I woke up at 4am and went downstairs to the hotel dining area for breakfast. I had my usual pre-race meal: a bagel with peanut butter and jelly, yogurt, banana, Herbalife24 Formula 1 Sport shake and a cup of coffee. An hour later I hopped on the runners' shuttle bus to Folsom. When we got to Folsom I remained on the bus to stay warm and hydrated with Herbalife24 Prolong. About 30 minutes before the start I went for a mile jog, did some strides and then headed to the start line. At the start I lined up about five rows back so I wouldn't take off like I was running a 5K.
When the race started I slowly settled into what felt like marathon pace/effort, around 5:50-5:55 pace. About a mile into the race, I found myself running alongside a pack of about 8-10 girls. I'm sure the girls were all aiming for the US Olympic Marathon Trials A (2:37) or B (2:43) Standard. I asked the guy leading the pack what pace he was running, and he responded with 2:37 and that he was running the entire marathon. I was actually surprised because we had split Mile 1 at 5:52, which in my mind was a little too fast for a 2:37 marathon. The pacer might have realized it because I didn't see him or the pack of girls shortly after. (I later read that a total of 20 US women and 10 men qualified for the 2016 Olympics Marathon Trials.)
I clicked off mostly 5:52's for the first 6 miles (5:52, 5:53, 5:49, 5:52, 5:49, and 5:52) feeling comfortable and smooth. At 4 miles I was 10 meters behind a pack of about 12 runners which was being led by Michael Wardian. Mike had competed in the North Face Endurance 50-miler in San Francisco the day before. I'm not sure if he even had time to clean up after the 50-miler. The guy's a Beast! I thought about putting in a surge to catch up to the pack, but decided not to since I was more focused on running my own race. It was the right decision because within a few miles after the 10K mark, which I crossed in 36:31, the pack began to string out and I eventually overtook most of the runners with the exception of Mike and a couple other guys. I took my first gel at 5.5 miles.
I hit the half-marathon mark in 1:16:41 still feeling great. The hills in the first half were noticeable, but not steep or long enough to break up my rhythm. The hill I remember most was the semi steep hill on Sunrise Blvd around 10.5 miles. The steep hill is part of the San Juan Hills which rolls from miles 10.5 to 13. Approaching Sunrise Blvd we ran ran downhill and then climbed a hill that was about a 1/4 mile long. I think my strong hill running ability showed here because I ran splits of 5:47, 5:48 and 5:51 on the San Juan Hills (11-13 miles). I was well prepared for the hills and the rolling course because 1) my coach (Scott) put together a solid training schedule that incorporated some intense training on rolling terrain, and 2) I trained on hills that were steeper in grade and longer than the CIM hills. I took my second gel at the 13 mile mark. Splits for Miles 7-13 were: 5:52, 5:56, 5:54, 5:47, 5:47, 5:48, and 5:51.
Miles 14-20 were uneventful. I continued to throw down splits between 5:47-5:53 (5:53, 5:53, 5:48, 5:52, 5:51, 5:43, and 5:50). During this stretch of the race I took in a gel at miles 16.5 and 19.4. At Mile 20 (1:56:57 - 5:51 pace), I was still feeling good, but was a little worried I'd suddenly encounter a cramp in my legs. In my last two marathons (2014 Boston Marathon and All-American Marathon), I cramped badly between 18-20 miles and suffered through the last 10K of those races. I didn't want to experience the suffering again.
Around Mile 21, I passed the women's pre-race favorite and 2:27 marathoner, Renee Metivier Baillie. I was surprised and felt bad to see Renee, because she was hoping to take down the 2:29 course record and was obviously not having a good day. Shortly after passing Renee I had a little scare. I felt a minor twinge on my left hamstring, almost as if a cramp was about to happen. To fight off the developing cramp, I took in my last gel (carried 5 with me) and some Nuun, an electrolyte drink offered on the course. The gel and electrolytes must have helped because I didn't break a stride and ran splits of 5:48 and 5:49 for Miles 21 and 22. On the 23rd mile, I felt another twinge on the same spot. Luckily, there was an aid station at 23.5 miles that offered GU. I took a GU and drank two cups of Nuun at the aid station. The fuel must have worked again because I ran 5:43 and 5:48 for Miles 23 and 24. I don't know what flavor of GU it was, but it didn't taste all that good and I really didn't care. I just didn't want to cramp this late in the race when I was on pace to run a PR.
With only a couple more miles to go, I kept telling myself to relax and stay focus. Around Mile 25, I caught up to Mike Wardian and briefly chatted with him. For some reason, seeing and catching up to Mike gave me a boost of confidence. I told Mike that I was having a good race and was on pace to run a PR. He told me to Go Get It! Mike finished in an impressive 2:33 following a 50-miler. Impressive! Mile 25 was a 5:48. In the last mile, I pretty much gave it my all. With about a half mile to the finish, I passed the 3rd place female, Kristen Zaitz, and was closing in on the 2nd place female, Jane Kibii. Unfortunately, I ran out of real estate and could not overtake Jane. My Mile 26 split (5:33) was the fastest split of the race.
The CIM Finish can be heart-breaking to runners because you can't see the finish line from 8th St. It's not until runners make the turn onto Capitol Mall that they'll see the finish about 50 meters ahead. When I turned onto Capitol Mall I saw the clock read 2:32:xx. I was so happy I started celebrating by throwing fist pumps in the air as I approached the finish. I crossed the finish with an official time of 2:32:29, a personal best by 1:21.
As my coach said, I ran this race like a pro. I've ran negative splits for the marathon a few times, but I've never ran almost a minute faster for the 2nd half. I ran the 1st and 2nd halves of the race in 1:16:41 and 1:15:48, a 53 second negative split. I also ran the last 10K of the race in 35:32 (5:44 pace), which is the fastest 10K split in all of my marathons. Below are my official splits and GPS splits: