Monday, December 10, 2018

Race Report: CIM 2018

Like this season's half marathon goals, my early season goals for the marathon needed some adjustment. My A++/pie in the sky goal was a sub-2:37, the Olympic Trials A standard (which comes with a free trip to the Trials). Even when I made it, full of early season optimism, I knew it was bold and probably unrealistic. It would require a PR of over five minutes and running nearly eight minutes faster than I have recently. My more realistic (hopefully!?) B goal was to break 2:40.

The training never stacked up to 2:37 and try as my dreaming-big brain might it could not rationalize going for that. It wasn’t until November that even sub-2:40 seemed possible, but by then sub-2:40 just didn’t seem exciting enough. I’ve wanted to break 2:40 for years (basically since the day after I ran 2:42) but now that it was (possibly) in my sights, I got greedy and wanted more. Could I break 2:39? My best workout, 16 miles at marathon effort, averaged 6:08 pace. But I told myself that I often run four seconds/mile faster on race day (a fact I relied on heavily before last season’s Pittsburgh) so maybe I could run 6:04 pace, which is a measly hair over 2:39. My other best “workout” was the Richmond half, which I ran two minutes faster than my tune-up half before CIM in 2014 (where I ran 2:42). Two minutes faster in a half equates to four minutes faster in a marathon, right?? That would put me at low 2:38 (6:02 pace). For some reason, the possibility of running 2:38:XX got me disproportionately more excited than 2:39:XX.

And so I convinced myself to go for 2:38:XX, despite the fact, that uhhh yeah... pulling off the four-seconds-faster-on-race-day trick seemed like a minor miracle at Pittsburgh. (Also, to break 2:39, I’d have to go five seconds faster.) There’s a line in Clueless where Josh (Paul Rudd in his breakout role!) asks Cher (Alicia Silverstone), “What makes you think you can get teachers to change your grades?”

Cher responds, “Only the fact that I’ve done it every other semester.”

Random and weird as it sounds, that quote always comes to mind when my inner monologue asks what makes me think I can run both faster and farther in a race than a workout. I respond back, “Only the fact that I’ve done it every other semester.” [Insert confident gum twirl.] (Even though I haven’t really and have had flops and disappointing races.) I’ve done it before; surely I can do it again. And my pace at Richmond and half-to-marathon conversion was considerably more comforting. All those other races/workouts that were nowhere near these paces? Ignore those.

My race plan was to go out in 6:04s (a hair over 2:39 pace), then cut down to 6:00 at half way, hoping to average 6:02 (and finish around 2:38:11). Again, the logic here is bold to say the least, but the confidence I gained from the Richmond half made me think it wasn’t absurd. I’d start at a pace equivalent to what I've done "every other semester" and even if I only managed to pick it up a tiny bit, I could squeeze under 2:39. No matter what, I’d give all I had in the last 10K and fight for every last second there. I really wanted to push myself and finish knowing I couldn't have given any more.

We made it to Sacramento without any trouble (unlike last CIM), Baby was in an amazingly good mood (unlike Pittsburgh) and watching her run around excitedly was distracting, keeping me surprisingly calm. The weather was perfect, the course was fast, I had no excuses, just like I told myself before the Richmond Half. It didn’t seem quite as reassuring (you know, given that the marathon is twice as far...) but I wasn’t as big a bundle of nerves as usual.

Even on race morning, I remained strangely calm. It was such a contrast to Pittsburgh where I was so nervous I could barely eat. I felt like I was in denial, like I would get to mile 20 and wonder how the heck I got there. Am I mentally prepared for what is about to happen? It seemed like maybe I wasn't. I kept ignoring it, even when we arrived at the start and waited in a tent with 200 other fidgeting, overly-hydrated elite athletes. And then we were in the corral and the gun went off…

Ok, this is happening. Stay calm in these early miles. Don’t get wrapped up in the excitement, slower is better. The first and second miles were right around my goal of 6:04s. I found myself just behind a group of four or so talkative guys and Rachel Hyland, who I recognized from the Jacksonville Half and Olympic trials. (Also, she finished fourth at this year’s Boston.) But the third mile was too fast (5:57) so I tried to let the group go. The fourth mile was still too quick (5:59); just relax. The biggest down hills were in this first section, so maybe they were helping. Don’t beat yourself up over too fast or too slow, just get back on it.

The next few miles I congratulated myself on backing off just a bit and hitting a few miles a second or two over pace, so it seemed I was back to averaging 6:04s. I tried to stay a little ways back from the guys and Rachel, thinking they were a hair fast so if I stayed a bit behind them I’d be good. But I kept drifting back to them. At one point I heard one of them say we were on 6:02 pace. No, we’re not, we’re doing 6:04s. (Hindsight: They were right. I was just clinging to the hope I was correctly executing my race plan.)

An early race smile and wave. Feeling good.
Around mile 6, as I again tried to let a gap grow between Rachel’s pack and me, another woman I was running near asked my race plan. I said 6:04-6:05 (I really should slow down to 6:05 for a few miles…) and it seemed like we could work together, but I immediately lost her at a water stop. (Hindsight: Probably because I was still averaging under 6:02 pace, which I didn’t admit to myself. I told myself I was back on my planned 6:04s.)

The miles clicked by. As always, my family was out in full force cheering, so I focused on the next time I’d see them or have to grab a water bottle. If I felt bad for a mile, I told myself it was just a bad patch, it was too early to truly be tired. If I felt good, I told myself it was too early for that too and not to get ahead of myself.

By mile 9, I was pretty much "bang on" (for some inexplicable reason, my inner voice favors British turns of phrase mid-race). I was feeling good, but suddenly found myself at the front of Rachel’s pack. This isn’t right. Mile ten was just under 6 flat. And the next mile was 6 flat. Too fast.

I was enjoying the guys talking, though. It reminded me of Chris Mocko, the pacer from 2014’s CIM. At one point they mentioned singing during a previous race and I secretly wanted them to go ahead and sing again. I’ll take any distractions possible, please and thank you. But I needed to slow down.

Relax, stay behind this pack until the half.

Or… maybe I’m having an incredible, truly special race! Maybe I’ll hit the half ahead of pace and have an even better day than expected!

No, it’s too early for that. Just relax.

At some point, I thought I overheard Rachel tell the guys that her plan was to pick it up at the half. That’s my plan too! Perfect! At this point I finally accepted I was running with this group and not just behind them. I realized how lucky I was to have them; even if it meant going out a hair fast, it was worth it to have people to run with. And I didn’t want to lose them.

We hit the half just ahead of my goal, in 1:19:18 (6:04 pace would have been 1:19:32). Step one: check. Now: pick it up. Rachel and I (and I think one other woman) dropped the pace and lost the guys in this section. I repeatedly assured myself that I felt good. I can do this, I am doing this. One mile at a time. These can be the trickiest miles mentally because the finish is still so far but you’re starting to feel the effort. I remembered what Mocko said last time: these were the miles to focus. We were successfully hitting them around 6:00 pace, exactly according to plan.

By mile 18, we were a group of three women: Rachel, Bria Wetsch, and myself. Bria said something encouraging about the power of our little pack and Rachel responded back about how we’re coming in strong. I wanted to say something, but couldn’t find the energy or the words. Bria mentioned the hills we ending soon, which was a relief. Everyone talks about CIM as a fast course, but it does roll quite a bit and I was glad it was ending. But still: I have handled the hills according to plan, everything is going perfectly, I have women to work with, I am doing this!

Trying to stay with Bria (left, in black)
and Rachel (front, in blue and yellow).
Mile 19 was a blazing 5:56, which was simultaneously awesome (Oh man, we are really crushing it!) and terrifying (Actually, if we could all please slow down that’d be great.) A little while later (things start to get hazy) another woman caught us and zoomed by. Rachel went with her. There was no way I could. Fortunately Bria hung back a bit too. Oh thank goodness, I can stay with her. I need to stay with her.

But soon enough Bria gapped me too. I tried to not let the gap grow, playing the often futile game of telling myself to keep the distance between us the same. I knew I’d slow alone. Just get to the next mile marker. Don’t think about what’s left. One mile at a time. I'd been praying the whole time, but now the tone got desperate.

In the past, I’ve thought of the last 10K as my place to shine. But here I was slowing. Miles 20-22 were about 6:04 pace, but when I glanced at my watch between the mile markers the pace seemed dangerously slower. Am I going to make it? C’mon, God. Help.

My power pack was long gone, the gap insurmountable. I honestly wasn’t sure if I had another mile in me, but I kept putting one foot in front of the other, trying to make it to the next mile marker. I can’t drop out when I’m this close to getting a PR.

Oiselle’s Cowbell Corner was around 23.5 and getting there became my sole purpose. And holy cow, what a boost. It was so loud I felt like Desi coming down Boylston or Shalane cursing through Central Park. I couldn’t help but smile (hindsight: probably more of a strained grimace) which reminded me of the advice to smile when it hurts, Eliud Kipchoge style. I tried to smile more once past the team, but I’m not sure it helped much. In my focus to get to Cowbell Corner, I missed mile marker 23, which was possibly for the best. Miles 23 and 24 averaged 6:12 pace.

As I made the turn after mile 24 I heard my Mom screaming wildly. I hadn’t expected her to be there, which reminded me of 2014 when I hadn’t expected her cheers at the end then either. In that race, this was the place I started to pick it up. C’mon, Teal. Almost there. Two tiny little miles to go. But I wasn’t picking it up. Everything ached and hurt and I couldn’t get my legs to go.

Last mile.
I worried I was slowing too much, giving up too much at the end. 2:38 seemed out of the picture, would I miss sub-2:40? I knew I had been pretty on pace through 20 miles, but what was this dramatic slow down costing me? As always, I had the mile 25 split memorized. My original goal was to hit it in 2:30:50. As I got close I realized I was nearly a minute off (actually 2:31:37).  And suddenly I couldn’t remember which goal 2:30:50 corresponded to: 2:38 low (6:02 pace) or 2:38:59?? If I’m nearly a minute off 2:38:59, I might miss sub-2:40. Oh crap oh crap oh crap. C’mon, God, help me at least break 2:40. (Note: my memory, logic, and math skills get as wobbly as my legs do.)

I was just doing anything and everything I could to get to that final turn (8th street, c’mon 8th street) and felt like I was giving a valiant effort, but I continued to slow. I hit mile 26 at about 2:38 (I think? Everything is questionable at this point…) and once again I had two minutes to run about a quarter of a mile. I can make it: I’m going to break 2:40, thank God. Past my screaming family, turn to the finish line and actually (unlike many races where you make the final turn and it still seems like forever to the line) the finish was right there. Oh thank God.

I finished in 2:39:11 (2:39:08 chip time, 6:04 pace) and was just So. Incredibly. Relieved. To. Finally. Be. Done.

I was thrilled with the PR (over three minutes and four years in the making), but also a little salty about how close I got to my totally-made-up, no-one-cares-but-me goal of 2:38:XX. I wondered if I had known (or calculated accurately) how close I was to breaking 2:39 if I could have pulled anything more out of me. It turns out at mile 25 I was actually on 2:39:00 pace. Maybe my tradition of memorizing the mile 25 marker (and more crucially not remembering what time it corresponded to) backfired. Instead I think it helped scare me a bit, thinking (wrongly or not) that sub-2:40 might be in jeopardy.

2:40 is certainly a nice barrier to break, but I spent so long talking myself up that sub-2:40 no longer seems like that big a deal; I’m on to dreaming of other things. Not that I’m not happy with it, because of course I am. But mostly I’m excited I’m three minutes closer to that A++, pie in the sky goal of 2:37. It doesn't seem so outlandish anymore.

I wished I had more to give at the end, but I’m proud of how bold I was. Maybe I should have been more intimidated by taking such a large chunk of time off my PR (and more than 5 minutes off my time from the spring). Maybe reading this makes it seem like I should have gone out a hair slower. But really I’m incredibly grateful to have had the pack I did for nearly 20 miles, who made running PR pace seem not so impossible. I’ll certainly work on re-mastering that last 10K, but for now, I wouldn’t change a thing about how I raced.

Oiselle had a campaign a while back that said, “Be brave, get ugly.” I was brave. It got ugly. But I stuck it out and pulled off a big PR. And I’m proud of that.

Couldn't have done it without my
amazing-as-always cheer squad.
(Not pictured: photographer/spectating planner Dad.)

Dream big, 


  1. Those seconds and minutes don't come easy. Congrats on a well-run race.

  2. Congratulations, Teal! This is amazing news. It's so exciting to see your long-term planning and effort pay off. You are, as ever, an inspiration.