Sunday, December 07, 2014

California International Marathon 2014 Race Report


I did not plan/expect/intend to run the California International Marathon in 2014.

This summer, I trained harder than I ever have in my life, for the Berlin Marathon. In a 19 week period leading up to the marathon, I ran about 1400 miles. At Berlin I ended up with a 3 second PR. I ran a strong race. It felt great to be rushing through the Brandenburg gate at sub-7 pace. I had failed twice before at Berlin (a DNS in 2011 and a 3:39 in 2013). It felt good to have that monkey off my back. However, considering how hard I trained, I expected better!!

When I got onto the plane from Berlin, I began to reflect... I reached the conclusion that I needed to consider another shot at a marathon this year. Thankfully, after all these years of running, I had pretty much memorized the race calendar on I began to consider my options. I zero-ed in on CIM. I wrote down the following reasons, on the plane, for justifying another attempt:

Why run?
  • Don't believe I had the optimum performance considering my training for Berlin
  • It maybe unlikely that I will replicate this sort of training again, ever
  •  I will be taking a break for my December Patagonia trip and probably won't be training as hard for a Spring marathon. Prague is not a PR course. I want to shoot for a fast Fall 2015 marathon
  • Running a well-organized US marathon vs a spartan international race would be a welcome change.
  • I've heard CIM is fast too
  • December 7th, at 10 weeks from Berlin is kind of an optimum date, given that I leave for South America the week after the race.
CIM had already filled up but they had some slots for a qualifying time (which for me would require a 3:20 marathon). I registered. Running two all-out marathons so close by would be a risk for sure. Something I had never pulled off successfully. I never had back-back PRs in marathons.

  • My primary goal in the ensuing period was to maintain fitness, rather than attain fitness.
  • I had trained for a pancake flat Berlin course. I needed to add hill work, specifically downhill training to navigate the CIM terrain.
  • As planned, I took 2 weeks off after Berlin. 
  • In the next 8 weeks I put in a total of 492.2 miles, peaking at a 76.5 mile week. 
  • I also didn't take any rest days. Taking 3 days off in the week before Berlin (after having a run streak of around 100 days) seemed to have induced a weird response from my body. 
  • I had a 20 miles long run and an impromptu marathon run (In Unity We Run marathon - 3:21). 
  • It wasn't until 6 weeks after Berlin that I felt any sort of zing back in my legs. My legs had felt dead. 
  • All my training runs for Berlin were at sub-8 pace, here I was consistently going above 8 min/mile pace. To be fair, I was running hillier routes and the weather was bad.
  • I didn't get in any track workouts and had minimal tempo-ish runs.
  • My key workout was repeats on a 0.75 mile hill which gained about 350 feet. I included this hill for most of my runs. I also tried to run the downhills aggressively.
  • A week before the race I paced the second half of the Seattle marathon (3:25 pace). The last 10k of the marathon is pretty hilly. The weather for the marathon was in the 20Fs.
  • The weather in November was challenging to say the least - we had alternating cold, windy and sunny spells alternating with warm, rainy and windy spells. CIM has some extreme weather in 2012 and 2013. I was unwillingly conditioned for the worst.

These are the goals would allow me to consider CIM a worthwhile investment -

Goal C - 3:08: While I had a BQ from Berlin to be able to run Boston in 2016, I needed a 2 minute buffer. Anything slower would really be a failure :(

Goal B - 3:05: For Berlin, I really did think this was a realistic goal

Goal A - 3:03: This was my optimistic goal for Berlin

Going into the race it was looking very unlikely that I would get any of these goals. Even running at a 7:30 pace was proving to be difficult. Before Berlin, MP seemed easy, almost effortless... I chose to be in denial. I hoped that a combination of the predicted perfect running weather and the fast course would weave it's magic... Somehow... I had been in denial before. In 2011, I got to the start line of Berlin with a sfx before realizing that I wouldn't be able to finish a mile leave alone finish a marathon.


At both Paris and Berlin this year... I missed my sleeping on my own bed. I missed being able to fuel on palatable food. Therefore, I intended leave for Sacramento as late as possible, on a 11:15 am flight on Saturday. I reach the expo at 2:30 pm, straight from the airport. It was a small expo so I didn't need to spend much time there.

While arranging my stuff for the race, I realized that I had lost my pins. I had flashbacks of Paris 2011, where I was desperately trying to communicate to folks 30 minutes before the race start that I needed safety pins. Thankfully, there was no language barrier here and I could rush back to the expo while it was still open to get some more pins.

We met up for Dinner at 5 pm in a quaint Italian restaurant which Anu had picked out. For the first hour or so our group was the only one in the place. By the time (at 7:30 pm) we left, the place had filled up! Of course the event of the day was John getting through the Western States lottery... The pasta I had ordered was delicious but did seem a tad too spicy, for a day before a marathon. Not to worry... I would anyway be taking preemptive Imodium pills before the race :p

At 9 pm, I decided to have a second dinner - two massive plates of rice. Fueling before a marathon is important I was told :p I then had a heart-heart FB chat with a kind sole from my running group about how hopeless my en-devour the next day was, while he tried hard to motivate me... Then I slept. I slept well.

As planned, I woke up at 3:30 pm. I had rationed two bagels and two bananas, for the morning... I walked to the race shuttle with a couple of other runners who were staying at the same hotel. One of them was doing his first marathon and was shooting for just a 2:35 :p (He ended up finishing in 2:37 - those fast Canadians :p)

The interesting thing about having all runners come to the shuttle pick-up point at exactly 5 am was that there was a long line welcoming us. It spanned multiple blocks. We finally got onto a bus at 5:30 am. Some wise runners knew the drill and came in much later. Some extra minutes of sleep would not have hurt :(

 I felt horrible during the bus ride. A muscle in my stomach was sore. I think that was because I ate about 3-4 days worth of food in the previous day. As I got of the bus, I remarked to the runner next to me - "All I want to do now is go back home and sleep." He responded - "Dude, you're the most pessimistic runner I've ever met."

It was cool that they had so many porta-potties at the start. It actually meant that unlike Paris and Berlin, I could actually use one of them before the race started. As I waited on the porta-potty line, I observed the pre-race rituals of runners. I think if aliens descended on Planet Earth, even the smartest of them would fail to explain why we runners do what we do.

I ran into Nagesh at the start. He was all focused to mount a BQ challenge. I mentioned to him that I just saw a full moon and that had to be a good omen. In Indian mythology, a full moon day is auspicious and the time to kick off important tasks. Not that I am overly religious but at that point I was looking for anything that could suggest the possibility of a decent race :p

I lined up next to the 3:05 sign. There were a lot of fast looking people hanging out there... The mayor of Folsom mentioned how we had perfect running conditions today. He was right - 50-51F at the start and 56F at the finish. There was to be a decent cloud cover though the humidity was a tad on the higher side.

The pre-recorded national anthem
The countdown
The wheelchair start
and we were off...


I had considered running with a Tazz pace band for 3:05 but it just seemed to be too complex. I just decided to run as I normally do. Go by feel and how my legs felt.

mile 1: 6:55

The first mile was largely downhill. The 3:05 pace group had gone out ahead of me. I was not too overly concerned because in my head I would be fine if stayed at 3:08 pace, which was around about a 7:10 pace. Hmmm... 6:55. Perhaps because it was a downhill mile. I'd slow down soon for sure! I did NOT want to go out too fast.

mile 2: 7:01

I had been warned to expect rolling hills so I was not surprised by the inclines. My calfs felt a bit tight and my PF was hurting. I was also a bit hyper-sensitive because I was wearing a pair of New Balance test shoes, on which I just had four three mile runs. That was definitely a risk but it was my best option since I had been training on a pair of Nike test shoes which had too many miles on them. I've had similar aches previously in marathons during the firs 3 miles but they'd clear up by mile 6. I was hoping for a repeat here.

mile 3: 6:56

The first water-stop. After Paris and Berlin, it was almost euphoric to see a "normal" water-stop. Nuun up first (I think this is much better than traditional sports drinks) and water next. The volunteers made eye-contact with you and give you perfectly 3/4 filled crushed cups. Hallelujah! In contrast, the first water-stop at Berlin was manned by retirees who expected you to help yourself to water :-| Later they'd try to give you weird stuff like hot tea :p There were 17 water-stops at CIM as compared to only one every 5km in races in Europe. Yes, US races might be spoiling runners but I like being spoilt!! God bless America :p

mile 4: 6:58

I caught up with the 3:05 pace group and proceeded to pass them. I hate pace groups and hanging out with them. That is kind of ironic given that I've been a pacer at several races now :-|

My first Cliff Shot. I typically target having one every four miles and six in all. At the water-stops, I either went with Nuun or Shots + water.

I had given up on making sense of my pace at this point. My GPS was showing numbers I'd never seen in a marathon before. I feared that I was going out too fast and I'd have to deal with some ugly final miles :(

mile 5: 6:57

I was right in front of the 3:05 pace group at this point. I heard the pacer say - "5 miles in 35 minutes. Right on track folks." Each time we'd pass spectators they'd cheer for the 3:05 group. Gradually those pace group cheers disappeared. I took that to mean that I had moved well ahead of the pace group.

mile 6: 7:00
10k: 43:28 @ 7 min/mile

I would run with the same set of runners around me for the next few miles. I saw a lady running with a "CRC" (Cambridge Running Club - my running club in Boston) singlet, up front. I visualized catching up and telling her about how I ran for the same club when I was in Boston. I'd mention the good old times and folks we probably know in common. It wasn't until mile 19 that I finally caught up with (and passed) her. At that point, I could not afford to expend the energy it would take to open my mouth and emit noise :p

mile 7: 6:53

My legs had loosened up on schedule. It was feeling good to run and my form had become better. This is usually the phase of a run (after 6 miles) that I like to think of as the "happy period" :)

mile 8: 6:56
It was cool that the mile markers were spot on! I think there were only 5-6 markers during the race which weren't in sync with my GPS. That is rare in a marathon and a testament to how fast and well-organized this race actually is.

mile 9: 7:00
It was a mental win to pass the one hour mark!!

mile 10: 6:51
I did some basic math and realized that I had a shot at getting past my half marathon PR. I was not sure if that was a good or a bad thing :-| Usually, I read marathon reports where folks follow the statement - "I set my half marathon PR" with the statement - "and then I crashed and burnt."

mile 11: 6:51
mile 12: 7:02
mile 13: 7:01
half: 1:31:13 @ 6:58 min/mile
This was a new 40 second half marathon PR for me. I went past my run at the Scotiabank Vancouver half (a very fast course) in 2011.

mile 14: 7:01
mile 15: 7:08
I remember reflecting on how this course had nothing noteworthy in terms of landmarks. I felt like I was playing a video game - focusing on the gradients of the course and ensuring I cut tangents. Everything else around me was blurred out...

mile 16: 6:58
I saw Anu here which was unexpected since I though Pam and her were going to hang out at the finish line.

mile 17: 6:53
This is around the time in a run that I start playing with mental targets - "less than 10 miles, 2/3rds done...".

mile 18: 6:54
Two hours of running done. I was still feeling pretty good, especially my quads were doing just fine. I'd have to believe that my rudimentary "hill training" in the last month proved to be effective.

mile 19: 6:56
I was beginning to see casualties of "going out too fast" on a course like this. I had told myself before the race that this was one course you don't want to start walking on. There wasn't a risk of that today however...

mile 20: 7:03
mile 20: 2:19:51 @ 6:59 min/mile
For the second time in the race I saw a spectator with a sign - "20 mile warm-up for a 10km race.". How cute I thought :-|

mile 21: 7:02
Some more encouraging mental games... I could now run 8 minute miles for the rest of the way and still hit my 3:08 goal. How nice :)

mile 22: 7:02
I did see some relay runners in the midst. I told myself - "You know what, for the most part I was running stronger than them :p"

mile 23: 7:06
We passed the overpass that I had been told could be challenging... Wasn't much of a challenge, at least not in the same league as the Burrard Street Bridge (which induces pain whenever I hear the name) :p

mile 24: 7:08
The last 10k is a lot flatter than the rest of the course. I don't think I was slowing down significantly but just expending more or less even effort.

mile 25: 7:06
Around this point of a marathon or even a long run it's all about mental targets for me... Unless of course someone throws the Brandenburg gate in front of you (In which case it inspires you to run faster than you've run in the whole race) :)

mile 26: 7:06
My GPS lost signal for a bit which was a tad irritating. I saw Anu at the 26 marker (which I'd have to say was impressive spectating).

mile .22:  1:32
By this point I had a smile on my face. I had heard about a separate finish for males and females. I didn't see it or could not figure it out :p

I crossed the finish with a smile. As I crossed the finish line I heard the announcer say - "All these runners crossing the line now have qualified for Boston!". After all 3:05 is the young dudes' BQ time.

I usually feel horrible after I've reached the finish of a marathon and stopped running. Today I felt surprisingly good. I saw the water bottles and the mylar blankets but didn't feel I needed them. I hung out at the finish line for a moment to soak it in. The medical volunteer must have thought I was in shock. She asked me if I was OK. It told her - "Absolutely, I'm just chillin'". She then asked me if I needed the mylar blankets to stop the chillin'. I explained to the poor lady that this was the other kind of chilling... At this point she must have been convinced that I lost it but there was nothing she could do.

I noticed that there was foamy laundry detergent flowing down my legs. Clearly the rinse cycle of my washing machine had not been very effective. Oh well.

At the food tent the volunteer remarked - "You know what, most of the runners passing by have seemed so miserable but you just seem so happy!". I mentioned - "Yes, I am." I was beaming, which is kind of rare for a reserved sole like me.

I love races which are supported by everyone in the city. It makes you feel welcome. The bus driver on the ride from the airport asked me if I was running the next day and wished me luck. After finishing, and as I walked to my hotel, everyone who I passed congratulated me...


Chip time: 3:03:34 @ 7:01 min/mile

Gun time: 3:03:55
OA: 427/5794
Male: 334/3225
Div: 53/454


This is the first marathon, of the 33 I've run, that I am completely satisfied with - I wanted nothing more. If I could roll back time, I'd wish that the race, for me, would go exactly the way it went. I'm also am at peace with myself. If time froze at this moment, I'd be able to look back, and be satisfied.

This is was my tenth year of running and also my best year.
  • I ran my fastest (CIM: 3:03), second fastest (Berlin: 3:09), fourth fastest (Paris: 3:11) and eight fastest (In Unity We Run: 3:21) marathons. 
  • I paced three marathons (ran halves) - North Olympic Discovery, Skagit Flats and Seattle. 
  • I tested four shoes (two for Nike and two for New Balance). 
  • I ran more miles than I ever have - 2900-ish (my goal for the year was 2000 but the math nerd in me is bothered that I won't be getting to 3000 even though I could by compromising my vacation :)) 
  • I ran every day in the year (some doubles) barring 2*two weeks of planned downtime, my cousin's wedding day and now some days for a planned vacation.
The turning point for me was four weeks before Berlin 2013... I was set to run yet another marathon where I would be struggling to the finish. I pledged that I would not run another marathon till I was well-trained. I was becoming old and I had a limited amount of time to run as fast as I possibly could. I would no longer run marathons on esoteric courses. I would stay focused and not over-race.

Fitness-wise, the turning point came after a four week hiking trip, all at over 10,000 ft altitude, in Peru and Bolivia. That included two tough Inca trails. The Incas must have been in great shape! When I returned to Seattle, I discovered an inordinate amount of oxygen, at sea level. Running felt easy and I was determined not to waste this new found fitness.

My running group has a weekly newsletter where they occasionally profile an inspirational runner. One week, they profiled this amazingly fast 60 year old runner. He mentioned that his greatest regret was not running faster courses, when he was young. That was along the lines of what I was thinking.

Four weeks back Rob shared this amazingly inspiration video - "Catching Kayla" -

I wrote down the last two sentences Kayla speaks in the video because it's exactly what I feel too. I think it's applicable not just to running but life in general:

"I just hope to run for as long as I can and to make the most out of it for as long as I can. When or if I am not able to run at some point down the road then atleast I can look back and know that when I could I gave it my all."

I don't know when my journey will end. I remain thankful for the ability to run and will treat each marathon as my last. I know someday this will be something I won't have the ability to do. That day I will look back at these memories with immense satisfaction :)


Blogger Zanrok said...

Very cool! Was reading your blog and it looks like you have gradually gotten faster over time, I am in the same boat as you.. trying to chip away time gradually. Right now my fastest is a 3:19 hoping to get to the sub 3:05 one day...

4/22/2015 12:57 PM  
Blogger Sub said...

Thanks! I think it's just been in the last year and a half when I've finally figured out what I need to do. It boils down to not getting injured so that I don't have to keep coming back from a layoff. Good luck with your quest...

4/22/2015 8:50 PM  

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