“Marathons teach us to be patient, to persevere, and to apply the Bible ‘s scripture there is a time and a season for everything. The more marathons we run, the more likely to chip away minutes and seconds.” Carmen’s quote the day after running California International Marathon
The day before any race, I find myself unusually calm, collected, and happy. The day before California International Marathon 35th anniversary was not any different. After my husband dropped my friend Karen and I off at the start line, I took in the morning fresh air and said to myself: “This is my day.” The temperature in the high 40s was perfect. The overnight rain dissipated the frost and brought a balmy and warmer morning to the approximately 11,000 runners running from Folsom downtown Sacramento by the Capitol.
After doing some dynamic stretches, using the bathroom twice, Andrea, Karen, and I headed over towards the start line to find our 3:37 pace group. I did not recognize anyone from our group and I didn’t know the pacers, but I already knew that I wanted to run the first 2-4 miles about 10 seconds slower to conserve energy and to finish strong. From the very beginning, our pacing group took off in the high 7s, even though our average pace needed to be 8:16. My friends and I paced ourselves and did not start too fast, trying to preserve our quads, since there are so many rolling hills for the first 10 miles of the CIM. My pace stayed in the low 8s for the first 6 miles, after which I dropped into 8:16 pace and kept it all the way to the half marathon point.
After the half marathon, I was looking forward to get past Fair Oaks and Grant Blvd., so that I switched my water bottle and see my husband and my sweet kids. Sophia had a special sign made for me, saying “run like a cheetah,” “run fast and don’t stop, ” “you got this,” and so on. Alex gave me the water bottle and my husband took this picture of me running by with my big smile, knowing that a little more than half of the marathon was behind me.
After I passed by my family, I tried to keep my pace, but for some reason, I slowed down to 8:30 pace for the next 5 miles, or so. My left gluteal muscle was a little sore and aggravated. I struggled to have a steady leg turnover. I even contemplated stopping at the porta potty, but then I told myself that I didn’t have to go too badly and that I needed to get to mile 20 and then try to run faster.
Indeed, mile 20 came and the spectators were spectacular with their screaming, shouting, cheering, joking, jostling things around. I felt uplifted and my gluteal muscle was not as sore and decided to cooperate more. I ran through the fake wall with conviction and renewed determination to finish the marathon faster and stronger.
After mile 21, there were no more hills and my pace improved from 8:40 to 8:27. Soon I was running again in the low 8s about 8:15. By the time I ran to mile 24, where my super awesome and supportive coach Robert was waiting for me with a peeled banana, knowing that I requested one, I was gaining momentum and speed. I refused the banana and Cliff gel from him. “Keep your pacing, Carmen,” he urged me. I felt strong. The crowds went wild – electrifying atmosphere. It felt amazing to be able to power through and catch a lot of my friends from behind. Seeing my Fleet Feet racing team mates on the course, cheering on me was super fun. Their loud and enthusiastic cheering motivated me to run faster and reach two super important goals: my PR and my Boston qualifying.
By the time I ran by the Capitol towards the finish line, I realized that my feet were happy, barely touching the asphalt, levitating almost… My family was cheering on me at the finish line. I crossed in 3:40:41 with a strong kick at the end and a big smile, knowing that I had PRed by 7 minutes from last year’s marathon and that I had qualified for Boston with more than 12 minutes under my 3:55 time based on my new age group.
In looking back at my fastest marathon to date, I realized that there were three ingredients to my big PR and qualifying for Boston.
- Track workouts. I was so excited about doing ladder workouts and finishing the workout with 4X 200m, as it gave me the chance to practice speed on tired legs and it was so invigorating. I soon learned that doing the 200m made me forget that I already did mile repeats, 800 meters, 400m, and whatever else we were doing.
2. High mileage training weeks.
I thought that speed and endurance were enough. Yet, this year, after four months of intense training with my amazing, dedicated, and intelligent coach Robert Ressl-Moyer, who has won trail marathons and many 50K races, I realized that logging in 50 to 70 miles a week meant fortifying my body and mind to prepare me to run on tired legs when I needed it during this year’s California’s International Marathon.
3. Progressive Runs.
Before I started working with my coach Robert, I was only used to doing 3-mile progressive runs. My first month of training, I had to do 10 to 12 mile progressive runs, which felt terrifying in the beginning, but with the help of my Strava app that provided my pace estimate every half a mile, I managed to execute some great progressive runs that left me exhilarated at the end, knowing that I could run in the mid 7s on tired legs.
My progressive runs were always the day after my speed workout, so I had to start slowly and build up to finish strong. Not only did this teach me to be disciplined and conservative with my starting time that needed to be slower, but it also taught me to feel the pace and know when I needed to pull back, or when I needed to accelerate and keep the mile within seconds from my previous one. As much as dreaded them in the beginning, progressive runs have quickly become my very favorite workouts.
I loved to feel my body progress in time and space, so to speak. I also loved running on the edge of time – each second quintessential to the overall time and my progress as a runner. These training runs helped me finish my CIM marathon with the last 5 miles progressively faster than my previous ones without me planning on that. My last 5 miles splits were: 8:49, 8:40, 8:39, 8:15, 8:13, 7:49. Once I developed a good grasp on how progressive runs need to happen, running each mile faster than the previous one became innate and just happened.
What can I say? I had a terrific CIM marathon and looking forward to my very first Boston marathon in 2019. As to 2018, I will be running a 50K and a 50-mile race, as well as two marathons besides other races in between. Vamos!
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