Run De Vous

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Luis Alvarez

Let me start by saying that training is not overrated and should be done prior to any event 🙂

The weather was really good throughout the day with some breezes all day long which made things bearable during the heat of the day, once the sun went down the temperatures dropped enough to change into a long sleeve shirt or sleeves. The course is a 2 mile loop and while I was not crazy about the idea, it seemed that it was kind of nice being able to see the aid station at all times and the loops just kept adding the mileage, there’s lots of wildlife (wild pigs, bulls, cows, coyotes, owls and snakes) that you can see and hear while out there.

This is a very low key race and a great starter for anyone attempting their first run over 50K, Rajeev Patel, the RD (for those of you who don’t know him), is a great host, very passionate about the runners, running as a whole and made sure that people were hydrating and eating every time you passed the aid station, the start line is Rajeev calling all to a line on the path and after the national anthem he says go, the finish is the same line but when finishing they hold a “finish banner” help up by 2 people standing on chairs at either side of the path.

His support group made up mostly of his friends and family manned the aid station and were extremely helpful, they just took your bottle and filled it up with whatever you wanted, the food was a smorgasbord (homemade cakes, 2 different soups, noodles, pizza (at 6pm), grapes, watermelon and of course the usual fare for ultra runs), lots of ice and sponges to cool down.

We setup our own aid station along the path like many of the other runners had done (like Jed Smith) but we were much well prepared 🙂  Our setup had our particular foods, clothing and specialty drinks, it was a very classy joint; our own pop-up tent with sun screens, outdoor carpeting, tables, coolers, chairs, lanterns and the BEST support crew ever headlined by Marcy, Nancy and Caroll.

So now to the run, we started the race at a prompt 6am and as I mentioned the weather was very nice, the loops seemed to come often enough (my thoughts were to stick to 2 loops per hour, to have enough energy for the entire race) so after my 3rd loop I noticed that I was at 1:03 which was faster than my plans so I slowed down a bit and hung to this pace for the first 20 miles, Jose lapped me after 15 miles which I had expected, I lapped Diane/Cheri and Diane lapped Cheri but we all hung in there somewhat together during the entire run.  After these 20 miles and passing our aid station every loop I reverted to walking the first ¼  mile, running 1.25 miles, walking another ¼ mile and running the last ½  mile back to the aid station, don’t really know how long that lasted but somewhere the change was made to walk ½ mile and run a ½ mile for every loop. I was still feeling pretty good and there were no major malfunctions in the legs or feet.

Of course, all good things come to an end and eventually the slogging (walk/running) 🙂 came to a fast walking effort for the rest of the race, the legs were beginning to feel tired and an area on the ball of my right foot started to bother and stayed with me for the remaining time, it was during this walking time that Diane and I hung together until my 100k finish. Yes, I had signed up for the full 100 miles but I decided to be realistic (actually it was the thought of going another 38 miles) and decided to drop to the 100k just so that I would be able to walk the next day (remember training?).

Cheri had foot issues (blisters) and took a 1.5 hour break to get the medics to take care of things but right after that she put her shoes back on and headed out there to finish her 50 miles and her 2nd 50 this year, Diane of course hung there as well and after medical blister control spent the next 12 hours being paced by the “crew” throughout the night and into the next day to finish her 3rd 100 this year and her 11th.

I’m not leaving out Jose just not mentioning much about him because he trained, ran well and finished his 100k, the race that he had signed for. So while any finish certainly deserves full accolades points must be taking away for doing the right thing :-). Seriously, great job Jose!!!

I’m sure that I’m not speaking for myself but Caroll, Nancy and Marcy are the BEST for hanging in there for 30+ hours taking care of us and making sure that we ate, drank and of course pacing all of us at one time or another,  THANK YOU LADIES!!

You Can Half It All at the SF Marathon!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Rich Berson and Rachelle Barbour

For the past 7 years we’ve been going to SF every July to split the two halves of the SF
marathon. It’s the perfect race for two running parents who both want to run. At other events we
have to flip over who gets to race, but in SF the two half marathons are independent: One starts
very early in the morning with the full marathon; the other starts at around 8:00 near the halfway
point of the marathon, about a mile from the first marathon finish. Rich has always done the first
half before this year – he’s faster, gets an earlier wave start, and thus gives us more time to high
five and trade kids. However, this year Rachelle started first. This also means that this year we
both got really cool spinner medals. The SF marathon has a special deal – if you do one half one
year, and the other the next year you get a Half It All medal. If you do the marathon the
following year, you get a special hoodie. So guess what we’re doing next year . . .

Overall, the race is really great. You can’t beat 50 degree temps in July! Everything is very well
organized. It’s a pretty crowded race, in part because it goes through some narrow areas.
There’s not much of a spectator presence though. All the swag is great.

Rachelle: My wave started at around 5:40. They start you early so that they can get everyone on
and off the Golden Gate Bridge and reopen the lanes to cars. The marathon and first half start at
the Embarcadero just south of the ferry building. Each wave is in a different corral encircled by a
chain link fence. I knew from Rich that once I got in, I’d be stuck – and there are no portapotties
in there.

The first couple miles are flat and relatively fast, only slowed down by the runners getting
themselves sorted out. The hills in this half are more extreme. OK, the hills killed me: like most
Sacramento runners, I don’t train on hills, so I pass people on the flats and get passed by them on
the hills. Nonetheless, this half is much more beautiful than the second half. It was great
running along Chrissy Field in the breeze and fog. Running across the bridge was amazing, even
though the lanes were pretty narrow and crowded. I started looking for fellow Chips on the out
and back part on the bridge, and got to cheer on Chris Malenab who was running the marathon.
The bridge had that fog that just lays right across the road bed. It was magical. The water stop
on the Marin side was mile 8 – they had lots of Gu and good support. Once across the bridge, I
hit the huge Presidio hill. I was ready for it mentally, if not physically. At least I’d gone quickly
enough on the flats that my overall pace was consistent with other half-marathons I’ve run. After
a bunch of rollers, I was thrilled to turn away from the marathon course and head into the finish
line in Golden Gate Park. Rich was there waiting and cheering for me.

I picked up my special spinner medal, got lots of food to go, had two gulps of Irish coffee (yes,
there is an Irish coffee bar at the finish), and wished Rich luck as I headed back to the car. I had
plans: go back to our friends’ house, get showered, and take the kids out to the course in time to
see Rich in the Lower Haight and then at the finish. I was thrilled not only to see Rich, but to get
to cheer on Kendra and John Bridges in the full, and my training partner (who qualified for
Boston!) We then grabbed Muni and saw Rich finish. It’s a great race for spectators since it’s a
big loop, and it was a thrill to get to run, get cleaned up, and get to cheer as well. This fantastic,
fun race is on our calendar year after year. Mark your calendars: next year they’re having it 6
weeks early – in June, to avoid America’s Cup.

Rich: My day in San Francisco was not just a half marathon, it was a duathlon – driving was the
first event, then running was the second. I started the day at about 4:30 by driving Rachelle to
her start – cruising down Market Street in the taxi only lane and hoping not to get a ticket for my
efforts to be a fast chauffeur. After I dropped her off, I drove back to our friends’ house (where
we were staying while they were out of town!) Then I lay down for a bit, followed tradition by
going to the bathroom many times, ate some toast, and proudly donned my Chips gear. Then I
drove over to the park to watch Rachelle finish.

In the park, I hit the porta-pottie, bundled up in a Mylar blanket, and waited for Rachelle in fog
so thick it was more like rain. I saw her Chips singlet sprinting to the line and cheered
frantically. After she finished, we did a few fist bumps, kissed a couple times, and I escorted her
to the Irish coffee station. Then I jogged to my start by the buffalo pen about a mile away.

Once I got to the start, I huddled under a heat lamp for a while. After the speedy first wave took
off, we were herded like buffalo up to the start, and then we were off. The beginning of the race
was downhill toward the ocean, then we turned around and headed uphill to Stow Lake. I
avoided the angry, aggressive, annoying geese on Stow Lake, along with the angry, aggressive,
annoying 1:40 pace group. Then it was downhill from Stow Lake, where I put some distance on
the pace group out of sheer frustration.

We wound through the park and ended up on Haight Street. I reluctantly passed up the beer aid
station and cruised through the Haight. I’m pretty sure I passed (again reluctantly) a weed aid
station at about mile six. After going through the upper Haight, I got a nice downhill into the
lower Haight. Waiting for me there were the three most awesome Chips I know – Rachelle,
Soleil, and Luka. They cheered, I grunted. They waved, I threw them a sweaty long sleeve shirt I
had tied around my waist.

After the adrenaline rush of seeing the family, I picked up the pace a bit. There’s a huge
downhill after the lower Haight, so I barreled down it as fast as my legs would carry me. The
next neighborhood we got to tour was the Mission. I was tempted by the sweet smell of carnitas
(even though I’m usually vegetarian), but my willpower was strong enough that I didn’t stop for a
taco. Usually the BART Station at Mission and 16 th features drug dealers of all shapes and sizes,
but since this was race day, there were instead just cheering fans.
After passing through the Mission, there are some rolling hills in Potrero Hill, so I limped up the
uphills and kamikazied down the downhills. The race then hits Dogpatch, a neighborhood that
didn’t exist when we lived in the city 15 years ago. There were ultra hip artist types cheering,
and a restaurant that promised free beignets all day to racers. (I still regret that we didn’t go take
them up on the offer.)

After Dogpatch is the home stretch. I picked up the pace along the flat last two miles. The
Giants’ stadium is in the background during that stretch, and the Bay Bridge continually looks
just a few feet away. I busted along the back side of the ballpark, jumping a curb along the way.
Then I saw the finish, heard and then saw the family again, and sprinted with an ugly grimace to
the line.

After I finished (in a time I was happy with), I met up with Rachelle and the kids, and we walked
the treat alley. I grabbed a banana and a scone. Then I got some Jamba Juice, which the kids
mooched after I had just a drop. I scored the kids some chocolate milk, and they somehow ended
up with a giant bag of Pirate Booty. We all got bags of mixed nuts and washed them down with
coconut water. In other words, come for the race, but stay for the buffet!

We wiped the crumbs off our faces and then went to get my cool Half It All medal. It spins!
Golden Gate Bridge on one side, the painted Victorians of the Haight on the other. Then we took
Muni to our home base, had a quick shower, and then went to Chinatown to gorge on dim sum.
We both love this race. It’s so nice to get the cold and fog during a sweltering Sacramento
summer. It’s fun and exciting to get a tour of San Francisco. This was the first time I did the
second half, after a bunch of years doing the first half. The first half is more beautiful, but the
second half is more flat. So you can decide which you care more about when you join us next
year. Or don’t choose, and just do it the full!

Next year, for the special hoodie, we’ll both be doing the full. (And, yes, Chris Malenab, we
know it isn’t fair that we get a cool spinning medal and a hoodie for two halves plus a full when
all you get for doing three fulls is feet covered with blisters.) We could use a babysitter, so get in
touch if you want to volunteer. Otherwise, we hope to see you on the race course.

Forest at Nisene Marks Marathon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By John Caselli

The Loma Prieta earthquake on October 17th, 1989, led me to this event now in it’s 31st year.  I had been visiting Santa Cruz almost every year of my life since 1952 and had no idea the Forest At Nisene Marks Parks even existed.  A running buddy was a writer for The San Francisco Examiner at the time and had been assigned to what has become known as the Loma Prieta earthquake named after an old mill located in the park.  He insisted I try to find it on my next visit.  I have been running there off and on for the last 22 years and have always thought it would be a cool place for a marathon.

This last Saturday I had an opportunity to see first hand what the park had to offer in terms of it’s beautiful trails & vistas.  It was real special.  I had my wife drop me off at 7:15 AM anticipating flashing lights, lane closures, flares & the CHP.  As we got closer to the start two guys from the local Lyons Club said we could pretty much park wherever we wanted.  From there I walked down the hill to the start.  I was all hyped up and ready to go.  As it got closer and closer to 8:00 AM I thought maybe I had read the start time wrong.  About 2 minutes before 8:00 a women with a starting gun walked to the start, thanked everybody for coming, told us to look out for the “orange” ribbons, wished us good luck and bang, we were off.

The weather was perfect.  Cool and slightly foggy at the start clearing mid morning.  The course was clearly marked with the aforementioned orange ribbons.  I never felt lost.  Aid stations were plentiful and well stocked with all kinds of goodies hosted by fun people who had answers to my questions about duration, elevation and constipation.  The first 10 miles out were challenging with a fairly consistent climb on fire roads.  The way down was less challenging….for awhile.  Then I realized I needed to pace myself or the stamina level in my quads would not hold me to the finish.  I felt good at the 20 mile aid station.  The next three & half miles were attention getters.  Single track trails are not my forte.  I don’t do them well.  I fell at about mile 22.  It got my attention and woke me up.  I regained my focus at and finished at 5 hours.  A beer glass and a small cup of Gatorade awaited my arrival.

 

Maratona di Roma

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Kendra Bridges

 

All roads lead to Rome, or at least that is what the shirt says. While you may not see all the roads in Rome during this 42,195 m race (or 26.2 mi), you will see many important cultural and historic sites, all while having spectators yell “die, die, die” as you pass. Don’t worry, it means something like ‘go forth’ in Italian.

Aside from the tourist-dream of a race course (what other race can boast sites like the Colosseum, Trevi Fountain, or Saint Peter’s Square?), there are several important things to note about the Rome Marathon. First, the cobblestones. There are only 7k worth, and they really aren’t so bad. Second, the narrow roads. Serious and repeated bottlenecks at the start, and some throughout the race as well. Third, and most importantly, the start time. The race starts at 9AM for the wheelchair division and elites. Mortals start closer to 9:10. The late start time, paired with the warm climate of Rome, makes the heat a major drawback. They do provide ‘sponging stations’ every 5k or so, but the heat gets bad between them on sunny streets when the wind isn’t blowing.

This was John’s first marathon, and my first marathon outside northern California, so we decided early on in our training to take it easy and enjoy the sights. In late January, John started suffering from a variety of leg ailments, starting with his left foot and culminating in IT band issues. Needless to say, we decided to take this race very easy so that John could finish his first marathon healthy, and we could enjoy our remaining vacation when the race ended.

We started out at the Colosseum, in the midst of nearly 20,000 runners. The initial bottlenecks forced a few complete stops, and had us at a snail’s pace for a while. Once we got going, we held a comfortable 3:50 pace, while  we snaked through the city, seeing landmarks like the Pyramid, Castel Sant’Angelo, Saint Peter’s Basilica, Piazza Navona, and the Spanish Steps.

The combination of heat, lingering jet lag, and our vacation diet took it’s toll by mile 17 or so, and we slowed to about 3:55-3:58 pace. At mile 20, John got the dreaded hamstring cramps, and we stopped to stretch. We threw in a few walk breaks from there to mile 22. At the 22 mark, we were still within reach of a 4:00 finish, if we held around a 9:00 per mile pace. John needed to stretch again, so he (very kindly) encouraged me to try for the 4:00 finish, and he would be close behind.

That 4:00 finish wasn’t in the cards for me this time. I just didn’t have the strength to power up the unexpected (though admittedly small)  hills in the last two miles. I came in at 4:02:02, with John not far behind in 4:12:27.

All told, we had a great race, together, seeing some beautiful and historic sites along the way. Finishing by circling the Colosseum, and then walking along the road next to some of the most historically significant places I’ve been to, made the finish all the more meaningful.

The Napa Valley Marathon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Kynan Matz

To some it’s a race. To others it’s training. To an ambitious couple from Sacramento, it was a bit of unfinished business.

You see, back in late 2009 the Mrs. and I began running and set our sights on the Napa Valley Marathon as our first marathon. In typical newbie style, we raged into training with little knowledge and less wisdom, letting our determination push forward until the injury gremlins attacked! Needless to say, a Napa Valley finish was not in the cards. In retrospect it was an important lesson for both of us, and has taught us how to train aggressively while staying relatively intact. We’ve done several races since, from 5K to 50M, but returning to Napa for a finish has always been on the to-do list.

My wife and I headed to Napa on Saturday to peruse the expo and attend a presentation about the legendary Boston Duel in the Sun between Dick Beardsley and Alberto Salazar. Not only did we get a dose of great storytelling, but we scored some great loot from the vendors selling their wares. And after a short stopoff at the hotel, we returned for the official pasta feed! I had no idea how much history was behind this race, but we heard several speakers while enjoying some very tasty vittles and I can’t quite express how much of a small town family vibe I got that evening.

4:00 came very early race morning, but my eyes sprung open and my heart skipped a beat. Race morning buzz. The feeling only increased in the next three hours, slowly building into a nervous excitement which vanished as soon as I crossed the starting line. Time to run, time to enjoy this.

The first five miles flew by in a rush of crowd weaving and getting my bearings. It wasn’t a gigantic race, but there were enough runners to make for a reasonably crowded start. It quickly thinned out a bit and a remained pretty comfortable for the rest of the race. Although finishing this race was a short term goal, it was really sort of a training run for an upcoming ultra in April. This meant that the pressure was off for a time and I could just enjoy the run and the course.

By mile 13 I began to feel a bit of soreness in my left leg and chalked it up to the unevenness of the road. The race is run on the Silverado Trail, and the old road is highly cambered to facilitate rain runoff and keep the road clear. Lately I’ve become used to trail running and all of the jumping around one needs to do on varied surfaces, so the repetitive motion of a long road race also began to take a toll on my wimpy legs. By mile 15, Laura and I decided to start throwing in walk breaks, still keeping a 15:00 pace or better while walking. It allowed us to really soak up the scenery, and boy was it fantastic!

The Napa Valley Marathon basically runs through endless vineyards and wineries between Calistoga and Napa, and the weather was absolutely perfect for appreciating it. From the sun burning off misty morning fog to passing wine-tour quad-bikes, not a moment passed without something to see. A little bonus was running right past grand archways and driveways of wineries with deliciously familiar names.

As the final miles counted down, I noticed two things. One, I didn’t notice any kind of “wall”. Aside from the weather getting hotter, I still felt pretty fresh overall. Actually, I was getting hungry. Two, I like dirt. In a few spots, I hopped onto a narrow loose dirt strip on the side of the road and LOVED it! The general aching virtually disappeared for a precious few minutes and refreshed me for a bit. It was a small treat and it kept me goin’!

The real excitement came as we made the turn off of the Silverado Trail and headed into town. The road flattened out and the spectators were in full force. Throughout the race, we’d been hearing sideline supporters and other runners call out our running club name and acknowledging our home town, but at around mile 25 something surprising happened. Amby Burfoot, of Ruuner’s World fame, trotted by on the shoulder and yelled, “Go Chips”. It was totally random and pretty neat. The crowd support got louder and rowdier as we ran through a nice little neighborhood and approached the finish. When I saw that finish arch, every ounce of fatigue and discomfort melted away and I suddenly felt great! We both stepped on the gas and ran through the chute at the fastest pace of the whole race. It felt phenomenal!

It is now over a week later and I look back on that race with great fondness. It was a fantastic opportunity to see some of the beautiful Napa vineyards from a completely unique vantage point and enjoy the company of great people. Running the race conservatively allowed me to finish and feel good for a 50K the next weekend, so I have absolutely no regrets.

It was exactly what I wanted it to be.

Rocky Road Marathon 2012

 

 

 

 

By Anne Hurley Novak

Walking my first marathon, woohoo!!!  Oh the excitement . . . ok one more stop at the port-a-potty.  The Rocky Road features 100 and 50 mile races, but they also host a half and full marathon.  The event is held in Coto de Caza Sports Park nestled in the foothills near Irvine, CA.  It was a beautiful day with clear blue skies in the 70’s (beginning to re-think these ankle length leggings . . .  oh well).  The trail is decomposed granite horse trail surrounding a gorgeous, rather exclusive neighborhood.  The marathon is two laps on a 13.1 mile out and back.  Aide stations every 2.5 miles with water, Gatorade, soda, bananas, salt tablets, chips, etc. and had very supportive crew members.  For the 50 & 100 milers they provided soup, turkey chili and vegan chili, grill cheese sandwiches, etc.

The course was a little more challenging than I initially planned on for my first event.  Compared to Sacramento, it looked (and felt) like going up and down a roller coaster (shoot I guess a few hill repeats during training might have been a good idea . . . ).  Ok maybe a bit unnerved when I first saw those hills, but what the heck I hadn’t come all this way to wimp out.  I still managed to complete in 6 hours 19 minutes and was very happy with that.  Being my first race, I don’t have a lot to measure it against, but I felt it was run well.  They describe it as a low-key event and that probably describes it pretty well.  Race start time was “8:00” we were gathered up around 8:10 or so were given a little description of where to turn around and pretty much told to go have a good time.  Personally, I didn’t mind the low-key atmosphere.  It did help to calm the nerves and did help me to enjoy the whole event more.  All in all it was a great time.  I definitely would go again.

Race Review: Honolulu Marathon 2011

By Chris Enfante

There are four things to consider about the Honolulu Marathon: 1) the start time; 2) the course; 3) the number of participants and; 4) the weather.

The start time: the Honolulu Marathon starts at 5:00 AM. This is intended to give runners more time on the course and cooler temperatures in the early morning hours. While it does give you a break from the heat, it means waking up at about 3:30 AM for race preparations, which makes for a pretty long day. The early start allows the organizers to put on a fireworks display at the start, but it also means that the first hour to hour and a half you are running in the dark, so you need to watch your footing.

The course: I would rate the course as moderately challenging. The course begins with a loop through downtown Honolulu, runs through Waikiki, heads out over Diamond Head, does a long out and back along a highway, and then returns over Diamond Head back to the finish in Waikiki. The difficulty of the course lies with the two climbs over Diamond Head, which are moderate. The second issue with the course is that the long out and back on the highway can be hot, depending on the weather conditions and your speed. The faster the runner, the cooler it will be out on the course. I’ll give the course credit for being scenic: it is Hawaii after all.

The number of participants: there were about 28,000 runners and walkers registered for the race, about 65% of which come from Japan to participate. There seemed to be a very high percentage of walkers in the event.

The weather: there is the potential for very hot and humid weather at the event. The weather in 2011 was not particularly hot. At the start, the temperature was about 72 degrees. At its hottest, later in the afternoon, the high temperature reached 82 degrees. However, there were periods of cloud cover, sprinkles, ocean breezes, and the humidity.

Hawaii is a beautiful, small island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, famous for the clear blue water and known as the cradle of surfing. The weather is just as beautiful as the flora and the fauna. Despite these facts (or due to), Honolulu gives place for one of the largest marathons around the world, with an average 25,000 annual runners. The race began in 1973 with 151 racers and has been growing continuously. Nowadays Honolulu marathon is loved by the Japanese runners and they take more than 65 percent of the starters. The race is also popular with the U.S military personal stationed in Hawaii.

CIM 2011: I Fought the Marathon and the Marathon Won

By Steve Davis

It’s Thursday night, four days after my unsuccessful attempt at a PR at the California International Marathon.  The soreness in my calves, and the bruises to my ego, are starting to fade, and I’m musing over what went wrong.  The conditions – cold temperature, no wind, no rain — were perfect.  I was well hydrated.  I was amply nourished.  I was healthy.  I had trained sufficiently, with the help of Coach Jenny’s excellent weekly plans, to beat the 3:20 PR I’d earned at CIM three years earlier.

And yet, despite all these advantages, it didn’t happen.  So, no matter how hard I try to fortify myself against the unpleasant truth with my rapidly emptying bottle of single malt scotch, I am forced to face an inescapable fact:

I’m a complete idiot.

My race plan – that is, my pre-race race plan — was to run with the 3:15 pace group for most of the race and see how things went.  If I ran well, maybe I’d move ahead of the pace group and run 3:14.  If I slowed at the end, then I would still manage, at least, to beat my old PR of 3:20.  It seemed like a good plan.

And it was.  The problem is that it only lasted for a mile.

I started the race just fine, tucking myself in about 20 feet behind the 3:15 pace leader and staying close behind him as the tempo slowly picked up from the typical race-start crawl to near goal pace (7:25 minute/mile) as we approached the Oak Avenue Parkway turn.

At the mile mark, though, I started to get other ideas.  My metabolism was fired up by all the high carb goodies I’d eaten in the last two hours (cereal, banana, gel, Gatorade, and those little sport candies doled out at the CIM Expo that are just gummy bears in a different shape and don’t let anybody tell you different).  The cold, still air seemed ripe for a fast run.  The early pace came easy, and my head was filled with delusions of running grandeur.  The 3:15 pace leader, well, he just seemed kind of . . . pokey.  Maybe I could do better.

So just past one mile, I took off, in both a mental and physical sense.  Mentally, I went on a three-hour hiatus from the race, never to return.  Physically, my body zeroed in on the nearest obvious goal in front of me.  That, of course, was the 3:10 pace group leader’s little red and white sign, ahead of me, but not too far ahead — yet.  It seemed like a good thing to pursue.  So I did.

Over the second mile, I ran 7:11.  14 seconds faster than goal pace.  But it felt good.  So I cranked it up just a bit more.  For the third and fourth miles, I ran 7:08 pace.  Now I was moving quite a bit more briskly than I’d planned.  It gave me a twinge of concern.  But just a twinge.  The miles seemed to be passing so smoothly and quickly that I thought maybe a 3:11 or 3:12 finish time was a possibility.  After all, the Runners World Distance Finish Times Calculator, which I’d consulted online about, oh, 437 times or so in the previous four months, had given me reason to believe this was a reasonable goal.  11 days earlier I had finished the Run to Feed the Hungry 5K in 20:09, and according to the Runners World calculator, I should be able to finish the marathon in 3:12:54.  So I was right on track!

It should have been clear at this point that I’d completely lost my mind, because, fellow runners, as a scientifically valid prediction tool, the so-called Distance Finish Times calculator falls somewhere between the rain dance and tea leaves.  Especially for the marathon.  Yes, I know.  Experienced runners may say that it’s a useful tool if you train adequately for the target race.  And I suppose that’s true, in a way.  If you are an adult male and you max out at five feet seven inches and you maintain your weight at 115 pounds dripping wet and you run 120 miles a week at altitude and you sleep in a hyperbaric chamber every night, it’s a marvelously precise predictive tool.  For me?  Not so much.  I’ll take the tea leaves.  At least I can make tea.

So, any way, four miles into the race (only 11/13ths to go! I cheered myself on), justified by my bad math and foolish confidence and still feeling quite chipper, I forged on, staying about 10 to 12 seconds ahead of my original 7:25 goal pace every mile for another ten miles.  I passed the half marathon point at 1:35:29, exactly 3:11 pace.  I’m going to break my PR by 9 minutes!  I thought.  Awesome!

But here’s the thing.  My halfway time of 1:35:29 was only one minute slower than my finish time at the Clarksburg half marathon four weeks before, and I had faded badly at Clarksburg after ten miles.  That performance, only four weeks earlier, boded poorly for a strong finish at CIM.  But they say a bad Clarksburg means a good CIM, right?

You know, they say all sorts of things.

My pace ebbed just a bit through mile 17, but I still felt O.K.  At Arden Way some friends and my family cheered me on.  I tossed them my sweaty gloves and cap and utility belt, now gripping my last chocolate gel tightly in my right fist.  One of my twin sons passed me an orange slice and the other ran alongside me for about 50 yards.  Their support briefly warded off my growing fatigue.  But only briefly.  After mile 17 my excessive early pace started to take its toll.  A sense of alarm took hold as I passed Watt Avenue and headed toward the Wall at Loehmann’s Plaza.  Three years ago, running a nice, steady 7:35 pace, I’d sailed through this stretch with no problem.  Wall, what wall? I thought then.

It was very different this time.  I was slowing quickly – very, very quickly.  I was watching my pace like a hawk and was trying to calculate what I needed to do to stay ahead of the 3:15 pace group.  My calculations didn’t matter.  My body was failing and the 3:15 group went whizzing by me between Fulton and Howe.  My legs were leaden, and my feet hurt.  I knew it would be a struggle just to get under my old PR, if that was even possible.

I also knew my parents were waiting to cheer me on at the Starbucks at 38th and J Street, and I’d hoped to put on a decent show for them.  But it was getting really hard.  At mile 22 my pace slowed to 8:30.  At mile 23 it slowed to 9:00.  I saw my mom and dad under the familiar Starbucks sign, lattes in hand, and waved to them and briefly sped up for their benefit.  I didn’t want them to worry, after all.  Once I passed them, though, I slowed again, and I absolutely knew it was going to be a grim slog to the finish.

I was dimly aware over these last miles what a great day it was, despite my own difficulties.  It was a picture-perfect December morning in Sacramento:  the air was bracingly crisp and chill, the crowds were loud and supportive, and most of the runners around me seemed to be running strong and heady with the excitement of the impending finish.  But mostly I was focused on how increasingly difficult it was to pump my legs and maintain forward motion.

My pace over mile 24 was 9:30, and over mile 25 it was 10:23.  My legs were in full shut-down mode.  And at this point my mind, having no success at persuading or willing my legs to go faster, lost focus altogether.  As I tackled the last gruesome mile down L Street, random, whimsical thoughts passed through my brain.  Thoughts like, Did they add a few blocks to L Street?  It seems longer than I remember it.

Like, If the wind is less than four miles an hour, why are the leaves blowing past me faster than I’m moving?

Like, Gosh, there are a lot of good-looking women running this race.  And they’re all running faster than I am.

Like, It could be worse.  It could be raining.

Over the last mile I ran about 11:45 pace.  I wanted to stop, something I had never done in a race.  I almost did.  It almost felt like I wasn’t moving, but I was still jogging, barely, to the finish.  I saw Rich Hanna pass me as I approached the 26 mile mark and urge me on “Come on, Steve.”  In retrospect, I guess he must have been filling in as a pace group leader, or just taking it easy, but at the time, in a state of total fatigue and confusion, I thought: I must be in an alternative universe – Rich Hanna is running with me at mile 26 in a marathon!

Finally – finally – I staggered around the Capitol building, into the chute, and across the finish line in 3:26:58, nearly 7 minutes slower than my PR from three years before.  Over the last half, I ran a positive split of 16 minutes, and most of those additional minutes were in the last five miles.  I limped to the Chips tent.  I was thankful that Gina Adams was there with her chicken soup and fig bars, as promised.  Bless her.  The food was fantastic.  My ego was still badly bruised, but my body was recovering quickly with the warm noodles in my belly.  As some other Chips walked or staggered back to the tent, I offered some commiseration and some congratulations.  Eventually I got up and left.  I must say I have become a solid convert to the restorative properties of chicken soup and fig bars.

So, four days later, as I drain the last drop of my scotch bottle, I can’t help but wonder, why?  Why did I go to the trouble of all that training and all that planning and wreck it all with such obviously bad execution?  How could I have thought I could keep up that torrid, early pace?  How could I blow it so badly?  I don’t know.  I can’t answer these questions.

But I do know that, next time, I won’t make the same mistake.  I’ll do the one thing I didn’t do this time that is bound to make all the difference and get me across the finish line in personal record time.

I’ll have the chicken soup and fig bars before the race.