Monday, December 13, 2010

Sacramento Marathon Race Report

by Duncan Marsden

Sunday, December 5 was the California International Marathon in Sacramento so while Blaine was pounding the pavement in Vegas, I headed slightly further west to take on what was billed as "the fastest marathon in the West".  I had heard a lot about the net downhill of the course in the Sacramento Marathon so I was keen to see if I could put this to good effect.

I headed down to San Francisco with my family on the Friday before the marathon and then we drove to Sacramento.  We stayed in the host hotel which was right next door to the Expo and only a few blocks from the finish line.  I always wonder what the hotel staff think when they host these events; in the days leading up to the marathon the bars are full of people drinking water and the restaurants are full of twitchy racehorse type personalities who want "a double portion of plain brown rice, no sauce".  Everyone has their foibles!  And on race day, reception is filled at 4 AM with skinny people trying to eat their own weight in porridge, bagels and energy bars.

The Sacramento Marathon is a point-to-point course, so you need to take a bus to the start.  It takes about an hour and was a chance to me to catch up on sleep.  The race prides itself in having more portaloos per person then any other race and I've never seen so many people taking pictures of toilets before - there really were hundreds!

I got off the bus in the dark but very quickly it became light and was the perfect day for marathon running; cool, no wind and no rain.  After a few strides and a little bit of stretching, we were off.  I was pretty near the front but I was determined to take it easy in the first few miles, particularly as the first one was downhill and could lead to too fast a pace from the outset.  I put myself in with a group of lead women for the first mile and wondered if I should stay with them, given that they were likely to pace the race far better than I was, but I decided that the pace was slightly too slow and pushed off, running the first 6 miles at an average of 5.45 per mile.  Right on pace for my 2.30 goal.  Miles 6 to 14 were definitely hilly.  It's true that there is a net downhill on this course, but it is by no means downhill the whole way - the first half is undulating (albeit with more down than up, but there is definitely some "up").  The pace dropped a little bit at this hilly stage but I was not concerned and I wanted to make sure though I got to about mile 16 or 17 feeling good, so that I could push on from there.  I went through the half in about 80th place and was 76.38.

Around mile 14, I heard some footsteps catching up with me at a serious rate of knots and I turned to see the two lead women, ready to pass.  It was clear that they were going at a good pace and I thought that it was the ideal opportunity to run with someone for the second half so I upped my pace to match theirs.  I didn't feel right tucking in behind these two women and so I lead the two of them in their battle.  It was really interesting to watch the race unfold and the miles dropped to about 5.30 per mile.  They must have thought it was a little bit weird because they called me up 14 and then I stayed with them right to the finish - it was almost like I had been planted there as a pacemaker for them!  The lead woman dropped second place at about mile 18 and then the two of us ran the rest of the way home together.  It was really good running with her although I didn't get another cheer the entire race - everyone was cheering for her!  We kept running in the 5.30s until about mile 23 and then we both slowed to 5.50s.  During this time we must have passed about 30 guys - some looking really tired, obviously having gone off too quickly, but they all cheered us on.  I'm pretty sure they all thought I was her pacemaker too. 

I finished in 2:32.09 which was good for 35th place.  A negative split and I'd passed at least 30-40 people in the second half.  No-one overtook me in the whole race.

As I crossed the line, my initial reaction was disappointment.  I had wanted to hit sub-2.31 so that I would achieve sub-elite status for the Chicago Marathon next year and I had missed it by 69 seconds.  Worse still, it meant I had to run another marathon in spring!  However, you can't be disappointed with a personal best and I had run 1 min and 50 seconds quicker than I had previously, so all in all I was pleased.  I'm no longer scared of 5.45 mining and I'm hopeful that 2011 has a sub 2.30 marathon in its plans for me!

All in all, a good, well organised marathon and worth doing.  Now I can kick back and enjoy getting fat to Christmas..!

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