CIM Marathon Race Report – Julie Urbanski

Julie Urbanski shares her experience on the CIM Marathon course, plus more tips on making the most of this race.

Race: CIM Marathon

Runner: Julie Urbanski

Date: 12/03/2017

Location: Sacramento, CA

Results: 3:30:44

Strava Activity Link:

cim marathon course review
Happy to be done and in the sun!

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

  1. Super well organized. It seems like a race that’s put on by runners, for runners. It’s an Olympic qualifier race so they have their sh*t together for every last detail. That includes the emails beforehand, the expo, and execution on race day. I’ve definitely run several races where you wonder if anyone actually organizing the race is a runner because so many decisions seem so terrible for the runners. This is not one of them.
  2. The weather. Mid 40’s at the start, warmed to mid 50’s with sun and clear skies, and no wind. This isn’t the case every year, but there’s good odds for good weather in early December in Sacramento. It’s a hell of a lot better than the odds for weather in Seattle this time of year.
  3. My mental game. From the start my legs had no gas and it felt like I started with a half tank, so that was a little unsettling from the beginning. I played every mental game I could to stay positive, from breaking it up into small pieces, to going straight by feel rather than the watch, to fueling, to jamming out to music. I definitely resorted to bargaining (ie, I’m never doing this again, I swear this is the last one if I just get through this one). Though I never went to the “dark place” as another friend calls it, I was on the edge a few times. I’m happy I kept my sh*t together all the way to the finish.

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

  1. It’s not flat! Apparently I have no memory of the CIM marathon course from 2010, because it’s the same rolling hills course, especially in the first half, and I was not ready for it. Part of my legs having no gas was that I couldn’t recover from each hill. Yes, they were small, but they were a bit more relentless throughout than I remember. They didn’t seem to end until the last 10k when I had absolutely nothing left. My watch shows 700 feet of gain. I believe that’s pretty accurate after looking at the race’s Strava course. I didn’t train for any hills whatsoever and have been out of the ultra scene for quite some time, so the hills were a major challenge for me.
  2. Nowhere to change at the finish, at least I couldn’t find a place. Someone said there were tents but nothing private at all, so I might have just not seen them? I ended up finding a corner in front of the Capitol building and using the throw away jacket to cover me while I changed so I didn’t freeze sitting around at the finish.
  3. Pace groups are love/hate for me. I’m not a fan of running with them because I like to go with my own pacing. There were so many of them interspersed throughout that there were huge clumps at aid stations, Since aid was only on one side of the road, I missed a few stations because it was just so darn crowded.

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

Not so much weird but really cool – the pace groups were all 3 minutes faster than the BQ standards. So the 3:05 pace group was actually 3:02, since they know you actually have to be about 2.5 minutes faster than the BQ standard to actually get in because of how Boston accepts the fastest qualifiers first. Another reason I believe this race is put on by runners, for runners.

I also saw a runner running back towards the start about 1/4 mile into the race, not even looking distressed. Where was she going? Why back to the start? Had she just gotten to the start and needed to cross the starting line? This kept my mind occupied for at least a good mile.

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

  1. Plenty of porta potties at the start + arriving with plenty of time before the start = successful pre-race poo with no stress about using the bathroom before the race and no GI stress on the course. Win!
  2. Again, the mental game mentioned above. I could have easily slowed down even more and had a nice little pity party. Instead, I resolved to just make it to the next mile, and then the next, and then the next. I told myself to keep my form, keep the feet moving, and I’d get there sooner instead of walking or slowing way down.
  3. Pre-race fueling. I’ve had some major GI stress on long runs and during races lately, so I followed the lead of another runner, Dan L, and stuck to super plain food the 36 hours leading up to the race. No big salads, no bowls of broccoli or fruit, just plain pasta and minimal “clean the house” foods. It served me well, as I had no hint of GI issues along the way, even with eating 4 GUs throughout.

Lessons Learned – Share your pro-tips on the CIM Marathon course to help the next runner or yourself on the next time around?

  1. Train with rolling hills. I trained with just flat long runs and could have used some rolling hills and likely higher mileage for this one. Leg strength just wasn’t there from the start. Out of the 5 runners we had in this race, the two that PRd and did the best were the two that mainly trained for ultras the first 6-8 months of the year, with high mileage, and then switched over to marathon specific training. The 3 of us that struggled tend to only run flat stuff.
  2. It’s a crowded course from start to finish. There were ~11,000 registered runners and over 7,000 ran, so it was crowded throughout. I unfortunately got stuck behind a pacing group for most of the run and it was a cluster at each aid station. I ended up missing a few aid stations that were shorter in length than others.
  3. Not sure if this is every year, but the aid stations were only on the right side of the road, and they weren’t all the same “length.” I was expecting both sides so I missed the first aid station and missed a couple short ones because of being caught in a pace group and the aid station was just two tables long.

Most important course specific knowledge to know about the CIM marathon?

  • It’s not flat! See above. Train for rolling hills with flat to end the race so you have some legs left for that final, flat and fast 10k.
  • Also, there are tight turns in the first mile, and the last (and a few throughout, but you notice the first and the last). With such a crowded start, be aware of that first turn. In the final turn, they split up the women’s and men’s finish line, with women turning first. I’m guessing to highlight the women top finishers and olympic qualifiers???

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

Super well organized and very well run. One of the runners on the team stayed in a sponsored hotel and was signed up for a shuttle, but the shuttle was a no-show (!!!). He ended up ubering to the start with a couple other runners and having to run 2 miles to the start. What a mess! The race has already given him free entry to next year’s race, so they understand how crappy that situation was and have already tried to make up for it.

Logistics – Anything special regarding getting to/from the race, hotels around the course, registration…?

  • The race sells out by ~September/October, so sign up early
  • Fly into Sacramento, rent a car, and lots of lodging options to stay near the start, the finish, or anywhere in between.
  • Race-sponsored hotels were all sold out pretty fast, so book those early, as shuttles pick up at those
  • Expo was open all day Friday so we just got that done after arriving Friday (it’s in Sacramento), then headed out to our Airbnb near Folsom (the start)
  • If you’re into Ultras, the Western States 100 lottery drawing is on Saturday in Auburn. That’s just 25 minutes from Folsom, and if you’re in the lottery, you get a wild card ticket for being there in person (all of us went to the lottery that Saturday, kinda cool!)
  • We stayed near the start in an Airbnb in Folsom and drove to the North entrance of the course for the start, even though we were closer to the South entrance. This was on a guess that the other entrance would have less traffic, and we were right. We got there easily with plenty of time and minimal walking to the start. Only thing that sucks about staying at the start is driving back afterwards.

Weather and typical race conditions

Typically 40s-50s, maybe light rain or mist, but usually great weather. We had quite possibly the most perfect weather for this course, but I know past years have had rain and wind. Odds for good weather are a hell of a lot better than Seattle in December though!

cim marathon course spectator
I thought of this guy a lot while I was out there, missing him but still enjoying my “alone” time

Spectators – Is the CIM marathon a friendly course for your friends?

It is. The race gives a few suggestions for them to go and cheer, and they basically follow the roads along the way since it’s point to point. Parking is fairly easy along the way, mainly on neighborhood streets. It’s more difficult to find parking downtown at the finish since so many other people are there too. Plenty of Starbucks for crew along the way too 🙂

Not great for spectators to be at the start, though it is possible. It’s so well supported though with porta potties and a bag drop right before the start, that it’s not necessary to have someone at the start.

How’s the swag?

Fantastic! Long sleeve half-zip technical shirt with a simple logo, socks, a little fuel waist belt that I’m totally digging for either running or a travel fanny pack, and a throw away jacket at the finish that was oh so warm and wonderful to wear rather than a mylar blanket. I’m always freezing at the finish, and this kept me warm so much longer while I waited for other runners at the finish line. And a medal, of course.

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

4 out of 5. If it didn’t have rolling hills, it would be perfect (for me). Had I done more course specific training, I’d probably be giving it 5 stars. It really is made for runners who want to run a PR and have a well-organized event, with the likelihood of good weather.

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

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