During the 30-minute bus ride from my hotel in Sacramento to the starting line of yesterday's California International Marathon, I sat next to a fellow runner who was about to tackle his 35th marathon. During this conversation he remarked that one learns something from each marathon. I agreed, and added that one learns the most from marathons that don't go well.
Unfortunately, my race did not go well. My goal time, as I have mentioned often in this blog, was 2:39. I ran the first half right on pace, but then fell apart and staggered to a 2:47:45 finish. What did I learn? A few things. First, I learned that the weather does not always cooperate on race day. In this case, conditions were almost perfect: chilly, overcast, and dry. But there were also strong, blustery winds that hit runners smack in the face through roughly half of the course. Running into these winds was like running uphill. When I first encountered them, I should have adujsted my time goal just as I would have done if the temperature had been 75 degrees. I should have maintained the effort level associated running at my goal pace of 6:05 per mile in perfect conditions, which would have required that I slow down to perhaps 6:20 per mile, instead of increasing my effort level in order to stick to 6:05 pace. It would have been disappointing, but less so than falling apart was.
I also learned that if you're going to run a marathon on a hilly course, you had better run a lot of hills in training. The California International Marathon bills itself as "The Fast Marathon in The West" due to its net elevation drop of more than 300 feet. However, the fine print is that this elevation drop is achieved through 1,100 feet of uphill running and 1,400+ feet of downhill running. This doesn't mean it's impossible to run a fast time at CIM, but it does make it a less than optimal course for those who train in completely flat areas, as I do, and who are particularly susceptible to muscle damage resulting from downhill running, as I believe I am. When I finished yesterday's marathon I felt that I had enough energy left to run another four or five miles, but my legs had been toast since mile 16.
In retrospect, I shouldn't have picked this marathon. I should have gone with a pancake-flat marathon such as Chicago or Rock n' Roll Arizona. Oh, well: run and learn.