Becoming the first six-hour pacer in the history of the California International Marathon (CIM) was a dream come true! It’s taken me so long to write an official blog post about the experience because how do I even begin to describe such a mountain-top experience? The most surprising part of being the California International Marathon’s first six-hour pacer is the story of how I joined the pace team!
I first ran CIM in 2016 and it was love at first run! Immediately, I knew I wanted in on spreading my love of the race, so I applied to be an ambassador of the race.
Not only did I get accepted to be an ambassador in 2017, but I’ve been an ambassador ever since; 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021, and now again this year in 2022! It’s so easy to talk about the race because it’s hands down one of my favorite marathons!
What Makes CIM Amazing
- The course – it’s a net downhill, point-to-point course in which you run from Folsom to Downtown Sacramento.
- The spectators – the number of people who come out to cheer on runners is so electrifying!
- The on-course entertainment – there are bands, drum lines, cheerleaders, etc.
- The shuttles – There have to be close to 100 school buses (if not more) that transport runners from various points in the city to the starting line. The shuttle system is organized, efficient, and makes the point-to-point course work! (I usually opt for parking close to the finish line and catching a bus to the starting line so that my car is close once I cross the finish line.)
- It’s fast- CIM is the fastest course in the west and a number one Boston Qualifier! In 2021, one-third of the finishers earned a Boston Qualifying time!
- It’s my hometown – I may live about an hour north of Sacramento, but I still consider CIM my hometown race!
How I Became a CIM Pacer
I first started pacing races in 2016. Quickly, I fell in love with everything about pacing. From the challenge of holding a consistent pace to encouraging first time marathoners… I love it all!
In 2017, not only was I a CIM ambassador, but I was also mentor for the “first timers”. The CIM First Timer program is “designed to help new marathoners by providing them with a meaningful support system and valuable information geared at first-time marathoners throughout the training process and during race weekend.”
There were a few runners within the first timer group who were concerned about finishing within the six hour marathon cut off time, so I volunteered to be their unofficial 6 hour pacer.
Fast forward to August 2021. At California International Marathon’s launch party in early August, I mentioned to the marketing and community relations director that I think the race should have a six hour pacer. I also mentioned that I was the unofficial six hour pacer for some first timers in 2017. Next thing I know, I get an email from CIM’s Executive Director basically saying, “Welcome to the CIM pace team!”
Postpartum Marathon Concerns
When I read the “you’re in” email I was ecstatic! My next feeling, however, was fear. At the time, I was two weeks postpartum after having a C section. I wondered, “Can I be ready to pace a marathon at less than five months postpartum?”
After getting the clear to return to running at the beginning of September, I started training for the marathon. At 20 weeks pregnant, in March 2021, I was told “no running” by my doctor. I wondered, “Can I get marathon ready in only three months after not running for more than five months?”
Slowly, but surely I increased my mileage bit by bit. After successfully pacing the 20 miler at Run the Parkway in early November, I felt more confident with being able to successfully pace the full marathon.
CIM Race Weekend
When race weekend rolled around, I felt as prepared as I could be. I spent Saturday volunteering at the expo in the information booth. I had so much fun getting to talk with runners who traveled from near and far!
At the end of my shift, I picked up my official CIM pacer packet at the expo and immediately changed into my “pace team” half-zip jacket. I felt so honored to officially be a member of the pace team!
When I got home, I tried on the pace team singlet and freaked out! It was small and I felt like a stuffed sausage! I called my friend who is a quilter and asked her if anything could be done to make the singlet bigger, but ultimately decided I would make do.
The next morning, race morning, I opted to wear a long sleeve shirt under the singlet which ended up working out okay. I share this part of my pace team story to show that although I’ve run over 20 marathons and am a pacer, I run in a “larger body”, one that may not “look like a runner” to some.
A friendly reminder… runners do not have one body type. You can not judge someone’s health by the size of their body. Be kind to yourself and kind to others.
You Belong Here
As I gathered with the whole pace team for a group picture race morning I felt a mix of emotions. I felt proud of how far I’ve come in my running journey, humbled like a small fish in a big pond, and anxious about how the race was going to play out. After the group picture, many pacers headed back to the heated tent, but not me. I was eager to get out into my corral and meet runners in my pace group.
As I walked to my corral, the one furthest in the back, I heard some snickers and one runner say, “It doesn’t look like she’s running a 6 minute mile.”
First of all, my “6:00” sign means that I’m finishing 26.2 miles in 6 hours, not running a 6 minute pace per mile. Secondly, I’m loudly proclaiming for myself and all runners who’ve ever been made to feel “less than”, YOU BELONG HERE!
The 2021 California International Marathon
Finding my six hour pace group made me feel like I was home. As people funneled around me, I raised my “6:00” sign high up in the air and proudly said, “This is the first year CIM has had a 6 hour pacer. I believe ALL runners are deserving of support while out on course. You belong here!”
The response from the crowd was exhilarating cheers and applause.
Once we got going, there was a solid group of 15 – 20 runners who settled in to my run/walk interval pace. Among the runners was a CIM streaker named Bruce who has run every single CIM since it started, a nine year old named Benny who had only run up to seven miles before the race, and Veronika who was a runner in the first timer program nursing a recent injury.
Together, we traversed all 26.2 miles while talking, laughing, and sometimes in near tears. Hearing each runner’s story of what brought them to the starting line was so inspiring!
As we got within the final few miles, I encouraged my pace group to run ahead if they were feeling strong. I’m happy to report that many did just that which left me crossing the finish line by myself.
The California International Marathon, a Race for All
Would you believe that less than 1% of the world’s population has run a marathon? To traverse 26.2 miles by foot is no small feat, regardless of pace. This is why marathon races should support all runners, not just those trying to earn a Boston Qualifying time! To be the person who provides support to the BOTP (back of the pack) runners is such an honor.
Crossing the CIM finish line in 2021, my 21st full marathon, ranks as one of my top favorite marathon finish line feels. Not only had I just successfully paced a marathon at four and a half months postpartum, but I also had a part of forever changing the California International Marathon pace team by making sure that the six hour marathon time was added to their pace group.
The next step for CIM is to add a “sweeper” to the pace team. A sweeper is the last person to cross the start line and stays with the last runner until they reach the finish, no matter the pace.
This is a question many first timer marathoners ask when they see that CIM has a six hour cut off time, “What do I do if I can’t finish under 6 hours or at all?”
The California International Marathon website states the following:
“There will be a sag bus that will take you to the finish line. If you choose not to take the sag bus and you fall behind the CHP sweep vehicle, you must proceed on the road shoulders or sidewalks, and you are subject to pedestrian traffic laws of the City or the County of Sacramento. No race services (fluid stations, mile splits, traffic controls) will be available on the course for runners progressing slower than the 13:44 minute/mile pace. Race management will attempt to provide, but cannot guarantee, race medals, finish times, and refreshments to runners finishing after 6 hours.
Our point-to-point, net downhill course has remained unchanged for 38 years, providing over 100,000 runners of all speeds–from first-timers to the fastest of the fast–the best chance to achieve their marathon goals.”https://runsra.org/california-international-marathon/general-information/
Looking to the Future
For as long as I’m able, I plan on being CIM’s six hour pacer. The California International Marathon race weekend is one of my favorite weekends of the entire year!
Whether you’re looking to earn a Boston Qualifying time or are wanting to simply finish your first 26.2 mile race, you must come and run the California International Marathon! Be sure to register early because the race always sells out by early August, four months prior to race day.
I hope to see you at CIM soon! If you have any questions for me, drop a comment below or reach out to me on Instagram (@runstrongrun).