Saturday, 15 December 2012

California International Marathon: When It Doesn't Rain...

This marathon started not in Sacramento on sunday December 2, but at Calgary airport on friday November 30. With heavy rain forecasted for race day, first I had to wait out a 6 hour delay for my flight. Due to change in San Francisco for a 40 minute hop to Sacramento, we got on our first plane knowing there were no spots on any other flights for either that day or the next.

So, having been put up overnight by the airline, we took the shuttle bus back to the airport to get on the Bart (light rail), and then hop on the Amtrak train to Sacramento. We were going to be doing this on the way back anyway so we A-Chang could shop in San Francisco before flying back. I guess I will never get to see Sacramento airport and the Yolobus to downtown :(

One great thing happened on the train which I have to share. You can pay for your ticket on the train in the US, which I already knew. First of all the conductor asked for ID, and asked where we were going. Having seen my Canadian driver's license, he left a note on the locker above us as with most passengers, and said he'd be back later. When I saw him with 10 minutes to go before our stop, I reached into my pocket and he said "don't worry about it." When we got off, we approached him on the platform and he simply smiled. I asked if we should pay at the station, "no, that's ok". I asked him if he was sure - "oh, I'm certain". Fighting the urge to give him a hug, I patted him on the shoulder and gave a heartfelt thanks. Needless to say, he shall remain anonymous.

So, arrived at the hotel 2pm on saturday, instead of 6pm friday. At least we didn't miss the expo, so I'd make it to the start. Then we had to find some supplies for my breakfast and gatorade for my bottles during the race. We were back at the hotel at 5pm or so.

To set the scene then: instead of doing a quick shakedown run the morning before, followed by sitting around and carb loading, I had spent most of the day travelling and walking and eating only a modest amount. All along, I was aware that the forecast would be for a centimetre of rain per hour with wind gusting up to 60kph (40 mph) on race day.

I could hear the wind outside as I was getting dressed, and looking out of the window many of the trees were swaying. If this had been a training day, I would've waited until the afternoon when it was due to clear up (but of course), or cross-trained. Being a point-to-point race, all the nutters runners filed onto buses to the start at Folsom. The quickest way back would now be doing the race. I had 2 jackets - one I wore during the race, and another that I put in my bag to pick up at the finish.

Photo: Sacramento Bee
Getting off the bus, I was side-swiped by the wind and sprayed in the face by the rain. Close to the start line, there was a gas station. Lots of people took shelter by the pumps. and others stayed inside the store next to it. The cashier shook her head in bewilderment many times. Among all the banter, one joke stood out. One guy was putting on A535 or similar, and had dropped rather than taken off his tracksuit to do it. Another guy said "where else can you stand with your pants around your ankles and not get arrested?"

With about 20 minutes to go, I made my way to the bank of toilets/ portapotties. There must have been several hundred - the race was flawlessly organized even with the conditions. There was no banner to mark the start line as it would simply have blown away and hit someone. I ran from my pitstop to the start and almost crossed the timing mat, so edged a little backwards. My new gopro camera got a few looks and comments - quite the occasion to use it for the first time.

Star Spangled Banner and countdown, before which I summed up the race before we'd even started by saying, "well, we're all nuts". Off we went, and aside from the wind and rain the sound I mostly remember was a collective swishing noise from all the runners starting with trashbags on. Unless you were wearing waterproof shoes - or those who had tied bags around their shoes which is a little dangerous at speed - your feet were soaked already.

It was a relief to get to the first turn, out of the headwind and into "only" a crosswind. Some started discarding their bags at this point. For the first hour, it seemed to me that the wind got stronger and the rain heavier.

One impressive site was the blind runners and their guides. I can only guess how intense the conditions felt for some of them. There was some debris on the road, though only sticks and twigs. I heard that the course had been re-routed due to a fallen tree somewhere, although I can't say I noticed.

About an hour in, with the wind at probably its strongest, I twice saw palm tree branches fall onto the course. They didn't hit anyone.
An impressive number of people were out on the course, many with their dogs which ranged from enthusiastic to forlorn-looking. The wettest part was the town of Fair Oaks.

A few parts of the road surface had subsided at the edges. It first sloped left to right, before a left turn to go uphill along the main street and back down again. At that left turn, there was no shallow line at all, just an inch of flowing water to slosh through. Just after Fair Oaks, a guy wearing a bikini came sprinting past in the opposite direction. Uber-spectator.

Mankini Man


Big Bird's found new work despite being saved...
It was about 2 and a half hours or so when I noticed the wind fade away, though the rain kept coming. On past performance and given the less than ideal build-up I figured that attempting a PB would lead to cramping.

Coming in to Sacramento, that happened once, and I backed way off the pace and took frequent walking breaks if I felt at risk of it happening again. I suppose I am pleased that I had my priorities straight - not to run myself into the ground trying to be matcho. On one such walk break, I saw a sign that read "smile if you've peed yourself just a little." It made me laugh so much that a large group of Californians now think I'd engaged in an accidental bout of self-irrigation.

At about the mile 23 sign, the camera's battery was finished. Next marathon I do, I'll have to carry an extra one.

It must have been about mile 25 when the rain stopped. A few minutes after that, the sun came out. I then did the last 3 minutes holding my folded up jacket in one hand and camera in the other. After all that had happened during the race, getting to Sacramento, hip flexor trouble in the weeks leading up, I guess it just had to be. It must almost seem like the sun coming out part is made up.

Picking up my bag. Muddy in there.
What was not made up was my time of 3:39.33, which is my slowest time by 10 minutes. 1,300th place out of 6,514 finishers. Some 9,000 were registered, so a whopping 2,500 didn't start or dropped out. Looking at it a week later though, I'm at least partly glad the weather was so biblical. It's not always about the time, and while I may envy the perfomances of elite runners, they face heartbreak when things don't go their way. For the rest of us, there is the ideal of savouring experiences such as this, and finishing with your head held high.


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