For the past 7 years on the first weekend of December, I’ve run the California International Marathon, the last 5 years pacing either the 3:00 or 3:10 group. Let me put those 7 years in a little perspective. There are some fast friends running this race. Auburn local Brad Poore will be running to qualify for the Olympic Trials. He’s shooting for 2:19. And this race has some of the ultra running legends leading a few of the pace groups. Tim Twietmeyer has run all 28 of the California International Marathons, most as warm ups for another 50 mile run through the mountains later that same afternoon. Bill Finkbeiner also paces the marathon. Another ultra legend having completed 27 consecutive Leadville 100 trail runs. Seriously, some of these pacers have more 100 mile belt buckles than marathon medals. And all the pacers are top quality at CIM. No matter what pace group you are in, you are in good hands. None of them are going to carry you to the finish line, but they’ll maintain a steady pace and keep the miles rolling and take your mind off the watch.
This is one of my favorites as the course can be fast, the quality of runners is high and the start is only minutes from our house. My secrets to this race are like most marathons.
- Little to light running the few days leading up to the marathon. Usually rest the legs Thursday or Friday. I usually do a 1 or 2 mile run on Saturday just to stretch the legs and shake out the cobwebs. No training you do these last few days is going to make you any faster on Sunday and you aren’t going to forget how to run by skipping a few days. So relax.
- Get a solid night’s sleep on Friday night (the night before the night before the marathon). You’ll probably be somewhat restless the night before the marathon so take advantage of a solid night of sleep.
- Get everything ready the night before the marathon: bib number pinned, shoes by the door, socks, watch charged, drop bag and some clothes to keep warm at the start. Nothing worse than frantically looking for something at 5 AM in the morning.
- In the morning, arrive at the start with enough time to stretch, use a porta-potty and double knot tie your shoes.
- Prepare the mind for the journey. The marathon is as much a mental journey as a physical one and at some point it’s going to hurt but let it come to you, don’t run after it.
- When the gun goes off, let all the young hot shots pass you by and say “See ya later!” You’ll see most of them pulled over or limping along further down the road, usually the roadkill starts between mile 18 and 20. Make sure the 1st mile is your slowest. Start nice and easy. Relax and don’t end up as the roadkill.
- Settle into a steady grove and enjoy the morning sun and the scenery and the running community. If you are running with a pace group, don’t get ahead of the group. It will probably feel too easy and that you should be running faster. No, that easy pace the first few miles is just the right pace. Nice and easy. Listen to the conversations but if you are trying for a PR, avoid spending too much time and energy talking it up. Remember, you are on a mission and only have so much energy. Conserve and ration and relax.
- Hit the halfway point right on pace. For the 3:10 group, this means reaching Fair Oaks and Manzanita intersection after 1 hour and 35 minutes. Fuel up for the 2nd half with a CLIF SHOT or some other fuel source. And stay relaxed!
- Focus on staying on pace from miles 14-22. These are the middle miles until the bridge. This is where the run comes to you and you begin to feel the pain of the marathon. The legs begin to burn. Welcome it. Embrace it. This is what you’ve trained for and you are now ready for the final miles. At this stage, this can almost turn into an out-of-body experience and you step outside yourself and keep reminding yourself how strong and solid you are running and that you just need to maintain the effort. Keep feeding yourself positive thoughts.
- Once you cross the bridge and hit mile 22, if you feel great (like “Wow, I’ve never felt this fresh at this point before!”) then now is when you increase the effort. Not too fast but push ahead to the finish line. The finish line is just ahead, a few corners and you’ll hear it. Run all the way through the finish.
Finally, the marathon works best for me when broken into 3 smaller pieces:
- Start to Halfway: “Wow, I can’t believe we already ran 13 miles!”
- Halfway to Mile 20: Putting in the time. Stay consistent and positive.
- The Final 10K. This is the reason you challenged yourself with the marathon. You’re telling the body to keep going. You’re finishing strong. Make it count.
The joy of this marathon for me is being a part of someone’s Boston Marathon qualifying journey. 3:10 is one of the standards of qualifying for the Boston Marathon and each year a few of the runners in the group hit their mark of qualifying for Boston. Crossing the finish line and seeing and hearing the excitement of someone who just qualified for the Boston Marathon is the best part of the morning.
Here are my splits pacing the 3:10 group at CIM for the years that I recorded my splits. In 2009, I had to make a quick bathroom stop at mile 16 which is why my splits are a little faster for the next 2 miles as I had to catch the group. It’s good to see mile 1 is almost always my slowest. Overall, the mile splits are pretty even and often with a few seconds of the 7:15 target pace for running at 3:10 marathon.
Here’s a Google Earth mashup of last year’s Garmin GPS CIM data: