Posted by: Joe English | December 12, 2006

Race Report: California International Marathon 2006

This is my personal race report from the California International Marathon (CIM), December 3rd 2006. I try to pick out one key race each year to focus my own training on and this year I chose Sacramento. CIM is a great course, one that I would highly recommend.

When the alarm went off at 4:45AM I was actually sleeping. Sleeping is usually so hard for me before a marathon, but I was sound asleep on this night. Whatever thoughts going through my head were quickly replaced by anxious anticipation for the race to come. I was excited by the prospects of the day. People had told me that CIM was a great race. My training had gone very well and I felt that I was ready. The only glitch in the plan had been my taper, but I’ll come back to that.

I had all my things laid out on the floor ready to go. I put a pot of coffee on to brew and then greased up some body parts before getting dressed. I slipped into my clothes, put on my timing chip band and grabbed my drop bag and breakfast. I wandered down to the lobby, which I found to be full of people, and boarded a yellow school-bus. I sat in the very first row next to a teacher from the Bay Area, eating my breakfast on the bus while we rode out through the dark morning toward Folsom dam.

It was a cold morning in the Sacramento area, but it felt surprisingly nice. The weather outlook was perfect. It was 37 degrees when we arrived in Folsom. The high temperature was forecast to be 60 degrees, but the temperature would rise slowly and only get to about 50 by the time I would finish the race. Stepping out of the bus into the darkness, there was a mass of runners milling around and waiting in Porta-potty lines. On top of my running clothes, I was wearing a disposable Tyvek jacket and an old t-shirt and they seemed to be enough. I had planned to keep the t-shirt on after the start of the race, but as race time approached and I completed my warm-ups I was ready to shed it.

My original goal had been to run 2:55:00 at this race. My training had gone amazingly well. I used a new method in this four-month training cycle leading up to the race in which I ran only 4 times per week and kept my mileage low (maxing out at about 45 miles per week), but ran three different types of speed workouts on the track each week. That meant that I ran almost all of my miles at goal pace or faster. Near the end of the training cycle I had started to feel a little nervous that I hadn’t spent enough time on the roads, but I slipped a couple of mid-length runs in the last two weeks before tapering and that seemed to take care of it. The bottom-line was that I had run one long run at goal pace (6:40 per/mile) and then had run three track workouts below goal pace each week. This was intended to increase my running efficiency at goal pace and it felt like it had worked well.

The only problem came when I hit my taper. I ran my last (and only) 22-mile run exactly one month before the race and then left the next morning for a two week vacation in Thailand. I hadn’t really expected to get much running in on this vacation, but it was almost as though I went cold turkey for two weeks. I did get in a couple of treadmill runs in hotel gyms, but running outdoors in Thailand’s cities wasn’t really an option. It was too hot, too smoggy and the streets were too crazy. Over the course of two weeks in Thailand, I never saw a single runner on a street anywhere. So although I did run a bit, it was a dramatic shift in both the quality and quantity of running that I had been doing. By the time I arrived home, it was then two weeks prior to the race and well into taper time. Too close to the race to really crank it up again. I did one last long goal paced run on the track two weeks prior to the race and then settled into my taper.

This month-long, ten-pound-gaining, jet-lag-hazed, 20,000-air-miles-flown taper wasn’t exactly the ideal way to cap off of a great training season. I don’t know if it really had an impact on me physically, but mentally it did some damage. I was worried that that I wouldn’t have the staying power to get to my goal pace in the race.

In the end, I did what I always tell my runners to do: I adjusted to the new reality. Adjusting in this case meant setting aside a goal that I’d worked hard for, but I felt that it was better to make a pre-race change than to tempt total disaster.

For me, in this race, I decided to reset my expectation to 3:00:00. That may not sound like a big difference, but that would mean the difference between 6:41 and 6:52 per mile – and that’s significant. In my mind, the prospect of going strong for 18-20 miles and then hitting the wall, because the month long taper and jet-leg fest wouldn’t have been ideal.

It’s always hard to put aside a goal, but as a marathon runner you have to listen to your body and trust your gut. You need to know where the line is between taking it to the limit and going over it.

Standing at the starting line, I looked around and found the 3:00:00 pacer. His name was Guiseppe, but people seemed to know him as Joe. I tucked myself in next to him and waited for the start. When the gun went off, there was a surge of runners out of the pre-dawn darkness and we were underway. The 3:00:00 group was a large one and many people were jockeying around for position. Guiseppe was doing a great job of holding the pace down in the first mile or so, despite the pressure that the field was placing on us as we descended the first of many hills.

Rolling through the first few miles, the pace was almost effortless. Guiseppe kept us from going out too fast, holding us back to 6:56 in the first mile and then allowing the pace to creep up to around 6:40 over the next couple of miles. At the start of Mile 5, he slowed us down dramatically. I felt us slow; then a wave of people seemed to be on top of us. We had drifted ahead of our goal pace and he was pulling us back in line. No one seemed to mind as we loafed through the next mile, but as we came to the five mile mark, we were back on our overall pace and Guiseppe lifted us again to our goal pace.

As the sun climbed the morning sky, the chill continued to hang in the air. I saw a few people shed their gloves in the early miles, but mine were staying on for the time-being. I was wearing arm-warmers for the race and everything seemed to be working well together.

The CIM course rolls down from Folsom into Sacramento. When several people described the course to me, they had said that the first ten miles were rolling and the last 6 miles were flat. I kept wondering what the middle 10 miles were going to be like. Over the next hour our so I found that the rolling never really seemed to stop. There were a few good climbs and a few steep downhill sections, but mostly the course undulated. The one thing we didn’t seem to see was much that was flat.

We went through the half-marathon right on pace. Guiseppe asked the group how people were feeling and most everyone answered that they were fine. I was feeling like the pace was extremely restrained. All the way through mile 17 I was thinking to myself that I had made the wrong call on my pace. The pace felt too easy. It felt like I was leaving too much on the table. But I kept telling myself, if you feel good at 20, then you can pick it up – not before then.

I shed my gloves at mile 17 as the sun kept getting higher in the sky. I was eating a gel pack when I noticed that Guiseppe’s pace seemed to be slowing. The pace group had dwindled to about a dozen runners and I was running right at his side. I asked if the pace was slowing and Guiseppe told me that his knee was hurting. I asked if he thought the we had fallen off pace and he confirmed this to be the case. Coming up to mile 18, I could see that Guiseppe was about to make an exit from the race and this concerned me. He asked if I would take the pace sign, but I declined. I wasn’t sure what direction the race was going to go. I still had some ideas of picking up the pace at mile 20 and there was always the Thailand-taper-disaster that could come back and rear it’s ugly head at any moment.

Guiseppe apologized and then had to pull out of the race. Within a minute the pace group disbanded.

There was a struggle as people looked for other people that they felt could hold the pace. A group of three runners lifted the pace, perhaps believing we had slowed too much, and pulled ahead of me. Another group of runners grouped together, but drifted off to the right side of the road and slipped behind me. I was alone running down the middle of the road as I approached mile 19. The only people around me were either slowing down or seemed to be adjusting from the pace-group break-up, so I started to concentrate on feeling my pace, seeing if I could find it myself.

Pace runners are important at two points in the race: early in the race they help control the pace to keep you from going out too fast. And then later, they help keep you from slowing down as your energy starts to dwindle.

I was now on my own and was trying very hard to keep on pace. At mile 20, I set aside the notion of lifting the pace. It just wasn’t going to happen. I was starting to get tired. I had been thinking at the two-hour mark that I had “only one more hour to go”, but now I was thinking “I don’t know if I can go another 30 minutes at this pace.” Miles 21 and 22 were really tough. I was right on the edge. Anything could have made me stop, but I kept on going. My pace slowed by about 10 seconds per mile, but I was still within range of my goal pace.

I was taking in gels every 26 minutes early in the race, now as I went through the aid station at mile 22, I grabbed three more gel packs from a volunteer. I fumbled one, but I knew that I needed as many as I could get my hands on. Between mile 22 and 25 I ate my three last gels packs. I was on the edge, but I was still going. Setting the pace at 6:52 had been the right goal. If I had gone even 10 seconds faster earlier in the race, I knew that I would not have still been running at this point.

Mile 25 passed by and my watch displayed 2:52. Because it was displaying multiple hours, the seconds weren’t being displayed. I looked at it again, is that 2:52:00 or 2:52:50? Big difference. If I stayed on pace I would be very close to my 3:00:00 goal, but there’s an extra ¼ mile at the end of the race. That would take about 1 minute and 45 seconds to cover at this pace, so I need to pick it up.

I dug down deep inside myself and pushed. I pushed hard.

My legs were absolutely exploding and I had the feeling that I was about to puke at any moment. I had not seen a 26 mile marker and I didn’t see the finish-line either. I was really pushing hard now and looking desperately for the finish-line. Finally, I saw the that the course was making a hard left turn. I looked at my watch and it still read 2:59. I needed to get going!

I rounded the corner and the course rounded yet another left hand turn ahead. Now I could see and hear the finish-line. Just as I was making this last left-hand turn, a man walked across the street right in front of me and I nearly barreled right over him. I swerved right and went just behind him. At my speed, I would have probably killed him if I’d hit him full force.

I went around the hard left and into finisher chute. I looked up and the clock said 3:00:49 as I crossed the line.

Such a relief. Such a relief to have finished on my goal pace. Such a relief that I had not picked up the pace early in the race. Such a relief that I adjusted to the disastrous taper.

As I collected myself, all I could think about was getting to breakfast. Then I planned to spend the next three days eating.

This was a tough race for me, but a good one. CIM is a fantastic event. One of the best race courses around.

California International Marathon December 3rd, 2006

Weather: start 37 finish 50 degrees. Partly cloudy, no wind.
Course: point to point course on wide streets from Folsom to Sacramento. Mostly rolling until the last 6 miles or so. The course generally descends, losing about 250 feet of total elevation over the first 20 miles.

Course Difficulty (1-10 with 1 being easiest and 10 most difficult): 3 (mostly easy by rolling hills take a toll on the legs by the end)

Organization (1-10): 9 (excellent)
Aid Stations: (1-10): 7 (somewhat crowded and too small, but well stocked)
Volunteers and workers: 10 (perfect)
Weather: (1-10): 10 (perfect)
Pace Runners: (1-10): 9 (excellent)
Fun and Enjoyment of Course (1-10): 9 (excellent)
Overall Rating (1-10): 9 (excellent race)

Related Article:
Interview: CIM Race Director Jim Mansoor (Dec 2007)



  1. […] 12/2 – California International Marathon (California) – My new favorite race after running it last year. The course travels generally downhill from Folsom to Sacramento. Personal bests abound on this very, very, fast course. Read my race report here. […]

  2. […] Coach Joe’s 2006 CIM Race Report […]

  3. […] 2006 California International Marathon Race Report […]

  4. […] You can read more about CIM in my Interview with Race Director Jim Mansoor and my race report from the 2006 CIM event. […]

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