Running coach Keith Laverty is here with his California International Marathon review to share what you need to know before running the race, including his tips for hill training.

Race: California International Marathon

Runner: Keith Laverty

Race Date: 12/08/2019

Location: Folsom to Sacramento

Results: 99th place, 2:24:29 (10+ minute PR)

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california international marathon review
Photo credit: Paul Nelson

3 Bests – What aspects of the California International Marathon did you like the most?

1. The DEEP field of talented runners to help pull me along in packs along with the camaraderie that came with it. Many of us were going for big PRs, some even for OTQs, so we were running fast but running together too. Some runners even offered to share their bottles with the pack.
2. The awesome fanfare and volunteers along the course – some groups got LOUD. Several strangers even gave me shoutouts of “go rabbit!” as I was wearing my rabbitELITE singlet.
3. Just how everyone really laid it all out there on the line, taking some chances and giving it their all to pursue their big marathon goals.

Not so much – What aspects of the California International Marathon didn’t do it for you?

Because this event had 12,000 participants, it was tough to even find my peers/friends after the finish – the crowds gathered up quickly! It would’ve been fun to share some more stories afterward with several people that I knew who were competing.

The post-race food options felt pretty minimal overall and unsatisfying – except for one thing: the cups of hot chicken broth!

Weird factor – What’s the weirdest thing about the California International Marathon?

Perhaps the high amount of carnage over the last 6-8 miles of the race. All for a very valid and brave reasoning, many were going all-in to snag the OTQ of 2:19, and this event was nearly the last chance before the Marathon Trials in late February. Guys were dropping left and right, jogging, cramping, or walking; I’ve never seen such a battlefield out there before. I felt like my training wasn’t quite where it needed to be in order to hold that kind of pace for 26.2 miles but wanted to run as fast as I could, so I was stoked to run to a big PR. Perhaps another time down the road, I will take more of a gamble.

Highlights of your race – What did you do well and enjoy about your race in particular?

-Pacing: I locked into 5:26-5:34 pace for 24 of the 26 miles.
-Focus/Patience: Completely focused, yet calm and basically, in the complete zone. Clicking away one mile at a time. I was able to move up from 153rd at the half marathon point to 99th place in the end. Passing each person was giving me more and more confidence and momentum to help get over those last 6 miles, which is always a tough challenge.
-Running with a pack / Drafting: I found a great pack of the same 5 guys to run with from about Mile 6 through 18, and this helped even more for me to stay so focused. Some sections were a bit windy, so drafting within this pack also helped me save a ton of energy.
-Nutrition: I took a gel about every 5 miles, so carried 5 gels in my pockets. Three of them had caffeine, so alternated between caffeine and a non-caffeine gel. Never had any cramping issues (until after the finish line!).

Lessons for others – Share your pro-tips on the California International Marathon to help the next runner

Put in plenty of faster, road training work in the training leading up to California International Marathon. I did several mile repeat workouts on the roads, as well as long run workouts and long progression runs, ranging from 17-20 miles total. If you don’t have a strong climbing background, then be sure to include some hill work/repetitions and even some easy hilly runs into your weekly training as well.
Shout out to my coach, Max King, who had me feeling well prepared by race day!

Most important course specific knowledge to know about the California International Marathon?

-Not a huge deal but there several road sections with pretty big potholes or cracks/bumps in the pavement, so just something to be cognizant of as you’re racing.
-Very minimal turns, so that was nice to keep a nice, steady rhythm along the course.
-The first half seemed to have bigger hills, so just be aware to not pound those downhills too hard too early, or you may suffer a lot more over the 2nd flatter half of the course.

Aesthetics – Is it a pretty course?

Not particularly. In several sections that were fairly standard commercial streets. However, there were some pleasant, residential streets early on and later into the race with nice tree foliage. I was personally exceptionally focused on racing and hitting a specific pace more than usual, so I really wasn’t paying too much attention to my surroundings to begin with except for the packs/competition around me!

Difficulty – Is the California International Marathon a tough course?

Coming from my recent background of mountain and ultra races, I’m more biased to say no, but it does have some decent rolling hills that don’t look like much at first glance when checking the course profile. Despite the rollers, I felt it was the easiest marathon course I’ve ever run.

Organized and well run – Did it feel like a well-oiled machine or were they flying by the seat of their pants?

From the bus shuttles, the expo (with security machines!), and pre-race communication, they did an excellent job. The one blemish was probably the drop bag situation. It was fairly chaotic just trying to drop it off with the hordes of people. Then picking it up after the race took longer than expected but really not a huge deal to me in the end.

Competition – Is there a strong field at the California International Marathon?

The depth of competition is likely the deepest in the United States – deeper than even Chicago and Boston Marathon. When a 2:24 barely got me into the top 100, you know it’s stack and with a $12,000 prize purse for the winners, highly competitive runners will travel from all over the place to compete here. The race featured a ton of “dream chasers” to try run the OTQ Marathon standards of 2:19 for the men and 2:45 for the women.

Logistics – Does the California International Marathon require a special handshake, registration a year in advance, hotels all booked? Give us the low down on the nuts and bolts of making the race happen.

Registration usually sells out in early September, so definitely something you want on your radar well in advance. I think hotels book up very fast as well but there were plenty of great AirBNB options in the few weeks leading up to the race.

The biggest thing to plan ahead for is making sure to figure out which shuttle bus (5 locations to choose from) to take to the start line – New for this year, they no longer allowed runners to be dropped off near the start area.

Aid Stations – Standard fare or anything special to know about the aid stations in terms of what’s available or when?

There were a whopping 17 aid stations! So an aid station less than every 2 miles on average. Each aid station had volunteers handing out cups of Nuun Endurance first (Mango Citrus), followed by the next wave of volunteers handing out cups of water. Four of the aid stations also handed out Clif Shots and Clif Bars.

Weather and typical race conditions?

I believe this year was in the low 50s and overcast for the majority of the race. There were a couple of miles of misty showers but that actually felt refreshing. Usually ideal for marathon racing!

Gear – Did you need anything special or is there anything you’d recommend for the next guy?

Just fast racing shoes, shorts with pockets (to stash my gels) and a watch! I also recommend light racing gloves – at least for me, it helps regulate my body temperature.
If you don’t want to fuel with Clif Shots, then I could easily see a minimal waist belt could be very handy as well to carry the nutrition that you know works best for you.

Spectators – Is the California International Marathon a friendly course for your friends?

Since it’s a point-to-point course, friends could come out to support you but likely limited to 1-2 stops along the course (besides the finish area in downtown). I’d imagine parking is a bit tricky downtown with some street closures and the 12,000 participants, so they’d need to plan well ahead.

How’s the Swag?

Standard – a long sleeve tech shirt, a plastic water bottle and a hefty medal! Oh, and a very thin finisher jacket at the finish line to help keep your body temperature warm. It was badly needed this year since the race org got behind on getting everyone’s drop bag back to them in a timely fashion. This was a major issue that they publicly apologized and acknowledged, mentioning it will be improved for next year.

The Overall Score – How many stars do you give this race and do you recommend that others run it?

5 out of 5 stars – It’s an awesome opportunity to run a PR and an extremely deep field of runners to help pull you along for a faster day.

Keith Laverty is a coach with Team RunRun. To learn more about him or to work with Coach Keith, check out his coaching page.

Planning for the California International Marathon? Get more info and race reviews from our CIM intel page!