CIM 2014: The Short and Dubious Running Career of Davis Steve

By Steve Davis


Three years ago, in the wake of my epic crash and burn over the last 8 miles of the California International Marathon in 2011, I couldn’t bear the idea of running another marathon. It took me a long time to muster the desire to run CIM again. Considering the torrential downpour of CIM 2012 and the arctic freeze of CIM 2013, it’s probably just as well.


But this year I had a change of heart. By mid-summer I was running decently, and so many of my fellow Chips announced they were going to do it I had a hard time saying no. Steve Ashe was coming out of his long marathon hibernation to run CIM again. Gen Clavier was telling me and everyone else she knew, and even people she probably didn’t know but who were within earshot, that they had to run it, and who can say no to Gen? Not me.


So in August I finally bit the bullet, surrendered my entrance fee, and signed up to do CIM for my third time. I was determined the third time would be the charm. My first CIM in 2008 had been a solid success, yielding an on-the-nose Boston-qualifying goal time of 3:20:00. The second time I was on pace to run 3:10 through the first two-thirds, but slowed after that and ultimately crashed completely over the last 10K, ultimately finishing in 3:27 and change. This year, with a decent aerobic base, a solid 12-week training plan, and what I thought was sufficient mileage, I was pretty sure I could not just improve upon my six-year-old PR but achieve a 3:15 or even a sub-3:10 time.


Training went pretty well. My pre-taper average weekly mileage wasn’t great, but it was over 40 miles a week, and compared favorably to what I’d managed to do in 2008 and 2011. I exceeded 50 miles in a week twice, the only time in my life I’ve done that. I ran over 20 miles three times, and over 17 miles an additional four times, and most of those runs had solid stretches of running 7:20- to 7:10- minute miles, which was somewhere around what I thought my goal pace would be.


Ten days before CIM, I ran the Run To Feed The Hungry 5K. Until that point I didn’t have a good feel for what my marathon goal time should be.   Should I try to beat 3:10? Or just try to improve on my 3:20 PR time? I told myself I would use my RTFTH 5K time and pace to help set an appropriate goal pace for CIM.


On a beautiful, crisp Turkey-Day morning I managed a well-paced, negative split 19:41 at RTFTH. It felt good. I finished really well, but I had a little left in the tank at the end. That was the way I wanted it. I wanted a good time that would boost my confidence for the marathon, but I didn’t want to completely exhaust myself so close to the big race. I accomplished both goals that day.


After getting home and showering I pulled out my dog-eared copy of Jack Daniels’ Running Formula, second edition, turned to Table 3.1 on page 49, and discovered that my 5K time corresponded to a marathon time of about 3:08. Now, I’m not a complete idiot (OK, I realize that’s not what I said in my last race report in 2011, but bear with me).   I knew that these formulas are to be taken with a grain of salt, and that given my own racing proclivities (I’m relatively better at shorter distances) a 3:08 would likely be out of reach. But a 3:15 finish seemed eminently doable. So I decided to set my goal at 3:15. That meant running 26.2 miles at about a 7:26 minute/mile pace. I convinced myself I could do that.


After Thanksgiving the marathon countdown began. There was nothing more I could do to improve my fitness. My main goal was to stay healthy. Marathons, like marriages, greatly magnify whatever nagging and unresolved problems you bring to them. So I was determined to toe the line in Folsom on December 7 as problem-free as I could.


As my target date approached it seemed like I could do that. My long-standing Achilles tendon problems were in abeyance.   I had a minor case of plantar fasciitis, but I knew it wouldn’t interfere with the race once it started. The only thing that bugged me was that I wasn’t losing weight the way I had wanted to. I actually gained about 5 pounds from the beginning of my taper to the start of the race, because I wasn’t burning as many calories as before but was still eating a lot. But I didn’t think that would keep me from my goal.


A few days before the race, I had a disquieting moment. I checked the runner registration information available at the CIM website,, and found out I was registered as “Davis Steve” rather than “Steve Davis.” My reaction was . . . seriously? I waited three years to do this again and I couldn’t even sign up under the right name? Sheesh.


Oh well. I could only hope my newly created alter ego would cooperate with my race goals. There was not much I could do about it. Or him.


Race day finally arrived.   Conditions could not be more perfect. No wind. No rain. Starting temperature in the 40s, finishing temperature projected to be in the 50s.


Davis Steve’s time had come.


I woke up well before 4 a.m. on December 7, before my alarm went off, and started getting ready to run 26.2 miles. Outfit was ready. Garmin was charged. Gels were squeezed into my velcroed running waist pouch.


Having now gone through the pre-CIM ritual three times, I have two impressions of it that particularly stick with me. One is the atmosphere aboard the Chips’ party bus taking us to Folsom: that distinct blend of nervousness, conviviality, and not-yet-full wakefulness. The other is the port-a-potties.


Because the Chips bus leaves downtown Sacramento at 5 a.m., and the race doesn’t start until 7 a.m., a visit to the port-a-potty before the marathon start is a must. Fortunately, at the CIM race start, there are many to choose from. The number of port-a-potties, all of which are stationed in a single, seemingly endless curve along the east side of Auburn-Folsom Boulevard, is impressive. It’s quite a sight. When the pre-dawn fog is just right, you literally cannot see from one end of the potty curve to the other.


I don’t like to wait in lines, so I jogged away from the buses slowly north toward the end of the potty curve, where the lines were a lot shorter, before making my choice. The port-a-potty I selected was not notable, except in one way: it reeked of marijuana. Not being a huge fan of that particular odor, I was momentarily nonplussed, but then I figured I’d look at the bright side: it beat the alternative. Weed makes an effective deodorant.


25 minutes, one Power Gel, one bottled water, and lots of nervous pacing and waiting later, I finally made my way to the race start. I stationed myself near the 3:15 pace group leader. I saw Steve Ashe, Dave Pai, and Mike Rizzo clustered just a little ways ahead. I knew their goal time was somewhere in the same ballpark as mine so I figured I’d try to catch them or at least keep them in sight after the race started.


At about dawn, following introductions and the national anthem, the race began. I wanted to get right on my goal pace of 7:26 and stay right around it for the first half of the race. I couldn’t quite do that at first because of the crush of runners at the beginning. But by the time I turned right onto Oak Avenue Parkway I was able to establish my pace.


In 2008 I caught up to and ran with the 3:20 pace group for about 22 miles, and it worked perfectly. In 2011 I went ahead of the 3:15 group early in the race, tried to catch the 3:10 group, and then crashed and burned and saw both the 3:15 and 3:20 groups pass me as I struggled to a disappointing finish. This time I ignored the pace groups, and everybody else for the first few miles. I set a goal of running no slower than 7:30 pace and no faster than 7:20 pace. I did that, pretty much, for the first ten miles.


Steve and Mike and Dave were nowhere in sight, but around mile 5 or so I caught up to Rachel McMichael, and we paced each other for a few miles as the course elevation continually rose and fell in broad undulations southward along Fair Oaks Boulevard, on the way to the old Fair Oaks town center. Rachel seemed a little nervous about her pacing but she looked to me like she was running a strong and smart race. (Spoiler: I was right; she was)


I decided to pick up the pace just a bit once I passed Sunrise Boulevard, about ten and a half miles in. I felt really good at this point: well nourished, well hydrated, completely under control. No aches or pains. My pace didn’t seem to be taxing or straining anything.


Past Sunrise my goal was to catch up, gradually, to the 3:15 pace group, which was about a hundred meters or so ahead of me. I could see Steve Ashe in the group, but not Dave or Mike. I caught the group just past the halfway point, before Fair Oaks Boulevard turned 90 degrees south. I was still feeling really good at this point. I decided to pass the group as we approached 14 miles. Ken Bogdan, who had tucked himself in behind the pace group leader, saw me, said some encouraging words, and pointed out that Dave and Mike were ahead, perhaps 150 meters.


I passed the Chips aid station at 15.5 miles, still about 100 meters behind Dave and Mike, took a cup of Gu, and continued forward, determined to catch Mike and Dave.   I still felt pretty good, and at this point was clocking roughly 7:15 minute miles. As Fair Oaks Boulevard curved back to the west, nearing the 16 mile mark, I probably got within 80 meters of Dave and Mike.


That was as close as I got.


At about the 16 mile mark, I told myself, “Only 10 miles to go. You can do this.” But I couldn’t. It was right about that location, just as it was in 2011, that my body began to refuse to cooperate with me.


It didn’t happen all at once. I didn’t hit a wall. But with each passing mile, starting around mile 16, equal effort was not producing equal results. It wasn’t too bad at first, but by the time I got to Watt Avenue – about 7 miles from the finish — I knew the 3:15 group was going to catch up to me again.   It did, passing me around mile 20.


At that point my goal was to salvage a sub-3:20 time, which would be a PR, at least, even if it fell short of my goal. As I crossed the H Street Bridge I was frequently checking my Garmin and doing a lot of calculations, trying to figure out what I had to do to get under 3:20.


Time and deceleration were working against me.   By the time I reached mile 24 it was getting very hard to move. It seemed like I was getting passed a lot. Well, I was getting passed a lot. I saw Rachel, whom I had last seen around mile 9, pass me at a strong, steady pace. She tapped me on the back and urged me to keep up. For about 15 seconds I tried. I couldn’t keep it up. She took off and out of sight as I continued to slow.


It was interesting to observe the impact of glycogen, and its absence, on my mood. Through the first 15 miles, when I was bursting with energy, I was having a great time.   I soaked in the crowds, the noise, the music, and the flow of moving bodies around me while enjoying the brisk but not difficult pace. I’ve rarely had so much fun in a race. But after mile 21 or so, with the energy gauge needle hitting empty, I couldn’t wait for the race to finish. It was no fun at all. There was a lot of “I can’t believe I actually chose to do this” kind of thinking.


As I drew nearer to the finish I saw Gen Clavier and Jamie Nye, running together, pass me as well. It was good to see a lot of Chips runners finishing well, even if I couldn’t join them. In the last mile Peter Hewitt passed me with what looked, incredibly, like a spring in his step. He didn’t look at all like someone who’d run over 25 miles.


With a mile to go I knew I was going to miss my 3:20 fallback goal, and it was so hard to move I almost stopped to walk. I kept running, though, to the end. Entering the penultimate turn onto 8th Street, I quickened the pace just a bit. After the final turn and the last 100 yards I tried to sprint but my legs cramped for the first time, hobbling my effort to finish in style. With a last push I got over the line in 3:23:10, chip time.


Why, after all that training, did I hit the wall again and fail to meet my goal? I talked with George Parrott about my race at the Bash later that evening, and in his usual unvarnished way he hit the nail on the head. Given my size (180 pounds, more than I’d like) and relatively greater ability at shorter races, I really hadn’t trained to get past the 20 mile mark at the pace I was aiming for.   Without realizing it, I’d trained really well to run a good half marathon, but I hadn’t trained enough at long distances to get past the glycogen-busting 20 mile barrier.   I noticed during my training that I tended suddenly to poop out at the 18 to 20 mile mark, but I didn’t think too much about it because I thought at race time I’d have enough of those 20 mile runs under my belt to carry me through. It didn’t happen. I should have seen it coming, but I didn’t.


This wasn’t a case of foolishly abandoning my race plan after the race start, like 2011. This was a case of having a race plan that didn’t accurately take into account my limitations as a runner and the inadequacy of my training to address them. So, back to the training drawing board for 2015.


It was a disappointing performance, but not terribly so. It was good enough that I qualified for Boston. Or, Davis Steve did. I may have to fight him over registration for Boston 2016.


About Laura Matz