Some races have their mythology. like Athens, of course, where Pheidippides died upon completing his journey. Then there’s Boston, which embodies its mythology in its unicorn logo. In the twenty-first century, a new legend is emerging in Sacramento, where the California International Marathon churns our more breakthroughs than any other marathon.
Sunday’s CIM didn’t disappoint, adding 13 new U.S. women Olympic Trials Qualifiers to the nine it produced in 2013 and the 14 from last year. But that doesn’t begin to tell the whole story.
While 13 trials qualifiers is impressive, if the trials standard was 2:46 as it was for the 2012 trials, 31 women would have qualified last week! A whopping 101 women ran sub-3:00 at this year’s CIM. In a race with just 5,800 participants, that’s a lot of excellent racing!
What is it about this race that produces so many stellar performances?
The short answer? The race was created, and continues to be operated, by and for runners. There is no money hungry corporation making decisions about the race to increase profits. There is no self-interested race director calling the shots. CIM’s race director is a nonprofit organization called the Sacramento Running Association. The race director isn’t one person, but rather a board of directors made up entirely of long-time runners who make decisions about race day, the course, how many porta-potties to have on hand, how many official pacers to have, and how much prize money or what awards to offer.
CIM’s board makes every decision about the race to maximize you, the runner’s, performance! It’s a runner’s dream race!
The course is point-to-point with a slight net elevation drop. It has a gentle roll to it, but starts at 366 ft above sea level and ends at 26 feet above sea level. While it has a speed-enhancing net drop, the elevation loss isn’t so severe as to disqualify racers from using their performances as qualifiers for races like the Olympic Trials. The race starts 26 miles from downtown Sacramento, but finishes to roaring crowds in front of the state capitol building. Also, the race advertises well maintained roads; which is huge if you’ve ever tried to race while avoiding a pot hole disaster.
The weather in Northern California in early December is almost always marathon perfection. It’s not a hot humid place, so runners can almost always expect cool dry ideal conditions! Of course, it’s not always perfect, but if you’re betting on a race with good weather, this is about as good as it gets!
[pullquote]”Making the Olympic Trials qualifying time was a long shot for me. I chose CIM because it is known to be a very speedy course and I needed a huge PR.” Leah Frost [/pullquote]
Early December means the race is perfect for a last-minute OTQ attempt for those looking to qualify by way of a 2:43:00 full marathon in lieu of running a sub 1:15 half. The 10 weeks between CIM and the Olympic Trials race provides the minimum recovery necessary for two stellar marathon performances. For the rest of us, the early December date is perfect to get in a full season of quality training in cooler fall temperatures most anywhere you might be training in the U.S.
The race offers OTQ bonuses: $2,500 for an A standard (2:37:00) or $1,000 for a B standard (2:43:00).
The magic of CIM is its heart. Because it’s all about the runner, runners come year after year to feel that love and go for their big goals. CIM is known for breakout performances, but it’s also earning a reputation for runners spreading the love by working together to help each other. The OTQ pace groups are a sight to behold! In 2011, dozens of women worked together to qualify for the trials with a whopping 24 meeting the 2:46:00 standard that day!
Last year, with the faster 2:43:00 OTQ standard in place, CIM produced 14 first-time OTQ’s. One of them was Teal Burrell. Teal attributes much of her success to her training, of course, but the pacers and the power of the pack of Trials hopefuls sealed the deal for her:
The pace leader and pack of women going for the standard were hugely helpful. I’ve never run with a pacer, he took so much pressure off it was amazing. And to have so many people with a similar goal–we were sharing water bottles, some people were talking; there was no competition, just a team working towards a mutual goal. That made the mental game so much easier.
This year was similar with 13 more women beating that 2:43:00 standard!
Leah Frost, in her homemade t-shirt is in that pack somewhere. Last weekend, she flew all the way from Vermont to Sacramento to take a stab at an OTQ. She admits she was a long shot to qualify, having run her previous best of 2:47 less than two months before CIM. But, she knew if she was going to qualify for the 2016 trials, it would be with the help of CIM’s magic! “I chose CIM because it is known to be a very speedy course and I needed a huge PR,” she said.
Going into the race I felt confident that I COULD qualify on that course, but not confident that I would. I trained diligently and believed strongly that I was capable of it, but I was going to have to push really hard to make it and have a pretty all around good race.
And she did, squeaking in under the 2:43:00 standard, finishing in 2:42:52! “I did not feel confident that I would qualify until I was literally crossing the finish line,” she said. “My partner was waiting there about to have a heart attack as she watched the time tick away. I sure felt triumphant and exhausted and relieved when I made it!”
Besides Leah’s nail-biter, another magical moment came when Samantha Bluske qualified for the Olympic Trials. You might remember her as the runner who ran a course record 2:47 at the Toledo Glass City Marathon after being led off course, making that 2:47 for over 27 miles! To add insult to injury, even if she had run 2:43:00 for 26.2 miles, she still wouldn’t have nabbed an OTQ because Glass City isn’t a USATF sanctioned race. However, now all of that is water under the Glass City bridge and Samantha Bluske is going to L.A. in February!
Have you ever run CIM? Is it on your must-race list?