Race Report: California International Marathon 2013

Yesterday I completed my first marathon distance race, and I thought I might share some of my experiences, as well as grading how well CIM ran the event in specific categories.

You’ve no doubt already read my pre-race look at the expo, and know that they got an A+ for how that was run. Very smooth.

Race morning I dragged my carcass out of bed at 3am to shove calories and caffeine down my neck. I tend to be a little bit sensitive to exercise induced nausea, so the earlier I ate, the less issues I figured I’d have. I rocked a Probar Superfood, a banana and a cup of coffee with double the honey I would usually have. CALORIES YAY!

With that, I went and chilled on the couch, reading and relaxing. I wouldn’t need to leave for another hour, and my nerves were definitely a bit on edge. Since my training wasn’t exactly textbook, I honestly wasn’t sure how the day would go.

The time came to gear up, and since I’d laid out everything the night before, it was just a matter of an action movie “hero gearing up” montage to get myself set.

I was car-pooling in to the start, which CIM had recommended. Once we arrived on-scene at the staging site (about a mile from the race start) I could see why car-pooling would be good. It was definitely crowded, but CIM was doing a pretty bang up job of directing traffic.

The idea was that you staged here and took a bus to the start. There looked to be at least a dozen buses shuttling people down, and they were rockin. A+ here, they did a great job moving the line. I waited maybe 2 minutes to get on a bus, in a line that looked like something out of Disneyland. WOW!

We arrived at race start and I went to find a porta pottie. The line of them went on for miles it seemed. With close to 10,000 people at the start, this was good. Runners are a nervous lot when it comes to peeing. I heard at least one girl say this was her second time through one of the lines this morning. However, with so many available options, I was in and out in minutes. Again, well done.

The announcer began a count down and I stripped out of my inexpensive sweat top and pants, donated them and got in line way at the back. I liked that the pacers had easily visible signs. I got myself near the 5:45 pacer and waited. BOOM. The race had started.

Well, or it had for the folks up front. 5 minutes later we finally shuffled to the front and I was able to start my Runkeeper app (for pacing) and my ipod. Off I went.

To say it was cold would be an understatement. Not to be a soft Californian, but it was freaking frigid, below freezing. Usually I am not that bothered by the cold, but this was something else entirely. Plus I was in tights, not exactly winter clothing. As it turned out, I would never truly warm up and my muscle stiffness would stick around all 26.2 miles. Also, the cold absolutely killed my iphone. Poof, dead. The battery ran out long before it normally would have. Something to consider if you’re racing in winter and using an iphone to track your pace or mileage.

The cold contributed to a couple of the bad grades I’m going to give CIM on this event. They did not cause the issues, mother nature can be a mean bitch, but their lack of responsiveness most certainly led to a injury to a runner that probably meant her day was done.

At the first aid station we arrived to chaos. The floor was a sheet of ice. One of the volunteers was skating around try to get drinks from the grass behind her to the table, and all of the cups were empty. There was a lot of yelling. I decided to keep moving, I had some hydration with me and this was wasting my time. It was a portent of what was to come.

The second aid station was also a sheet of ice, but even bigger. Racers had been hucking their drinks on the ground, and they’d frozen solid. Unfortunately, there was also a porta-pottie right past the station, where a line had formed. This had the effect of causing some zigging and zagging, and while attempting to dodge people in line on the treacherous ice, a female runner went down. Hard. The thump when her head hit the ice was ominous. He lay there whimpering while holding her head. People began yelling for medics, while about 20 ft away the medics stood around chatting. It took a minute for them to run over.

So there were two failures here. The first was not realizing the danger of liquid aid stations in a below freezing environ. The temps were not a surprise, we knew it would be below freezing going in. We also knew there would be water.  I’m not sure what the rules are for salting the road, but I also know that sometimes it is better to ask for forgiveness vs permission. Had CIM salted the aid station asphalt, that racer would not have sustained what I can only imagine was a rather severe injury. Hopefully she will recover. It definitely meant her race day was over.

The other part here was not CIM’s issue necessarily, but they need to make clear that if they’ve hired you to do medical support, your focus needs to be on the runners, not on chatting up your buddies. If it takes you a solid minute to finally realize 20 runners are screaming for your attention, that’s a problem. I know, nobody really thought that there would be runner issues this early. Usually people get dehydrated, or turn ankles at mile 20, or whatever. But again, the ice on the ground wasn’t a surprise. There was a guy warning people about it. The possibility of injury should have been on their minds. Once they realized what was happening they responded quickly, but in my opinion it took a bit too long.

The other issue at this aid station was the lack of bathroom facilities. There were 6 porta potties, but there probably should have been 12. The line was huge, I spent 10 minutes trying to get in. Hard to judge, I know, and later the porta potties had much shorter lines, but this one was just ridiculous.

Once I felt better I settled into the run. The course is a great one, mostly flat with an overall downhill elevation loss. The streets are wide and very well cordoned off. CIM did a great job here, the police and volunteers were very adept at keeping oftentimes quite angry drivers from crossing the route. The police presence was extremely good, and they were active and alert. I was impressed.

One of the things that CIM has in abundance is along-the-route supporters and music. Perhaps this is just a “marathon thing”, but I was amazed by how many people were out and about just to yell encouragement to the racers. Some were there for specific people or teams, but a large portion of them were just there for everyone, and yelled themselves hoarse screaming for us. It was incredibly touching and inspirational, I actually teared up on a couple occasions (definitely just something in my eye).

The music was a mixed bag. I adored the bands, they were out in the freezing cold playing their hearts out, and the music ranged from pretty cool to HOLY CRAP AWESOME. The DJs were something else. Call me a curmudgeon but I could do without them. They were ridiculously loud, easily overcoming my earphones, and 3/4 of them were playing music I would never choose to listen to. Sure they were out there too, I get that, but for me I was glad to get out of their ear-shattering range.

One of the very interesting things I encountered has made me think a bit about the system CIM has in place for tracking runners. As I passed the Bonn Lair tavern (which I adore, one of the best Brit pubs in Sac) a large beared man yelled MY NAME and told me he had a free half-pint of beer for me. I said no, thanks, but I’d come back.

And then it hit me. How the hell did this guy know my name? I don’t go to BL enough for him to know me (the bartender might remember me, last time I checked the bartender I knew didn’t have a beard and was also female). Then I realized they were having a guy up the street call in bib numbers and then looking them up on a laptop so they’d know our names.

First thought? Brilliant. Bloody brilliant. Second thought? Holy shit, creepy. OK the utilization of this technology to give away a 1/2 pint of what was likely some damn good beer? Awesome, if misguided. I wanted to finish the bloody race. Beer is for after. However, it got me to thinking, what if someone wanted to use this for ill. I could see, for example, someone targeting a female racer. You have multiple chances to see them, and the app gives you estimates for when they’ll pass the checkpoints. It isn’t tough to calculate yourself. There’s plenty of pretty empty stretches. Someone could look a racer up, get her name, and use the internet to find some information on her. Imagine, for example, getting her child’s name. Then further on the course they could call her name, tell her he was sent to tell her that her son had been in an accident and she was to come with him so he could drive her to the school or the hospital. Most runners don’t run with phones. Would she say no? He knew her name. Knew her child’s name.  Of course she’d go with him. Frightening.

I think CIM has to strongly consider disassociating the runners’ full names from their bib numbers. Even just doing first initial, full last name would help to hide identity. For internal use, of course let your volunteers see the full info. But for public consumption, it is seriously way too dangerous. I wish it weren’t, that the world we lived in wasn’t this treacherous, but I’m also a realist. Bad people exist, and an opportunity like this is just rife for misuse. Please CIM, help keep your participants safe.

Many marathoners report hitting “the wall” around mile 20. I never really hit it, but I think my poor fitness level and generally easy run pace had a lot to do with that. I wasn’t anywhere near pushing myself. At 22 miles my Achilles tendon on my right leg began hurting fairly badly. I was forced to alter my gait to a more “heel strike” pattern to compensate, which resulted in some upper glute pain that evening. No harm no foul though, it was a matter of doing what I could to get to the end.

The final grade I’m going to give CIM was for the finish. Yes, I was right at cutoff. People had been arriving for nearly 4 hours at that point, I get it. But there was some confusion about whether I needed to remove the bottom of my race bib for my time to count. On the bib it said that the lower portion should not be removed until I had finished, but no one took it. When I went back in to check, no one knew. Apparently I was not the only one confused.

Overall I feel that CIM ran a solid race, with just a few missteps. The safety issues however need to be addressed, both the ice stuff and the look-up capability of the app. Otherwise, well done. I enjoyed the race and look forward to hopefully doing it again next year.

4 thoughts on “Race Report: California International Marathon 2013

  1. Congrats on your first marathon. I’ve run CIM (full) 5 times (including Sunday) and participated in the relay 2 and volunteered twice … I think some of your ratings are a bit harsh. This was the coldest CIM in history and the Sacramento area is not accustom to icy conditions like that. I know it seems like a no brainer but 26.2 miles is a lot of ground to cover and it would have taken truck loads of ice to combat what was out there. I saw carnage too. I saw men falling flat on their backs. The volunteers did their best, they were way out front warning runners (at least when I went by). Very harsh judgment unless you yourself had been a race director at some point. I won’t argue your other ratings and just agree to disagree but I had to point out that race directing is not an easy task and this year’s CIM race director was new to CIM (not the previous race director). I am sure they feel awful for what transipired. Congrats on you run. I hope you heal and recover quickly.

    • Thank you for your viewpoint, I definitely have never run in a race of this length, and the logistics do seem quite difficult to handle. I based my grades on both the idea that at my incredibly slow pace most runners had passed, and that the trouble spots were limited to 4 areas along the route.

      Please also keep in mind that my experience is that of a first time marathon runner, and that my experiences are filtered through that lens. It seemed to me, as a new arrival to this event, that the safety considerations at those danger points were not being addressed adequately.

      However, I do agree that I was perhaps too harsh in throwing grades around. I’ve gone ahead and removed the grades, but left my thoughts on how the race went. After all, I’m not here to judge, but to report and share my experiences. In that vein I went and read your report on the race and enjoyed it thoroughly! Looks like I’ll be adding another blog to my reading list. 🙂

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