Sometimes the taper is the hardest part of racing.

Although training for a marathon can be isolating and difficult; in truth, I suffer most from the two weeks of reduced activity immediately prior to the race. I had followed Coach Kristen’s training plan religiously to the mile for almost three months before December sixth. As the mileage tapered, I found myself craving my running ritual during the long Thanksgiving holiday weekend. Timeoff from work coupled with reduced physical activity left me anxious. California International Marathon (CIM) is touted as a fast course. The underlying implication is that it’s easy. It’s advertised as downhill. The running blogs brag that it’s the best race to achieve a Boston Marathon qualifying time. In my opinion, nothing about any marathon is easy. CIM is no exception. CIM is a point-to-point race from Folsom to Sacramento. Although I live in Folsom, I’m not within walking distance of the start. The race ends at the state Capitol, which means runners like me find themselves exhausted and 26.2 miles from home. My neighbor, Dave, had agreed to drive a group of us to the start. My little brother’s mom agreed that the two of them would meet me at the finish. The clock alarmed at 4am on race day. I hadn’t slept well. I’ve learned to never expect to sleep well the night before a race. I bolted from bed and hopped on the scale. It read 190.2 pounds. I immediately cracked open a large electrolyte drink. I continued to drink as I stepped through my ritualistic race-morning checklist. I logged into the computer to update my Facebook status and check the weather. I had expected cold so I knew that I would be wearing tights. Learning that the current temperature was 29F, I decided to add a third top layer. The night before, I had laid-out all of my clothes, including my lucky CW-X tights, pinned the racing bib to my shirt and organized all of my nutrition. As I dressed, I pinned five bags of Sport Beans inside the waist band of my tights. At 5:30am, I grabbed a granola bar and banana and headed outside to meet my friends. My friend and neighbor, Dave already had the truck running. My other neighbors, Ken and Amy had not yet come outside. I climbed in the truck with Dave and we waited for the frost to melt. Within minutes, my trainer Christine and friend Greg came driving up and Ken and Amy walked out of their house to join us. We exchanged morning greetings, climbed into the truck and headed to the start line. The truck was full of five runners. This would be my fifth marathon. It was the first marathon for everybody else in the truck with me. Dave dropped us off near the McDonald’s on Folsom-Auburn Road. Ken and Amy walked-ahead to the start. Myself, Chris and Greg climbed onto a warm bus for a ride to the start. Arriving at the start area, the temperature seemed to be falling. We found a group of people at Folsom Grind and we huddled onto the porch with them, exchanging nervous grins and strained conversation while double-checking our shoe laces and timing chips like all racers do moments before the start. The race would start at 7am sharp. Well before the start time, I decided to make one final trip to the port-a-potty. The lines were long. I watched the clock tick as the line made

very little progress. Although nervous about how slowly the line was moving, after investing so much time in the current line, I was hesitant to try a different port-a-potty location. I stared as my watch showed 6:53am and I was yet to gain entrance to a port-apotty. Finally the door swung open and it was my turn. Finishing my business, I hurriedly redid my clothes in the darkness and bolted from the port-a-potty only moments before 7am. The starting corral was packed. As I was clawing my way through thousands of people toward the 9-minute-mile pace group, the gun fired. The crowd started ripping-off sweat clothes with zeal and discarding them to the side. The race had started and I was stuck in the back of the mosh pit. As the group migrated very slowly forward, it took three minutes before I would cross the start line. I always start my heart rate monitor watch and GPS with the gun sound. As I crossed the start line mat, I calculated that I had about three minutes of grace time between gun and chip time. The first mile of CIM is downhill. Experienced runners know to start slowly and specifically to take it easy on the initial descent of CIM. After crossing the mats at the start line, the crowd started running very fast. My plan was to maintain a steady pace with the goal for a negative split. Although I was seeded far toward the back, mass crowds of runners were passing me. I kept my determination to the run the race that I had planned. As we were pounding the pavement toward Oak Avenue Parkway, I felt an odd sensation in my right thigh. Looking down, I noticed a bulge on my quadricep. Not feeling pain, I reached down and patted the bulge… it was a dislodged bag of Sport Beans. In my haste to exit the port-a-potty, I had broken the bag from its safety pin. I quickly debated the pros and cons of what to do. I decided to leave it alone. As we neared the one mile mark, the bulge had moved toward my knee. Although this is not my first time to run this course, I seemed to forget how far-spaced some of the landmarks are. I knew that I wanted to discard my sweatshirt after climbing to the top of Oak Avenue Parkway, I didn’t remember that it would take two miles to get there. By the time I reached my mark, I was slightly overheated. I flung my old blue sweatshirt atop a road closure sign and kept moving. I miss that old sweatshirt. It has served me well for years. I was not carrying water. My typical race plan is to never stop at the first aid station. As we neared the first aid station, it was so cold that all of the spilled water had formed ice on the pavement. The volunteers were warning us to be careful. It appeared to be a very dangerous situation, but after the race, I never heard that anyone suffered a fall. I was staying with a 4:15 pace group for the first few miles. The pace leaders were rotating the sign between two men, neither of which were wearing a GPS. They seemed to be running too fast for their stated pace. As the group continued to close-in on the 4:00 pace group, I spoke up and informed the pace leader that my watched showed he had been running an 8:55 minute mile. He thanked me but never slowed. As soon as I spoke-up other runners around us immediately joined-in, reassuring the leader that they were indeed moving faster than stated pace.

I ate my first bag of Sport Beans at exactly 45 minutes. I had just passed the five mile mark. As I neared the 10K point, a volunteer was calling-out pace times. He shouted 9:05. My watch showed 8:55 average. I knew that I was three minutes behind gun time and recommitted to keep my pace and run the race as I had trained. We turned left on Fair Oaks Blvd. Nobody in a car or riding a bike notices the uphill on this section, but it’s there. As if the slight grade weren’t enough, there was a headwind. The winds seemed to be coming from the South and they were not insignificant. Runners around me started complaining. I lowered my head and exaggerated a slight forward stoop, maintaining the same pace. My heart rate climbed into high zone four as I was pushing the wind. The dislodged bag of Sport Beans had migrated to just below my knee. I continued to follow my nutrition plan… eating every 45 minutes and drinking only water at every aid station. I knew the Folsom Road Runners were managing an aid station, but I never saw them. I frequently skip the early aid stations because mass numbers of people stop to drink. I don’t like to walk or stop during a race. As we neared Fair Oaks village, the crowds started to grow dense and there was music. Support and cheers from onlookers are a huge incentive during runs. Music is a great motivator. It was invigorating to run through old Fair Oaks. A young girl was handingout slices of orange to the runners. I smiled but kept running. As we crossed Sunrise Blvd, I noticed the huge line of traffic backed-up by the race. I didn’t feel sorry for any of the drivers. We approached the half-marathon mark further down Fair Oaks Blvd. I immediately thought about my friend Sheila who was doing a two-person relay. She would get to stop running at the half-marathon mark. I felt a twinge of jealousy. I crossed the Half-mark at exactly two hours. I smiled to myself as I calculated that I was exactly on-target with the pace that I wanted. The bag of Sport Beans had migrated to my calf. Between the Half mark and the next relay point is a left turn from Manzanita Avenue. The crowds were cheering, but the Southern trajectory again brought fierce winds. I caught up to someone who looked familiar from the back. As I reached her, I recognized her as a long-time acquaintance from Broadstone Racquet Club. This is a woman whom I’ve talked-to almost daily at 5am for about six years. As I was next to her, I said, “Hello Linda”… to which she replied breathlessly “You know, Noah, my name is Dianne”. I felt three inches tall. I have long known that names are my weakness but this was shameful, especially to have to be corrected during CIM from a breathless friend. I made a resolution to be more careful with names in the future, and to not be disappointed in anyone who can’t remember mine. As we passed Eastern and Arden, I started to see runners starting to walk who had been paced with me for hours. Nearing Watt, I saw some of those same runners stopping. Some were stretching, others just stood on the side of the road. It was about this time that

I caught-up to two Elvis runners. These were young guys in full Elvis costume, including white rhinestone studded long pants and jackets, complete with glued-on sideburns and enormous wigs. For a while I couldn’t keep up with the Elvis characters. After a few miles, I was able to maintain pace with them for what seemed like a long time. At first, it was endearing to hear the crowds laugh and cheer them specifically. After several miles, the calls to the Elvis runners became distracting. I tried to speed-up and leave them. At first, my increased pace was too much, so I slowed but kept faster than the 8:55 that I had been running. I like to finish with a negative split. I knew “the wall” was still in front of me so I kept my restraint. At Loehman’s Plaza, CIM always erects an overhead sign with fake bricks on both sides. This is the infamous “wall”. We were at mile 18. The volunteer called out our pace as 9:02. The crowds were huge, the music was loud. A man on the sidelines with a keg was distributing paper cups of beer. The runner next to me took a cup of beer. After crossing Howe Avenue, the uphill to the bridge crossing the river seemed so steep. I kept thinking about our hill repeats with Coach Kristen and reminding myself that this little hill is nothing. The Sport Beans were at my ankle. I had misjudged the distance from the river to Alhambra Blvd. We had not crossed the twenty mile mark yet it seemed like we were geographically too close to the finish. I continued to trudge along at my same pace down J Street. More runners were walking. All of the chatter among running buddies had ceased. I noticed that traffic on the side streets was being controlled by military personnel rather than police. I wondered if this was significant, but couldn’t process the information. I ate more Sport Beans. By the time we reached Alhambra, we seemed to be farther-along in mileage than I had anticipated. There were only five miles to go. It seemed like an eternity. Knowing that I had to traverse from 29th street to 8th street, I thought about the distance as 21 blocks. Deciding that five miles sounded easier than 21 blocks, I kept my head down and checked my pace. Many runners had started to walk through aid stations or stop completely during aid stations at this point and many more were walking parts of the course. I wondered if the Sport Beans would fall from my pants leg. I started to monitor my watch every few minutes and calculate whether I could meet my sub-four-hour goal. My stride had shortened. I tried to lengthen my stride, but the pain in my calves was overwhelming. I continued my pace. I seemed to be passing ever greater numbers of runners. Through mile 23, I was encouraging some of those as I passed if I could sense disappointment in their countenances. I thought about all of my running friends and shouted, “Almost there” repeatedly to those who seemed receptive to encouragement. After mile 24, I started to realize that I was going to meet my goal of finishing in less than 4 hours. The question became whether I could achieve a sub four hour gun time or whether I would need the three minute grace period from my chip time. In a strong moment of character, I decided that I didn’t want to risk having to explain to anyone that my gun time was greater than four years, yet I had actually finished in less than four

hours. I stepped on the gas pedal as hard as I could. I promised myself that if I didn’t make four hours, then I would absolutely have no regrets, knowing that I had run as hard as I possibly could. After about six minutes, I heard shouts of my name… it was Trevor running next to me with the camera. Although I had warned him that I might be too despondent to react near the finish, I managed to wave. His cheers helped me to speed-up. As I turned the corner into the finish chute, I heard my name shouted again, this time from someone that I didn’t have time to recognize. I saw the clock read 3:59 as I crossed the finish line. Although I should have been elated, I was too emotionally drained to react. A medical volunteer grabbed me by both shoulders and asked me to raise my head. As I looked into his eyes, I reassured him that I was okay. I leaned on a volunteer’s shoulder as she removed my chip. I wended my way through the chute to collect my medal. As I walked around the traffic circle, I leaned on a pallet of shrink-wrapped cases of bottled water. As I lowered my head, I felt tears well-up from deep within me. I briefly thought about my dad and wished that he could be with me. I regained composure and started looking for a space blanket to control my shivering. I posed for the after-photo… not because I necessarily wanted the picture, but because I didn’t know what else to do. I heard someone call my name. It was Leah. I managed to amble to the fence and chat with her for a few minutes. She was all smiles. She explained that it was she who had cheered me from just before the finish line. I tried to loosen the laces on my shoes, but I couldn’t bend-over without being overcome with dizziness. I rationalized that foot pain was better than syncope. It took a long time before my heart rate would drop below 120 beats per minute. I reasoned that it might be a hydration problem and searched for water. I wandered-around for what seemed like a long time but could be only minutes. I regretted that Trevor and I had not established a pre-defined meeting location. I found the line for food. As the runners around me in the food line were chatting, I asked if any of them had a cellphone. One runner, who I later learned was an emergency-room physician from the bay area, lent me his phone to call Trevor. Trevor and his mom came to rescue me from the food line with a backpack of warm sweat clothes, a protein shake and a bag of M&M’s. I finished the second half of the race in 1:56… achieving my goal for a negative-split. This was a new PR for me. My gun time was 3:59 and my chip time was 3:56. I lifted my sock and removed the now-famous bag of Sport Beans from the tights around my ankle. Life doesn’t get much better than the feeling of finishing a marathon. I’m not a father, yet I can imagine that is one of few events which might be better. I couldn’t eat for several hours. Trevor’s mom dropped-off both of us at my house. It was difficult to get my legs out of the car. After slowly entering the house, I shed my clothes and weighed. My post-race weight was 186.4. In four hours, I had burned over four thousand calories

and lost four pounds. It seemed like every number on this race day was somehow associated with the number four. I immediately started focusing on fluids to regain hydration. After a long, cold bath which was far less invigorating than it sounds, Trevor and I drove the Cadillac to Jasper’s for hamburgers. Jasper’s is one of our favorite dive burger joints. The tradition has evolved for us to never drive the truck to Jasper’s. Food never tasted so good. I craved fat… slurping the mayonnaise and gnawing the cheese from atop my bun-less hamburger. I had thought I might be able to eat two burgers, but I had to stop at one. Although I can’t describe a marathon as fun, it is most definitely worth the work. If it were easy to do, then everybody would be doing it. If it’s not hard to do, then it’s not worth doing. If these are phrases that you embrace, then you too are ready to do a marathon.

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