I apologize, but this is going to be a long report mainly because I want to remember the details.
The Mario Recap, Marathon #9:
For the people who come here mainly to admire Mario's cute mug (don't blame you): I ran the race 13 minutes and 13 seconds faster than I've ever run a marathon. My official finish time is 4:14:09.
I interrupted Mario's nap to take this photo. VERY grumpy bunny.
The Full Recap, Marathon #9:
I got my number at the expo on Friday afternoon. Nothing too spectacular and probably not worth the extra trip up to Sacramento since I couldn't stay to attend the seminars (I had to work Saturday so returned back to SF Friday). But in the end I had peace of mind of getting my stuff, checking my chip, and buying my bus ticket. I got to meet up briefly with Kristen (PR!)! We had a little cola Power Bar Gel Blast drug run. One addict to another! Nothing at the expo spoke to my running-gear shopaholic tendencies. I did sign up for the San Francisco 1st Half Marathon in 2010, though. No full there for me next year!
Race morning came with a 4:15 am wake-up which actually didn't seem too bad. I was in and out of sleep all night and woke up before my alarm went off. I had really debated about what to wear at this race. The temperature in the morning was about 30 degrees and I figured it might rise to 45 by the end of the race (was totally wrong about that!). After much see-sawing I settled on a tank, skirt, and gloves for sure. I threw tons of options into my check bag, though (socks to use as gloves or arm warmers to chuck & real arm warmers).
Possibly the last time I get to use these types of chips for a race (they're becoming dinosaurs of the past)
I met Audrey and we made the very short walk across the street to a bus pick-up. It was cold, but not as cold as I expected it to feel. The busses arrived and we luckily made it onto the first one. CIM is a point to point race so they bus you out to the start. It is very sobering to be driven 26+ miles knowing you have to run all the way back. I LOVE that CIM lets you stay on the bus to keep warm. The majority of the runners on our bus were certifiably insane because they all vacated immediately. Only about 10 of us stayed inside for a bit. While on the bus I decided to add my arm warmers to my outfit.
We headed out and hit the port-a-potties which had a pretty reasonable line length so close to the start of the race. We then headed over to the sweat bag check where we ran into Tara and Nicole (PR!)! After that I went to line up with the 4:15 pace group.
I had been thinking about it and decided to start off on a 4:15 finish pace. Ultimately I really wanted to crack a 9:59 overall race pace. I figured that by my Garmin I'd have to shoot for something around a 9:50 to take into account that the Garmin always measures the distance long. Since my other tiered goals involved paces in the 9:40's, I figured I'd go out at with the 4:15 pace group and evaluate from there. A 4:15 finish seemed like a very aggressive goal seeing how my SFM PR was 4:27:22. BUT, since my training plan felt I could run even faster than a 4:15, I felt I had a little bit of a built in fudge factor to go out at that speed.
The 4:15 pace group had two leaders. A man and a woman. They were busy chatting and meeting the group. I wasn't sure if I'd be able to hang with them the whole race so was reluctant to introduce myself. The gun went off (didn't hear it, but heard everyone cheer) and off we went. I crossed the start mat the exact same time as the female 4:15 pace leader. I thought, "That is it, if she does a good job I know exactly where my 4:15 is at any point in the race." The first couple of miles were pretty slow with the congestion. Then all of a sudden she picked up the pace and started zig-zagging around runners. The first few miles were VERY crowded and there were no openings for me to follow her. I even heard some other runners comment how they had just lost the pace leader. Somewhere in the early miles Maritza found me and wished me luck! Thanks, lady!
Mile 1: 10:07, 9:42 (remember, my Garmin calculates splits every 0.5 miles)
Mile 2: 9:59, 9:39
Eventually she settled into pace (the male leader crept up to about where she was, too) and she was an even 20 feet in front of me. I figured as long as she wasn't accelerating I could keep an even distance and gradually try to close the gap over time. The next 2.5 miles we were going much faster than the specified 9:43 pace and even faster than I would have liked for the most aggressive of goals. Mile 3 hovered right around what I consider to be half marathon pace and mile 4 wasn't much better.
Mile 3: 9:15, 9:06
Mile 4: 9:20, 9:27
At this point I seriously considered pulling back and letting the pace group pull off without me. Everyone has heard stories about how a zealous pacer went out too fast and ruined their race. A 4:15 was my true gold goal and I didn't want to raze it by going out so fast so early.
I don't even remember why or when I decided to try to stick with the group, but I did and never thought about purposely letting them get ahead of me again the whole race.
Mile 5: 9:31, 9:53
Mile 6: 9:53, 9:48
Mile 7: 9:56, 9:53
So now that I mentally attached myself to those red "4:15" signs up ahead, I'd like to talk a little bit about the pacers. The woman's name was Lisa, and the guy was Mike. I have never run with a pace group in the past. I generally prefer to race solo so that I can speed up or slow down as I deem fit. I have run by pace groups in marathons that were truly irritating. Pacers that were too chatty. Runners in the pace group that were too chatty. Pacers that were downright annoying. I really lucked out because Lisa, Mike, and my fellow 4:15's (with a few quirky exceptions) were none of those things.
You can see my pink hat right under the "4:15" sign on the left
Mile 8: 9:38, 9:43
Mile 9: 9:46, 9:40
Mile 10: 9:28, 9:19
CIM is generally known to be a very fast course. I think it is something like 6th in the country for sending runners to Boston. I am here to say that the course, while being net downhill, is NOT flat or even generally downhill. There are TONS of little rollers. Too many to even memorize where they occur.
Elevation profile from the marathon's website
I went in knowing miles 7-10 were the worse, mile 11 had the steepest climb, and there was some short little incline at mile 21ish (just cruel) at a bridge. But really, this course went up and down and up and down. Nothing too long or too steep but enough to slowly break your spirit.
One awesome thing about being in the pace group was that I was so distracted by not bumping into the other runners or jostling for position that I couldn't really look up ahead much to know if a hill was coming. The pacers would mention we had made it to the top of an incline or that we should rally to get to the top of the next but for most of the race I was present only at that moment. I think if I had been running solo with wide open spaces around me, looking up ahead at hill after hill would have been very demoralizing.
Mile 11: 9:30, 9:20
Mile 12: 9:34, 9:17
Mile 13: 9:49, 9:43
Half Marathon split: 2:06:31
I don't really have a lot to say about the majority of the race for two reasons. One, while the pace I was running was not terribly excruciating like my half marathon pace, I don't think I'd classify it as easy conversational. So I was in my own little zone concentrating on the task. Two, when you run in a pace group you are running with a bunch of other people who want to stay close to those numbers on the stick. So you never really carve out your own personal space. I was generally always looking 1.5 feet in front of me at the ground to make sure I didn't clip someone's heel or trip on anything in the road.
Boyfriend was scheduled to come cheer at a few spots and I worried he wouldn't see me tucked in the group or I wouldn't see him (I had no hope of looking around long enough to scan the crowd for faces). Luckily he found me and once he knew I was with the pace group it was easy enough for him to spot me.
Another great thing about running with a pace group is that the crowd really cheers for you. People were yelling, "Go, 4:15!" the whole race. Usually when I run marathons I like to thank people spectating and cheering. But besides being stuck in the middle of the group I didn't really want to expend the extra energy feeding back to the crowds.
I am tucked in there somewhere!
From reading people's race reports I surmise there was a pretty good headwind for the majority of the first half of the race. I say "surmise" because at any little breeze Mike would yell, "4:15! Tighten up behind me! Cut the wind! Help each other out!" And just like that the whole pace group would pull together and the wind was definitely much less noticeable. In fact, besides a few gusts that would prompt a "4:15! Tighten up!" I never really felt like I was running in a headwind at all.
Since we had two pacers, when we ran through water stops one of them would always keep going and sometimes the other would stop to refuel. I only stopped twice at aid stations (once to refill my handheld and another time I grabbed a cup on the go so I wouldn't have to stop a second time). However, the pacers are capable of easily running much faster than a 4:15 pace so they would always catch back up with the group quickly. When I stopped to refill my handheld (probably about a 30 second stop -- couldn't find someone with a pitcher so had to pour cup after cup into my bottle) I had to really jet to catch back up with the group.
Mile 14: 10:03, 9:46
Mile 15: 10:05, 9:51
Mile 16: 9:54, 9:20
Around mile 16 I started to doubt my ability to keep the pace the rest of the race. Niggling questions of can I do this? I have how much farther to go? Gah! Looking at the splits now I sort of feel like we were all over the map. That was probably due to the rolling terrain. I trusted in Mike and Lisa's judgement and didn't get too concerned when the splits read too fast or too slow.
Mile 17: 9:18, 9:28
Mile 18: 9:40, 9:27
Mile 19: 9:29, 9:25
Another awesome thing about the pace group was that Lisa and Mike were very familiar with the course. They knew all the turns and got us ready to run the tangents. Mike would call out whether we should stay to the right or left and if it was a quick left-right combo he'd let us know and head diagonally towards the 2nd turn.
Mile 20: 9:33, 9:35
Mile 21: 9:31, 9:50
Mile 22: 9:41, 9:47
At around Mile 20 I told myself no-way, no-how was I going to let that 4:15 sign run off into the distance without me. I didn't come 20 freakin' miles to let them slowly slip away the last few miles. I was going to suck it up and keep on running. Around this point I also ruled-out the idea of trying to get in front of the 4:15 sign. That wasn't about to happen.
The weather was perfect. I thought the sun was going to come out (it popped out at about mile 23) but it remained overcast the vast majority of the race. I never took off my gloves like I thought I would. During SFM I had to refill my 22 oz. handheld bottle twice during the race and at CIM I only had to once. Glorious, glorious, freezing running weather. I never felt cold. I was loving it. I don't think the temps got out of the 30's during the race.
Mile 23: 9:35, 9:48
Mile 24: 9:51, 9:58
I always think that miles 22-24 are the longest of any marathon. I saw a sign with that wonderful phrase, "Pain is temporary. Pride is forever." I thought about finishing with a 4:15 finish and got a little choked up. At about mile 23 we passed speakers playing "I Gotta Feeling" (I played that song to get pumped up the morning of SFM, pre-race for San Jose and also while I got ready before CIM -- I call it my PR song). That got me kind of choked up, too. But I reminded myself to concentrate and that a lot could still happen the last few miles. It wasn't mine yet.
Someone's friend jumped in to pace for a bit and I heard her say, "At this point it isn't physical. It is all mental." I really took that to heart. My legs could keep going a few more miles. I just had to believe they could do it. I started to feel like I was moving slow as molasses but a quick peak at Garmin said we were right where we should be.
At about mile 24 I started to realize I felt like I could go a little faster than what the group was doing. I told myself I'd stick with them until mile 25 then slowly pull away. At mile 24.75 Mike said, "If anyone is hoping to do better, now is the time to take off!" He didn't have to tell me twice. I kicked it up a gear and started to pull away. I could hear the pace leaders cheering the people who took off onward. Eventually the "4:15!..." calls got softer and softer and then I couldn't hear them at all. I realized I had opened up a lead over a 4:15 finish.
I have to say I felt pretty good that last 1.5 miles or so. I didn't want to push too much lest I start to feel nauseous or lightheaded. It was sort of freeing to finally be running my own pace for the first time in the race. While the majority of time I pushed myself to keep up with the pace group there were times I held back to stay with them, too. I could finally run for a little bit based on my own feel. I kept telling myself to keep it steady. A sub-4:15 was more than I ever hoped for this race and I had it in the bag.
There is a left-hand turn to the finish which is sort of nice because you don't see it until you are right there. A volunteer was on the side giving high-fives. I didn't interact with anyone in the crowd (Boyfriend excluded) the entire race since I was in such a zone and it was nice to get a high-five.
Mile 25: 10:03, 9:46
Mile 26: 9:37, 9:31
Mile 26.2ish: 9:22
Garmin distance: 26.33 miles
Official time: 4:14:09/9:42 pace
Almost to the finish!
I crossed the line and got my medal. For a few seconds I was a little lightheaded and felt I might throw up. But that passed pretty quickly. I turned around and waited for Mike & Lisa to cross the finish line. I thanked them and gave them each a hug. They were totally awesome pace leaders (they finished with an official time of 4:15:02) and I owe my whole race to them.
Thank you, Mike & Lisa!!
Here they are:
On the way to get my sweat bag Aron found me! She was trying to BQ at CIM. I asked her how her race went and she gave me a little smile and a thumbs up! I am SO happy for her! I was starting to get super cold so didn't even bother standing in the food line. As Boyfriend and I were walking back to the hotel the 4:45 pace group passed by on the course. I knew Audrey was trying to hang with the 5:00 group to try to break 5 hours so we hung around to see her come by. The 5:00 pace leader (who at this point seemed to only have one other runner with her) came by, but no Audrey :( She appeared a few minutes later and we got to cheer for her. I later found out that the 5:00 pace leader was way ahead of schedule and Audrey broke 5 hours with minutes to spare! So exciting!!
I am very, very happy with how I did this race. Not that I wasn't tired and it wasn't tough, but I have to say I don't think I have ever felt as good at the end of a marathon as I did the last few miles of this race. That makes me feel like I could have gone a little faster a little earlier. I have some thoughts and questions about what this PR means, but will save that for another post.
Some other crazies who were out there who had great races were thepixelsuite (BQ!), PunkRockRunner (PR!), Marci (PR!), and Danica (3 marathons in 3 months!).
Thank you, everyone, for all your nice words pre-race!