A Little Help From My Friends: California International Marathon Race Report

Leave some medals for the rest of us!

The California International Marathon is a traditional west coast launching pad for runners vying for a spot in the Boston Marathon. Many folks, myself included, have taken advantage of the fast, net downhill course which wends its way from Folsom to the Capitol in Sacramento to punch their Patriots Day ticket.

My last training run in the bank, I threw my kit together and headed to Sacramento. Hit the expo and later met up with dailymile friends Caleb M. and Chris S. for an early pre-race dinner at Pyramid Alehouse topped off with one of their tasty, seasonal Snow Cap Ales. Good times catching up and talking about race strategy and expectations. Using good natured one-upsmanship to motivate one another they had both trained hard in a quest to turn in a time in the low 2:30s. With the new rolling registration for Boston in mind my goal was something in the 3:19 to 3:14 range which would put me in one of the early registration pools.

Race day dawned cool and calm with no hint of the winds that had been buffeting the state all week. Perfect race day weather. After milling about in the warmth of a hotel lobby, I piled onto a bus with lots of other excited runners and had a pleasant conversation with my seatmate all the way up to the starting area in Folsom. Dawdled on the bus a bit to soak up every last bit of warmth before heading out into the familiar swirl of the potty/sweats bag truck/start line maelstrom. I love the start of a big race like this—the cheers rising up from the runners as taper-tamped, pent-up energy is released; the arcs of discarded clothing flying through the air; and the arrhythmic beat of thousands of feet slapping the asphalt. Before me 26.2 miles of car-free streets devoid of meandering pedestrians and overzealous yapping dogs. The time had come to make a substantial withdrawl from my mileage bank and run a smart race.

Now, the first rule of marathon running is you don’t talk about marathon running. The second rule is don’t go out too fast which is difficult at CIM. The course trends downhill and starts off with a long, discipline-busting downhill. Soon, however, you have a chance to reconnect with your pace plan as you encounter the first of many of the race’s rolling hills. Another one of my early pacing problems involved missing the first couple of mileage markers. Not only did I not see the signs for miles 1 and 2, but I also did not hear the familiar chimes of multiple Garmins announcing the split. I’m certain I ran my first mile faster than my first split of 21:31 would indicate.

The miles clicking by I noticed I was passing a lot of runners, and my splits (6:50, 7:04, 7:04 for Miles 4 through 6) indicated I was setting myself up for a late stage, cramp-plagued meltdown. For me being out in front of the 3:10 pace group at mile 5 is a boneheaded move. Just then I noticed two fast looking fellows (don’t judge, you’ve thought the same thing, too) who were keeping up a pace I thought I could manage. I tucked in behind them and let them pull me down the course using their tremendous pace discipline to help me maintain metronomic splits ranging between 7:00 to 7:16 from miles 7 through 21. With my wee pace group set, I focused on my nutrition plan sucking on GU Chomps, taking water at almost every aid station (twice opting for the electrolyte drink to stave off those leg cramps), and two gels in the later miles after the half marathon mark.

As the race wore on I couldn’t believe I was still keeping up with my mini pace group. Each time they surged ahead a little I easily closed the gap and stayed with them. And, as the distance remaining dropped to single digits, the 3:10 pace group still hadn’t passed by. It was beginning to believe it might be a special day. I had hoped to stay with my group through the finish so I could thank them for helping me, but at mile 20 the duo took off leaving me to bring it home on my own. I flew up the last uphill on the bridge near mile 22 and headed onto the tree-lined streets of Sacramento enjoying the energy of the surprisingly large amount of clapping, waving, boisterous spectators.

By now I was feeling a bit of discomfort in my hips and feet reflected in the slight upward trend of my splits, which while higher remained remarkably consistent—7:22, 7:20, 7:20, and 7:21 for Miles 22-25—but I sped forward picking off a few more runners as we headed to the Capitol. Rounding the final turn I kicked past one last runner and bounded across the finish line. Stopped my watch and looked down to see 3:08:10, smashing my previous PR by a full ten minutes and giving me plenty of cushion for the new Boston qualifying requirements. I was stunned; I had never before run a marathon without running multiple miles at over an 8 minute per mile pace, and now I had finished one keeping the pace under 7:21 throughout. Elated, I ran over to greet the fabulous Layla B., volunteering for medal duty. She gave me a great, ”You’re finished already?!” along with a big hug.

And with that my race day was finished, and training for my next challenge had begun.


I Love A Parade

Headed downtown this morning to view the Veterans Day Parade here in San Francisco. I had never seen the parade before, and I wanted to take it in before they stop having one. With the sparse crowd lining the route at the head of the parade, it was hard to believe thousands of people used to line the sidewalks to watch this event.

First Fall Haul

Fueling up at the Fairfax Coffee Roastery

Okay. So I discovered the bike doesn’t fit in the car. Not a big deal, except I was planning a leisurely drive to the start of a 43 mile bike ride. Now I had twenty five minutes to cross the City to meet up with the group of cyclists participating in one of the AIDS/Lifecycle’s Fall Haul training rides.. I jumped on the bike and started pedaling like mad hoping to reach the Presidio Sports Basement from my Mission District apartment before the ride out. I almost did, too, but just as I turned on to Mason street, there in the distance I spied a line of riders heading north toward the bridge. Undaunted I kept at it, and on the rise before the bridge parking lot, I met up with one of the ride leaders, Angelo, who handed me a route map and welcomed me to the ride.

And what a wonderful morning for a long ride. Beautiful, clear fall skies with not a hint of wind. We crossed the Golden Gate Bridge, rode through Sausalito, and climbed Camino Alto from Mill Valley into Larkspur. On the climb I chatted with another ride leader, Buzz, who talked up how much fun the big ride in June is going to be. I stuck with him and another rider, Joy, as we passed through the darling towns of San Anselmo and Ross on our way to our turnaround spot in Fairfax.

Fueled up and buoyed by friendly conversation with other riders I rejoined Angelo and headed to Tiburon to tackle the Tiburon Loop. And while I’m usually content with following other riders, at one point on Paradise Drive, Angelo encouraged me to take the lead. I moved forward and led our little group up through the back end of Tiburon. At one point I marvelled at how far I’d already come on the bike as I sped through a tight turn with traffic whizzing by while casually chatting away with Angelo who stayed on my rear wheel. I know I still have a lot to learn about pacing, taking hills, and proper nutrition, but for a few moments all of my doubts and inhibitions were swept away, and I felt like a proper cyclist.

I split off from a large contingent of riders taking in the full Loop since I still had the ride home to contend with once we returned to Sports Basement. A pleasantly uneventful ride back into the City with a bit of cooling fog on the south side of the bridge, and at the end of this epic ride no cheering crowds or high-fiving volunteers. Just a lonely clipboard with a sign-in sheet marking our return.

I’ll probably do another ride or two with the Lifecycle group as long as they don’t interfere with my training for my upcoming marathon. But once I recover from CIM, it’s going to be all about the bike.

Plays Well With Others

The bike getting to know others of its kind.

Passed a big milestone today with my first ever group ride training with other cyclists taking part in AIDS/LifeCycle 11. While I’ve ridden the majority of today’s route before, the ride was a great opportunity to learn the dynamics of a large-scale group ride and meet some of the folks with whom I’ll be pedaling to Los Angeles. So, I woke up early to get myself across the City to the Presidio Sports Basement. I skipped the warm up exercises, but listened intently to the all-important safety speech which contained at least one important revelation. The ALC folks don’t believe in rolling, Idaho stops, and when you’re participating in one of their events at all red stop lights and signs you’re to stop forward momentum and place one foot on the ground. I ride like that for the most part anyway with a lapse here and there, but I still wish there was a little flexibility.

The safety speech with the first climb in the background.

After leaving the parking lot we headed out to climb up to the western sidewalk of the Golden Gate Bridge. Instead of trying to speed across, I fell in behind a rider and let her pace pull me along while I got a chance to look out over the calm, grey Pacific streaching out to the far horizon. Across the bridge we blazed downhill for the drop into Sausalito. We rolled through town, along Richardson Bay, and before I knew it we reached the turnaround point at the Depot Cafe at the end of Miller Avenue in Mill Valley. As other cyclists arrived groups of riders would gather and fall into conversation, grab a bite to eat, and most importantly for some, fuel up with coffee.

Returning to Sports Basement was a little more DIY; there was no ride out, and instead cyclists would trickle out singly or in small groups. I had a nice ride back on my own mostly which included a strong ride up the Sausalito Lateral, and only one “biker moment” when a couple of time-trialers passed me while going around one of the bridge towers. Nice job fellers; enjoy the yellow jersey.

Ups and Downs

The bike in the foreground. Alameda, Oakland, Berkeley, and San Francisco in the background.

Today was all about climbing, and what a perfect day for it.

I was meeting a friend across the bay in Oakland, so I roused myself out of bed early to get ready and head out to catch the train to the East Bay. We met up without incident, made a few last minute adjustments, and then were off.

The ride started out in the Temescal and Rockridge neighborhoods, but soon we were climbing alongside the freeway toward the Caldecott Tunnel. After cycling for a bit, we stopped for a moment at an art installation commemorating the tragic Oakland Hills Fire before taking on Skyline Boulevard with its gradual curves and generally easy climb. At Grizzly Peak we decided to press onward and upward in order to take in the view. Eventually the road flattened out, and we found a turnout which overlooked a stunning view of the Bay Area sweeping from Alameda to Berkeley with San Francisco in the distance still wrapped in fog.

Well rested and hydrated we hopped back on for the ride back to my friend’s place which involved an exhilarating, slightly scary decent. A terrific payoff for all the climbing, but on my list of things involving cycling competence, properly negotiating decents is high. I held my own on today’s big plunge and didn’t ride the brakes too much, but I know I’ve got to learn technique which will in turn feed my confidence.

Worst. Force Quit. Ever

The scene outside of the Apple Store on Stockton at Market in San Francisco.

I don’t have much to add or anything profound to say about Steve Jobs and his untimely death. Even though it was obvious his cancer was quickly advancing, when I read the news I still couldn’t help but feel shocked. Suddenly a spouse, a father, a good friend was gone. Now I imagine, if we care, it’s up to us to honor his legacy by using his gizmos and gadgets to bring a little bit of light, levity, and love into the world.

Oh, and the tribute pictured above has to be the most ordered one I’ve ever seen consisting of personal messages scribbled on colored Post-It notes affixed in ordered rows and columns on the window of the Apple store. And, as a bonus, along with flowers, folks left apples behind!