California International Marathon Strategy
Updated: Jul 21
California International Marathon: Deceptively Hilly; BANK ENERGY NOT TIME
Fallback point: Mile 7-9
If you Google “Fast Marathons” or “Best BQ Races” or get even more analytical because you just looooooooove data and decide to Google which races have the highest % or # of participants BQ, this marathon will end up on each list. You won’t realize you asked the wrong questions until the race starts.
First, the course is described as a ‘net downhill, nearly flat and FAST!’ A more accurate description would be, “an easy rolling hill course from a higher elevation to a lower elevation, a downhill that will shred your quads, a bridge that sucks your soul, then flatness that will cause your fatigue to increase at increasing rates until you cross the finish line to find no food waiting for you.” You will need to train on hills as much as possible to really be ready for this race. The constant changes will make it difficult to dial into paces if you are aiming for a time goal.
The race itself is young, only about 10 years old, but has quickly established itself as a must-do race for many reasons, notably a large purse for pros and generous seeding and entries for elites (read that to mean, “This race gives 3x as many free seeds, aka free elite entries, than any other respected road race.”). This is where the reputation as a “fast race” comes from- the field is remarkably fast. Fast people show up to this race and skew the data.
The crowd support is very good if you are into that, and the pacers are pros and can for the most part be trusted (but you should still ask about their pacing strategy before the race starts). The corral system for non-elites is frustrating, expect to dodge walkers who thought this would be the magical BQ course then burnt up the Bonneville on the first 13 miles of rolling hills chasing their pace group.
Finally, the weather is very unpredictable this time of year. In the past 4 years alone we’ve had blistering heat and pouring rain. This is what keeps it off of my BQ list for the majority of my runners.
The first half is rolling hills, the second half is flat. Remember the rule: you WILL fatigue faster on the flat portions, so you gotta save some energy in the first half.
Hold back as much as possible in the first 7 miles. Do not waste effort trying to cling to an average pace, bank energy and save yourself for the back half where it will be easier to push. Big dogleg turn at mile 5.5 onto Fair Oaks will take out a lot of runners.
Miles 6-10 are unremarkable, more rolling hills, no major rises that would grab your attention on the elevation map, but they add up quickly.
The San Juan Hills involve a dogleg left turn halfway through, at a point when the hills are starting to really get to you (mile 13.5).
Mile 16 is where you finally get some of that downhill you’ve been waiting for. This is not the right time to try to make up time, you need to recover some energy lost. Slow your roll and let gravity do the work as you cruise into Mile 20 and past The Wall.
Mile 21 and you are cooking with Crisco. Negative split every mile to the finish after you cross the H St. Bridge at mile 21-22. Three dogleg turns between this point and the finish line, mentally prepare, lock in, and PUSH. No one will pass you, those who didn’t poop out at 13.5 tried to bank too much time on the downhills at mile 16.
MK Fleming is the founder of Fitness Protection, LLC where she trains runners for $29 per month and gives marathon plans away for free. Click here to download her most popular Marathon plan, Tenacious AF, free!