Friday, December 11, 2015

California International Marathon 2015 Race Recap

Hi there, I'm Jen, and I supposedly have a running blog. Not that you would know it from the lack of posting over the past month-plus.

Hopefully you follow me on Instagram and have seen some pretty sunsets/race pics.

Every weekend, I'd plan to post on Sundays, and then with long runs, errands and food prepping, I'd figure I would just carve out a little time at work on Monday or Tuesday. But the past couple months were quite busy at work, and with the addition of going to physical therapy a few times a week and fitting in workouts, posting just totally fell to the wayside. It feels silly to apologize for not posting, but at the same time, I hate stopping something partway through, which is how I left my training logs.

So I solemnly swear I will enter my training logs from the last weeks of training. It's more for myself than for readers, but also because I was able to manage the hamstring issues I mentioned and training with the assistance of Coach Jess and Sam(antha) at Pro Sports Physical Therapy, so perhaps it will be helpful to someone out there.

So, moving on... I ran the California International Marathon this past Sunday!

It was a rough race for me. My original A+ goal for this marathon was to go sub-4. I knew things would need to align for that to happen, but I thought it might be achievable. Once my hamstring started acting up and I couldn't run below a 10 minute mile without pain, my goal was put on the back burner and I just wanted to know I'd be able to run the marathon.

As I wrote, Coach Jess and my physical therapist, Sam, were AMAZING. I'd pass on to Sam what Jess wanted me to do, Sam would give her blessing or suggest tweaks, and we worked around the hamstring issues. After two weeks of working with Sam, I could run 9:xx miles again. After four weeks, with two weeks to go till the marathon, I had an incredibly strong tempo run on Thanksgiving that had me running a 7:45ish mile with no pain, and a strong marathon paced 10 mile run.

Post-strong tempo run on Thanksgiving. I've never seen the tide so high at Back Bay!
In some ways I'm a bit bummed I had these strong workouts, because they made me think maybe my sub-4 goal could be achievable after all. Jess said she thought that if the stars aligned aligned and I had a perfect day, I might be able to go sub-4 -- that I was capable of it, but given everything, that it wasn't necessarily a likely outcome, basically -- but she was very confident that I would PR no matter what the conditions were. Instead of an A+ goal, a sub-4 became an A+++ goal (a 110%, if you will).

As we got closer and closer to race day, the rainy forecast solidified, and I started getting nervous. During all 18 weeks of training, it had only really rained once on a run, and it was a warm, refreshing rain that only lasted for three of the seven miles. Race day was going to be high 40s, low 50s and potentially somewhat heavy rain. Jess and I discussed what I would wear if it rained, and I packed a bunch of different options.

I don't know if it was the forecast or general race nerves, but I was incredibly anxious about the race all week and had a lot of trouble getting to sleep. I kept getting into bed at 9 or 9:30 p.m. and then tossing and turning until 11 p.m. Worse, Bea, one of my cats, kept meowing and demanding to be pet multiple times a night, meaning my sleep wasn't very restful. (And yes, I could have put her outside our bedroom, but then she would scratch at the door and meow, which would also wake me up.)

[Note: I wrote most of this while waiting for furniture this morning. We thought Bea had escaped and I spent 30 minutes frantically searching for her until finding her cozily tucked behind the laundry machine. I think she hid there to remind me how much I love her and to tell me to stop bitching about her being cuddly.]

So unfortunately I was a bit sleep deprived when Sourabh and I left work early on Thursday and drove up to Sacramento. It's a six to seven hour drive depending on traffic, but we made good time and only hit a couple slowdowns in LA.

Caught a gorgeous sunset on the drive up.
We spent Thursday and Friday nights with our friends, Leah and Bjoern. Leah is doing a clerkship in Sacramento and they're renting a house, so it was a great place to stay as a base of operations. Sourabh and I were able to work remotely on Friday and then we ran pre-race errands and grabbed food with them Saturday.

I just think this picture of Mason patiently awaiting some of Bjoern's waffle is hilarious.

It was so nice to have friends to hang out with all weekend -- it definitely helped assuage race nerves a bit, and it made the weekend a fun visit with a marathon thrown in. Sourabh also had some urgent work that had to be done, so I suggested he stay back and work while Leah and Bjoern joined me at the expo.

Expo buddies!
Saturday night, I crashed at the Sheraton near the finish line / bus pick-up. Highly recommend the hotel for those looking to run CIM. It's close to everything and, for its location on a big race weekend, was quite affordable (~$150). Sourabh suggested I stay at the hotel by myself so I didn't have to worry about our dog, who we brought with us, and I loved that idea.

After we cooked dinner at Leah and Bjoern's house Saturday evening (swordfish steak and brown rice, AKA carbs and protein), I got to get ready for the race by myself in the hotel room, watch an episode of Jane the Virgin (only a few episodes in, but I'm really enjoying it as a watch-while-doing-chores/cooking-type show).

Race morning dawned bright dark and early at 4:00 a.m. when I woke up, stretched, ate about 2/3 of a plain bagel with peanut butter and a banana and a few sips of coffee, then headed down to the bus stop to wait for the shuttle buses. I met a woman named Christina who became my bus buddy. We had to wait in line for about 45 minutes and then it was a 30 minute bus ride, so it was really nice to spend the time chatting with someone instead of being nervous.

After using the portapotties (which took 20 minutes to get into because of the lines -- I thought CIM had a million portapotties, but maybe I missed them?), I jogged to the start line and did my dynamic stretches.

And then we were off! It had gradually lightened, but since it was cloudy, it was still fairly dark when we started. Right around then is when the rain started as well. For about the first 30 minutes or so, it was coming down pretty heavily, before it tapered off and then just drizzled on and off for another 30 minutes or so.

I actually didn't mind the rain so much, but I did mind my rain jacket later on when it warmed up, and was especially not a fan of the chafing I ended up with on my left armpit and right heel. The pain became noticeable around the halfway mark, and the armpit especially grew more painful as time went on.

As the rain tapered off around mile 3-4, I also started upping the pace. Jess's race plan had me warming up for the first three miles, running comfortably up-tempo till mile 13, harder up-tempo for the next seven, hanging on to the best pace I could from miles 20-22, then trying to run as hard as I could from miles 22-24.

Around mile four was also where I first saw my awesome cheer squad. The night before, we'd made a race plan where Sourabh, Leah and Bjoern would drive along the course cheering. The plan was for them to see me roughly every four miles. They'd hand me my half-water half-gatorade bottles, and the idea was I'd take a new full one every time so that if I missed them once, it wouldn't matter because I'd have just gotten a full bottle (I knew I'd go through a full one roughly every 8-10 miles).

The plan in action -- Sourabh handing me my second bottle around mile 4. Leah is an excellent race photog!
This plan would have worked out brilliantly if they hadn't had such great signs. They switched signs a few times, and the second time I saw them, at mile 8ish, they had new signs that cracked me up.

Obviously I stuck my tongue out at Sourabh's sign, but I can't deny it's a good one.
They were also not on the side of the street I expected, so I just started laughing at the signs and forgot to cross over and grab my bottle. Oops! Totally my fault, but I figured I'd see them at mile 12. Only that didn't work out, because due to traffic, they weren't able to get to mile 12. I knew I wouldn't be seeing them till mile 17, so I decided to just take my third Gu sooner than planned (original plan was one every six miles, so I'd had one at 6 -- that I'd dropped so I'd only gotten about half of it -- and one at 12).

I tried not to let this get to me, and I think I did a pretty good job. I generally think my mental game was strong for the whole race. Sure, I occasionally had negative thoughts, but I would just tell myself what Jess had told me in our pre-race call: "don't spiral". If I had a negative thought, like "oof 15 more miles?" I would just tell my mind to shut up and stop spiraling. And it worked, I think!

More excellent signs! Bjoern is taking piloting classes, so he taught me some of the pilot alphabet -- the sign says RUN JEN -- and Leah's sign refers to Bjoern pushing Sourabh off a paddle board last summer.

If you're wondering why I haven't mentioned the course to this point, that's because it was pretty nondescript. You run on a few different roads through suburban areas, mainly, that grow denser as you get closer to downtown Sacramento. I do have to applaud the people who came out to cheer, though, especially given the dreary conditions. Some were clearly cheering for friends and family, but a lot of them just seemed like residents who wanted to cheer on the runners. There isn't a strong presence the whole way, but I would say you couldn't go more than a half mile without seeing someone cheering, which was cool.

I hit the halfway mark under 2:00, which meant that if I continued running strong, I could actually run sub-4. I didn't let myself get excited, though, because I knew the second half of the marathon is a beast and you can't take anything for granted, especially when my hamstring wasn't feeling 100% (it didn't hurt, but it also didn't feel great).

As if to prove that marathons are unpredictable beasts, around mile 15 I started having abdominal pain. It started with my abdominal muscles tightening up -- they felt like a big ball of knots. As the miles progressed, the pain started getting worse and worse, and my pace started slipping in response to the pain.

By mile 19, the pain had increased to stabbing sensations in my abdomen. It was getting harder and harder to breathe because my abdomen hurt so much when I breathed in. I had started being passed a lot as my pace slowed, which was demoralizing, but I refused to stop running. I revised any race goals I'd previously had and decided I was going sub-4:10. When I passed Sourabh, Leah and Bjoern around mile 19, I made a face to try to let them know I was in pain, and in mile 22 when I saw them, I didn't even take my fuel bottle because I was too scared drinking would make the pain worse.

Mile 24 was definitely the worst mile. The pain was so bad that I was breathing through gritted teeth.  I'd slowed by so much, I feared I wouldn't be able to finish under 4:10 (and at that point was in no way capable of doing simple race math). So I kept pushing as hard as I could. I didn't realize it, but I must have been running bent over since my back was incredibly sore for a few days, which my physical therapist thinks was due to me being hunched over from pain while I ran. The abdominal pain continued when I stretched my ab muscles for a few days post-race, so Sam thinks it was some kind of muscle issue, potentially a spasm?

As we got close to the capitol building in Sacramento (and therefore the finish line), I started pushing myself despite the pain. I was close to 4:10 and I had decided it was sub-4:10 or bust. Or, I mean, I'd still finish. But I was going under 4:10. I wanted a 10 minute PR.

I ran that last portion as hard as I could, crossing the finish line in 4:09:37.

Splits courtesy of my Garmin:

        Split        Time
1 09:12.1
2 09:13.5
3 09:07.9
4 09:05.8
5 09:03.3
6 09:06.7
7 08:56.3
8 09:06.0
9 09:07.8
10 08:42.4
11 08:42.8
12 09:07.2
13 09:14.9
14 09:08.4
15 09:15.0
16 09:25.6
17 09:27.0
18 09:34.5
19 09:43.7
20 10:07.6
21 10:05.5
22 10:13.7
23 10:11.1
24 10:24.9
25 10:00.9
26 09:52.2
.5 04:21.9

Exhausted but SO happy to be done!

I have such mixed emotions about this race. I logged a 10 minute 40 second PR from my first marathon at Chicago in 2013. However, I had a crazy positive split due to the abdominal pain, which means instead of being happy at a big PR, I'm kind of bummed I wasn't able to run a faster race.

After talking to Jess this past week, though, I felt a lot better. She said she was so proud of how I pushed through the pain, and that I had proved a lot about my mental capability. I'd been wondering if my positive split meant I was weak, while Jess said the fact that I refused to walk and still pushed myself was evidence of my mental strength.

Walking would not have helped the chafing stop, though -- check out the blood on my white tank top. So hardcore. Only I will take not being hardcore if it means not chafing, thanks.

When you aim for a big goal, there's more room to come up short, and I knew that going into this marathon. I hate reading race recaps that are a litany of excuses, so I'll be honest and say even if the abdominal pain hadn't occurred, I'm not sure I was ready for sub-4 given the hamstring issues I'd had. I just wasn't able to do the tough workouts both Jess and I would have liked that give you mental strength when that normal marathon pain starts. I had a lot of mental strength when it came to the distance, but I think not being able to give training 100% in what should have been peak weeks probably would have held me back. I think I'd probably have run a 4:03-4:05.

Another shot of my awesome crew. Really grateful for their support.
That said, I'm really excited to start training again. I loved training for this race. I had an awesome run buddy in Kristina, who wasn't even training for a marathon yet would run 15 miles with me. And I'm eager to continue the gains I've made. Around mile 20 I vowed that I would never run a marathon again. However, after downing some horchata and nachos at a local Mexican restaurant a few hours post-race (I couldn't even drink water immediately after I finished, let alone eat my favorite food), I started looking up spring marathons. This might be a sign of addiction, but oh well.

Delicious post-race nachos. Sadly I could only get through about a third of them since I don't have much of an appetite after races, but I had willing companions who helped out. Bless them.
What also triggered that change of heart was that I looked at my splits, and I realized I'd been running a really strong race until I started feeling the abdominal pain in mile 15.

I ran the race semi-blind, i.e. total time only displayed. I thought I was running slower than I was after mile 13 (I actually thought I'd slowed to 11's  or even 12's in the 20's -- it felt like I was running through mud). Looking back and realizing that I'd had such a strong race till that point was motivating. In the future, I think I'll let my watch click the mile paces so I have an external check on what I'm feeling. It's something I'll play around with before I run a marathon again.

Right now, I'm targeting a spring half marathon and a fall marathon. Currently thinking the Mountains to Beach Half up in Ojai/Ventura in May and the Portland Marathon in October. The goal will be to finally fix the structural issues that have led to so many hamstring problems so that I can have strong, healthy training cycles, which my physical therapist says is totally possible (thank goodness I am not just a broken human).

However, I took all of this past week off. Recovery is important, after all, and I was exhausted.

Me, basically, only less cute.
This weekend will be my first run -- extremely easy -- and I'll be focusing on running exclusively when I feel like it for the next month. Sourabh and I booked a January trip to Peru and Bolivia (!) after we found out he passed the bar exam (!!!) so we'll be doing some hiking in order to prepare for the high elevation.

So anyway! Here is to a 2016 full of strong training and even stronger racing.


  1. Congrats on the marathon and your PR!!! What a way to race despite the conditions! You'll definitely get your sub-4 at the next one!!! Hope recovery is treating you well!

  2. We've talked about this, but I will start off saying that any day you can cover 26.2 miles AND PR is a great day. Two, even though there were several uncontrollable factors working against you, it speaks volumes to your sheer determination and mental strength that you were able to hang tough and get it done. We learn something from every race, and there's no doubt you will be able to draw on this outing during future races and training runs. Let the 2016 charge begin!

    1. Thanks, Carrie :) Yes, excited for 2016 training!

  3. Congrats!! I've been so checked out of the blog world I was excited to see you still ran CIM (since I didn't...). I'm sorry you had such bad abdominal pain and didn't get the time you would have liked, but it just means you will run a really strong fall 2016 race! I'm planning on doing Mountains 2 Beach again next year, so see you there!

    1. Thank you! Your recap was one of the reasons I'm planning on Mountains 2 Beach since it sounded like the race was great (but the half distance seemed a bit better?). See you there! :)

  4. CONGRATS ON THE HUGE PR!! Sorry to hear you were in so much pain towards the end, but under the circumstances it sounds like you actually had a pretty decent raise. Nice job pushing through at the end & getting that sub-4:10!! :)

  5. HUGE congratulations on the amazing PR, and also pushing through when it was so tough! And I am glad that even though it was rough at the end, you still love marathons :)

    1. Haha well I'm at 50% right now, so hopefully the next one will bring me to a 66% positive rating ;) And thank you!

  6. This is super belated by CONGRATULATIONS on your new PR! That is totally awesome. Sorry if this goes through twice, but you definitely deserve double congratulations.

  7. Congrats! The blood on your top is proof of what a hardcore badass you are. You should be super proud!