Sunday, December 9, 2012

California International Marathon 2012

I've run a lot of miles in the last 3 years. One thing I'm consistently amazed about this sport, is one's ability to learn from every run.  I've raced 7 marathons and another 8 ultra-marathons in the last 3 years. I've run further than 26.2 miles 17 times this year alone, in various training runs and races. You would think, with that amount of training at the distance, I would be fairly proficient at it. You would, of course, be wrong about that.

I certainly do not discount the distance, in fact I have a huge amount of respect for any marathon or marathoner, but let's be honest here. I've run, twice now, 100 miles. Both of those races were over entire mountain ranges, at altitude and in conditions that most would not find favorable. I can run 26 miles, and within an hour of finishing, be ready for any challenge life can throw at me, be it physical or mental as long as I pace myself. I've even joked to friends that I could finish a marathon hungover or gasp....still drunk. I may or may not have partied a little too hard for this years Rockin River Marathon in Reno, the result of which spawned my idea to run to the event from my house and over the spine of Peavine mountain, adding an extra 8 miles to the endeavor.

Yet with all this experience, I had never actually trained for, and raced, a marathon. I've always had "bigger" for lack of a better word, goals for each of my marathons. I treated all of them except my virgin one in 2004, like training runs. No taper, no specificity of training, just go out there and do it.

Upon leaning that the "Doc", who was 1/4 of my outstanding crew for Western States was running CIM, and looking for her Boston Qualifying time of 3:35, I made it a point to get my rear in gear and race. I trained well for CIM this year. I had a lot of speed training and plenty of 20+ milers to get myself into good shape.

The Doc, my lovely wife to be, and I set out for Sacramento last Saturday hoping mother nature would grant us 3.5 hours of great weather. My goal was to help get the Doc her BQ, and to somehow repay the massive debt I felt I owed for her giving up 30+ hours of her life so I could accomplish a dream at Western States. We were warned numerous times that things would not be as we hoped. Before we hit I-80 a massive killer tumble weed nearly wrecked us, then just past Gold Ranch a ladder was on the freeway and seconds later a huge truck from which the ladder fell, was off to the side. The driver was standing in the middle of the slow lane screwing with his vehicle. Once we got to Sacramento the adventure to get to the convention center started with a torrential rain storm the likes only seen from near the equator. It was at that point I realized this would not be the typical marathon experience. This would be my third CIM. I was trained properly and racing for the first time, of course the weather was going to be sloppy, messy and difficult! Those who know me well, will undoubtedly understand this next statement.

I love bad weather! My days spent in a downhill suit alpine skiing prepared me for anything mother nature can throw at me. Trust me on this one, being in a 100% spandex suit and sitting on a chairlift in below freezing temps with no other clothing to speak of for half an hour, just plain sucks. Add to that the fact you just expended the most amount of energy you can in 2.5 minutes, you are in a snow storm, and your ass is sticking to the chair, you tend to toughen up pretty quickly.

So upon the news that CIM would be wet and windy I was, of course, overjoyed. I'm rarely one to scoff at things getting more difficult, I relish in the enjoyment of beating the circumstances as much as I do the accomplishment of the goal. Plus, I ran from Squaw Valley to Robinson Flat in far worse weather (I thought) and had a blast, there was no way measly Sacramento weather was going to derail me.

We got to the hotel and found out that we got a free VIP tent at the start for purchasing the room. We made a quick video for our friend who's birthday party we were missing, watched the movie TED and turned the lights off around 10. As has been my unfortunate routine nearly everyday for almost 6 months now I slept very little. Maybe 2 solid hours of sleep, and a lot of hamster power turning the wheels attempting to get back to sleep before the alarm went off at 4:30 AM. To say the least, I've been having horrendous sleeping issues since July. It is what it is and my refusal to take any kind of medication, or reduce the stress of my life means I just have to deal with it as best I can. Fortunately I've never been one that needs a lot of sleep so most of the time it is a non issue. I generally just chalk it up to yet another circumstance to overcome, it may be a fact but it is never an excuse. I hate that word and I cringe anytime I hear someone use it.

The alarm went off and I got dressed, had my pre-race bagel and cream cheese and we made our way to the bus that would take us to the start. Upon arrival we made our way to the VIP tent which was fantastic, we then learned we had our own potties! It was fabulous. We had an hour to kill and I started probing the Doc to see where her head was at. The tent was rocking back and fourth, winds were at least 35mph + and it was raining quite hard. We talked about the possibility of not making the goal, I tried to inject enthusiasm for the conditions into the conversation. The weather was in reality, much worse than what I experienced at Western States and rivaled all but my worst training days in the snow over the years. Any person who started this race has earned my respect, the conditions were brutal.

CIM 2012, a fantastic 26.2 mile adventure!
We made our way out to the start and I could not contain my enjoyment. I was bouncing around like a little kid going to the park for the first time. The gun went off and I took off. It was wet and messy for most of the race. I ditched my jacket and poncho around mile 2 just after I lost sight of the Doc, and ran the rest of the race in a shirt and shorts with arm sleeves. I passed the half marathon mark in a personal best time. I was hauling ass! Twice I saw my friends Scott and Michelle on the side of the road cheering all the Reno runners and each time it was a massive boost in the speed department. They were braving the weather to cheer me on, certainly I could go a bit faster.

I had caught myself numerous times running near the middle of the road by the reflectors that separate lanes. I kept telling myself not to go there because of the slight chance I might hit one, in that perfect little spot on my left foot that has derailed me 3 times now. Unfortunately I kept ending up right back there because it was the one place there was little to no water. Cars do not travel on that part of the road very often so there are no indentations from the weight of them, unlike a foot to either side of that line. I passed mile 17 and realized if I ran the next 8 miles at a 10 minute pace I was going to finish the marathon in a personal best, and minute under my goal time.

It was at this point I got cocky, I had this in the bag. 9 miles to go nothing was going to stop me. No reason to worry about the road or the conditions at this point, I mean, what could happen? Yep I had that exact thought, I figured I'd run far too many miles to need to worry about anything at this point.

A couple minutes later I found myself once again running near the little reflectors on the road in a pack of 5. You might be able to guess by now what happened, I stepped on one of the square road reflectors and despite the ample cushioning of my Hoka One One shoes I popped that freaking toe out of the socket once again. I did the same thing back in February while in Physical Therapy for my Plantar Faciitis. That time, my therapist did it trying to stretch the toe, this time an idiotic cocky me, did it to myself. Instantly I yelled out Mother F&^%*R! The pack of 5 turned their heads as I made my way to the side of the road, I apologized as they ran away.

I knew then my day of racing was over and the question was now what to do about the toe. I've had this happen enough times (3 in the last 14 months) that I knew it's a pain tolerance thing. I could finish without damaging anything but it was going to hurt, each step would push the toe in an uncomfortable direction. The only thing that can be done is to pull it straight out and pop it back into place, which once done leaves me unable to run for quite a few days. Nearly every step I take on a run I am mindful of this possibility and up until this last mile I've paid great attention to where I foot strike. My damn mentality caused me to make the decision that nothing could happen on the road and boy was I wrong about that. I kept jogging for a bit and pulled over to the side of the road at about 18.5 miles to walk. Just then my buddy whom I will be pacing at AR 50 next year came up and patted me on the back.

"Are you injured or are you hurting" he asked then motioned me to get back in the game. I thought about this for a second and said some kind of jibberish "um not sure uh....ok I'll keep up". I started running again just under 9 minute pace like he was. I had this almost epic surge of adrenalin and for about 3 minutes I thought there was no reason I could not handle the pain for 7 more miles. However, the body has a strange way of coping with pain. It finds, most of the time without your knowing, the least possible path of resistance. I was favoring the foot by using my other leg to push off of more so than normal. This, combined with my fast start and already tired state, and now loss of the adrenalin started the cramping in my good leg. I chose to slow down and let my friend go. I said I was sorry but I had to slow down and wished him well. I'm pretty sure he got himself a PR in all that slop, and he looked great when I saw him. I was psyched at how well he was running.

I continued on jogging and walking at random intervals as best I could and just enjoyed the last 7 miles of the course. The rain stopped about 3 miles from the finish, the sun came out and the day turned beautiful. I never saw the Doc after mile 2, given the conditions she had an excellent run. Not a BQ, but not many people were running their best out there on that day. I can say for certain in the coming years she will take great joy in telling friends and family about her adventure at CIM 2012, as will most everyone who raced that day.

I finished in 4 hours and 10 minutes, and despite all the issues and weather, it was my favorite marathon I've ever run. I've grown a lot in the last 3 years, I did not accomplish my goal, but one thing all these foot issues has taught me is that it is a blessing to be able to run. Any day I run, even a little bit, is a good day no matter how bad things might get. I've spent roughly 16 months out of the last 36 wanting to run and not being able for various reasons. 3 years ago I would have considered the day a failure, a goal not met, months of training worthless and I would have beat myself up for weeks or months. Those last 7 miles hurt, I was limping pretty bad by the time I got to the finish. However, the slower pace allowed me to take in the moment, I saw so many people living their dream and accomplishing their goals much like I did at Western States this year. Those last 7 miles reminded me that goals are great, they focus you, but at the same time they can eliminate your ability to recognize the greatness that is happening around you every minute of the day. This day I was fortunate to have been out there in epic weather watching so many people push their limits.

In the end I'm going to look back on this day with great satisfaction, it was not my fastest race nor the furthest. I did not meet my goals. I experienced a lot of joy, some pain and a lot of rain and wind. The real gem though, is the knowledge that I really have turned the corner mentally and I'm on the right track. I'm back to being able to find the good in almost anything, somewhere in my twenties I lost that trait. I've learned from my time on my feet and I look forward to getting schooled once again, because, I'm quite certain, there will be another race or training run that goes wrong and I'll grow from it as well. It has been a week since CIM and today I went for my first run since. I popped my toe back into place shortly after the finish and other than being a little sore still, it is feeling fine and I think it is ready for some pounding.

The Western States lottery was yesterday. It seems crazy that just a year ago I was on the verge of completing a goal that stood for 16 years. I sit here now today eager for the next one. I did not make it into the race this year but I will be a part of it come this June. For now my main goal for next year is to do all that I can to give my wife to be, the wedding she wants and deserves. I have a pretty crazy solo run I've been thinking about for 10 years that if everything falls just right I will attempt in August. For now though, I just look forward to my next run and all that I'll learn from it.