California International Marathon 2012 : Sub 3 in the Sac

Ten days out from race day, I began checking the Sacramento forecast daily. With a week to go, there was a 60 percent chance of rain, overcast, with small wind gusts. Perfect running weather. It seemed like the conditions worsened each day. Three days away from the race, there was a 100 percent chance of rain with winds predicted to be 25-30 mph. The weatherman on TV looked old, so I was hoping he was just seeing things on his Doppler radar. I couldn’t even tell you the last time I ran in rain.

For some reason I don't think he was seeing things...

For some reason I don’t think he was seeing things…

I flew in early Friday morning. I looked out the plane window and saw dark grey clouds, lots of rain, and strong winds. I had all morning to myself so I decided to head to Folsom to drive the course. One thing I noticed were the conditions of the roads. Most of the them did not drain very well, leaving huge puddles of water on the ground. The course had many small rollers.  There was a net loss of 300 feet, with just under 500 feet of climbing.  Without wind, it could be a very fast course.

Driving the course!

Driving the course.

I went thrift shopping at Goodwill.  I bought a $5 pair of throw away shoes so I could put on a dry pair when the race started. I also got a nice baby-blue fleece coat and some pants.  Gotta be fresh!

♫ ♪ I'm gonna pop some tags, only got twenty dollars in my pocket ♫♪♫

♫ ♪ I’m gonna pop some tags, only got twenty dollars in my pocket ♫♪♫

My friend, Bobby, who put in a streak of over a year straight of running, came to spectate. His 14-month year old son, Finn, was also there to root (cry) me on.  My friends Kim and Dean also joined in on the fun. They were both shooting for Boston qualifying times.  This trip was real easy going. I treated this race as a no pressure, “just-for-fun” type race. Sure, I was well-trained for it, and I really wanted to break the three hour barrier, but I had the most fun hanging with good friends.  We all hung out for most of the day Saturday.  Five of us wolves, running around the rain together, in Sac town… visiting the Lululemon store, expo, several coffee shops, and the Spaghetti Factory.

One thing nice about traveling with a 14-month year old baby during a race is it’s lights out at 7 p.m.  Race night, I laid in bed mentally preparing and embracing myself for the harsh weather conditions.  I visualized running across the line in under three hours.  I had done the work. I knew I was capable of reaching this goal.  Most importantly, I wanted it…. bad.

Race day:

I woke up at 4:30 a.m., changed, ate, and was ready to hit the road. Bobby was our sherpa as he drove us to the start in Folsom, about a 25 minute drive away from downtown Sacramento.

The winds and rain looked awful. Roads were flooded. I could feel the wind hitting the car as we drove to the start.  The rain was moving sideways. Tree branches and debris were flying across the road. I had several negative thoughts running through my head. This looked like zero fun. I went into the McDonalds to warm up and have a ‘man-up’ talk with myself. I was not abandoning my sub three hour goal. I proved I could PR in harsh conditions in Boston.  This race was no different.  I could do this. Mother nature is my bitch.

Waiting at the start.

Waiting at the start.

6:40 a.m. – We headed towards the runner drop off area to be bused one mile away to the start. Unfortunately, many runners (like us) waited until the last possible minute to board. There was a long line of athletes lined up to be bused at 6:50 a.m. The race started at 7 a.m.! It was an automatic disqualification if you crossed the line later than 7:05 a.m. There was panic on the bus. It was 6:58 a.m. and the bus still hadn’t dropped us off. I stayed calm as I knew there were several hundred runners that were going to start even later than us. With over 6,000 runners waiting until the last possible second to avoid standing in the rain, the drivers had a tough time getting people to the start on time.  Runners on the bus started freaking out. It was 7:01 a.m.! The doors swung open, I heard the start gun go off, and it turned into chaos. I bolted out the school bus, throwing off my garbage bag poncho and ripping off the plastic bags around my shoes, as I sprinted towards the start. My chip time was 1:30 slower than the gun. I tried to keep the positive thoughts flowing as I was pelted by heavy rains, battling strong winds, and stuck behind slow runners and walkers.

I was immediately soaking wet. My friend Angi sent me a text the day before the race: “At least you can poo your pants and no one will notice.” Probably a true statement…

The start. I was waaaaaaay in the back.

The start. I was waaaaaaay in the back.

The aftermath.

The aftermath.

Run smart. Those were the only words going through my head as I crossed the start mat. Marathons are way too long to get caught up in uncontrollable circumstances in the early miles of a race.  Long course racing is all about patience. I know the feeling of blowing up in a marathon. The last few miles can destroy dreams if you waste too much energy in the early miles.

Miles 1-3 : My plan was to run slow. Nothing under 7 minute miles. I started out conservatively. I tried my best not to waste too much energy weaving in and out of people. I stayed to the very left of the road as I passed hundreds of runners. Trash bags were flying everywhere. The race started out with a torrential downpour. I wore sunglasses, but I never used them. Starting so far back, I was jumping from pack to pack. First the 4:00 pace group, then the 3:45… soon I saw the 3:30, then the 3:15. This definitely was not how I anticipated starting the race. Miles 1-3 = 6:58 pace.

Running through flooded roads.

Running through flooded roads.

Why not?

Guy wearing a ski mask. Why not?

Mile 4-20: I planned to increase my pace to 6:40 minute miles and hold on at the end.  It’s the strategy I practiced in my long training runs and I was confident it would work.   Miles 4-7 were going as planned, easily cranking out 6:40s.  Then mile 8 came and BOOM – 30 mph headwind.  My pace plummeted. I knew if I wasn’t careful, I could use up all my energy and fade hard the second half of the race. I tried my best to tuck behind runners to block me from the wind. The packs around the pace groups were the biggest.  I’d tuck behind a pack of runners, wait for the winds to calm a little, and then jump the gap to the next group. Mile eight I ran a 7:24! Ugh.  I knew I was going to have to fight the clock for the rest of the day in order to reach my goal.  I battled this headwind for 5 miles.  Miles 8 -13 were torture. There were times it blew me sideways.  I could feel it lifting me up and slowing me down. I tried to keep my mile times around seven minutes so I wouldn’t have to make up too much time.

Rain and wind.

Rain and wind.

A Christmas miracle occurred around the halfway point.  First, we switched directions and got a strong crosswind. I could deal with that. Running seemed so much easier.   Mile 14 came around and the winds really eased up. Running felt easy again. I was running 6:35’s with no effort.  I paced with a someone until mile 24, as we took turns pulling every few minutes.  By mile 15, people were fading bad as we flew past everyone.  We consistently put in 6:40-6:45 minute miles after mile 13. Mile 20 soon came by- I felt good, my spirits were up, my nutrition was spot on, and I was confident I was going to accomplish my goal.

It’s, by far, the best I’ve ever felt in the late stages of a marathon.  At mile 22 I remember thinking, “I’m really going to do this. I’m going to break 3!”  My turnover was good and I was still right on pace.  At mile 24, my pacer buddy told me he was going to take off.  He picked up the pace.  I tried going with him, but the sudden change in pace really threw me off.  I suddenly felt real fatigued.  My quads were aching and felt like they were on the verge of cramping.  Picking up my legs took a lot more effort.  The pistons weren’t firing.  Time to dig deep. Only 14 more minutes of pain, I told myself.

Mile 24 was a 6:54. I was really starting to fade.  As I passed the 25 mile marker, I looked at my watch and it was 2:52:10. Shit!!! I’d need to run the last 1.2 miles around a 6:30 pace.  Looking back at the race, it’s amazing how easy this may seem to accomplish. Yet, it may be the most difficult challenge I faced all year. When your body is starting cramp up, your legs hurt, you feel like you’re carrying 50 pound weights around your ankles, you’re closing your eyes praying that the pain will soon subside, trying to dig deep into the pain cave… this is the moment that tests what you’re all about. I wanted sub three hours bad. I closed my eyes, tried turning off my mind and ignoring the pain, and turned my legs over as fast as I could. Mile 26 came. 2:58:44. Time to sprint it out.  I knew I could run 385 yards in 1:16. I’ve done it a million times at track.  It all came down to this.

The finishing stretch is tough because you don’t see the finish until the last few hundred feet. I ran as hard as I could as the seconds ticked away… 2:59:30..:31…:32….:33. I made the turn on 8th Street. I was almost there, but I still couldn’t see the finish!!! I stared at my watch, running as fast as I could…. :43…:44… :45. Finally, I made the turn on Capital Mall street and I saw the finish. I gave it everything I had. I had no time to enjoy the finish. No looking around. No time for a fist pump. I had to cross the line before 3:00:00.

I literally leaned in at the finish line, hit stop on my Garmin and was ecstatic to see 2:59:54!!! I couldn’t have cut it any closer. Considering the tough winds, I couldn’t be more happy about my result.

235/6,496 OA = 3.6%

45/314 AG = 14.3%

To put the strong winds into perspective, the 235th overall finisher in 2011 ran a  2:54; elites were five minutes slower as well compare to prior years.

I immediately got extremely cold, as I started shivering uncontrollably. Volunteers took me to medical as my core temperature had dropped to 93 degrees. They fed me some hot soup, wrapped me up in blankets, and put me in the heated tent. I didn’t care how I felt. I broke three hours and the feeling of achieving this goal in tough conditions was well worth any kind of misery at the end.

We quickly headed back to the hotel room to shower, got warm, and killed a few beers before heading back to Phoenix.

Cheers!

Cheers!

It’s been a great year — Boston, qualifying at Florida 70.3, Vegas Worlds… and now my first sub three marathon. I can’t wait to get the party started in 2013. For now though, I’m gonna enjoy gaining a few holiday pounds, hanging out with friends, and enjoying a little break in December. Thanks to all my friends and family who’ve supported me throughout the year. See ya in 2013!

A local news broadcast of CIM:

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6 Comments on “California International Marathon 2012 : Sub 3 in the Sac”

  1. teri
    December 5, 2012 at 2:21 pm #

    Wowza! Way to pull out a 2:54!!!!! 🙂

  2. December 5, 2012 at 2:34 pm #

    Well earned Elliot!

  3. DeWitt
    December 5, 2012 at 3:03 pm #

    Great Job Elliot!!!

  4. December 5, 2012 at 4:39 pm #

    Hell of a way to close out the year. Congrats!

  5. Bobby
    December 5, 2012 at 4:40 pm #

    ABSOLUTELY AWESOME. it was seriously an incredible performance — that’s what East Coast rain storms look like for those unfamiliar. Great effort Elliot, though Finn thinks he probably could’ve beaten you if I’d have let him run for me instead of you running for me.

  6. December 5, 2012 at 8:26 pm #

    That newscaster is pretty hot.

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