Back in 2016 when I trained for the Fresno Marathon in November, I was in the best shape ever and ready to go for sub3...the race came, the weather was perfect and the miles passed by until mile 21 when my hammy had enough for the day....on 2:55 pace, I booked my first DNF, oh well.
Fast forward, a 50 miler and a 3:02 training marathon later, I started training for the California International Marathon in August. The training cycle was mixed. Besides moving from Seattle to altitude in Denver, I had some issues with left lower hammy in October. The hammy/knee eventually improved but I missed 2 of the so important MP runs and adjusting to the Denver altitude took about 5-6 weeks. My confidence was boosted when I ran a +20 miler with 15 MP miles 3 weeks before the race, followed by a brisk 14 miler a week later at the same pace as in Seattle with less effort. I tapered well but honestly had no clue what would happen. I mainly put my hopes on the altitude bonus and the fact that I certainly had the training volume.
I arrived in Sacramento on Friday afternoon, already on a carb high since my carb loading phase started that morning after a 5 day fat loading phase. I picked up my packet and consumed way too many of these delicious coffee latte cans they gave out at the expo. FWIW, I consumed about the equivalent of 9 espressos on Friday and 12 on Saturday... Later on Friday, I met for a late lunch with Kyan Matz. I got some good sleep from Friday to Saturday and headed to the hamster wheel in the hotel before 6 am....I wasn’t the only or the first one in the gym. No wonder, CIM served as the US Marathon Championships this year and the elites were staying at the same place... I ran 3 miles and finished my workout at 6:11 pace, further giving me a confident boost; maybe this altitude bonus is for real. Later that day, I met Sara, Dan and Donald. As I waited for Dan and Donald to head out for a pizza dinner, I saw Ryan Hall in the lobby. It was kinda funny, while current athletes were stopped for pics, Hall was in the lobby for 30 minutes and nobody cared. Dan, Donald and I got pizza and headed back to the hotel lobby. Dan’s buddy Eric joined us. The guy was blazing fast and ended up winning the Masters category on Sunday in 2:17, punching his 3rd OTQ at age 40. Damn!
On Sunday, I got up at 3:30, had my bagel, gel and coffee before getting on the bus at 5:00. Everything was really well organized. I started my race with a 59 year old from Canada. The first 4 miles were strangely easy but I was running at 6:30 - 6:40, I decided to abandon my cautious racing plan to run 2:58-2:59 and just go big. The miles clicked away and I was on 2:53-2:55 pace, passing the half in 1:26 and change. Mile 15 came around and I realized for the first time that sub3 is mine if sh$% didn’t hit the fan. I decided to bank time until mile 20-22 and continued to run on pace...As I approached mile 22, I got super nervous: Would my leg hold up or blow-up again out of the blue like last year? Of course, I started to tire around mile 20 like all people do if you race and gun for a PR but I felt great and nothing hurt. A quick calculation and I realized that I could run 8:00 pace and still come in below 3 hours....Instead of pushing, I took some pace off, still running at sub3 pace for these miles but 15-20 seconds slower than before. The finish ended up more dramatic than expected, in the last curve, my left hipflexor cramped, a few seconds later I was across the finish in 2:55:07. I kneeled down to stretch my hipflexor and couldn’t get up...I tried but it wasn’t meant to be. Two volunteers arrived plus a third with a wheelchair...:”I am not getting into this thing, just put me back on my feet.” The two volunteers helped me to get up and I hobbled off while one volunteer ensured that I don’t hit the pavement in a few feet.. I got my Boston Cream Pie Cupcake from the Whole Foods stand and made my way back to the hotel.
The race, while not easy, is fast. The field is usually deep, this year especially. I instantly fell in love with this race, of course the 5 minute PR helps but I really enjoyed the varied course, the supportive crowd and the great organization. I will def. be back.