Race Report: California International Marathon 2011

Friday, 9 December 2011  |  Favorite Posts, Race Reports

The Califonia International Marathon is a point to point, net downhill race. It starts at Folsom Dam, a 20-minute ride from Sacramento and ends at the finish line at California State Capitol in Sacramento. The course offers gentle rolling hills which allows for fast times and, subsequently, a high number of Boston qualifiers. No wonder Runner’s World named it as one of the top 10 marathons to run your personal best.

My hotel, which was booked with runners of all shapes and sizes, hired a bus that would conveniently take us to Folsom at 5:15 am. Race start was 7:00 am.

– All wrapped up on the bus –

When I stepped out of the bus, I thought I died and went to the North Pole; it was freaking cold. There was no wind (thank-you-Lord!), but with temperature at the low 30s, my Sheddable Shell (tear away wind breaker purchased at NYCM for $10) with a throwaway long sleeve top plus fleece jacket couldn’t keep me warm! I was uncomfortable and I wanted to hide out in the bus until the gun was fired. But, I had to make a quick run for the portalet, check in my bag, and warm up.

– Runners kept warm with throwaways and trash bags –

– A wall of portalets. CIM has 1 portalet for every 26 runners. Pretty cool but there were still lines before the race start –

– Streets were filled with runners scrambling for last minute race preps –

I waited in the cold for less than 15 minutes, then headed off to the assembly area for race start.

– Just a few minutes before race start. Starting line is right behind me  –


CIM is a relatively small race with 8,000 runners registered. (Post-race results show that only 5,300 showed up and finished). The start isn’t crowded at all and makes for a pleasant experience. Most runners look experienced—slender, fit, and well-geared for the marathon.

Pace teams stood out with their black flags and pace times. The leaders for each pace team were friendly and experienced and would later give practical tips along the run. For newbies targeting a specific time, this type of system would help give them maintain pace. But, in this race, most runners who joined probably hoped to get that extra nudge to achieve their Boston qualifying time. This was one serious crowd of fast runners.

There was no major fanfare except for the Star Spangled Banner being sung. A few seconds after, we were off.


We ran through the small and peaceful residential neighborhood of Folsom. The sun was out, the run was slowly increasing our body temperature, and the sounds of our footsteps hitting the pavement was almost tranquilizing. We ran an easy downhill then up a minor ascent which warmed us up even more. There were locals—some in their pajamas—who stepped out of their homes early that morning to give us high fives and cheer us on.

The run was steady, but my legs still felt like lead due to the cool weather. My jacket and gloves were still on (I kept the gloves on until the race ended. Yes, that’s how cold it was!) yet I wasn’t breaking a sweat, literally. At one time, I bumped into good friend Lit and we agreed that our legs still weren’t fully warmed up, my nose was runny, and my lips were chapping. Offering him my chapsticks, I yelled: “Do you want my shlapsphtick?” Man, even my mouth was frozen!

I felt fully warmed up at around Km 8 to 10. And, when that happened, I suddenly felt like a well-oiled machine ready to keep on running. I put one foot in front of the other and never looked back. At Km 13, I turned my ipod on and gained extra strength (and inspiration) from my playlist. (Special thanks go out to Adele and Maroon 5.)

When they said CIM is a net downhill course, I feared it was downhill all the way which was no good for a marathon; it would tire our legs to be running the same way the entire time. Fortunately, this course offered gentle rolling hills. There were slight ascents, none harder than our very own Buendia Flyover killer, and the descents were gentle and easy on the knees. The roads were traffic-free, secure, and wide for most of the way. Race organizers did a good job in setting up this race. Truly the best course I have ever run for a marathon.

– All smiles! Gloves were off only after the potty break! haha –


How many times have you heard runners say: “Running is a metaphor for life”? Well, marathons are much like life too. As you go along, you learn from your mistakes and successes, pick up a thing or two from those who know better, practice, practice, practice, and, when judgement day comes, you hope to be the better, stronger person you are shaped by your past.

– Fun and fast course! –

In this marathon, I practiced two key things that helped me finish the race:

1. RUN CONSERVATIVE IN THE FIRST HALF. I’ve heard and read this a hundred times before, but being the bullheaded person that I am, I always failed to practice it. After the big mistake at NYCM last month where lack of training due to my neuroma and an aggressive first half left me drained by Km 21, Lit reminded me to apply this principle again. A day before the race, I promised him I’d try thinking that I had nothing left to lose. I ran a conservative 6:20/km during the first Km 21 and found myself reaching Km 32 feeling great.

2. USE YOUR CORE. The day before I left for San Francisco, I ran with Ironman 70.3 2011 Champ and current TBR Magazine cover, Arland Macasieb. He gave me several tips on the Newton technique of running (I’ll post it here within the week) but what stood out was his advise to use my core, not the arms, to push forward. I practiced this during the race and felt like I could go on and on.


Much of CIM is run at Fair Oaks Boulevard at Folsom. I knew we entered Sacramento when the street names became letters and numbers. I spotted the street name: 53rd Street and wanted to delete it from memory.

You see, during the talk at the expo, we were forewarned that we should avoid looking at the street names during the last few kilometers. The race would end at 8th Street and counting down street numbers would only scare us about the distance. Well, it sure rattled me. 53rd street to 8th street. Woah boy, we had a long way to go.

Fortunately, this portion was all flat. And, again, the autumn trees did nothing but inspire me to plod on forward. I focused on taking one strong step at a time. Before I knew it, I was at 20th street, then 15th, and closing in on 8th.


Among all 7 marathons I’ve run, this was the first and only marathon that I felt strong until the end. For the first time, I had absolutely no long walking breaks; I actually ran all the way until the end!

I finished at 4:41, my second best marathon time after my Condura 2010 PR of 4:24. This was a whopping 40 minute improvement from my NYC Marathon finish exactly a month ago. With so little training due to my neuroma, I wonder about the possibilities of improved performance now that I’m fully recovered.

I crossed that finish alone overwhelmed with joy and beaming with pride. I wore that medal around my neck and met Pinoy friends for a wonderful picnic of free bagels, cookies, and bananas by the Capitol. A perfect way to end a perfect race.

Remember I said I wouldn’t run a marathon twice except for NYC Marathon which I finished in 2010 and 2011?  Okay, I take it back.  I would love to run CIM again…and again…and again.

– Majestic California State Capitol to greet us at the finish –

– with Nica (4:08 PR), JaneJane (4:09 PR), and Lit (4:38 PR) –

– Pinoy finishers of CIM –

– Fast runners of Team Cebu (Nica, Andrew, and JaneJane) with their relatives –

– Runners relaxing after the run on Capital Park grounds –

– Post marathon chatter is the best –

– Free banana, bagels, cookies, water, and beer for marathoners –

– with Nica at our little picnic as I sipped on my Gatorade recovery drink –

– Walking back to my hotel. Couldn’t stop smiling! –

Pre-Race: Sacramento and California Int’l Marathon Expo

Wednesday, 7 December 2011  |  Bullish Insights

I arrived in Sacramento two days before the race giving me enough time to get acquainted with the city. It was my first time here.

– Hello Sacramento! –

The entire city of Sacramento—an easy 2-hour drive from San Francisco—is quaint, relaxed, and filled with character. The roads are flat and lined with beautiful autumn trees showing off their leaves in brown and orange hues. The architecture of the houses have an old-fashioned charm and some of the landmarks in the city are majestic and breath-taking, particularly the California State Capitol which was where the finish line of our race was strategically located.

– Organizers set up the finish line at Capitol Park a day before the race –

– CIM traditionally has two separate finish lines for Men and Women –

Before the race, the weather was much too cold for me. Temperature was in their low 40s with the wind—oh boy, the wind!—giving this poor little Pinay runner goosebumps every single time it swept past us. I was optimistic that the weather would improve during race day.

– What a crazy, windy day –

– Outside the convention center –

My hotel was conveniently located just a few blocks away from the Sacramento Convention Center where the race expo was held and, more importantly, near the finish line at Capitol Park. Braving the winds (and thinking this was a good way for me to acclimatize…brrr!), I walked to the convention center to claim my race pack.

The California International Marathon Expo was relatively modest compared to other large-scale international races such as the ING New York City Marathon or even Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon. This expo had a small community feel to it, which was something I looked forward to even for the race itself.

– CIM banner –

– Lots of runners at the expo –

The expo was filled with runners that looked fast and nimble. This was no surprise because CIM is known as one of the fastest courses in the US (even Runner’s World says so in its December 2011 Issue). I couldn’t count how many runners proudly wore their Boston Marathon, New York Marathon, or other popular marathon jackets or shirts. There were quite a number of senior runners who were double my age, but could probably run twice as fast. Gulp. A friend and I joked that we could easily be the last to finish at this marathon even if we broke our personal records!

Good thing I met good friends and fellow Pinoy runners at the expo to make me feel more at ease.  It was Amale Jopson, wife of Ironman champ Noy Jopson, who convinced me to register for CIM.  Way back in February, Amale persuaded me to abandon plans to run Macau Marathon and go for Sacramento instead.  She said it was one of the fastest courses and we could come together, no husband, no kids, just a short trip for some serious racing.  I signed up that same week!  (Thank you Amale for recommending such a great race! Amale finished at an amazing 3:46. Congratulations!)

– Jane-Jane, Veronica, Lit, Amale and Andrew of Team Philippines sponsored by New Balance –

Claiming of race packs was well-organized and informal. All I had to do was look up and find the balloons spelling out “Race Packs” and I found my way in no time (like I said, it was a community-type of expo.)

– Got my CIM race pack! –

– Shopping time –

– Tons of samples to taste –

– Kids create posters for their beloved runners –

I claimed my race bib and timing chip (ipico just like RunRio) then lined up to claim my race shirt and race pack. Then, I was off to shopping at the expo. I purchased an official marathon shirt, sampled a lot of bars, and perused through the booths of several other races in the US. I caught sight of the Boston 2 Big Sur Challenge: back to back marathons of Boston and Big Sur for an exclusive group of 400 runners only. Of course, you gotta qualify for Boston first! Wow, I wonder if I’ll ever get to do this in my lifetime.

The expo also offered several talks for runners. We took advantage of this and attended the talk on “How to Run CIM” which provided us with practical and useful tips for the next day’s race.

– How to Run CIM talk –

– Carol, one of the speakers, has been battling cancer for 2 years and ran CIM as her…get this…257th marathon! –

When I got back to the hotel room, I laid out all the loot from my bag and couldn’t believe I was just a few days away from running my next marathon…

– See the little blue pack on the upper right of the shirt? I was most ecstatic about that freebie: a serving of peanut butter! Aaah, life’s little joys –

California International Marathon 2011 – Done!

Monday, 5 December 2011  |  Race Reports

Just finished the California International Marathon in Sacramento! WOW. This was one fast course that made for a marathon that was one of the most enjoyable, hassle-free, and fun courses I have ever run. Highly recommended!

Here’s a photo of fellow Pinoy runners and I at Capitol Park where the race ended. Everyone was happy with their time with most of them hitting their personal records.  I didn’t break my Condura Marathon PR, but  absolutely no worries, I still ran my 2nd best out of 7 marathons and it was 40 minutes faster than New York City Marathon which I ran a month ago. I’m on a high!

Left to right: Sisters Veronica and Jane-Jane Ong (4:08 and 4:09 respectively), myself (4:41, my 2nd best marathon time), and Lit Onrubia (4:38). Not in photo: Andrew Ong and Amale Jopson (the one who persuaded us to run here)

I’ll post a more detailed race report within the week! Just let me enjoy the food and shopping here in Sacramento and San Francisco a wee bit more!

Running in San Francisco

Saturday, 3 December 2011  |  Bullish Insights

Hello from San Francisco! I arrived a few days ago in preparation for California International Marathon (CIM) in Sacramento on Sunday, December 4, 2011.

– Union Square is ready for Christmas –

– Powell Street Station –

– Cable car on Powell Street –

– Hills of San Francisco. Thank God I’m not running 42k here…at least not yet –

Traveling alone, this trip of mine is slow and relaxed—probably the opposite of CIM, which is popular for being a fast, mostly downhill marathon.  There’s a lot of shopping, eating, and walking all over the place .  Of course, there’s some running too…

Last Thursday, at 8:30 am, I ran my last run before the big day. It was an easy 8k starting from my hotel near Market Street down to the Embarcadero and onto Pier 39, Fisherman’s Wharf. It was a beautiful morning with cool weather that made it easy to run without breaking a sweat, literally. It was a great way to cap training and to tour this wonderful city.

– Start of 8k run. My last run before CIM –

– Market Street. I ran down here towards Fisherman’s Wharf –

Later in the day, I dropped by Nike Town on Union Square and received timely words of wisdom from the legendary running coach and one of Nike’s founders, Bill Bowerman…


Next: California International Marathon Expo and Sacramento

Running Around the World

Friday, 30 September 2011  |  Bullish Insights

Ever since I became a runner, all roads have become my playground.  From paved roads to treacherous trails, whether in my city or a thousand miles away from home, you name it, I have considered making my mark on it with my running shoes.  Needless to say, for a runner like me, my idea of adventure is to explore the world through running.

To say that I am excited about the coming months’ running adventures would be an understatement.  I cannot wait to pack up my running gear and run these races I’m signed up for:

• October 16: Guam Koko Race – 21km
• November 6: New York City Marathon – 42k (Thanks to Gatorade!)
• December 4: California International Marathon – 42k

It’s a lot of pounding for the recently recovered feet, so I’m practicing some restraint (and wisdom) and I’m planning to enjoy the runs at a good, easy pace.  Yes, yes, I’ll try my very best to do so even if CIM boasts of a negative elevation course which is one of the top 6 fastest running courses in the US that’s popular for allowing a lot of runners to qualify for Boston.  (Crap)  Yes, I will have to bite my lips, hold back, and remind myself to take it s-l-o-w if I want to preserve my delicate feet.

I wish I could take you all with me, but since I can’t do an Oprah and surprise you all with free plane tickets hidden underneath your seats (thank God you don’t have seats!), I’ll just lug around a camera and share the sights and sounds of my grand adventures.  Fine, maybe, I’ll eat some extra dessert for you, too.