Hell and High Water

To say that it rained in Sacramento last Sunday morning is as inadequate as saying that I went for a little jog last Sunday morning. Drenching, relentless rain. Wild, gusting winds. All of that for roughly 23 of 26.2 miles. And genuinely, truly, surprisingly, I loved every second of it.

There are a LOT of CIM race recaps out there. I know because I’ve spent the last few days scouring the internet, reading everything I could get my eyeballs on. A lot of people were miserable, a lot of people really dug it and, of course, a lot of people landed somewhere in between. I’m at the weird, happy end of that continuum and the rest of this post is most definitely going to reflect that, but my love of this race should not be mistaken for dismissal of the conditions. A lot of people were miserable running CIM this year because it was a miserable race! It was hard and wet and windy and nothing that even a Pacific Northwesterner used to running in sprinkles from time to time could ever have been prepared for. So if you’re reading this and you’re all, “What race did she run last week?! CIM was THE WORST!” I totally agree with you. It really was. Thing is, last Sunday at least, I loved THE WORST. I wanted to marry and have ten thousand of THE WORST’s babies.

For the sake of hopefully keeping this under eleventy billion words, I’ll give you the quick(ish) version of the pre-race rundown.

– Flew into Sacramento late Saturday morning

– Walked from my hotel to the race expo in warm, slightly sunny (!!) weather. Hey, maybe this doomsday forecast I’ve been reading about all week is overblown…

– Wandered the expo gathering my packet and assorted gear, stopped by the Nuun booth to stock up on my favorite flavor, some temporary tattoos and a totally unnecessary fourth or fifth Nuun water bottle. Missed seeing a couple of my favorite Nuunies, including Megan, who ran CIM as her first marathon and did an incredible job.

– Noticed that everyone coming into the expo after me was looking less sun-kissed and more drowned rat. Left the expo and saw that the rain had indeed started.

– Had hours to kill before sleep, so I wandered a nearby mall doing things that are probably going to sound varying degrees of stupid, pathetic and horrifying, but I had a great time. Yes, I could have purchased that sweater at the Gap in Oregon and avoided paying sales tax, but I didn’t. No, I probably didn’t need to eat at the gyro place in the mall’s food court, but I did. Portland Jenny is still shocked that this happened, but I had so much time on my hands and sitting in my room obsessing over the race and the weather wasn’t going to do me any good. Sacramento Jenny sort of enjoyed the shit out of a REALLY bad movie.

– Back to the hotel, dinner, tv, fitful sleep and then… ass early wake up. To rain. Lots of rain.

I was on a shuttle bus to the start line in Folsom a little after 5 a.m. I sat next to a really nice guy who lives in the Sacramento area and was running his first marathon. Ilan and I chatted during the ride to Folsom and his enthusiasm, despite the ever worsening conditions, helped build my own. We got to Folsom around 6 (7 a.m. race start) and were allowed to stay on the bus up to 15 minutes before the start. I guess usually the shuttle ride to the start is a firm one-way only kinda deal, but they made an exception this year and let people who got to Folsom and decided they didn’t want to run take the bus back to Sacramento. It really was that bad.

I left the nice dry bus at about 6:40 and made me way down the rows and rows of school buses toward bag check and the start line. The buses provided great protection from the wind, but when I looked up above the tops of them, I could see that the rain was being blown completely sideways. At that point I started laughing, not unhysterically. The absurdity of it all was not lost on me. The start was controlled chaos. There were plenty of porta-potties and bag check was well-organized, but 7,000ish people scrambling around in wind and rain, pretty much all of us wondering what the hell we were about to do, makes for a bit of insanity.

The Sacramento Bee has a great gallery of photos that show quite well what we were dealing with out there, including this shot of the start line.

CIM start line

And then we started. And it rained. And rained. And rained. And was really windy. REALLY windy. I didn’t know what it felt like to have rain pelt you directly on the eyeballs before CIM. Now I know, and I can say that tiny knives stabbing my eye is not the best feeling ever. Apparently somewhere near the start the course had to be rerouted at the last minute due to a downed power line, but everything was so well-organized that I had no idea. The first miles went by in a blur, literally. To avoid the stabby rain, I just put my head down and ran. I had Bruce in my ears, thousands of fellow crazy dummies around me and despite the wind and rain, it really wasn’t that cold, so I had that going for me at least.

Running felt so good. Yes, it was raining and crowded and a bit of an unintentional obstacle course as a result of all the garbage bags, ponchos and throwaway gear that was being tossed. But it was also such an incredible release to run. The only thing I can figure is that I’m some sort of water vampire and I actually drew strength from the rain. I needed this one to be good. My third marathon in Portland, two shorts months ago, was a huge disappointment. I didn’t love it nearly as much as I had the previous two, and I knew going into CIM that if it was an awful experience, I might be less inclined to keep hanging out with 26.2. All the normal nervous, pre-race energy, coupled with the weather worries, tripled by the need for this to go well had me so wound up that when it finally came time to run on Sunday morning, my legs just took off.

After running a 4:12 in Newport in June, I went into Portland in October gunning for sub 4. My 4:25 was hugely deflating and with a weird, abbreviated two month recovery/training time between Portland and CIM, it was hard to know what to expect of myself. I watched my pace the first several miles and was pleasantly surprised. I was trying hard not to think about time, given the weather, and knew that simply finishing in this mess would be achievement enough. Problem was, I was running a lot better than I thought I would. And mile after mile, as it kept feeling easy and good, it got harder not to let myself think about what 4 hours (or less) might require of me. At one point (I don’t know, maybe around mile 8? Hell, it could have been 6 or 10 or 12 for all I know), I looked up and realized that I was looking at the 3:55 pacer’s sign. My first thought? “Oh no! That poor guy is lost!” I honestly couldn’t fathom that I was running smack in the middle of a sub 4 pace group. And then I proceeded to actually run with them for a while. I knew it wouldn’t last, but damn if that wasn’t some great morale boosting.

I came through the half not far from my 13.1 PR and was still feeling really good. There was phenomenal crowd support, even in the horrible conditions, and as usual, all of those strangers became my best friends that day. New this race though was the feeling of support from everyone else running around me. There was just this sense of being in it together, even if we were barely able to acknowledge each other through the wind and rain.

I ran in capris, a tank and a super lightweight waterproof(ish) Brooks jacket that I had the good sense to buy a few weeks ago. I kept the jacket on until the rain stopped around mile 23 and though it didn’t keep me dry (waterproof does not mean magic jacket), it did the trick for a few miles. At one point, after the wind had died down, I took my hood off. A few minutes later I realized that there was a heaviness on my back and shoulders – my hood was completely full of water. And then there was the standing water. The first ankle deep puddle lake was not awesome, but by the third or fourth, my feet were already so soaked that it didn’t matter. I feel like I need to make it clear what this actually looked like. So, some pictures.

Poor internet form, I know, but I can’t remember where I found this one.


This next shot came from this fellow CIM survivor and is perhaps the most borrowed photo from the race that I’ve seen.



And yet, despite all of that, I had so much fun.

That smile? It's real, I promise.

That smile? It’s real, I promise.

I feel like I ran pretty strong through about 15 or 16 miles before I started to noticeably slow down. It was actually not until 21 that I gave up the sub 4 dream. Up until that point, it seemed like something within reach, which was hugely motivating during those long, wet miles. I decided somewhere before 16 to not focus on getting to 20, but rather to get to 16 and then treat the rest as just a nice, 10 mile run. I’m not sure it worked out quite like that, but your brain tries all sorts of ways to trick your body into thinking that what you’re doing in a marathon is normal. 20 to the end was hard, but not soul (or body) crushing. I was almost angry when the rain stopped around 23. It felt wrong to come through so much of it in the rain and finish under blue sky.

The final miles took me through my brother and sister-in-law’s old neighborhood, which provided some nice distraction as I remembered having walked there with the Creep and Avery during my last visit in April. Around 25 I actually saw my shuttle buddy, Ilan. He wasn’t doing so hot and had been having trouble with leg cramps since somewhere around the half. I kinda ran with him for a bit, but it was pretty clear that he wanted to be left alone, so I wished him well and went on. Despite having given up the sub 4, I knew I could still PR. I had been thinking that 4:08 sounded nice, but knew I’d be happy with anything under 4:12. After all of it – the wind, the rain, the mental beating I gave myself after Portland, the worry that Newport was a flash in the pan kind of experience – I crossed the finish in Sacramento in 4:09:48, a nearly three minute PR.

Crossing the finish under deceptively sunny skies.

Crossing the finish under deceptively sunny skies.

So happy. So done.

So happy. So done.

This lovely, sunny view is a bigfatdirty liar!

This lovely, sunny view is a bigfatdirty liar!

So, that’s how my fourth marathon went. Swimmingly. Sorry, I couldn’t help myself… Seriously though, it went so much better than I could have ever expected and it cemented for me that whatever this distance is ultimately going to end up doing for and meaning to me, I’m not nearly done figuring it out yet. I flew home Monday in minimal pain and by Tuesday was registering for marathon #5. I’m still working on what kind of training I want to do for the next one. I’m pretty singularly focused on getting that sub 4 in Eugene and I know that it means I have to suck it up and focus on speed work. For now though, I’ve put the Garmin and the iPod away (okay, the iPod put itself away by drowning during CIM) and am going to run easy and free for the next month – when I want, for as long or short as I want.

CIM was everything I needed it to be and more. To say that I love running again is as inadequate as saying that it rained a bit in Sacramento last weekend.


8 thoughts on “Hell and High Water

  1. I can’t believe how awful the weather was! I loved reading your recap because despite the circumstances you stayed so positive. I probably would have lost it if it were me. I don’t do well when the weather messes up my race plans. πŸ™‚
    Super huge congrats on the PR- that is really something to be proud of coming out this race!

    • Thanks Tasha! I think I *wanted* to enjoy the race so badly that I sort of just willed it to be so. I definitely want to run CIM again – I have a feeling I would love it even more in better conditions!

  2. I love your beautiful smile! And I love that you PR’ed πŸ™‚ Super sweet in those wild conditions! Bummed that we didn’t see each other though…next time!

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