California International Marathon 2009

  • Location: California: California International Marathon
  • Date: December 6, 2009
  • Age: 43
  • Time: 4 Hours 33 Minutes and 50 seconds.

(Picture not available because I was too cheap to buy one – will not make that mistake again!)

The first one! I’m writing about this one 10+ months later (10/13/10) as I wait in SFO en route to Marathon #2 in Baltimore. I may forget a few of the details so forgive me if I do. As it was the first one, it is QUITE a memory!

I don’t remember what exactly prompted me to decide that my first marathon was going to happen in 2009. Somewhere (sometime) in the beginning of the year I decided to run one. I kept putting it off, however, which is what landed me at CIM in December.

I more or less followed a training schedule I had in the book A Runner’s Guide for Women. I did not, however, follow it exactly. My longest run was somewhere in the vicinity of 20 miles and I only did it one time. The weather was to my advantage though. My runs occurred on beautiful days and I was a bit nervous that I hadn’t trained sufficiently. With a busy life containing two teenagers, a husband, my own business and various other commitments, I figured I was lucky I accomplished what I did. Mourad was a great support. We are polar opposites, however, when it comes to how we operate. (I use my Polar watch, he runs on instinct, he eats figs on a run, and I like GU – a jam like calorie dense energy gel.) Nonetheless, he was a great guide and mentor. He checked up on me during the long runs and made sure I was hydrated. A true champ of a husband!

The day was fast approaching. Much to my dismay, I found out that you have to go in person and pick up your race packet the night before and Jasmine’s Winter Ball was that night. I really didn’t want to miss the picture taking, so through the help of an e-mail blast to a runner’s network, a gentleman named Mark agreed to pick up my packet at the expo. Whew!

After the picture taking frenzy, I was off to Sacramento. I took it as a good sign that on the drive, there was an exit for “Ken Dr.” (my Dad’s name.) I called my mom to share the good news. She didn’t share my glee as she was worried that I was about to embark on a 26.2 sojourn. I assured her that I was ready, that I didn’t really have a time I wanted to finish and I was just going to enjoy the run.

AUTHOR’S NOTE: When runners say that they don’t “really have a time they want to shoot for”, they are lying. I was thinking in my head between 4 – 4 ½ hours. Mourad already knew what time I was going to finish but did not share this with me.

I digress – back to the story! On my way to Sacramento, I was thinking about all of the training time I had put in and how hard it was. Many times I contemplated quitting although not seriously. I was quite pleased that I had stuck with it. Besides, I would have disappointed all of the clients, family and everyone else I blabbed to about actually running the marathon!

I checked in to the hotel, got settled and let Mourad know that I arrived. For those of you that are not Bay Area savvy, the drive from Castro Valley (home) to Sacramento is only a bit over one hour.. After retrieving the bib packet from Mark (what a guy!), I went back to the hotel to eat (again) for my last carb load. I had packed a small cooler with all of the usual pre-race accoutrements such as potato salad, bread, enough water to supply six camels, Power Bars, GU, etc. I definitely wasn’t hungry as pre-race nerves were getting ready to kick in.

AUTHOR’S NOTE: There are only three times in a woman’s life that you can eat whatever you want and get away with it:

  1. Birth – 6 months
  2. While pregnant
  3. The week before a marathon

Needless to say, this is my favorite part! Unfortunately, I was not very hungry that week as my nervous energy increased. I did however; keep dutifully eating the night before.

4 AM SUNDAY DECEMBER 6TH: Race starts sat 7 am so I am up (not that I have slept much). Due to some hotel malfunction with wake up calls, I never received mine but my body clock must have kicked in so I was up. The hotel was providing a complimentary continental breakfast which was a nice touch. I toddle down to get coffee, a banana and to see the other cast of characters getting ready for this incredible race. As I look around, I am amazed at the array of different sizes, shapes and ages of the participants

AUTHOR’S NOTE: It is a misconception in this day and age that if you are a runner you are 90 lbs, 5’ whatever and from an African country. You see the tall, short, thin, stocky (you get the picture) in all ages to boot. I am routinely dusted in races by women 10 – 15 years older than me (yes – I check the ages in the results) and by people heavier. It is more the mental & physical dedication to the sport that will pull you through rather than a genetic predisposition (ok – it helps.)

Back upstairs, I munch on the banana first, followed by the coffee, water and the Power Bar. It is important to time your eating and your bodily functions (not going into detail here). My stomach is starting to flip flop even more. Am I really ready for this? Am I completely crazy? If the answer is yes, then there are 4,999 other people who are as well. I am in great company!

Getting dressed – I am ready to layer. A note about the weather: Sacramento in December is not the same as Los Angeles. Race time temperature is projected to be 38 degrees Fahrenheit. It is now 5:30 Am though. According to the weather report, if I run the race in 4+ hours, the temperature at the finish line will be a whopping 43 degrees. Therefore, I begin assembling the essential run wear and all of its partners:

  1. Running skirt
  2. Sleeveless shirt
  3. Long sleeve shirt
  4. Throw away shirt over the long sleeve shirt
  5. Lucky race running bra (red!)
  6. Beanie
  7. Gloves
  8. Pants to take off at sweats check
  9. Jacket to take off at sweats check
  10. GU for race
  11. Race bib
  12. Lucky race socks
  13. Mile tested shoes
  14. Dried fruit in pocket

AUTHOR’S NOTE: Try to avoid December for a marathon unless you are running in Hawaii.

I made my first mistake here: you never do anything new on race day that you haven’t tested out in trial runs. Instead of carrying all of my GU’s in my zippered shirt pocket, I used safety pins and attached them to my running skirt. More on this later….

Whew! It’s time to board the bus. A little bit of course information is needed here. For those of you new to marathons, the length is 26.2 miles. Our hotel (and the meeting points) was in downtown Sacramento. We rode on a bus 26.2 away from downtown (our finishing point close to the Capitol) to Folsom to begin the race.

Back to the boarding area: As I mentioned before, runners come in all shapes and sizes but in general they are not in the obese range so I didn’t look so out of character in my race getup. I felt a little like Randy, Ralphie’s little brother in “A Christmas Story”.

It’s still pitch black outside – and remember the temperature? As we were standing in line waiting for the bus, one gentleman stood out in the crowd. He was in his early 20’s and was dressed in a sleeveless running shirt, shorts, bib shoes and socks and NOTHING ELSE! No beanie! Not even a scarf or a pair of running gloves! I wasn’t the only one wondering who this dude was as I overheard him respond to another lady: “What great running weather! I’m from Iowa and we plant corn in our underwear in this weather!”

AUTHOR’S NOTE: OK – he didn’t really say the part about the corn, but he was from Iowa and he did remark how warm it was to him.

We stood in line a LONG time as the buses were late and when one became full, we had to wait in line for the next one to arrive. This process made me nervous and furthered my desire to visit the “facilities.”

AUTHOR’S NOTE: Runners ALWAYS have to use the port o’ potties unless you are a nature god/goddess and can use the “zip n’go” method. That’s not me – the whole bathroom thing has to be timed as well. Back to the bus….

I happen to look around and being the “Chatty Kathy” I am, I wanted to meet some fellow runners. I like to target the 50 – 70’s crowd as they tend to be more talkative and open. I met a group of ladies from Canada who travel together to run marathons. They looked like ex-hockey moms out for coffee except they run. One of the gals was aiming to qualify for the Boston Marathon. She was 62.

AUTHOR’S NOTE: For those of you who don’t know, the Boston Marathon is the oldest & most prestigious of all of the marathons. You have to run a certain time in your age/gender group at a qualifying marathon in order to even have the privilege of signing up. She needed to run CIM in 4 hours 30 minutes in order to qualify. Sadly, she missed it by a few minutes.

These ladies had me laughing in no time. I told them about this being my first marathon and they couldn’t have been more supportive. We chatted for a long time.

As I was by myself and since the Canadian gals were in even numbers, I had to find an empty seat. Next I met another Canadian man who was from Montreal but was working in San Jose.

AUTHOR’S NOTE: What is it about being Canadian at this marathon? Is the average temperature in Saskatoon 38 degrees in May?

Mr. Montreal was quite cute but full of himself. I let him ramble and watched the miles of freeway passing us by. It really hit me now – we are going to run the same distance the bus is driving – wow. Should I ask the driver to stop the bus? Where’s the port o’ potty?

We arrive in Folsom. It’s still dark… It’s still cold. We are, however, in PORT O’ POTTY heaven! There are dozens of them everywhere and they are beautiful. This is a very good thing because I am in dire need of one pronto due to the nerves, coffee and water. A quick glance to the right and I see barbed wire. God help us! We are next to Folsom Prison! I hope they don’t have a work release program that involves running.

The sun is starting to come up. After a last visit to potty heaven and sweats check, I am ready. I look up into the most gorgeous sunrise. An unexpected peace comes over me and I know from this point on, it will be an unforgettable day. I will not only finish but I will feel strong. Thank you God for this beautiful inspiration.

We are ready to go. Even though there are 5,000 runners the atmosphere is warm and homey.

Here goes the countdown and we are OFF! This area of Folsom must be farm land because we are running past houses with a lot of land. People are sitting out in lawn chairs in front of their houses drinking coffee and giving us encouraging remarks as we pass.

I am trying not to go too fast. Adrenaline is attempting to take over. I know I am going to be out here a long time and as Mourad says: “Respect the distance.”

In case you are wondering, it’s still cold. I had taken off the sweatpants prior to the start and am running in all of the rest of the garb. I can’t feel my legs. We are now somewhere between miles 8 – 10.

We are now approaching a very cute little town. (I can’t remember the name). It looks like something from the 1950’s. I expect Ritchie and Fonzie to come strolling by. I look to my left and see a fantastic sight. There are two ladies running side by side and between them is a baton. How odd, I think. I look closer and realize why. I am totally humbled instantly – one lady is blind. The woman next to her is her guide.

Running a marathon is a humbling experience in many ways. Obviously, there is the distance. Not so obvious are the subtle events and interactions you witness. For example, one man running near me was severely burned. It didn’t stop him. Many people wear signs on their shirts with messages about loved ones. One of my favorites: “If you think this is hard, try being a five year old with brain cancer.” It was in this race that I witnessed my first runner with a prosthetic leg. I ran next to him and told him how much I admired his fortitude. He smiled. I also loved the 70 year old grandpa with the shirt that proclaimed: “World’s best granddad!” I asked him if it is true and he replies” “You bet your a__!” (You gotta love that!) Writing this makes tears spring to my eyes – what do I ever have to complain about?

We are now approaching “the wall”. It is literally a wall with a hole cut in it symbolizing the race expression “hitting the wall.”

AUTHOR’S NOTE: Hitting the wall is a point that you may hit where you either run out of gas completely or you have to slow down due to fatigue, cramping, etc. Common causes are dehydration, running too fast too soon or not training sufficiently.

Happy to say, I ran through it. We are now in a town called Carmichael. I believe we are around 15 – 18 but I am not sure. It is a very well to do neighborhood and it’s not so darn cold anymore! The wind is still blowing strong but maybe I’m getting used to it.

Are you wondering about the part where I said I made my first big mistake? Do you remember the GU’s I safety pinned to my shirt? (I did put GU and fruit in my zipper pocket thank goodness!) I had tested the pocket but not the safety pin trick. Guess what happened? ALL of the GU’s (except one) that were pinned had fallen off! Fortunately they were handing them out on the course so I was saved!

AUTHOR’S NOTE: Remember I said never do anything on race day that you haven’t tested on a run? Heed my warning!

I look at the mile marker. I can’t believe we are down to the last 6.2 miles. There is a psychological turning point when you see the race numbers start to change to “20, 21, 22”. It dawns on me: I really am going to make it! Do you believe that I actually started running faster?

We arrive in downtown Sacramento. The crowds are getting larger. I hear music playing. The weather is now sunny and not so frigid – 43 degrees. Time to unload the gloves, beanie and top shirt!

AUTHOR’S NOTE: Before you think runners are all litter bugs, those discarded items are collected and sent to homeless shelters and charities.

Mile 25: I hear the music getting louder. Is it the Beatles? Yes! I don’t remember the song but I begin to run faster. Do you know I ran the last 1.2 miles in 9 minutes?

I can’t see the finish line and I know it has to be close. I have forgotten that you have to round a corner in order to see it. Someone yells my bib number from the crowd and tells me to smile – I am home free.

I pass a lady who is unhappily crying. It had been a tough marathon for her and she is walking. Her friend has his arm around her. I give her a high five and she smiles. She’ll finish.

And so will I. I round the corner and see the banner – for some reason women finish to the right and men to the left. I cross the line with three other ladies that have been with me the last couple of miles.

I thought I would cry but instead I was proud, sweaty, stinky and overjoyed. I would not have traded a single moment of the whole experience.

As I enter the area right after the finish line, I receive my Finisher’s Medal. I look up and mouth a silent thank you. I know this is not the last marathon. In fact, it will be the first of many – 50 of them that is!