California International Marathon 2021
By Janne Heinonen and Rohit Grover
In early December, over 30 runners — Lizards and their human friends — from the Portland area ran the California International Marathon. The marathon, of course, involves much more than 26.2 miles of racing. This community was part of every step of the CIM marathon experience. Here, we share two very different, but very similar CIM experiences: Janne, running her first “real” marathon, and Rohit, coming off of two majors in the previous few weeks (and 5 in-person major marathons in the past 3 years).
Janne: CIM was a perfect event following a “dress rehearsal” Virtual Eugene marathon in the spring, which was my first marathon in over 25 years. There, I learned how to fuel and pace, and gained a little confidence. It also involved many of the same friends as this story: that a virtual marathon was even possible was inspired by Rohit’s virtual Boston (a PR effort in 2020 just after the wildfires), Chelsea Warren (who also did the virtual race), training partners and pacers and trusted advisors, and coaching from Paul McRae. At Eugene, I achieved my goals of having a good marathon experience and getting close enough to 3:00 to go for sub-3 in a real race. At 46, my chances are numbered. The real race had arrived.
Rohit: Having realized that I was aging out of seeking personal records, I decided to change things up a bit and asked Paul McRae to coach me in summer. I intended to target Berlin and CIM for PRs. I’d signed up for Boston in case Berlin was cancelled, and intended to run Boston as a “fun-run” prior to a friend’s wedding celebration in the northeast if both Berlin and Boston were to take place. After a short and memorable conversation with Shalane Flanagan at halfway point, the heat in Berlin caused me to wilt, and the last 10 miles were much slower than I intended. I finished more than a minute slower than my PR, and many minutes slower than I had hoped. However, having run slower than intended at Berlin did mean I was able to run Boston reasonably well. Not having a PR on my mind meant that I enjoyed myself a lot more, and still had a good finish, much better than my previous attempt in 2019. At the hotel in Boston, an impressed couple from Seattle paid for my drinks at the hotel bar! I took a week off from running, and resumed training for CIM.
Heading toward November, we began to realize how many people in Portland were running CIM. Running groups began to merge. In particular, both of us found kindred spirits in First Running Then Pastries. FRTP is its own club with some club-agnostics and club-omnivores (Lizards, PRC, and NAC), united in their love of running in the morning, coffee, pastries, and breakfast sandwiches. Being able to complete a couple of easy runs during the week with this group made the training cycle go much easier, and the large groups doing Saturday long runs made those much more bearable. Many of us were aiming for similar goal marathon times, so we were able to work together on our long run intervals. Advice about the CIM course and logistics and marathons in general was shared, plans were made, excitement was built!
Planning with Rohit and Janne would be incomplete without a spreadsheet. Normally we wouldn’t mention a spreadsheet, but this one took on a life of its own. To help coordinate transportation, meals, race plans, we recorded travel details and goal times. The spreadsheet was shared with friends, and friends of friends. Soon it contained over 30 people from Portland (and their friends). Amidst the planning and anxiety the week prior, seeing all of those names drove home what an incredible community we have here in Portland, and that this would be a unique group experience. Rohit notes: I had been documenting my pre-race routine in a separate spreadsheet for the past few years to remember what worked and what didn’t, and a few people used the same sheet for their prep!
The Day Before
We both drove the course and are glad for it. Janne joined a guided caravan tour with Kellie Houser, her family, and Corinna Jackson and her husband, led by TRL Coach Rick Lovett – who traveled to Sacramento to support TRL! Rohit drove with a friend he coaches who was also running CIM. Despite many, many people warning us that the course is tougher than the elevation graph shows, and is best described as a series of rollers, and despite its net downhill of 300+ feet, it was not until we drove it that we truly understood. The course is rolling even by Portland standards. Rather than being surprised by the hills during the race, we were able to shift mindset, feeling more confident that our hilly training – especially the many loops of Fairmount – helped prepare us for this race.
Janne: The day prior to the race, the logistical challenges involved with traveling to a major race revealed themselves. I felt like a novice runner again. After returning from the expo, I squeezed in a shorter-than-planned, but better-than-expected shakeout to drop off my finish line gear bag and jog the last bit of the course. But – I still haven’t gone to the store for bagels, I don’t know where to eat dinner. Oh – I’m leaving the hotel 2.5 hours before the race starts, maybe I should have experimented with eating a Clif Bar before a big run. Oh no – I need to leave my phone at the hotel, what if I get lost on the way to meet friends to head to the shuttle (my sense of direction is very bad). Wait – if we need to line up so early before the start, do we warm-up, then stand there and get cold? Kellie and Chelsea helped with the bagel situation and I found some dinner (and hoped it was not a gut bomb), but was in for a worry-filled night of trying to sleep. This experience gave me new appreciation for people who race well at major races, and a goal for doing it better next time.
Rohit: My friend Fumie Weiby and I flew in on Friday because I was worried about the crowds on Saturday, and packet pickup was a breeze. I was able to find a few small stores to pickup carbs for carb-loading (bread, jam, ramen, bananas). After a shakeout run Saturday morning with Raghav and Fumie, most of Saturday was a blur of carbs. Having a clearly documented hour-by-hour carb loading plan from previous races was an immense help, and took the fueling variables out of the equation. Adam Neale roomed with me Saturday night, and many of us met at Fumie’s hotel to head to the shuttle.
Janne: I did, indeed, get a little lost on the way to the meeting spot, but fellow runners helped me out, and I shared my hand-drawn map to the shuttle stop with them. Raghav Wusirika, Adam, Rohit, and Rohit’s friends Fumie and Amitabha Biswas walked to the shuttle stop, where there were buses as far as the eye could see. The shuttles delivered us to the starting area, where there were portapotties as far as the eye could see. I am grateful to Fumie, who let me tag along with her for her warmup routine until we lined up in the starting corral, where I finally felt within my element. I couldn’t quite make it to the 3:00 sign, but I was not alone in that. We could feel the usual anxiety and excitement building. Clothing flew overhead as people started to toss them to the side. I spotted Kellie up ahead, and her smile made me feel a little lighter. One last shoelace check and we were ready to go.
Rohit: Most of us got separated after our warmups as we made last-minute dashes to the portos, and I wormed my way into the slower-than-2:40 section, where Corinna found me. Portland runner Dave Harmon was next to me, and he noted that he planned to run 2:40 or faster, so I was worried I was standing too far in front, but there was no room to go anyplace else. I retied my shoelaces and tried to let go of last-minute nerves as the crush started moving towards the starting arch.
Janne: For the first few miles, I met a few runners from around the country, while at the same time seeing several Portland friends. Aaron Coe and Dan Lenski were moving up from starting behind, followed by JJ Grinvalds and another PRC runner. I caught up with the 3:00 pace group and stayed with them, according to plan, through around 6 miles. It felt congested and I was feeling good, so I moved up into more open road ahead of the 3:00 pace group. I spotted Felice and Elisabeth up ahead and worked on gradually catching up to them – they were also with Patrick Hynes, who was pacing a friend. It was an amazing energy boost to see and talk with them, and we ran most of the middle miles together. Every time I crossed a timing mat, I thought of friends and family tracking and cheering for us at home. As we approached 18 miles, we reminded each other of the tough 2×4 mile workout we did a few weeks prior. Muscle fatigue was building rapidly but I was still feeling strong. Up and over the bridge at mile 22, my body was starting to disintegrate. I became worried about my entire lower body cramping, so I hydrated at every remaining support station and concentrated on staying smooth and holding it together. Katie Hynes was cheering her heart out and gave me a crucial boost. An unknown man (who turned out to be a friend of Chris’s) cheered for me by name, which helped keep my mind together. I nursed my extra gel, holding it like a security blanket. Finally, the big trees at the park, about 0.6 miles to go. I had jockeyed a few times with Mallory Wordell (another Portland runner) and she pulled me through the final turns and last stretch – it was so fun to finish side by side with her.
At the finish, there were hugs from Rohit, Adam, and Raghav – Rohit PR’d at the end of his epic triple, Adam ran 2:46:31 in his first marathon. Then hugs from Chelsea and Marla Smith, both running PRs, Marla by nearly 10 minutes. And Rick Lovett of course, who gave me updates on the others and, importantly, sent me in the correct direction toward the hotel for a very long walk to a hot shower.
Rohit: Paul had warned me not to go out too fast in the first mile, so I managed to moderate it to just under goal pace, then saw Aaron next to me and got concerned that I had gone out too fast. I later found that Aaron had been stuck in the crowds behind me so he had to dodge and weave through the first couple of miles to find some space. I briefly ran with Kellie in the second mile but otherwise ran mostly by myself and intermittently tried to find similarly paced runners to run next to. At 16 miles I realized I couldn’t open my gels because my fingers had gone inexplicably numb! I asked the runner next to me to help, and she tore the gel open with her teeth and handed it back to me! COVID be damned, I needed that gel (most participants were vaccinated so this wasn’t as risky an undertaking as it may seem). Adam caught up to me at mile 18, and we ran together for a couple of miles, but he kept getting faster (actually, I was getting slower) and left me in the dust. A couple of times on the course I heard someone cheer me by name — it was Rick! (He told me that he cheered me at 5 locations, but I only saw him twice, I was very much in the zone.) I passed Kellie, Chelsea, and Chris Sheaffer in the final few miles but the accumulated fatigue had made its presence felt for all of us as I kept making rapid calculations to see how slow I could go and still get a PR. I was immensely relieved to be taking the final couple of turns to the finish, ultimately realizing I’d PR’d by over two and a half min.
I crossed the finish and found Adam, and soon after, Chelsea, Marla, Corinna, Raghav, Janne, Laura Lewis, and a few others. Bagging a PR at the end of this crazy season was really sweet. People were so happy and everyone was hugging. I picked up the dry clothes I’d left at gear check and changed into them, happily without cramping much. Unfortunately, the beer in the finish area was terrible, so I enjoyed some Nuun instead, and Adam and I made our way back to the hotel for a hot shower.
Janne and Rohit: The day was capped off by a group lunch. People hobbled their way to the restaurant, shared their triumphs and their lessons learned. We managed to stand up and sit back down to scoot chairs to make more room. Around 20 people clustered around what was originally an 8-person table. People floated in and out. New friends were made. Special granola was shared. We marveled at Rafe and Aaron’s super-fast PR times, and celebrated multiple PRs around the table. We collectively looked forward to our recovery week.
In the following days, we completed our northward migration. We made it up and down the stairs in our homes. The muscle pain arrived suddenly and intensely on Tuesday. We shared our agony via chat and texts. But then it shifted into planning for the next race. Our spreadsheets are ready.
TRL runners at CIM
|Adam Neale||2:46:31||PR, marathon debut|
Cover image: Official race art for the California International Marathon, 1988. Work created by Phil Dynan. Source Wikimedia Commons.