Posted by: pointlenana | December 3, 2012

CIM 2012 – The Monsoon Marathon

Janet and I just got back from a short trip to Sacramento to run the California International Marathon (CIM).

Going into the weekend, the big concern was the (yet again) horrendous weather forecast – heavy rain and strong winds, maybe headwinds.  The forecasts used terms like “atmospheric river”, “this impressive storm”, and “flood and wind warnings”.   In a big multiday set of fronts and storms, the third front was schedule to arrive the night before the marathon and finish in the afternoon after the run.  I checked the weather every 2 hours (if waiting that long) hoping it would speed up or slow down.  But in the end, the weather lived up to the forecast.

When we got up at 3am to eat, rain was hitting our hotel window and the flag flying over the state capitol was wrapped around the flagpole.  The capitol park is this weird mix of palm and other trees, but all of them were waving around in something that was clearly more than a breeze.  I watched a car drive by and splash water out of a deep puddle in the road that wasn’t there in the previous day’s light rains.  The one saving grace is that it wasn’t cold.  When we stepped outside for the bus it was mid 50’s, although the wind and what was to come made us feel colder as we boarded the bus.

This is my second time doing CIM and each time my bus driver has gotten lost driving to the start.  After getting us safely up highway 50 in spite of the 25 mph crosswind, she started talking about how drivers got lost last year, and said that wouldn’t happen this year.  The drivers all had maps and people would direct traffic at the turns.  Unfortunately the people (police) directing traffic decided being inside their car was better than standing in a driving downpour, and sure enough we ended up lost again.  Fortunately it didn’t take long to turn around and we weren’t going to do anything anyway but sit on the bus as long as we could to stay out of the weather.

After arriving we got off the bus to make a quick porta-potty trip and our shoes were wet within 30 seconds.  Janet and I were each sporting Mitt-approved garbage bag ponchos to protect us, but the wind made them pretty unwieldy.  A couple gusts turned me around.  It was still dark.  I don’t think I’ve experienced a more miserable pre-race environment.  Small rivers running in the street.  Hats flying off.  Really raw.  We went back to the first bus that had an open seat and sat in the steamy, warm calm.  A women from Texas on that bus told us she had done two other marathons down there recently and the weather had been similar.  I guess it’s her fault then.

15 minutes before start time we reluctantly got off again, threw our gear bags in the trucks and walked up to the start.  Janet and I usually run together but this time I was actually trying to run fast so we said goodbye with a plan that I would wait at mile 3 if it was too rotten to run fast.  I found the 3:25 pacer I wanted to be near, stripped down to my Dana-Farber singlet and the shortest short-shorts I could find at the expo, and discarded the protective poncho.  Ick.  Ugly ugly ugly.

And we were off.  Usually I stretch or something but not happening this time.  Still pretty dark as we ran down the first mile into the teeth of the 25 mph wind.  Thankfully we turned sharply and the wind was at least a little behind us pushing.  Those next few miles were nice, and then we turned south (into the wind) again.  At that point I was only a few seconds ahead of the pace group so I immediately slowed up and let the pack congeal around me.  I don’t know how much the drafting helps but it was definitely a little easier in the pack than not.

About 10 miles in the route gets to the town of Fair Oaks and winds through it.  There were multiple “stream” crossings in that section where the rain was streaming down the road, and a good dozen times during the day I ran through intersections that had water an inch or two deep.  Not to mention the big standing puddles.  We talked to someone driving in the area and he said there were places he couldn’t cross because of the runoff.

I hung with the pace group on and off until about mile 20, losing them once but catching up again.  At mile 20 I got dropped and couldn’t summon the speed again, and they gradually disappeared.  Those were some ugly despairing miles at the end.  My dream was to run a 3:23.  A PR was anything better than 3:28:20 and 3:30 got me back into Boston which seemed like a great consolation prize given the weather.  Obviously I was behind 3:25 but I appeared to be on track for a PR so even though I ached in every imaginable way I couldn’t really give up.  My earlier pace was in the 7:50 range and in here I was trying to stay in the 8:00 range even though I’d slow a lot more the moment I stopped paying attention.  The last 4 miles go from 57th street in Sacramento to 8th, and you go kind of insane watching the street #s slowly slowly get smaller.  Finally I was down to 13, 11, 9, left on 8th, one short block, left again and finish right in front of the capitol building.

I trained literally all year for this run.  I did CIM last year and got surprised by the constant rolling hills.  I PR’d by 3 seconds (3:28:20) but had expected to do a lot better (and had perfect conditions).  Right after the new year I started running home from work (17 miles) every week or two, on a route that has a lot of hills, specifically to handle CIM (and hilly routes) better.  A few weeks ago I thought 3:23 was possible but then had some hip issues.  Thankfully my friend (and PT) David made those a non-issue for today, but my training suffered a little bit.  I took a pace band with 3:24 but with weather opted to run with the 3:25 pace group and just hoped that I could hang on in spite of the weather.

I didn’t know until a few hours later exactly how I did.  When I finished, the gun time showed something like 3:26:55.  It was too rainy and dark to the see the clock at the start though.  I knew I had PR’d by a minute or more but immediately forgot it and just looked for something dry to put on.  Oh yeah, the rain stopped just as I finished and the sun came out.  Perfect!  Anyway, my chip time ended up being 3:26:14, so I PR’d by a little more than 2 minutes.  I talked to Lee The Pacer briefly (he ran 3:24:40) and he said he thought it was like a 3:10 effort given the conditions.  I’m a bit skeptical of that but maybe on a perfect day I have something close to a 3:20 in me.

The problem is, fast marathons really are not pleasant.  There’s a solid hour in there of ache and fatigue and harder breathing and heart beating.  I feel ok now but that hour is pretty miserable and when I was done I was thinking “well, that’s probably my life PR – I don’t think I need to run fast again”.  So we’ll see.

Janet had a strong start but then had some of the same gut and nutrition issues she’s had previously.  Also, as one of her two precious salt capsules touched her lip, it fell away into the street so she ended up with some cramping.  We saw a lot of cramping actually and speculate that it’s due to people changing their gait slightly to deal with the wet/slippery/puddly streets.  I almost twisted an ankle in a pothole hidden under a puddle.  There was a lot going out there other than normal straight-ahead running that most people train for, and maybe that’s the reason for the cramping.  Anyway, Janet came in around 4:12, which isn’t bad for bonking.

We’re both achy and glad to be back home.  Travelling to a marathon is challenging and (after next April’s funfest) we may focus on local events for a while.


  1. Congrats on the PR!
    Seems like a bad year overall for many marathons, between storms, heat waves, and cancellations. Here’s to a calmer 2013!

    • Thanks Kelly. Yes, it’s been a challenging year for marathoners for lots of reasons, and hopefully 2013 goes more smoothly. No RightOnHereford anymore???

      • Oh sadly I had to take it down due to medico-legal reasons. Sad world.

  2. Nice write-up. Yes I’m a bit late to the party 😉 But congrats on the PR…

    I ran this race as well and you summed it up nicely. As far as effort goes, I ran many consistent marathons from 3:15 to 3:11 (PR) and felt I was in 3:15 shape. Ended up running 3:19 something. At first I was upset, but later I felt it was the weather and it likely was an honest 3:15 effort. No chance it was worth anything under that for me.

    Of course I flew in from Michigan for the “perfect CIM weather”… did I mention I hate running in the rain?

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