Race Recap: 2011 California International Marathon

Wow. I’m actually sitting here struggling to put into words just how happy/proud/accomplished/inspired I feel about my race at CIM. And most of all, how thankful I feel to have had Sam pace me to my 9 minute marathon PR and BQ. 

I know it was just a training run for Sam, but this was a big deal to me. I took running CIM seriously, because for the first time, I was racing a marathon. I wasn’t out to take pictures along the course or settle into a comfortable pace. Every step of this marathon was at a pace just outside my comfort zone. But with Sam by my side and many months of solid training, I took the chance and ran my butt off, not knowing how long I’d be able to hold on or if I’d have an epic blowup.

The marathon is a point to point, and Niki (my bff and our #1 support crew) dropped us off 30 minutes before the start. I was a little worried about lines for the porto potties, but this was not an issue at all. There were porto potties as far as the eye could see. Literally. It was awesome (thanks CIM!).
It was pretty chilly at the start (about 35 degrees), so I brought garbage bags to keep us warm. Excellent idea.
I nervously bounced up and down trying to warm up and stretch my muscles while Sam casually made jokes to ease my nerves. Reason #1 having a pacer is awesome: they get you out of your own head.

The starting line area was uber wide, which was great. We situated ourselves just in front of the 3:30 pace group. We ditched our garbage bags just before the gun, and next thing I knew, we were off and running!
The first mile was straight downhill, then took at 90 degree turn into our first (of many) rollers. Sam was in charge of making sure we kept it consistent, and at one point, he literally put his arm out and pushed me back since I started to charge the hill a little to fast. I’m glad he did, because the later miles were going to hurt (reason #2 having a pacer is awesome: they can hold you back if you start too fast).

Miles 1-5 FLEW by. There were rolling hills the entire time. Relentless isn’t quite the right word, because that implies they were bad. They weren’t. I almost wish I took a picture during the first half of this race, because the course in front of us looked like a sea of people running along a roller coaster track. As soon as you’d get to the top of one hill, we’d see it drop down and curve back up again.

The rollers weren’t rough at all. They were kind of refreshing, actually. They weren’t steep enough to trash your legs. Just gentle enough to feel good, since the ups/downs required different muscles. I really liked it.

I ate a Gu at 5, flushed it down with the water Sam was carrying for me (reason #3 having a pacer is awesome: they can carry stuff for you). We spotted Niki at mile 6, and it put a huge smile on my face. I felt really solid.
As the rollers continued, Sam asked me how I felt about our pace (which was incredibly consistent at 7:57s). I told him while running the uphills, it felt a little fast. He asked me if it worried me as in “do you think you’ll blow up?”. I wasn’t sure. So he told me “Erin, this is a race. It’s suppose to feel faster than training runs”. Reason #4 having a pacer is awesome: they have the experience to know how hard you should push it, without blowing up later in the race.

I trusted Sam’s judgement and we kept cruising along at remarkable consistency despite the rollers. I really felt like I was racing this thing. The pace felt fast, but sustainable. And that excited me since we were running 7:57-8:00 pace.

I ate a Gu at mile 10, and next thing I knew, there was Niki! Cheering loud and clear with her sweet sign and huge smile.
Every time I ate a Gu or saw Niki cheering, it gave me a pep in my step. So once again, Sam had to hold me back from speeding up too much.

We ranged between 7:55-8:05 for the first 14 miles. This is excellent, I thought. I felt good. Sam was spot-on with pacing us. We were on pace for a 3:30 :) The confidence grew.

When I looked at the course profile before the race, it appeared all the rollers (especially the steepest/longest of them all) were done by mile 13. This was not the case. Mile 15 had a relentless hill (and I mean it in a brutal way this time) that really messed with me.

I actually wanted to walk. Sam told me it was okay to shuffle jog to the top (which felt like forever), because it wouldn’t hurt to lose 10 seconds during that mile (reason #5 having a pacer is awesome: they know when it’s ok to sacrifice one mile, for the betterment of the remainder miles). We ran mile 15 in 8:10.

This is when the race started to get hard. I knew I’d have to fight, every mile, to keep my pace as close to 8 at possible. To keep up with Sam. We really wanted to run as close to 3:30 as possible. Sam ran a few strides in front of me, never letting me settle or slow down. I was chasing after his feet every step of the way. Our miles were ranging between 8:00-8:05.

Sam suggested I eat a Gu at mile 18, but I just couldn’t get it down. I held it in my hand for almost an entire mile, trying to take baby bites. I was cramping and told Sam I was worried. I knew the next miles were gonna hurt. He told me it was okay that I couldn’t eat. We were only 8 miles away. Anyone can run for an hour without food (reason #6 having a pacer is awesome: they give you reassurance when you’re worried).

Thank goodness for mile 19 because we saw Niki again. Cheering ultra loud. I ran over to her to drop off my long sleeve and headband. You don’t see Sam in this photo, because he was running 10 meters in front of me, pulling me along, not letting me slow down.
Sam slowed back just enough till I caught him, but as soon as I did, I felt the pace pick up again. As we ran over the mile 20 timing mat, he reminded me of you guys. Everyone who was tracking us, watching us, cheering for us from all over. We crossed the mat in 2:40:56 (8:03 pace).

At this point, I knew it was on. We just finished our 20 mile warm up; we had a 10k to race.

I tried to choke down another Gu at mile 23 to no avail. I was staying hydrated all thanks to Sam carrying my water bottle, but he certainly wasn’t making it easy :) I’d call out to him (he was running 10 meters in front of me) “Saaaaaaam, waaaaaaaterrrr” and he’d just keep cruising right along, with the water bottle held out next to him. He was making me chase after it every time. It hurt. I’m pretty sure I called him names a few times. What a mean, clever, pacer he was.

Miles 23-25 were the slowest at 8:21-8:23. But I’m sure they’d have been slower had Sam not been there pulling me. Reason #7 having a pacer is awesome: they don’t let you slow down as much as you would if you were alone.
(We’re not in the above picture, but this is GORGEOUS, right?! I was too focused/tired to even notice though)

I was getting worried we wouldn’t BQ at all at this point. I wasn’t looking at my Garmin so I didn’t know our overall time. All I knew is we were running 8:20s and that’s not nearly the 8:00s we had been intending on running the entire time.

All the while, Sam kept crunching the numbers in his head. He’d say, “OK we need 7:57s to run a sub 3:30, but as slow as a 8:35 to run sub 3:33″. I was completely unable to do any math in my head by this point, so I was really thankful to hear those numbers. Wow, 8:35s? Really? Even in this kind of pain, I can turn over 8:35s. 

I asked to be sure, “Sam, are you sure we can BQ? Are you sure we’ll go sub 3:33?” “We got it in the BAG… just hang on tight and we’ll get as close to 3:31 as possible.” I can’t tell you good that made me feel. It was then that I knew we were going to BQ. I believed him.

And then all the sudden, just after mile 25, three faces I wasn’t expecting to see: 3 dear friends from college, who made the drive to come out and cheer me on! I ran over to them and almost started to cry. I wanted to hug them so badly. It meant the world to me, that they were there.

My attitude changed from “this is so hard omg I’m hurting” to “TURN IT ONNNN baby”. I caught up to Sam, and he shouted “there ya go!!!”, almost surprised that I was picking it up so much.

I was so focused. I stared at the long road in front of me, scanning for the left-hand turn which indicated the finish line was near. I couldn’t see it, but I started sprinting anyways. “Sam, how far??” “0.4 to go!” I put my head back, kept running as hard as I could. We blew by Niki cheering; I didn’t even hear her…
Then all the sudden, there was the turn! SO CLOSE! I was full-fledge sprinting at this point, almost embarrassed I had that much juice left. Our last mile? The fastest split of them all: 7:50 flat. The last 0.2 were over in no time.

I ran across the finish line mat, smiling from ear to ear. Holy crap, I thought, we totally did it. As the volunteers placed the medal over my head and handed me a space blanket, I looked to my right, scanning for Sam (since the men’s finish line was separate from the women’s).

I hobbled over to him, and gave him the hardest high five I could. SAM! WE DID IT! And it was all thanks to you. 
We ran a 3:31:37 (8:07 pace). A 9 minute PR from my Denver marathon, 2 months ago :) I couldn’t be happier. What a great race. And a race it truly was.

Thank you Anna, Michael, Jane, and Niki for coming out and cheering me on. I can’t tell you how much of a difference it made to hear you guys. I have the best friends ever :)
And thank you Sam, for selflessly offering to pace me, deal with my angry stares when you’d taunt me with the water bottle, hold me back when I started too fast, making me laugh at the starting line, and giving me confidence along the way. I can’t say thank you enough for helping me crush my previous marathon PR.

And now? A much needed break from marathons. At least until April of 2013 :)

12 thoughts on “Race Recap: 2011 California International Marathon

  1. So cool to hear it from your perspective. I had a blast. And you give me whatever credit you want, but never at any point did I give you a piggy-back ride or drag you by the arm, so your time is all you. Your own legs got you from A to B in 3:31:37. Awesome job … I’ll always remember this one fondly.

  2. You inspire me, amaze me and make me wanna bust ass on the track this spring. I’m so proud of you and so pumped sam was able to share every moment of your BQ! Congrats. See you in boston. We WILL have our girls night out this time:) xoxo

  3. Seriously almost cried reading this! You are so inspiring and I can’t wait to get back into running next year after I have this baby.

    Sounds like Sam is pretty awesome to offer to pace you and for you to PR, it definitely helped. Having someone there along the way with you is always a plus!

    So proud of you friend. :)

  4. CONGRATS!!!! What a HUGE PR for you. Your friend Sam is the best, but it was all YOUR legs that got you across that finish line. So excited for you!!!

  5. Erin,

    I felt like I was right along with you. The rollers were just as described. A nice break, not too long and windy which made it interesting. Glad you had that water bottle–I needed it as a back up. For some reason mile 17 was hard. Not sure why…but I thought I was cramping, had eaten my last GU and someone gave me one. Kept on ticking and yes, looking for that left hand turn. Wasn’t rounding those end corners a rush!! And knowing you are right on target. Congrats again. Just wish you were going in 2012.

    Stacy

  6. Congratulations Erin! Reading this made me feel I was there pacing along with you. Great blog post and definitely inspiring journey to Boston. People like you are fueling us newbies. Will definitely keep reading your blog :)

  7. I almost started crying (in a good way) when reading this! This is incredible. I felt like I was there with you while reading it! Thanks for the inspiration! You truly are a runner I look up to :-)!!!

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