CIM 2008 Race Report

CIM Start Line

They say that the California International Marathon is a  flat,  fast course. A perfect race if you’re looking to qualify for Boston or set a new PR.  It’s true. CIM is flat…ish. And it is fast, but no matter how you cut it, running 26.2 miles is just plain HARD!

Yesterday’s CIM was  my sixth marathon. Read on for all the tasty race report details. But if you don’t have the time or patience to sit through the novel of a race report that is to come. Let me just say it right here:

I rocked it.

No, no. I smoked it

No, no. I rocked it AND  I smoked it.

I went for it. I did it.

Time: 3:14:54

NEW Personal Record (Previous Marathon PR was 3:36, set in October)

Avg Pace: 7:27/mile

Place: 76th woman

13th in my age division

I am lucky for two reasons:  1.  The CIM is my hometown marathon. I didn’t have to deal with any  of the annoying logistics of finding a hotel and coordinating transportation to the start line.  And 2. My parents  are awesome. They picked me up from the airport Friday night. My mom stocked the fridge with pre-race food.  My dad shuttled me to the start line and they were both there to cheer me on during the race.  I couldn’t have asked for a better support crew. Both made preparing for CIM much less stressful.

Race Day:

4:30 AM: The alarm beeps. I am awake. Did I even really fall asleep? I lie in bed for a minute and contemplate what’s ahead of me. Did I really think this was a good idea? The CIM starts at 7:00 AM and there is much to do to get ready. I start the coffee. I jump in the shower. I blow dry my hair and find my lucky earrings. I don’t know why these things are so important, but I wouldn’t feel right  racing without a shower. I try not to go to the office with  frumpy bed head – so why would I race that way?

5:00 AM: Everyone has their special pre-race breakfast. Mine is two cups of coffee, brown rice and a can of sardines. Yes, I said sardines. And yes, I did eat them at 5 AM. And no, I do not have a boyfriend. And yes, I sometimes suspect that the sardines are to blame. But obviously that will have to be covered in another post. So I eat the sardines.  And say what you want, but they’ve worked well for me in the past.

At mile 7 I will regret eating sardines.

More on that later.

5:45 AM: Time to get dressed. It’s only 40 degrees outside, but I’ll race in a pair of RSS’s (ridiculously short shorts) a racing tank top, arm warmers, knit gloves and a hat to contain my hair.  I smooth BodyGlide everywhere. Between my legs. On my feet. Under my arms. It’s all part of the ritual and I feel a bit of calm spread through me.  I tuck GU packets into my arm warmers and the rest into the back pocket of my shirt. I’ll carry a hand-held water bottle that I plan to ditch around 15 miles and electrolyte tabs that I’ll take every hour.

Pinning my number

Pinning my number

Every few seconds my mind wanders back to the idea of running 26.2 miles – even after 5  marathons, the task always seems SO gigantic on race morning. During the months of training leading up to the marathon, the race becomes abstract – some distant goal. It becomes secondary to logging all the miles  week after week.  Then race morning arrives and I’m like “oh crap, I have to run a VERY long way today.” As if it were a surprise. As if I had forgotten what I’d been training for all this time.

6:00 AM: I stuff things into bags – one for the pre-race and one for my parents to have on hand at the finish line. I double check. I triple check. I strap on my stopwatch. I glance at Phil, my Garmin 405, and consider strapping him on my other wrist. But no, I  made my decision days ago – no fancy GPS monitoring for me. It will  just be me, my stopwatch and a homemade pace bracelet with my goal time (a time I doubted was possible – even on a great day).

6:15 AM: We drive to the start line – only a few miles away from the house.  It’s very foggy. I pass my old high school parking lot which at this early hour is filled with cop cars – the staging area for race security no doubt. Across the street, aid stations are being erected slowly as volunteers seem reluctant to put down their Starbucks cups. Butterflies flutter in my stomach and I envy the them, their warm coats, their hot drinks.

6:35 AM: My parents give me one last hug. I grab my drop-bag and beeline to the Porta-Potties – the most essential of pre-race rituals. The line is mercifully fast. I strip out of my WalMart sweatpants and slather TigerBalm (kind of like BenGay or IcyHot) on my legs. It helps keep my legs limber –  or at least give the illusion of it – on this cold morning.

6:53 AM: I down my first Espresso Love GU, throw my dropbag in the U-Haul and move to the start line.  I’m looking for the 3:20 pace group, but can’t find the sign or the pace leader. It’s a crunch of very cold people and it’s very dark. It’s so confusing and my heartbeat is already starting to accelerate.

6:57 AM: Out of nowhere pops the 3:20 pace leader wielding a red sign. Ahead of him – his buddy with a similar sign that says 3:15.

You have no idea, just as I had no idea at the time, how much I will come to simultaneously hate and love that little red 3:15 sign. For now, it’s just a sign with a time – a time that seems crazy fast.

6:59 AM: Just remember to run perky, I tell myself. Perky. Perky! I ignore the other voice inside me head that is saying, “We shouldn’t be doing this!” It’s too late – and that particular voice inside my head is known for being lazy- and this certainly isn’t the time for lazy!

Cold. Dark. Foggy

Cold. Dark. Foggy

7:00 AM: Bang!  We’re off – Kind of. There are 6000 runners and 700 relay teams. There is shuffling. There is some cheering. There is some bunching. I cross the timing mat and start my watch. Yayyyy! This thing is underway.

Mile 1: It’s a downhill  and easy to fly off of the start line way too fast. I chill around the 3:20 pace leader and make small talk with other runners. It’s too crowded to do anything but hold back and be conservative.

Mile 2: Still downhill. I still try to stay slow. I run it in 7:29. I feel like I’m running cold – like my legs haven’t fully woken up yet.  24 miles seems like an awfully long way to go.

Mile 3- 4: The road rises and unfolds into a series rolling hills. I am still way too fast, but I can’t help but feel great! I feel GREAT! Fantastic. Stupendous! I move ahead of the 3:20 group  and closer to that little red 3:15 sign. I take swigs from my hand-held water bottle every mile. It’s a good strategy.  I don’t have to worry about moving through the aid stations. I don’t have to stress about choking down the liquid and dodging cups. I think about being relaxed. Stay conservative. Ha! So easy to say, so hard to do when it’s downhill, you feel fantastic and the crowd is surging around you.

Mile 5: I pass the 3:15 pacer. The road splits for construction and in the middle is my good friend Rachel and her parents. I yell for her and they go crazy. They wave a cardboard sign and yell “Heather!!! GO-ooo!!!” I am exuberant and full of hope.

I pass the first relay station around this time. My dad is there volunteering with the local Rotary club. I spy my dad first. He sees me and runs yelling something like “Gooo! You can do it!!”

I round the corner, there is my uncle, and few hundred meters beyond that is my mom and the now-famous marathon sign. I run by. She’s screaming. It passes by in a blur of faces. I am feeling light and buoyant, but still stiff.

Within a mile, the number of spectators dwindles to a trickle. My pace is great and I’m on target for my desired time. Then all of a sudden I hear, rather than see that the 3:15 sign is right behind me. A glance over my shoulder confirms my suspicions. I can hear their tight little group thundering. Soon, as if I’m standing still, they move ahead.  I am crushed and just like that my race starts to crumble around the edges.

Mile 7 and 8: My legs feel tight and cold. The rolling hills – even in their gentle rolling quality are taking their toll – and I’m concerned that my legs are getting too tired too early on. The 3:15 pack is moving  farther ahead. Worse, my stomach is voicing opinions. Apparently the coffe flavored GU I downed at mile 5 isn’t playing well with my breakfast. I burp.  It tastes like sardines. I burp again.  Sardines and coffee-flavored GU. Nasty. Nasty. Nasty.

CIM Aid Station

Mile 9: I ‘ve burped for two miles and finally it seems like I’ve expelled the sardine flavored stomach ghosts. Hooray! In the meantime I’ve watched the 3:15 group move farther away and I’m convinced that I won’t catch up. I’m annoyed, but I give myself a stern lecture:  I need to run MY race. I need to stop worrying about everything else and do what feels right. Right now I feel like I need to be conservative. I pop a few electrolyte tabs and try to concentrate on something positive. I listen to the people cheering. I smile at the people who say my name. I give thumbs up to the spectators as we wind our way through Old Town Fair Oaks.

Mile 10- 12: Time for a second GU – I pray to the gastrointestinal gods to forgo the sardine-flavored burps and please, stop with the hills. With all my trail running I shouldn’t even feel these gentle rollers. But no, they are taxing. The half marathon sign just can’t get here quick enough.

Mile 13-16: I pass the second relay check point and feed hungrily off the energy from the crowd. The music pumps me up, the crowd support lifts my sagging morale. Then I spot Rachel and her family for the second time – they yell and scream and make me feel so good. I am beginning to think that it doesn’t matter so much whether I get that 3:15 group or not. Instead I just concentrate on a runner in front of me – and soon enough my improved attitude and lack of sardine burps are paying off. My pace is improving. I am picking off runners, one by one, and soon that damn 3:15 sign is back in range.

Mile 17: I pull even with the 3:15 group. I am escatitc! I didn’t think this would happen.  For the past 5 miles I have been eagerally awaiting my parents. They should be somewhere between mile 17-20 – an enternity in the marathon. My hand-held water bottle is now empty. My legs are aching. A strange twinge is fluttering around my left calf.  I am tired and the water bottle, even empty seems to weigh me down. I realize there are only 9 miles between the finishline and me. I’m in the single digits! One mile away from my dreaded mile 18.

Mile 18 – 20: So many miles done. So many left to go. But I pass through Mile 18 relatively well. In the past Mile 18 has been my breaking point. Instead I am still scanning the crowd looking for my parents. I finally see them and I am so jazzed I can’t hardly stand it. I toss the water bottle to my dad, fill up on the sound of their cheers and feel determined to finish this thing. My smile is HUGE.

Mile 21: I’m ahead of the 3:15 group and then…I’m not. Am I off pace, or is he? No matter, I eat a GU and the pace leader moves ahead. Damn that little red sign!  I am coming loose at the seams. My feet hurt. My legs are wimpering and screaming. And while 5 miles is something I can normally do in my sleep – except that now 5 miles feels like an impossible task.

Mile 22-23: I am no longer thinking clearly. I pass a coffee shop with people sitting inside. I want to go to them. i want to lie down in the grass in that person’s front lawn. I want someone to tell me it’s OK to stop. I feel like my entire body is just one raw muscle. There is nothing but pain and fatigue. I hate this. I  hate running. I both hate and love the people cheering. And I especially hate that bobbing red sign with the 3:15 mocking me from a distance.  As I pass mile 23, a spectator yells “Just three and a quarter to go! You’re almost there.” I want to stop and cry and yell, “I CAN’T!” Three and a quarter miles seems disgustingly, horribly long. Instead I  trudge along and try to push the pain away. I have no idea if anything else entered my head.

Mile 24: I get the best advice from a spectator. He yells as I pass, “Relax your shoulders! Relax your breathing” I do both and feel better. I  turn the corner and there is the 3:15 Pacer. He has paused at the street corner and he’s brandishing that little red sign around and waving  us forward. I consider ignoring him and finishing the race at whatever pace seems “comfortable.” Then I think about the difference –  a little more discomfort now, a little more pain now, certainly won’t be much more than I’m feeling already. how much worse can I actually feel. I’ve reached rock bottom. I somehow conclude that I will just stare at that little waving 3:15 sign. I will stare at it and will myself closer. Who knows. What have I got to lose.

Mile 24.5: It’s like 6 or so laps around the track. that’s all. I can totally do that.

Mile 25: I think the red sign is closer. Just four more laps. Ohgod, ohgod. I just want it to be done. Come here you little red flag!

Mile 25.5: It burns. Everything blurs. I have no thoughts. Just an image of the red flag and the pace leader’s hat. This is where I must deliver. In those final moments I feel like I might burst. That I might vomit or worse. My breath is loud, sharp staccato wheezing. Everything sounds like it’s in a tunnel. My legs turn. My arms pump. I give everything I have.

Running hard at mile 26.

Running hard at mile 26.

Mile 26: Someone yells, “You’re smiling at mile 26!! Look at you!! Go smiling girl.” The red sign is within my reach. Then somehow, I am past it. Then I turn the corner and I see my parents. I see their sign. Out of nowhere my legs find rocket juice. The pain is there, sharp and overwhelming, but at least I know it will end soon. The finish line is only 50 meters away. I sprint. I gasp. I cry. My whole body concentrates on one thing: Get across mat. Get across the finish line. There is nothing after. There are no thoughts. There is just the finish.

And then, suddenly, the task that seemed to last an eternity is over. I bend over. I gag. I gasp. I bawl. Someone wraps me in a space blanket and asks if I need help. I look at him. He repeats the question. I look at thim. I can’t seem to get anything out. He asks if I’d like him to walk with me. I stare back. Mute. He wraps an arm around me and walks me- he asks how I’ve done. What number marathon is this for me? I finally get out an answer and within a minute I feel like I can function at least minimally.After the race

My accomplishment dawns on me: I have blown my previous marathon time out of the water by over 20 minutes. I set out to run a 3:15 – a pace that seemed so silly fast – and I did it.

As I type this now, a day after the marathon, I know that in reality very few people care if I ran a 3:14:54 or a 3:16 or even a 3:45. But I guess it isn’t so much about the time as it is about the race. Each marathon feels like an entire life wrapped up into 26 miles. It wasn’t so much about the time goal – although that is so freakin’ cool I still can’t believe it. Running this marathon was about overcoming adversity. It was about dealing with stress and drama (and sardine burps) without panicking, something that I often do in my non-running life. This marathon was about letting go of what was going on around me and trusting myself. Something I ought to do more in my everyday life.

And this marathon was not only about suffering. It was about celebrating. With drinks, french fries and a bacon burger.

If you thought I was a light weight...

If you thought I was a light weight...


About heatherdaniel

I'm a runner, writer, eater and traveler.
This entry was posted in California International Marathon, energy gel, hitting the wall, marathon, race report, Uncategorized and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

30 Responses to CIM 2008 Race Report

  1. Edward says:

    Well done! Isn’t it great to set a goal and then bust it wide open? I tried explaining it to my five-year-old last night, as a matter of fact, and I think I feel way short of the mark. I think she agreed with me just to get me to stop talking.

    Anyway, good on ya! And *that’s* the way to celebrate. Cheers!

  2. lindsay says:

    great race report! you ran a truly *awesome* time. way to stick it out through those tough parts, i felt like i was right there with you. great write up. not so sure about the sardines, but hey, whatever works for you! congrats again! sub-3 next? 😉

  3. Renee says:

    I am in awe of your feat! And your fast feet! You can feel so proud! I am a mid-packer and was estactic to run 4:04 — a personal best by 10 minutes. Thank you for driving the train, Heather! And thank you for convincing me that sardines will never be part of my pre-race ritual…LOL!

  4. kevin says:

    Earrings and coffee-flavored sardine burps? Sounds more like the title to a best-selling record than the theme of a pr-smashing marathong performance. Un-friggin-buh-lievable. Awesome job.

  5. Betsy says:

    Congratulations on an amazing performance. You really did smoke it and rock it! And thank you for such a well-written race report. I will read it before my next marathon so that I will remember that while some of the miles may be tough, we all have an inner strength when we need it.

  6. Aileen says:

    Congratulations…that is just sooo stellar! Although sardines? I’m not sure if I could do that 😉

  7. aron says:

    WOWWWWW heather – CONGRATULATIONS!!!! you did absolutely amazing!! what a great report and way to push through those hard spots… that is something i really need to learn. those last miles are not easy and you were able to totally push through and rock them! congrats again and way to blow your marathon PR out of the water!

  8. Marc says:

    I got teary-eyed at several points in the report, but I knew you would make it!

  9. Allie says:

    What an inspiring entry! Congrats on your time. That is amazing!

  10. Layla says:

    Wow, Heather, what an amazing race you ran! The time astonishes me, and I was right there with you as I read your great report. Congratulations!!!

  11. Frank says:

    Congratulations on your race! I loved your race report. I will put your words in my bag of tools for my marathon this Sunday!

  12. chic runner says:

    Congrats! You did so great, and seriously your time is AMAZING! 🙂 You really did it for yourself and you should be so proud of your accomplishments! great job!

  13. John T. says:

    You are a superhero.

  14. leslie says:

    GREAT RACE REPORT and your time is out of this world! I was cracking up about doing the hair and the lucky earrings. I NEVER race without mascara — I’d feel naked without it.

  15. Marvin says:

    Congrats on your exceptional performance at CIM — you are an inspiration to us all! By the way, looking at all the responses, we all CARE about your kick ass sub 3:15 finish time. Don’t sell yourself short, you are amazing and deserve all the kudos!

  16. Brian Leach says:

    Hi Heather…

    I also ran that race…it was my 4th marathon. I aspire to run it as fast as you. Congratulations and thanks for the wonderful race report. Great description of what many runners are feeling. I totally understand the difference between 3:14:59 and 3:15:01. Dunno why…but in a runners head sometimes this can make all the difference.

  17. Awesome run! 20 minute PRs don’t happen every day! Good for you!

  18. Levi says:

    congratulations on a hugh accomplishment. I really enjoyed meeting you and your mother, and look forward to reading your blog. Under 3:15 is gigantic keep that smile going.

  19. afhill says:

    Fantastic race report!!! I can’t believe you pulled a 21 min PR, that’s outstanding!

    Your comment abt the 3.25 miles to go at 23 reminds me of when I ran Vegas last year. Someone said that, and rather than thinking “yeah, only 3” I turned it around and thought “I still have 10% to go!” and made it into a bad thing. Ugh, funny the tricks our mind can play on us!

    I’m considering using a handheld water bottle when I run AZ in January, and reading your post makes me even more serious about it.

    Once again, congratulations! You did amazing!

  20. robertv says:

    Heather, that’s a remarkable accomplishment, congrats! You ran such a strong and focused race. Looking forward to hearing you break 3:00, which at this rate should be about . . . February?!

  21. pinkcowgirl says:

    CONGRATS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I can’t wait to do my first 26.2. I’m hoping it will happen in 09. I want to do another half first thought. But AWESOME job on the 26.2!!! You did indeed smoke it!!!

    PS, LOOOOVE the dark/foggy pic!!!!

  22. Laura says:

    Congratulations!!!!! I loved hearing about you looking for the little red sign, though I know you hated seeing it taunting you ahead. GREAT JOB! 🙂

  23. Omigosh, that was a crazy awesome race report. I know i’m a bit late, but totally congrats on an amazing run. I think I’m going to start seeing that little red sign in my dreams. You totally smoked your goal. Geez, 20 min PR! Wow…I’m speechless. Congratulations, Heather!

  24. Rennaker says:

    Congratulations Heather on your new PR! Way to go!

  25. Anthony says:

    I had some of those feellings too. I ran with the 3:30 pace group up until mile 14. then I decided to push it a little because the split was around 1:45:30 for mile 13. A few people in the group actually fell and tripped over others heels because the group was so tight. But, like you said the last 4 miles seemed like an eternity. But, I spoke to God, a couple of times and I ran my heart out, plus I had a huge kick at 24.5 miles and screamed it in. I crossed the finish line at 3:28 and immediately started such an intense emotional uncontrollable surge. I cryed tears of the most astonishing either endorfine release or accomplishment. Anyway I qualified for Boston that day! So, Congratulations Heather on your PR and I feel what you said about applying this attitude in everyday life. GOOOOO!

  26. Awe,
    This is the best description of a marathon PR race I have ever read. I almost felt that I was there. You have done so well. Congratulations…..

    I will be running my first marathon in few weeks in Houston with the aim of 3:30. I am sure your tips will help.

  27. Run For Life says:

    Congrats! What a fantastic race report and that is awesome you were able to push and know what you could handle. Well done. 🙂

  28. Found your race report and link to your blog in RW Forums… Congrats on a great CIM and a really impressive PR!! I was about 5 minutes behind you by the time I crossed the finish line. 🙂

    If you’re interested, here’s my blog entry about CIM (Sacramento is also my hometown, though I live in Upstate NY now).

  29. Run Colorado says:

    Well done, I also ran CIM this year, I had a blast. I did a 2:54, a PR for me, but I was hoping to go a bit faster. Congrats on your time, fast!

  30. husker says:

    I happened to drop by this interesting blog. I am also currently on my quest to lose some weight and i have just started a blog.

    You can check it out at flatten stomach

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