Sunday, December 2, 2012

RACE REPORT: California International Marathon

My alarm was set for 4:45am, but I was wide awake at 4.  I immediately went to the Accuweather app on my iphone.  It was perfectly calm outside -- perhaps the storm would miss us?  Nope.  It predicted the rain would start at 6:00am and last until 11:00am.  Pretty much exactly the time I'd be racing.  Fantastic.  I was pretty upset -- 12 weeks of training, and I'd be running in a downpour and 20mph winds.  I figured Boston was pretty much not happening, but I didn't fly out here to not give it my all.

I boarded the bus at 5:15 and we headed for the start.  Our hotel had a VIP tent with heaters and port-o-potties.  I. loved. our. hotel.  If you do this marathon, you must stay at the Lake Natoma Inn.  It is right on the American River bike trail, a five minute walk to quaint historic Folsom, only two miles from the race start, and THEY HAVE A VIP TENT WITH HEATERS AND THEIR OWN PORT-O-POTTIES!  They have 2pm late check out so you can actually shower after the race.  And did I mention the VIP Tent with heaters and port-o-potties?  It was freezing and pouring when we got there.  Everyone else had to huddle at the gas station across from the start line to stay dry, except for those of us that were in that private tent.  I sat for an hour next to the heater and made some new friends.   The winds were insane.  They were knocking over chairs INSIDE our tent.  Apparently they were up to 36mph.  AND there was a tornado earlier that morning in West Sacramento.  Yes, friends, this marathon has perfect weather 95% of the time, and my sister claims it pretty much never does more than sprinkle around here, except when I come, and then we get the peak of the biggest storm of the season right during my race.  Of course.

I only used the port-o-potty... five times?... during the hour and fifteen minutes we were in the tent.  When I emerged for the final time at 6:52, there was no one else in the tent.  Oops.  Better get to the start so I could find the 3:35 pacer.   I finally spotted him as the gun went off, and I was still a bit behind.  Oops again.  Guess I'd have to catch up.

Except it was SO crowded.  I could not get through.  I have never been in a marathon where it was this crowded at the start -- I couldn't even weave around people.  I tried to move forward and accidentally elbowed someone.  He yelled at me -- "Sheesh, girlie, you've got 26 more miles, you can take it slow here."  "NO I CAN'T!  I CANNOT AFFORD A NINE MINUTE MILE, YOU HEAR ME?  NOW GET OUT OF MY WAY!"  Okay, I didn't really say that.  But I kind of really wanted to.

Eventually I caught up to the 3:35 pacer. His strategy was to go by effort and since this was a hilly course -- not crazy challenging hills, but lots of rollers along the way --  he was going a bit slower than 8:10s on the uphills but really booking it on the descents.  There were tons of people in the 3:35 pace group.  I stuck with him until the 5th mile and then got sick of elbowing people accidentally.  3:35 is the open women's Boston Qualifying time so it was extremely crowded.  I saw that up ahead of him it was pretty clear, so I sped up to get some of my own breathing space.

Around the 6th mile, we start to head directly south for awhile.  The winds were heading southeast, and that stretch of running put us in the direct line of some serious crosswind.  Coupled with the torrential downpour, my miles around here got a little slower.  Aside from my slow-due-to-way-too-many-people first mile, I'd been averaging about 7:55s.  The winds really slowed my pace here and they were close to 8:15s.

A few miles later, we turned and headed west again.  We went through this cute little town called Fair Oaks that looked like it was straight out of an old western movie -- I was half expecting The Three Amigos to pop out and cheer me along.  We were nearing the halfway point, and I looked forward to getting there so I could turn on my music.  That was my little mental game -- no headphones until 13.1, since the second half is where the real challenge begins.

I crossed the halfway point at a little under 1:46.  I was pretty surprised - I didn't realize I'd gotten that far ahead of the pacer.  The rain was really coming down at this point, so I put on my music and tried to zone out and just concentrate on my foot cadence.  I had to keep an eye on my watch to make sure my pace didn't slow down.  I felt fine, but it took some willpower to keep those feet moving at the speed that felt so easy in the first half.

Around the 16th mile I got my first side stitch.  But I was prepared!  I know these are pretty much always due to a salt imbalance, and I had brought salt tablets!  I took one and felt better within a couple of minutes. Only ten miles to go.  Really.  That's what I was thinking.  Because when you do a run of 17 miles or more every single week, and another run between 12-15 miles in the same week, ten miles really doesn't seem like that big of a deal anymore.

The rain lightened up a bit around the 20th mile.  Was this the wall?  I still was feeling strong.  No wall at 20. I kept on trucking.

When I got to 23, I felt fine cardio-wise, but my legs were starting to ache.  So began my mantra -- you ran a marathon when it was 96 degrees outside after you biked 112 miles.  You can do this.  This is nothing.  I looked at my watch and realized I could run 9:00 miles for the rest of the marathon and still break 3:35.  I started to cry.  All those Tuesdays where I left my house at 4:30 to get in 15 miles before work, all those weeks where I put in over 70 miles -- they had paid off.  As long as I didn't cramp or break my foot (knock on wood -- I'd done that before during a race!) -- I was going to qualify for Boston.

24 and 25 were my slowest miles -- 8:15 and 8:17.   Another side stitch = another salt tab.  My legs were fading a bit.  I tried to kick it when I hit the final mile -- that ended up being 8:05.  And then I could see the finish.  I gave it all I had, and the clock hadn't quite hit 3:33 when I ran over the line.  I knew I'd taken at least a minute to get to the start -- so it was 3:31-something-close-to-3:32.  Still awaiting final chip time, but the unofficial results say 3:31:53.

As soon as I crossed the finish line, it stopped raining.  I kid you not.  The clouds departed and the sun came out for the first time since I had landed in San Francisco on Friday.  Figures. I called my sister to come pick me up (she and my mom had been entertaining Jack for the morning.)  It was 10:40 and I was starving.  I found a cute little cafe and ordered lunch while I waited.  I was still in shock.  How did I finish in under 3:32?

Ten marathons ago, I ran a 4:36.  Never in my wildest dreams did I think I could do this.  Even when I started today, I was pretty sure 3:35 was not in reach.

I can't believe it.  I'm going to Boston.


  1. Congratulations, so incredibly happy for you! You trained so hard for this race and you were so ready! Bask in the glory which is yours. You ran a terrific and incredibly fast marathon! Boston 2014 here you come! Well earned...

  2. Thanks Robin and thanks for all your support along the way. You are registering too I hope? I will finally meet you?!?

  3. Congratulations, Gretchen, so inspiring, so happy for you!

  4. Congratulations!!! you had such an awesome race in such bad weather! I teared up reading your report.

  5. Congrats!

    I definitely let the conditions slow me down, so your perseverance is super inspiring!

    Well done.

  6. I'm proud of you, friend. We were cheering you on out here!

  7. Oh my goodness, I held my breath reading your race recap!!! Congratulations! That's an amazing time!

  8. Congrats Gretchen! Very nice work in those conditions. Wasn't it just a kick in the teeth to have such beautiful weather as soon as you crossed the line? I thought God himself was welcoming me to downtown!

  9. CONGRATS!!! I KNEW you would do it ! As I followed you on DailyMile I thought to myself, if this girl doesn't go to Boston, I'm not even close. You are an inspiration!

    PS In every race since my Ironman I tell myself the same thing - You did an Ironman and it was MUCH more painful than this. KEEP GOING! Haha.

  10. What a fine rendition of the race. I was on pins and needles. Boston!

  11. That's a great finish time! Congrats! How exciting to be going to Boston!