about not getting in cars with strangers out the door! We grabbed the last two spots in the car. I have no idea who Mike in the red (?) car and black t-shirt is, but wherever you are...thank you, Mike!! You made a noob's dream possible!
I feel really badly for anyone who was stranded at the hotel. It became a free-for-all experience when we realized there really wasn't a bus coming. Mike's car was nice and warm so my muscles stayed relaxed. There were about five of us piled inside, and he dropped us as close to the starting line as he could but it was still another mile or so walk to the start from there.
Remember on Thanksgiving when I said one of the things I'm thankful for as a runner is getting to see things I'd normally never, ever get to see? Well mark this as one of them: the sun coming up over Folsom Lake.
At 15 minutes to start time, someone shouted "BUS COMING!!" and I've never been so happy to see a big yellow school bus in my life. We only had a half mile to go but every little thing to help mattered. We sat in the warm bus and all breathed a sigh of relief. We got to the starting area with only about eight minutes to spare.
This race felt different from almost every other race I've completed. The biggest difference was that I noticed a big population of professional/elite runners and they were there to Compete (with a capital 'C'). It felt nice to be among such company but also a little intimidating if I'm being honest. I'm almost glad we had to Planes, Trains, and Automobiles that shit to the starting line because if I'd had too much time to peruse the booths and see the other racers, it may have done a number on my mental game.
I mean, isn't this the face of a well-oiled machine?! I actually love this photo because I only took one and I didn't take any time at all to adjust my face or anything. It was just pure adrenaline and OMG what have I signed up for panic.
The only real downside to not having any time to spare before the starting announcement was that I didn't get to, er, take care of a quick change out of the feminine product I decided to use that day. That would come back to hurt me at mile 13 when I knew it wouldn't be safe to keep going without a change so I had to stop at a row of port-o-lets and wait in line for several minutes.
The star spangled banner played and I took a minute to breathe in and look around. I kept telling myself to soak it in and remember everything—part of why I'm going into so much detail here!
And then we were off! I was standing near the 4:52 finish pacer out of pure coincidence although I never saw him again.
Weeeee!! I was running way too fast from the get go and not sticking to my pacing plan -- as clueless as a noob on first day. I felt really good. I was expecting completely flat or downhill roads the rest of the way. My body was limber and loose and my hamstring wasn't giving me any trouble at all. So for some reason I thought well if it's going to hurt later no matter what, then I might as well bank a little time. Come on, Noob! I know banking time doesn't work.
We ran past some farmland and several hilly patches. I kept waiting for the leveled roads or downhills but, honestly, it felt like we did a whole lot more uphill than downhill so I will just trust that the officials who claim it's a "net downhill" know more than me!
In the middle miles from 12-15 I made two mistakes: I stopped for the port-o-let which gave me just enough time to relax and lose my steam, and I ate something from my running belt that was just not a good idea at all.
Remember those fries I showed you earlier from room service? I tucked some of those bad boys in my running belt as a game day decision because I remembered a work colleague of mine suggested I smash a couple of small boiled potatoes and eat them during the middle miles when my stomach could still handle it. So somehow my brain thought curly fries would be an acceptable equivalent! (wrong!)
The smell of fry grease hit my nose immediately when I started running, and became exponentially worse as my body heated up and warmed them. When I stopped to go to the bathroom at mile 13ish, I knew that was my chance to eat them because my hands were about to get filthy using that port-o-let. I popped one in and thought I was going to throw up. I couldn't decide if I should spit it out, or force it down. When I saw a water station just up ahead, I decided to force it down with a slug of water. Then I tossed the rest aside.
Pro tip: fried foods don't make great race snacks!
It wasn't until around mile 17 that the pain really started to hit me. We ran through a lot of small towns where locals were lined up with signs and snacks and support, which helped me move forward when I wanted to sit down. At mile 19, I hit the energy zone where there were a bunch of flavors of gels available and people dressed up in costumes which made me smile.
Before the race, I thought it would be completely do-able to jog (or shuffle) at all times. I thought that I was in good enough shape to at least do that, but at that point in the race it was taking every single bit of strength in me to keep moving. Once I crossed the chip timing line at the 20 mile marker, I stopped to walk.
I didn't walk for long periods of time at all during the race. For miles 20-25, I did a combination of fast walking and shuffle jogging. I'd see a funny sign up ahead and tell myself "okay you can jog to that sign and then take another walk break" but I made sure I didn't walk longer than 1 or 2 minutes at a time. The thing is that it actually hurt less when I found a way to jog than when I walked. The starting to jog again part was what was hardest, so looking back I wish I'd never stopped to begin with...
I'd look down at my Garmin during the shuffle/jog thinking I was running a 10:15 pace or something and it would be 11:30 or slower. It was like no matter how physically hard I was trying to make my legs move, I couldn't get them to actually move beyond that slower pace. This is when I know that had I made strength a part of my training, I could have gone faster.
These ladies moved a couple of times during the race I'm pretty sure, and both times I saw them it made me laugh (and pee a little).
Miles 23-26 were incredibly painful. My hips were tightening up to the point where I had to keep punching them with my fist to relieve the pressure. I made one firm promise to myself: I would run the last mile, no matter what. I knew my family would be there watching me at any point and I wanted them to see me running.
It hurt so much that it felt euphoric, if that makes sense. I could see how if you get in the right mental state, you could take advantage of that euphoria to trick your body into moving. I think I could hone that piece if I committed to doing even more work in my training.
At just over Mile 26, I saw a flash of orange come at me in the race. It was Jon. He was smiling and yelling so hugely that I immediately broke out in a laugh. He started galloping and slapping his thigh telling me I was almost there and to keep pushing. It was exactly what I needed, at the exact moment I needed it.
I asked him how much farther I had to go and he said the finish was just around the corner. I furiously looked for a corner, anywhere!!! Then I heard the announcer calling out names and I knew it was a matter of seconds. All of a sudden I looked up and saw my entire family standing along the final stretch and I broke down into tears. My mom said I held my heart when I saw them which sounds about right. She brought these goofy holiday lights and elf hats with her to stand out in the crowd and it helped me find them. They called my name right before I crossed the finish line, and for a split second I thought it was someone else. :)
Here's the breakdown:
My cheer squad!
Croc was entertained with all the crunch leaves to jump in!
I was immediately stiff and sore when I stopped, and The Dude was so incredibly sweet by letting me lean on him.
All I wanted to do was walk back to the hotel and sit down and take my shoes off.
Which is exactly what I did for about an hour while Jon took the ladies and Croc to a late lunch.
I spy a snowman.
And a boy who licked a blue marker.
Then I showered, tried painfully to roll on a tennis ball, drank about a gallon of liquids (no exaggeration) and ate. And ate. And ate.
And ate (chicken was one of the only proteins that sounded good).
I started to get pretty down on myself about the finishing time (which is foolish!) and my brother's text came at just the right time :)
Then we all went stir crazy in the room for a while.
Croc wanted to put the holiday lights over our eyes to pretend we were bugs. I was happy to play anything with him that did not require walking or standing or moving.
They ate this fancy popcorn.
Then we woke up this morning and came home to our flat which seemed enormous by comparison to our hotel. A little perspective is good from time to time!
Do you parents have those toys that somehow never ever die? This rubber fling chicken keeps appearing. You're reading it here folks - I'm tossing the chicken!
I returned the rental car and was determined to walk home instead of taking a cab. I didn't want my muscles to tense up. The walk was long and painful.
This was the sign The Dude made for me and held at the finish. What I love most about it is that he has me winning it :) In his mind, running it is enough and I'm going to let it be enough for me too!
Thanks for listening, readers. There's more running and fitness challenges up ahead so stay tuned for an update this week, and I hope you'll join me in facing the next one!
(Almost) daily blogger. Sober runner. Mental sh*t stirrer. Pro gender equality in tech. Family first.