California International Marathon: requiem

This weekend began with a quote from Michael J. Fox’s memoir:

And he’s exactly right. There’s only one first, so make it special. He wanted to see “Back to the Future” for the first time in the theater, with regular people, to experience their authentic reactions. When I read that quote on the plane, I took it to heart and became determined to take in everything about this marathon weekend. The travel, the friends, the laughter, and the race itself.

And I had that epiphany before I knew J and K had spent almost three months plotting a secret trip to Sacramento.

I think we nailed it.

We toured the state capitol building, even blending in with a school field trip to visit one of the legislative chambers. We bought things at the expo, we took pictures at every photo op. We ate very well. And this group of people is hysterical. They were unfazed by my race anxiety and kept repeating their confidence in me.

And then came Saturday morning. As long as I live, I will never forget looking out the hotel room peephole and seeing J and K standing in the hall. Warped by the little fish-eye lens, but unmistakable.

There was the 5K–spectating is fun–and the Rogue pep talk. Then a team photo, and team bracelets. From there, a mini road trip for lunch with even more friends. I was so overwhelmed by my ever-growing support crew, I could (almost) ignore that my football team lost the Big 12 conference championship game, and oh yeah I was about to run a marathon.

The race itself was hard. The bus ride, the anxious wait to start, then the physical and mental effort it took to travel 26.2 miles on foot. It took me six hours and two minutes, and a lot of stubbornness. Although the weather was perfect and my crew kept popping up along the course, I struggled the second half. I tried to pick up my pace the last couple of miles, but I still missed my goal time. Seeing a huge group of friends cheering just before the final turn, though, and having J and K right there at the finish line…. the hugs, tears, and flood of messages and texts more than balanced out the slight disappointment I felt when I looked at my watch.

If I had a dollar for every heart and heart-eyes emoji I used this weekend, I’d be a very wealthy person. My vocabulary is pretty decent, but I’m still having trouble articulating everything that comprised this event. So the emojis will have to do until I can process it all.

Forty-eight hours after finishing the marathon I felt pretty good overall. Oddly, my left shoulder is sore, I guess from carrying my water bottle, and it’s going to be a shock to return to eating like a normal person again. My quads are shot though–Monday night I needed a shove to get out of the rented van–but the soreness every time I stand, sit, or take a step reminds me that it really did happen. I really did this thing. And it was nearly perfect.

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California International Marathon: race day

I woke up two minutes before our 4am alarm, and by 4:40 we were in line for the buses to take us to the start line, since it’s a point-to-point race. There was some confusion when it came to loading buses, but eventually we got on one and rolled out about 5:15.

The drive to Folsom seemed to take forever.

There was a lot of nervous chatter on the bus, but all I could do was stare out the window and think about how we had to get back to where we started. I’d forgotten my protein bar so I nibbled on a Honey Stinger waffle.

When we (finally) arrived, they told us we could stay on the bus (or drop off stuff and come back to wait) until 15 minutes before race time–it was in the 30s outside and that sounded appealing–but we were toward the end of a long line of identical yellow school buses and still had to go to gear check and visit the potties. We didn’t know how long that would take, so we took all our stuff and abandoned ship.

Once we realized how far back our bus really was, we knew we’d made the right call. There was no line at gear check and decently short lines at the potties, and by the time we finished there we decided to get back in the (slightly longer) potty line to make sure all was good. So we really didn’t have time to return to the bus.

And then it was time to walk to the start area.

The starting area was divided in half: the section on the right was for sub-4:00 runners and the left was kind of self-seeded for everyone else. It was a beautiful morning, but cold, and although I didn’t want to, I knew I would warm up fast so I ditched my throwaway $3 jacket and stood there in short sleeves and gloves. S is faster so we wished each other luck and she moved up while I hovered near the left side of the corral, toward the back.

They started the elites and faster group, then funneled my side of the street through the start line. And we were underway.

Remember our trip to College Station last year with S and several other BRFs, and the subsequent journey to Houston so one could complete the marathon after taking a wrong turn the first time? Well he had planned to run this marathon with us, but he had some setbacks in his training and eventually decided not to do it. But he came to Sacramento anyway, just to support us. And he was waiting just past the starting line to cheer.

The first few miles out of Folsom were more countryside than anything–farmhouses, horses, and fun smells. Which didn’t bother me because I owned horses for years, but I heard comments about the … fragrance.

Crowd support was clustered at various intersections along the way, really the whole course, and it was nice. We’d been prepped that the first few miles consisted of rolling hills–in some respects they weren’t as bad as I was expecting, but I never got the sense that the rolling hills comprised the net downhill they advertise. I mean, I can see it on my Garmin data, but I wasn’t feeling it during the race.

Speaking of the course, there were only ten turns the whole race, so we spent a LOT of time on the same road. Ironically the rolling hills broke it up a bit so it wasn’t like running on a road that disappeared into a desert horizon, and it wasn’t gonna be possible to get lost, but something about seeing Fair Oaks Blvd street signs for 16 miles kind of messed with my head.

J and K waited at about mile six, just before one of those ten turns. I was feeling pretty good, and it gave me a huge boost to see them.

I’d had to buy a new handheld water bottle a few days before we left because mine mysteriously vanished from Rogue. I doubt its disappearance was malicious, but when it didn’t reappear in time, I didn’t have a choice but to replace it. And while I’d rinsed it out before packing it, I realized during the first few miles my water tasted like plastic. Later J made a face and said that new bottles “taste like drinking Barbie.”

I felt good through 10K. It was still hilly though, and I couldn’t remember when it was supposed to even out. I also kept waiting for the steeper hill I was supposed to hate–but they all seemed the same. They weren’t any worse than hills we run all the time in Austin, but over every rise waited another one.

In between water stops, lots of folks had set up their own mini aid stations. One group of kids handed out candy canes (one of which I put in my pocket and saved for later) and another had oranges. Near the end a group tried to get me to drink their beer; another had donuts, and the last one I remember was a guy with Twizzlers.

Everything between about 10K and 21 is a blur now. I know I saw John at mile nine and I saw J and K at about 13.5, which was great timing because the race was starting to get a lot harder. I could feel the hills taking their toll and I knew I had been slowing down after the halfway point. A couple of times I caught myself doing the math and becoming overwhelmed by the remaining distance, but each time I talked myself out of that and focused on the current mile. Even though my legs were tiring and my left hamstring started having spasms at about mile 15, I feel like my mental state held up pretty well.

J and K reappeared at mile 21, just before we crossed the bridge over the American River and FINALLY turned off of Fair Oaks Blvd and on to J Street. Out hotel was on J Street, so I knew I was in the homestretch. I also knew that the last few miles, we’d hit numbered streets that basically count down from 58th Street to the finish near 9th Street. A couple of times after mile 21, I remember saying to myself, damn I still don’t see the numbers so I can’t be that close yet. But finally after the mile 22 marker I saw the first one. And a sign hanging over an overpass close to the Cal State Sacramento campus declared this the Final Four miles.

By now I was basically plodding along–running as long as I could, taking a short walk break, and doing it again. My hamstring was unhappy–in fact most of my left leg screamed at me. But I was close now.

I’d worn my favorite Army Ten-Miler shirt with NEVER QUIT in huge letters on the back, and along the way a couple of people commented on it as they passed me. At some point during these last few miles, a woman (I’d sort of slingshotted with her as I ran-walked) told me that she was struggling and almost quit, but my shirt convinced her to keep going. I lost sight of her before the finish, but I hope she made it.

I put my headphones away around 22 or 23 because crowd support was really great. We made a couple more turns–J Street two blocks over to L Street just before passing under a highway with 1.5 to go. I could see the Capitol building on my left and knew I was almost there. Then I saw Rogues on my left, more Rogues half a block further on the right, and J and K on the left at the mile 26 marker. I saw a sign saying 400 meters to go, and I pictured one lap around the track. Up ahead was an orange flashing construction light pointing left, and I knew that was my final turn.

A group of three runners was just ahead of me– I either had to hang back and separate myself from them to have a decent finisher picture, or I had to get around them. Somehow I found a burst of energy and passed them, which also allowed J and K to get good video and pictures themselves. Dammit. If I’m doing this, I want awesome photo evidence. 😄

And I was done.

I got my medal and found my friends. There were lots of tears. I hadn’t gotten emotional at the mile 26 marker like I kind of expected, and in that last stretch I was focused on this group in front of me. But when it was over and they were hugging me, I was practically sobbing.

K carried all my crap, J texted my spouse, and we got my gear check and my first-timer medal. And then the rest of the group appeared. They had all killed it–huge PRs, smashed goals, and a BQ. More hugs and tears, and more pictures. I turned my phone back on and it blew up–30+ Facebook messages and at least 50 texts. I felt the love for sure.

I finished about two minutes slower than I wanted to, and while my family is super supportive, they couldn’t be here. But everything else about this weekend was perfect. Gorgeous, cool weather. My Rogue peeps. My surprise BFs. Six months of training that got me to the finish line of a marathon.

At Saturday’s Rogue pep talk when Chris said, “You can’t do epic shit with basic people” on Saturday, THIS is what he meant. These people, y’all.

California International Marathon: day three

It started with an 8am knock on the hotel room door.

I’d been awake for about 20 minutes, and although I was still uncaffeinated, I couldn’t figure out who’d need something at that hour without hitting the group text first. The 5K didn’t start until 11, and it was too early for housekeeping. S wasn’t concerned, though, and asked me to answer the door.

When I asked, “Who is it?” there was no reply. So I looked out the peephole and saw two people standing there. It was the other Musketeers.

I’m going to let them tell their story in a future post–I haven’t even heard it all yet–but it turns out they’d been conspiring since September to surprise me. K still had S’s phone number from the time we ran the Austin half a couple of years ago, so she got in touch and they worked out the logistics.

I HAD NO CLUE.

This doesn’t happen often, but I was rendered completely and totally speechless.

Oh and they’d also signed up for the 5K–S also had managed to pick up their bibs and shirts surreptitiously–so shortly after they sprung this surprise, they returned to their hotel to change their clothes for the race.

The 5K started in front of the convention center–literally across the street from our hotel–so the CP Rogues headed over there.

I was the Sherpa, carrying a bag, two backpacks, and a cup of coffee for my people.

The start was a couple of blocks from the finish–which is also the marathon finish–so I walked over there, meeting up with another Rogue/Rogue spouse on the way. I arrived just in time to see the 5K winner, but since Rogues were taking in kind of easy (Coach texted “STFD” before the race) they came in at a casual pace, almost all of them finishing with other Rogues.

From there we went back to the convention center for the Rogue pep talk. J and K detoured to Scott Jurek’s talk at the expo while we listened to words of advice from Rogue-in-Chief Chris. My favorite quote, as he reminded us that we all have worked really hard for this, was “You can’t do epic shit with basic people.”

We took a Rogue group photo, then one of my teammates gave us bracelets she’d made with our team name on the front and the race and date on the back.

But wait, there’s more. J, K, and I have some mutual friends in the Bay Area, and we all met up for a late lunch in a town called Walnut Creek am hour or so outside Sacramento. Now I’m up to four surprise friends, plus all of my amazing Rogue BRFs.

These people, y’all.

Every time I think about how they will be there when I cross the finish line, I get kind of teary. And now J and K? Other than having my immediate family here, I could not ask for anything better.

By the time you read this, we’ll be on our way.

Carpe Diem.

California International Marathon: day two

The expo didn’t open until noon, so after waking up (no alarm!) and fortifying ourselves at one of three Starbucks in the six square blocks surrounding our hotel, we decided to visit the California state capitol building.

The main level had kind of a museum thing going on–the governor’s offices have been restored to the way they looked in 1906, and next door was an exhibit on the automobile’s influence on California, and we enjoyed the festive holiday decorations in the rotunda.

We walked up to the next level and over to the Senate chamber hoping we could see inside. But the door was locked. Then we tried the Assembly side (I assume the equivalent of the Texas House) with the same results. As we walked back to the central staircase, though, we passed a group of kids on a school field trip as the capitol guide was saying, “… and now let’s head over to the Assembly viewing gallery.” Quick thinkers that we are, we just fell in step behind them and into the gallery.

After our impromptu tour, we headed back outside where we could see workers assembling the race’s finish line. But I decided against walking toward it–living by yesterday’s mantra that I can only experience something for the first time once, I don’t want to be there until I’ve finished the marathon.

Our next stop was the race expo at the convention center. I bought way too much stuff, but again, you only get one first marathon. I absolutely love the race shirts–we even have the Rogue logo on the back–and we found our names on the wall.

We spent the afternoon just lazing around the hotel room, then met up with some friends at the hotel bar (I stuck to water). Later in the evening we walked to dinner where the Friday night wait was more than a hour long. The food (and company) was excellent–I particularly enjoyed our heartfelt dinner conversation about why we do things like run marathons–but my lower back felt achy from standing around most of the day and after a solid meal I was glad to return to the hotel and crawl under the covers.

Especially considering this might be the last real night of sleep I get before the race. Because I can guarantee I’m going to be a basketcase most of Saturday and well into Sunday.

Next up: I Sherpa for my friends running the 5K, and we meet for a Rogue pep talk.

California International Marathon: day one

The Rogue caravan (AKA six of us piled in a Suburban) rolled out Thursday morning at 6am. Several more joined us at the airport for our flight to Sacramento. The plane wasn’t full, so most of us had an empty middle seat for the four-hour flight, which was pleasant.

I had been meaning to read Michael J. Fox’s memoir Lucky Man for some time, and finally got it on my Kindle the day before the trip. I spent most of the flight engrossed in it, and as I read, one sentence leapt out at me.

I’ve been nervous about this race from the beginning, but as it’s gotten closer, my emotions have jumped all over the place. Wednesday morning–my last day of work before the trip–I was so distracted I LEFT MY PURSE AT HOME. No driver’s license. No classroom keys. No money for the errand I planned to run after school.

But as I read this sentence–he’s actually talking about seeing the “Back to the Future” premiere–I stopped. And it resonated with me so much I re-read it a dozen times.

I only get one first marathon. This is it. And I need to remember to savor it all.

We came to Sacramento a little early and we are staying an extra couple of days afterward. It doesn’t mean we have to do ten thousand touristy things, but it does mean that even though the thought of attempting this distance freaks me out, this whole weekend–hell, the last six months of training–is part of the journey worth remembering.

Don’t let anxiety spoil it. Because I can only experience it for the first time once.

Current mood, as told by my marathon playlist

My first marathon is a week away–we leave Thursday morning–and my emotions are all over the place. I could lament my missing handheld water bottle or discuss my indecision over checking a bag vs. carry-on. I could express gratitude that the sky in Sacramento has cleared up and excitement that so many people will be there when I finish.

Instead I’ll let some selections from my CIM playlist tell the story, in no particular order.

“This is our last dance
This is ourselves under pressure”

“Road, you gotta take me home”

“The struggles I’m facing
The chances I’m taking
Sometimes might knock me down but
No I’m not breaking
I may not know it
But these are the moments that
I’m going to remember most yeah
Just got to keep going
And I
I gotta be strong
Just keep pushing on”

“So many roads, you don’t know where you’ve been
But you still know who you are”

“It’s my life
It’s now or never
I ain’t gonna live forever
I just want to live while I’m alive”

“You can stand me up at the gates of hell
But I won’t back down”

“With a little perseverance you can get things done”

“Don’t stop believing
Hold on to that feeling”

“Cross my heart and hope to die
Taking this one step at a time
Got your back if you got mine
One foot in front of the other”

“And it’s times like these we can’t replace
It’s times like these we must embrace
And even though it’s bittersweet and brings us to our knees
It makes us who we are, in times like these”

“Can’t stop the hurt inside when love and hate collide”

“Do it for your people
Do it for your pride
How you ever gonna know if you never even try?”

“I want to run, I want to hide”

“Here’s to you, fill the glass
‘Cause the last few days have kicked my ass
So let’s give ’em hell
Wish everybody well, here’s to us, here’s to us”

“Hello darkness, my old friend
I’ve come to talk with you again”

“They say it’s all been done but they haven’t seen the best of me-eh-eh-eh
So I got one more run and it’s gonna be a sight to see-eh-eh-eh”

“Don’t save a prayer for me now 
Save it til the morning after
No don’t say a prayer for me now 
Save it til the morning after”

Georgetown Turkey Trot 5-miler

After running the Austin turkey trot for six or seven years, we decided to forego the big downtown crowd and go to Georgetown instead. It starts earlier, gives out long-sleeved tech shirts, oh and my coach is the race director. 

It was a beautiful day for a race–50* and sunny at the start. Unlike the Austin race, in Georgetown parking was plentiful and free. We parked in a lot two blocks from the square–easy peasy.

Public restrooms were available a few blocks the other side of the square–they were very small and running out of supplies, but there were only four people in line in front of me, so there’s that.

As we walked back from the restroom, the kids’ race was ready to start. So to get out of the way we wandered over to the registration table where one of our BRFs was volunteering. There are two types of runners: people who collect their race stuff three minutes before the start of said race, and normal people. 

We’d brought the dog as incentive for the teenager to gripe slightly less about ruining his favorite holiday running a race. But he’s a weirdo on the leash (the dog, not the kid) and he acted like he had to vanquish every dog in sight to protect the realm. 

We are tapering for CIM, so my mileage has been lower and less intense. And with the good weather, I kind of wanted to race this one. I haven’t had a strong 5-miler in a couple of years, and the stars seemed aligned for something good today. Although the race was untimed, I had my Garmin and I knew what I needed to run to beat my best 8K time. 

The beginning was super crowded and I could hardly move at all, trapped behind walkers and strollers, and I zigzagged a lot. Thankfully after the first turn it thinned out a bit and I settled down. We ran on flat streets for about a quarter-mile, and then two big downhills meant my first mile was too fast. From there the course threw in just enough uphill sections to keep me in check. 

The kid and the dog slingshotted with me for a while, but after two miles of that combined with zero training, they couldn’t keep up. I also saw a few of my Rogue friends—usually as they passed me. 

We ran through San Gabriel Park, then looped around and crossed a bridge just short of halfway.

Photo via Georgetown Running Club
(my shirt is covering my number)

At the top of one of the longer hills, I couldn’t get my breathing back under control so I slowed briefly to use my inhaler. It was enough to make Mile 4 my slowest. Still, I was feeling good. Monday night’s core class and Tuesday’s 10K hill workout trashed my quads, and on Wednesday I was pretty sore. It seemed like a rest day did the trick. The hills were far less difficult than the ones I ran on Tuesday, so I maintained a quick pace. For a while, the group behind me sang “Bohemian Rhapsody” at the top of their lungs. I wasn’t pushing a 5K pace, but I wasn’t capable of singing, either. 

I don’t know Georgetown very well, and since I’d never run this race before, I didn’t have a clue where I was most of the time. Then I rounded the last turn and recognized the road we’d started on. A block later, the bathrooms we’d visited earlier. Some cheering friends. Then the finish. I sprinted to pass the woman ahead of me—I think I got her at the very end—which did exactly nothing except make me feel better for beating someone wearing a turkey hat. 

The course wasn’t quite five miles—Coach Bill says he knows it’s short but adding .10 would screw up finishing in the square. Since it’s untimed, eh, 4.9 will do. 

According to Garmin, I unofficially ran 4.89 miles about 50 seconds faster than my official 8K PR. So like elections in Florida, it’s too close to call. Considering that PR is from 2015, I’m going to declare it a win either way. 

Another win? I finished well ahead of the teenager. Haven’t done that in a while either. 

Dog’s first 5-miler!

I’m not sure the 500ish calories I burned offset Thanksgiving dinner, and sitting in the car for two hours as we drove over the river and through the woods to grandma’s house wasn’t great for my leg muscles. But Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, and even though the kid complains about running, I’m grateful for the experience with my family and friends. 

Hope y’all had a happy Thanksgiving!