By Michael Rolnick
Let’s start by saying that this is a marathon runner’s race. It has easy logistics if you stay near downtown Sacramento. The expo, busses to the start, finishing area and host hotels are all concentrated into a relatively compact area. It’s not a big city marathon, but with more than 9,000 registrants, it had a bigger event feel than some other races in comparable locations.
What drew me to run CIM was a desire to redeem my poor showing this past April in Boston, and a chance to see how fast I could run if everything – training, weather, and a fast course – came together. CIM is definitely a fast course. Not a downhill course, but a fast course with plenty of rolling hills in the first 13-16 miles. Nothing too steep either up or down, but consistent enough to work all of your leg muscles in a way that a totally flat course cannot.
CIM has pace groups from 2:45 and up, most tied to specific BQ times (for example the 3:15 pace group is actually a 3:13 pace team so you have a 2-minute margin for qualifying below the standard). Some of the pacers reflected the great support for this race, especially from the ultra running community. Pacers this year included Scott Jurek and Jenn Shelton (pacing a visually impaired athlete to a sub-3 time), Zack Bitter and Tim Twietmeyer.
The course has good crowds, and decent scenery as you run point-to-point from Folsom to the state capitol building in Sacramento. But let’s face facts; you come here to run fast, try to PR, try to BQ and ring that bell. For me, that meant finishing without cramping, running my first sub-3, and helping a good friend and training partner finish a marathon strongly for the first time in three attempts and get his own BQ.
Weather at the race has been challenging in the past, but this year it was perfect for racing – 40º F at the start, no headwinds, overcast and near 50º F at the finish.
Heading into the race, I had finished up a very good training block, focusing more on speed and longer tempo runs than I had prior to Boston. Additionally, a very solid half marathon five weeks out from CIM had me confident that I was on track to meet my goals to BQ and PR.
Not having been to CIM before, I tapped into my running network and followed some veterans into town. I rode their logistical coattails for where to stay (there are plenty of hotels downtown near the finish line), the quick stop at the Expo on Saturday afternoon (don’t wander around too much), our pre-race meals (good Japanese food early in the evening), plus when and where to meet up to catch our bus to the race start on Sunday morning (first busses leave the convention center at 5 a.m.).
After talking with my pacers at the expo, I decided to finalize my race strategy, which was to stick with the pace group and not go out too fast during the first five miles, use them to manage the rollers through the first half, see how it felt through miles 18-21 and run a solid negative split. The pacers had warned me that it tends to get really crowded around them while running through the first half of the race, so I should just hang back from them about 20 feet and ride in their wake until things thin out after mile 15.
Any concerns I had about the pacers knowing what they were doing went away after the first two miles. We had perfect pacing, hitting all of our splits within +/-3 seconds every mile I was with them. A friend from home was trying for the same time goal and we ran together just behind the pace group from the start to mile 22, keeping each other focused on executing our race plans.
Through the middle miles, our splits stayed remarkably consistent, but the rolling hills began to take their toll on some of the folks in the pace group. To counter the ill effects, we offered each other encouragement and assistance through the aid stations, trying to make sure everyone got what they needed and to “stay on the bus” our pacers were driving. By mile 16, the group had started to thin out, and when we hit mile 20 some folks had already pushed on ahead while others lost contact and fallen back.
When we reached the last small climb over the H Street bridge right before mile 22, it was time for me to start a slow increase my effort. Over the next two miles that didn’t pull me away from the pace group much. But at mile 24 on totally flat and straight road, I pushed a little harder and was able to gain some separation. At this point, it was a question of maintaining the current pace, and getting to the line. And that was the moment when I knew I was going to have a negative split, a huge PR and reach my goal.
As we started to get close to the Capitol, my anticipation for last two sharp left turns grew with each stride. CIM has the women finish down one chute and the men down another. Getting a look at the clock, I saw confirmation I was going to run my PR and I had the satisfaction of executing my race plan eerily close to how I had envisioned it for the last several months.
Crossing the line and meeting a goal I had set for myself more than a year ago was a surreal feeling. I was so happy to have gone sub-three, and suddenly so stiff and tired as I finally stopped running.
After walking slowly through the chute, I received my medal, turned to see my friend who had shared all those earlier miles and gave him a hug for hitting his goal. It was only after I turned away that the full realization of what I had done really hit me. I had to lean against a fence to try and compose myself. Then I went up and rang that BQ bell – hard.
All those miles in the past 12 months (2300+ of them) came rushing through me. Countless tempo runs, interval sessions with training groups, runs by myself in the predawn darkness, long runs on Sundays. They all worked and help me push past the disappointment of falling short seven months prior.
A few minutes later, one of my training partners who has run 20+ marathons came through with a new PR. And a little after that, my good friend who had yet to finish a marathon strongly, ran a negative split himself, with a 14-minute PR…which means we’ll be headed to Boston together in 2018!
Patagonia Strider Pro Shorts
Nike Pro Combat Short Sleeve Shirt
Pre-race hydration – Skratch Labs hyper hydration mix
During race nutrition – Skratch Labs fruit drops energy chews (orange and raspberry)
Post-race – Skratch labs rescue hydration mix