Friday, December 9, 2011

2011 California International Marathon (CIM) Recap

I stood about five or six rows back from the starting line waiting for the gun to go off.  Michael, Verdo, Robert, and Jason were all within a few steps of me.  We wished each other luck and began to focus on our own races.  For me, my goal was to run in a time of 2:43:59 or faster.  This part of the pre-race routine seemed rather natural, as I've had the pleasure of racing with these teammates numerous times. 

Toeing the line ten feet in front of me was a pacer holding a 2:46 sign.  Flanking behind, and on both sides of him were 50 or more women fidgeting and anxious to get started.  They looked fit and many wore expressions of deep focus.  They were unified by a goal of qualifying for the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials.*  This didn't feel so natural.  I didn't know it then, but this would be the tone for a majority of the race to come.
I'm not entirely sure why this seemed so odd, but there are several possible explanations.  For one, its odd to have so many runners capable of that pace in a marathon.  There are usually a group of runners capable of running much faster, and then a small group of people running near my pace, and then the masses who are running behind.  Secondly, its also strange for that group of fast runners to largely be female.  Its usually closer to an even split.  The other big reason it felt odd, is that these runners were not so much competing with each other, as much as they were simply trying to reach a certain time.  I have no doubt that the competitive nature of runners this fast was present, but it was somewhat subdued, at least in the first 20 miles of the race.

I may struggle to communicate exactly what felt strange, but the point is, very early on this race felt different than any I've run before, even when I ran the CIM two years prior.  So much so, I didn't need to pee three of four times in a 40 minute period before the race as I often do.
Immediately after the start.  I'm centered with Orange shorts.  Jason is over my left shoulder and Rabbit is in matching singlet to mine on left of screen.
When the gun did sound and we were underway I felt crowded.  Its usual to take a few hundred meters to get settled into the right space to run, but this seemed to take much longer.  I had started in front of some people who clearly wanted to run faster, and I had started behind the large 2:46 pace group that was running slower than I wanted to go.  I was running on the right side of the road to cut the best tangent on the first turn of the course, a downhill 90 degree turn to the right.

As runners darted back and forth, a woman turned to me to point out one man who was making some pretty ridiculous and unnecessary turns to weave through runners.  I spoke with her for a moment before turning my head and making eye-contact.  When I did see her, I realized I was chatting and running with Jenn Shelton, someone I had read about many times.  I first saw her name in the book Born to Run.  Since we both resided in Oregon, I'd see her name pop up in many magazine articles and race results.

To be completely honest, I had decided I wasn't a fan of hers.  The reasons I had were silly.  I'm not a big fan of the book, Born to Run.  I enjoyed reading it, but I don't like a lot of the effects the book has had on the running industry.  I also think the book's conclusions about running shoes are misguided.  I didn't particularly like the person that the book portrayed Jenn to be.  I also was turned off by what I thought to be her attitude towards non-ultra marathons.

But, after looking into her eyes, some self-examination, and hearing some of the more recent interviews with her, I realize how stupid I was being for carrying anything but admiration for her.  I suspect most of my feelings came from jealousy.

Why am I rambling on about this? I think it speaks towards my focus for a large part of this race.  Not that I was focused on Jenn specifically (in fact I didn't notice or see her for the rest of the race), but I seemed to be distracted from my own goals by all of the commotion around me.  In fact I missed the first mile marker, so I'm unsure of what pace I went out at.  The rest of the markers were very obvious, so I suspect I was busy shuffling around trying to find open space on the road to run in when I passed by.

CIM is almost entirely full of rolling hills.  Running from Folsom, CA to the capitol steps of downtown Sacramento, the course is largely downhill.  In fact the course drops from 366 ft. elevation to 26ft at the finish.  This makes for very fast times, but it can also add some challenges.  Downhill running can put an extra pounding on your legs that causes fatigue over time.

A significant part of the downhill at CIM happens in the first few miles, so runners wanting to keep things slow in the first half of the race must be extra careful not to move too quickly.  When I reached the 2 mile-marker I was at 12:33, or 6:16.5 pace.  I was a bit surprised to find out I was running exactly on pace for 2:43.  With the large downhill I expected to be a few seconds fast. 

The course continues in the same direction on rolling hills through mile 5.  During this time I realized that I was in the thick of the 2:46 pace group.  There was a positive energy in this group.  Many of the women speaking outwardly about how good was to have so many people working together.  For some reason it wasn't working too well for me.  I was still having to shuffle around a bit to run the tangents I wanted.  Usually this is not an issue by mile 3 in a marathon.  I also found the water stops tough to navigate.  It was a lot of effort to get lined up for water in a way that wouldn't cut off other runners and I was really nervous about ending someone's effort to reach the trials by tripping them.  In fact, a runner did go down just in front of and she was immediately helped up and able to continue.  It still made me nervous.

I had noticed several runners in the pack that I knew, or was at least familiar with.  People who ran against me in Chicago area races.  Or others, sales reps who I've worked with in the shoe industry.  I saw Kate DePosperis, who had stormed past me during this race in 2009 when I had gone out too fast.  These were all people I would normally like to run with.  I firmly believed they may run faster than me, but the group was too crowded for my tastes.  Usually in these scenarios, I choose to run just behind a group.  For some reason, perhaps wanting to get to water stops first, I decided to run just ahead of them.  Since the pacer was allegedly aiming for 2:45:59 and I was aiming for 2:43 I thought this would be a wise move.

I accelerated to get in front of the group far enough that I wouldn't hear their footsteps.  This is also odd, because I generally love the sound of listening to the footsteps of several runners covering ground quickly together.  I covered the next two miles in 6:08 and 6:13 respectively.  I then began to make an effort not too keep running at the faster pace.  I slowed to 6:20 for the fifth mile.
Does anyone know at what point on the course this was?  Most of these people finished ahead of me, but for miles I ran just ahead of them.
At mile five the course takes a sharp left for another long stretch of mostly straight running on rolling hills.  Most of this portion of the race runs together in my mind.  I ran 6:15, 6:11, 6:16, 6:22, and 6:16.  I was pleased with this pace as I didn't feel I was working hard and I was right where I needed to be to run 2:43.  I took a GU Roctane near mile 8.  I struggled to get enough water from each stop despite being in front of the pack.  The cups were smaller than I was used to, and I didn't concentrate on making sure I drank enough.

The temps were pretty cool, and I surprisingly had decided to keep wearing gloves, arm warmers, and a beanie this far into the race.  I was relieved that low rising sun wasn't an issue and I didn't feel overly cold.  The conditions were good to run well.  I had an odd feeling in my feet as though I was running in slippers and the my heels were going over the back edge of the shoe.  I tried not to worry about it, but I did wonder if the Asics Pirhana SP3 was too aggressive a show choice with this much downhill.

I was in a nice groove until somewhere in miles 11-15.  My memory is a little fuzzy on exactly what miles certain things occurred, so if my account here doesn't match course maps, blame it on my brain.  I ran a 6:21 and then a 6:25 which looking at now seem a little slow.  I'm not sure why.  I remember catching a few runners ahead of the pace group and deciding not to pass them.  Perhaps they were running slower than I wanted to.  I should take this time to say, that in no way am I blaming my pace on other runners, even though I seem to do so several times in this recap.  I'm merely speculating as to why I might I have sped up or slowed down.

In the next section of the course there was a large downhill with a few sharp turns.  This part felt unpleasant on my legs and I began to feel a little apprehensive about them fatiguing.  At the bottom of the hill I heard a voice yell and call me "Mr. McDowell."  This was the only voice I heard the entire day that was yelling at me.  it was Molly Chernick, who had flown all of the way from Washington, DC the night before the race to cheer for Verdo.  It was a nice little moment during the race. 

I ran a 6:07, largely because of the downhill.  The largest uphill of the course followed and I ran a 6:17.  The uphill felt easy, and once I reached the top I began to feel confident about my race.  I was feeling much better at this point than I had two years ago.  As I passed the half marathon point, I didn't look at my watch.  In some ways I think this could be a good thing, as I seemed to be focused on running relaxed and not getting caught up in being too fast or slow.  At this point the pack of runners was just behind me and I was running a few steps ahead of them as opposed to 15 yards as I had been earlier.

Just after the half marathon, the course takes a sharp left that I remember being really demoralizing in 2009.  After that turn I had encountered a head-wind and felt my body began to weaken.  This year, the head wind was not as prominent and my body felt much more relaxed.  I ran two 6:17's in a row to round out mile 15.  I took another GU Roctane somewhere near 12 or 13 miles.

According to the official results, my time at the halfway point was 1:22:08.  This was compared to 1:21:13 in 2009.  I was running much more conservatively this year, no wonder I felt much better at that point in the race.  For record at the 5.9 mile point in 2009 vs. 2011 my time was 35:44 vs. 36:33, so miles 0-6 were where most of this gap had opened up.

The course is a little flatter in the next 5 miles, before it almost completely flattens in the last 6.2.  I began to feel a little uneasy in this stretch.  I took a Larry Snack (which I described in my Green Bay Marathon recap) at mile 16, which was two miles earlier than I had planned.  I ran a 6:16, 6:13, 6:20, 6:14, and 6:21 for miles 16-20.  I don't remember too much detail on this section, but a few things stood out to me.

The course was much more crowded on this section with runners than it had been in 2009.  The pack of runners behind me was now right at my heels.  They would catch me and I would then gain a few seconds on them to open more space.  I wasn't so concerned about staying in front of them, but it just seemed to keep happening.  After mile 20 I let myself be swallowed and I ran for a while at the back of the group.  I was impressed by the volume of the runners.  I'm not sure how many there were, but perhaps 20 or so.  A few were still talking, and I remember the pacer saying, "It's time to start believing!"

I could tell by the reaction of some of the runners that many were about to pop off the back.  Others it seemed were holding back waiting to go.  My plan had been to hold back until I reached the numbered streets of Sacramento.  The first one I believe is 59th, and you could count down to 9th where the finish was found.

Unfortunately for me, I began to fade.  At first I didn't realize I was fading completely.  I though I was still just taking it easy, but mile 21 ticked by at 6:28.  The group of runners was beginning to leave me.  A few other runners were popping out of the back, but now other runners who had been more conservative were beginning to pass me.

I began doing the math of what 6:30 pace for the rest of the race would mean.  I could still PR and run faster than 2:46:27.  Usually this concentration on math is a bad sign of things to come.  This time was no different.  My body began to ache badly and my legs were screaming.  Even thought the road was now wide open and flat I couldn't move.

At this point Christina Overbeck, whom I know through numerous mutual friends flew by me with a few other runners.  In the next few minutes a few women passed me trying desperately to squeak in under 2:46.  One even asked me, "If I beat you, does that mean I'm in?"  I told her it did, hoping I could accelerate and run 2:46 but I quickly knew I was toast.  Once my body hurts that badly, and I know I'll be running slower than my previous PR, it's very difficult to push on. 

I ran 6:37, 6:56, 7:00, 7:24, and 7:49 for the last 5 miles of the race.  I probably could have run the last mile closer to 7:00 flat, but the motivation was severely lacking at that point.  I was very disappointed that I would be finishing slower than Green Bay in such nice weather conditions, but I wasn't driven to run as hard as I could, as long as i broke 2:50.  I finished with a 2:49:39.

My initial emotional response was pretty solidly negative.  I wasn't happy to have tanked so badly in the last few miles.  It was also somewhat unsettling for the last few miles to have hurt so bad.  If you are running a personal record, the intense pain can almost be relished, but when it combines with slowing down its difficult to take. 
Christina tells me she quallified!
 After crossing the line I saw Christina Overbeck and asked her if she made the cutoff.  She had.  She ran the race I wanted to run, crossing the line in 2:44:24.  I saw Verdo and Robert and found out they had both PR'd, running 2:34:22 and 2:38:14 respectively. 

After the marathon was over I began to shiver and tighten badly.  I was unable to move well and needed help to sit down and put on pants and a shirt.  Lucky for me, Verdo, Jason, and Robert seemed to enjoy laughing at my pathetic state more than helping me.  What great friends they can be sometimes... Seriously though, it was easy to move on quickly from my own bad race, to enjoy the company of friends.

While the weekend was largely about trying to race as fast I could on Sunday morning, I really enjoyed several laughs with the people who joined me.  I'm glad I get to run with them so often.  The flight west with Verdo on Friday morning was particularly fun for some reason.  It was full of anticipation, but also laughter and relaxation.  Sharing a bed with Rabbit, was also fun.  The three nights in Sacramento gave us 7 nights spent in the same bed this year.  That's quite a tally.  Michael and Carolyn were good company for many meals.  Jason always makes me laugh more than just about anyone I know, despite his insistence on asking me if I qualified for Boston in front of every stranger he possibly can.  Sunday ended on a very happy note, drinking car bombs, beers, and talking about why we love running.

Verdo, Myself and Robert looking serious late in the evening.
With the added perspective having a few days off of running after the race I've reached a few conclusions.  For one, I probably should have had one more GU later in the race.  I can't help but wonder if taking one at mile 20 would have changed anything.  I doubt it, but I wish I would have tried.  Also, I need to remember that I ran two marathons this year, numbers 12 and 13, and they rank number 1 and 2 on my list in terms of finishing time.  Lastly, I probably just wasn't in shape to run 2:43.  Its going to take harder work next year, and a more varied approach.  I need to work on my flexibility and core strength.  I'm getting the miles in... but perhaps not enough auxiliary work.  That has to be my focus as I look toward 2012.

*The Olympic Marathon Trials is a race where the team to represent the USA in the Olympics is determined.  The top three finishers in each gender are selected, while the 4th and 5th place runners are made alternates.  To participate in this race, runners must run a qualifying time.  For the 2012 games that qualifying time was 2:19:00 for men and 2:46:00 for women.


WendyCity Productions said...

You're awesome! Even though it was painful, even when a race doesn't go the way we want it to, it's still better than not being able to run at all. And remember all the fun you had with the guys!

Anonymous said...

dan dude. multiple things. one - 6 whatever's for the majority of a the grueling pounding of a marathon is rad. two - awesome commitment to relive the race in typing out the blog. three - nice tangents. four - good writing and storying telling i let the tea pot howl for a long time b/c i was like "right after this sentence". four - this is inspiring man. i want to run more and faster now too. word.