BQ or Bust: CIM Race Report

Name of the race: California International Marathon

Where: Sacramento, CA

Date: Dec 3, 2017

Time: 7:00 am

Distance: 26.2 miles

Terrain: Net downhill decline, but several rollings hills for the first 20 miles

Entry fee: $175

Post-race Food: Hot breakfast sandwich (ham frittata or vegetarian), banana, Cliff bars, water, La Colombe canned draft latte, and Boston Creme cupcake for BQers.

Swag: Tech quarter zip pullover, CIM ankle socks, waist pouch, buff, bag, finishers medal, & post-race single size throwable jacket

Time: 3:40:36

Performance: Overall: 2273/7288; Gender: 721/3421; Age (40-44): 102/552; Masters female: 179/1641

Weather: 43 degrees, 81% humidity, 3 mph winds

“Are you training for a marathon?” Six weeks ago Ben confronted me as I was trying to get out of the house on Saturday morning for a long run. As I stood there wondering what to say, he crowed and laughed, “You are! You are! You are training for a marathon! When were you planning on telling me?”

Drats! My secret was out.

Until then I had successfully trained without arousing much suspicion from him. I was able to use the excuse of training really hard for a big PR at Wineglass Half to cover up long runs, which Ben knows I don’t like to do and will only do when training for HMs and marathons. After Wineglass, I no longer had that cover, so I moved many of the long runs to weekdays so I could run after Ben left for work. I hid the giveaway long runs (18-miler, of course, the 20-miler) on Strava so that my friends couldn’t figure out that I was training for a marathon. Ben was confused as to why I was tired all the time, but I used other things that were going on as excuses for the fatigue. It was all going well, until that one week because of scheduling, I had to do a long run on a Saturday.

Ben wanted to know how I was going to cover up going to Sacramento without making him wonder and I told him that I already did. You see, some weeks prior, I told Ben that I was going to California in early December for Freshman’s tamale-making party. Knowing me quite well, Ben did not find it all weird that I would fly all the way across the country to eat tamales. All he said while reading his morning paper was, “That’s sounds like fun. Wish I could go. Have a good time, honey.” Honestly, I thought he’d ask a few more questions, but apparently, he really trusts me.

At the beginning of 2017, I was in a bad place mentally speaking. Work stress had been building up for several years and I was burned out. The burn out affected me mentally, emotionally, and physically. Thankfully I was able to take a sabbatical for a year, which I used to recover. But for the first two months of 2017, I rested. I wasn’t training. I ran what I felt like running and on many days, I simply didn’t run at all. Then I figured I would start training for something, but I didn’t want a big long-term goal. Breaking 23-min for a 5K was a goal I had for two years, and I figured I could do it with some weeks of dedicated training. I broke 23-min in late April. Then I figured I would go after my next long-standing goal of breaking 1:45 in a half.

The problem was that I was having a hard time physically going out and doing the work. I wanted to break 1:45, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do the work necessary to do it. I knew I needed an external motivator. So I hired a coach (this is secret number 2). So much a secret that until Ben reads this post, he has no idea I hired a coach. If you’re wondering what kind of a relationship we have, it’s one full of secrets – running related on my end and investment related on his (although he would argue that he’s more than happy to tell me where our money is being invested, it’s just that I’m not interested). The whole coaching thing will be a stand-alone post on its own, so I won’t go into it here.

The main reason for the secrecy was that this was something I had do to on my own. Until I reread my Steamtown Race Report, I forgot just how disappointed and upset I was afterward. I didn’t want to hash over the details of the training or the race with people. Sometimes you want a fellowship when you’re on a journey. Sometimes the journey is just for you alone.

I’ll do another post covering details of marathon training now I’m free to discuss it, so I’ll skip straight to the marathon. About a month before CIM, the number 8:25 popped into my head. I was not interested in PR’ing a marathon. It was BQ or Bust. As CIM approached, 8:25 got stronger and stronger. When my coach asked what my plan was for CIM, I told her, “I think I can hold an 8:25 for the entire race.” She agreed and told me to go for it. Ben agreed as well. Both of them reiterated the importance of being patient and holding still for the first 20 miles. I had to hold 8:25 for the first 20 miles and AFTER that, if I felt good, I was allowed to speed up.

I managed to find blogging friends and fellow Simple Hydration ambassadors, Sherry of Happy Running Mom and Sharon of Run, Hike, Play, before the race. Sherry and I had similar time goals, so we decided that we would start slowly together and then go do our own race when it was time. We started pretty far behind the 3:42 pace group, which was group for our BQ age group time. The first mile we covered in 8:35. I was pleased, because slow starts bode well for me.

For the first 15 miles or so, Sherry and I ran within a few feet of each other. Sometimes she was a little bit ahead, sometimes I was, sometimes we were right next to each other. I really enjoyed having company, and along with all the great crowd support (just like NYC Marathon, only a lot smaller!), the miles flew by! I felt great and it was hard running 8:25 because I felt so good. I really wanted and was tempted to run an 8:15 pace. Seductive thoughts of blowing my time goal teased me. I was running so easy at 8:25 and honestly, 8:15 didn’t feel like any more work. I COULD DO THIS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Every time that devil tempting thought crept into my head, I firmly shut it down by whispering to myself, “Easy, easy, easy. 8:25. You have a plan. Stick to the plan,” and “Patience, patience. A marathon is a game of patience.” It was really hard running more slowly than I felt like. I forced myself to soak in the atmosphere. I smiled and waved (a little – had to conserve energy for later) at the cheering crowds. In my head, I sang along to the songs being played over loudspeakers. I punched a sign that said, “Punch here for Power.” I gently tapped a little girl’s hand who was eagerly giving out high fives.

Somewhere around Mile 15 at a water station, I lost Sherry. I was still feeling super good. I thought about Wineglass Marathon in 2015 and Steamtown in 2016 and how I felt in the second half. Although Wineglass went extremely well for me, I started to have mental problems starting at Mile 14. Here I was at Mile 15, 17, 18, and I was not suffering at all. I celebrated how differently I felt at CIM.

CIM 20The first 20 miles were amazing and all I think was how I was going to do this.

Then at Mile 20.5 I hit The Wall.

No, seriously, they have a faux brick wall with a giant hole in the middle where the course goes through, so runners literally run through a wall. There was a huge cheering crowd, so it was a lot of fun.

It’s now time to fly! If only my legs would let me.

Mile 21, my legs are starting to feel tired, but it’s okay. Nothing I can’t handle.

Mile 22, legs are definitely heavier, as if they were starting to turn into cement. Things are less okay.

Mile 23, things are definitely NOT OKAY. My legs feel like cement blocks. I was slipping down to 9, 9:30 pace every time I glanced at my Garmin. I really wanted to stop. And since I couldn’t stop, I really wanted to slow down. Even running at a slower pace felt like a lot of effort and I couldn’t fathom running at my original intended pace of 8:25. I looked at the overall elapsed time, did some mental math and realized with horror that I could lose it all in the last three miles. If I slowed down significantly I was not going to BQ. I’m starting to think that I wasn’t going to be able to do this. I thought of Freshman who was volunteering at an aid station at Mile 25. Her shift was going to end before I got there, but she promised to stay and wait for me until I passed through. I told myself, “Less than two miles until you see Freshman. Push, push, push! You HAVE TO PUSH!!!” I had to concentrate hard and repeatedly tell myself, “Push, push, push!!!” in order to keep my legs churning. Otherwise, I was going to slow down too much. That easy 8:25 pace during the first 20 miles was now an uphill battle.

Mile 24, push, push, push!!!

Mile 25, I was so relieved at seeing Freshman. She cheered extra loud for me and I gratefully grabbed a cup of water from her hand, which I promptly dumped over my head. I told myself, “There are 10 more minutes of suck left.”

That last mile was hard. I was so tired. My leg muscles were twitching. A blister had formed under my left big toe. I needed the bathroom. I just wanted this to be over. With every fiber of my body, especially my legs, screaming to rest, I pushed on.

I glanced at my Garmin and saw that there was only a half mile left. I told myself to take a moment to enjoy all this because it was going to be over soon. The other part of me said that it wasn’t going to be over soon enough.

I had studied the course map carefully and knew that there was a left turn at 8th St, and after a few yards, there was another left turn to the finish line. I looked up and saw I was at 15th. I counted down to 10th St, and then I sprinted for the finish line.

The last final turn, I see the finish line right in front of the gleaming white State Capitol and I’m overwhelmed by the thought that I was going to do this. I raised my arms in victory as I cross the finish line.

20171203_110122.jpgI BQ’D! BQ’D! BQ’D! I ran CIM in 3:40:36, a time that gets me almost four and a half minutes under the BQ time for the 40-44 age group (3:45). I rang the BQ bell with the utmost enthusiasm.

I got interviewed by a news crew and I could hear my voice crack with emotion as I talked about BQ’ing. Until I BQ’d, I didn’t realize just how much it meant to me. I didn’t want to think about it as a coping strategy because I wanted to keep the pressure off me. And now that I had BQ’d, an avalanche of emotions subsumed me. I was delirious, happy, exhausted, verklempt, and just about everything else.

7 months of coaching + 1024 miles of training + 26.2 miles of racing = 3:40:36
I had a plan and I executed it.

46 thoughts on “BQ or Bust: CIM Race Report

  1. AHHHHHH!!!!!! YES!!! I know I’m being dramatic, but these are real emotions I’m having over your amazingness!!!! You know we’ve had similar running times so to see you just kill it and BQ makes me feel like there’s hope for me! So selfishly, that’s another reason I’m so happy, LOL!! But seriously Elle, I’m so proud of you. I do think your relationship with Ben is cray (and the complete opposite of the one with my Ben) but I love that you have the discipline to stick to what YOU WANT. That’s badassery in of itself, beyond the killer race you ran. I’m so freaking happy for you!!!! I *WILL* BQ so that we can get to Boston together! ❤

    • Yes, you will!!!!! #ITSGOINGDOWNATPHX

      I still can’t believe that this happened. I’m beaming with happiness. Someone asked me yesterday if I was getting tired of the congratulations and I shook my head. I’m enjoying this moment of glory before I tuck my head down again and get back to work.

      Ben’s the only one who’s ever loved me because of my faults and not despite them. He’s exactly who I need in my life.

  2. Congrats!!! I love that you ran a secret marathon and crushed it. I think what you wrote in the previous post and here ring true – sometimes it’s best to keep things to yourself.

    • Hahahaha, now that everyone knows I’m full of secrets, I can’t have them anymore.

      I’m pretty open about everything, but I needed to keep a few things to myself until I got the job done. I adore Leah. We work so well together.

  3. Congratulations on the goal and the discipline. CIM has been my only marathon (we lived a few miles from the start at the time): I wanted to run the miles and wasn’t focused on time but BQ’ed in age 45 category (I was 58 at the time!) much to my huge surprise. You describe perfectly those last miles, especially the final mile with the two left turns (when was I ever going to get to 8th Street (an area I knew so well)?) and the sheer tiredness of my legs when I finished. I, too, kept my intention to run close, only telling family and a few friends: Was I crazy trying to run a marathon at my age? Could I do it? When would I squeeze in the time? And then, the sheer relief of having completed it and then energized to do more. Good luck on Boston in 2019!

    • Thank you, Patricia! It was a long journey, but a good one. I like marathons so much more now that I’ve BQ’ed. LOL.

      Ben and I will be going to Boulder for a visit next summer, so I’d love to see you when we’re there.

  4. Congratulations!!!! You are such a BOSS! I love that you did this your way, the way you needed to, just crushed it, and crushed it good!! I’m soooooooooooooo happy for you. I hope this feeling lasts a loooooooong time. You earned it!! Amazing!!

    • THANK YOU, KARLA!!!! I’ve been waking Ben up at 2 am the last couple of nights to scream in his face, “DID YOU KNOW THAT I BQ’ED?!?!” He’s a patient, patient man. Still enjoying the afterglow.

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    • When I started to think maybe I could run a marathon over the summer, I didn’t dare think that I would run anything more than a squeaker time. Even that, would have been a 9-min PR and the kind of huge improvement I hadn’t seen in years. Hard work paid off this time around. 😀

  6. Oh yeah!! This is so awesome!, not just the hiding of the months of training, but the awesome way you handled this race (which seems like a really cool race) and executed your plan. Congrats!!
    But also, wow, only the BQers get a donut? That’s nuts! But also co9ol. 🙂

  7. GAHHHH!!! I’m in tears!!!!!! Girl you SLAYED. And I love that you did it totally on your terms. Love it. Razor. Focus. Quiet and strong. I’m so proud of you. Until I met Tim, I was a goal keeper- my goal. My journey. After Tim, I think he brought out the confidence in me- made me see for myself that I was capable. So that’s when I started saying shit out loud. And it was terrifying. But YOU! You’re James Freaking Bond Level!!! Stealth! I am so happy for you, Elle. And – paws crossed- I’ll be there with you and Ms. Helly! Xoxo

  8. This is without a doubt the best race report I’ve ever read from anyone, anywhere. Your excitement and emotions were so palpable when I was reading about your experience, I got chills. This also confirms what I’ve said before, a fun race = a fast race. I’m so happy for you!!!!!

  9. Yayayay, so psyched for you, that’s amazing to see how your hard work paid off. Awesome race report, as always. I definitely related to the secret marathon part, ha. And I’m seriously considering CIM for next year, so I was eagerly awaiting your thorough review.

  10. Congrats congrats congrats!!!! I was so freakin’ excited for you on Sunday when I saw your BQ post on FB. You put so much thought and (secret!!!) work into this race and it clearly paid off! What an accomplishment.

    Now your super-stealthy secret-keeping ability has me a little worried. Are you all secretly trained and ready to bust out a sub-20 5K at the Downhill? It wouldn’t surprise me at all at this point!! 😄 See you soon!!

    • ROTFL!!! No training! I took three days off and I’ll do my first gentle run of two miles today on the treadmill. I’d go outside, but the wind is liable to blow me off my feet right now.

      Sub-20 is too much. I’m hoping the downhill will help me get closer to 21 minutes. I have a false 5K PR on Athlinks that’s been here for years because I did a 5k that was about a half mile too short. I want to knock it off. It’s been mildly bothering me.

  11. Congratulations, L!!! I loved reading this post! I hope you smash Boston! You’re going to need that “hold back” strategy or the hills will bury you. It’s happened to me enough times! Very happy for you!

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