Tuesday, December 13, 2022

Guest Post: Natalie Anstey, Cal International Marathon

As previously mentioned, and with little additional fanfare, here is the CIM race report from former William & Mary Math Club President Natalie Anstey!


After PR-ing at the Brooklyn Half (1:45:xx) on a warm and muggy May ‘22 day, I let myself dream big, and picked a goal I once thought would never be remotely achievable. I decided to shoot for a BQ time, which for females 40-44 (yay, aging/leveling up!) is 3:40. This would be a BIG jump, as my time in Philadelphia in November 2021 was 3:54:xx, which was a ~26 minute PR from my previous marathon in Charlotte. Nonetheless, I felt confident in my fitness gained over the pandemic, with consistent base miles, cross training on my spin bike, and weekly strength training (including daily core since February 2021). I was committed to putting in the work to take a good shot at a BQ race. I had actually registered for the 2022 California International Marathon in late April (gotta take advantage of early-bird pricing!). The race has a great reputation for PR/BQ/OTQ chasers, and I was now one of those runners.

My summer running plan was to build up my base miles, do a weekly track workout, and complete a weekly long run. Then, plot twist! On May 31st, I started experiencing sharp pain on the right side of my core. For some reason, I attributed it to my track workout that morning, when a friend suggested I change my arm swing. I was like, oh, I’ve pulled an ab muscle because of messing with my arm swing. After a few days of intermittent intense pain, a light bulb went off in my head- this was not from a pulled muscle. It reminded me of the pain I experienced when I had a kidney stone a few years ago. A few trips to various doctors confirmed that something was wrong with my gallbladder (30 gallstones!) and it had to come out.

Surgery was on June 18th. Recovery time was supposed to be 4-6 weeks of no running, no core work, and no lifting anything heavy. I tried to follow that, though I convinced a nurse to clear me to start running lightly after a couple of weeks if I promised not to do anything intense. I didn’t want to do any damage internally and my incision site wounds were still healing, so I took it easy. I was getting antsy and feeling like my BQ goal for CIM was out of the question, and maybe my body wouldn’t be up for marathon training after surgery/time off from running. It was at this point that I asked Bert to help make me a training plan. Because he’s a nice guy (Editor's note: I really am.) and isn’t busy enough with four kids and a full-time job, Bert agreed. A 16 week plan was to begin in mid-August. The plan until then was to not get hurt.

I made it to the start of the training plan not-hurt, so that was my first success. Bert had a Google spreadsheet semi-filled in with some workouts and long runs for the 16 weeks. My mind was a little blown when I saw the number of 18+ runs and the pace work within some of those runs. For reference, my previous marathon training plan had three 18 milers and a single 20 miler. Bert’s plan had three 18ers, two 20ers, and a 22 miler. I just couldn’t imagine getting to the point where I could go 18-20-18 (with pace)-20 (with pace)-22-18 on consecutive weekends. Not to mention the workouts that Bert started filling in. I was very intimidated, and a little worried about getting injured with the increase in volume and intensity. However, for the most part, I was able to stick to the plan, only needing to shorten a long run and miss the next day’s run when I rolled my foot during a hurricane-aftermath run. I was feeling good about how I was absorbing the training, and actually started feeling on track for my A goal.


Then, the week of Thanksgiving, came a cold that lingered for far too long. I knew it was kinda bad when I had to take afternoon naps a couple of days the weekend after Thanksgiving (one week before the race). I tried not to worry when it was the day before we were flying out to Sacramento and I had a coughing fit on my run with Lori and Chad that led to dry-heaving. Encouragement from friends, Bert, and Mitch helped to ease nerves about my cold, and I tried to remember that this was just a race. With that in mind, we flew out to Sacramento late on Friday, with our friends, Anthony and Chas, also on our flight for the race.

There was a short shakeout run on the next morning, put on by CIM. It was raining a bunch and cold, and no one was in a hurry to leave our hotel to head a block over for the meetup. I met a nice Canadian lady, Carmela, while waiting in the lobby to leave, and we grabbed free Run in Rabbit t-shirts from the RiR shakeout group that was starting from the hotel. We chatted during the 2 mile shake-out, and exchanged numbers so we could meet up later and make plans for race morning. A trip to the Expo and a pep talk from Bert later, and things were starting to feel REAL. We grabbed pizza with Anthony, and then turned in for the night.

The Race

I woke up at 2:45 AM, before my 3:30 AM alarm, but had gotten at least 6.5 hours of sleep and felt pretty rested. (Editor's note: I LOVE being on the East Coast and racing on the West Coast. Time zone changes for the win!) Carmela and I met in the lobby at 4:35 AM to walk to the bus pick-up spot. It was lightly raining and the rain poncho that I bought for $5 at the expo came in handy. I also had on throwaway shoes, socks, pants, and jacket. I ate stuff I can’t remember anymore before I left the hotel (maybe half of a Picky Bar and banana?), and brought graham crackers to munch on since there was a long time before the race started at 7 am. Unfortunately, I forgot my water bottle at the hotel. (Editor's note: WHAT?!?!?)

The bus ride was not my favorite- warm, crowded, with a loud annoying guy sitting catty-corner from me. I sat next to a nice guy who was running his first marathon and asked for tips. Hope he did well. I got very antsy toward the end of the bus ride as motion sickness was kicking in a little, and was happy to get off the bus to get fresh air. My legs were feeling a little wobbly from the beginnings of motion sickness. Carmela and I hit up the wall of porta potties, and then hung out at a nearby gas station where a bunch of runners were waiting out of the rain. I changed out of wet throwaway socks and shoes into dry socks and racing shoes. (Editor's note: carbon fiber?) Then I tossed donation pants and poncho, but kept on my throwaway jacket until I warmed up. We headed to corral area and I lined up with 3:40 pacer. Carmela and I exchanged one last good luck hug as she headed to the 3:30 pacer. While waiting at the start, a nice lady named Amy standing next to me asked me about my plans. So I told her I would start with the 3:40 group and hopefully, I’d feel good toward the end and get ahead of them. She was hoping for the same and asked if she could stick with me. So, I now had a race buddy (new thing for me).

At 7 am, the race got off to a start. (Editor's note: Only 1258 words before the race even starts? Amateur race report.) The 3:40 pacers started a little hot and we tried not to get too wrapped up in their pace. They seemed to settle in after a bit, but would sometimes surge and then slow again. I shed my jacket in mile two, and she shed hers a mile later. Amy and I stuck together, and chatted a little here and there. She remarked that is was warmer than she expected and also hillier (she was not wrong, but I was feeling okay on the uphills. Little did I know that it was probably the downhills doing more damage). Miles ticked by and so did 5k markers. I like having both on course to have more landmarks to count down. I looked for Mitch at mile 6 and didn’t see him, but apparently he was there and also couldn’t see me tucked in the 3:40 pack. I did see him a little after mile 7, which was exciting. Anyway, miles ticked by and we kept on trucking. I did my best at water stations to pinch the cups and drink the water, but sometimes got water up my nose or started coughing. I lost Amy on a hill somewhere, and every so often I’d look back to try to spot her. No dice after a while, so I concluded she had dropped back (she ended up dropping at the half, but has Tokyo Marathon coming up in March).

The 3:40 pace group crossed the halfway mat in 1:49, and that confirmed the slightly fast pace for the 3:40 group. I didn’t feel too concerned at that point. I spotted Mitch again around mile 14, and was again very excited to see him. Big smile on my face, etc. However, the feet started feeling heavy a few miles later and I started needing to play mental games. I was also starting to feel a bit nauseous, especially by the smell of increasingly stronger Runner BO (one lady’s smelly hydration pack caused me to choke back my gag reflex). I backed off the pace group a little to get some breathing room and fresher air. Spoiler alert: I never caught up with them again.

By mile 18, I noticed I just couldn’t move my feet faster though it felt like I was trying. Pace slowed a few seconds, so nothing super dramatic, but it was still concerning. The nausea was not helping me feel any better. In mile 19, I made a bargain to get to mile 20, at which point I could stop running and drop out of the race. Once I hit the mile 20 marker, I pulled off to the right and basically started to cry and cough and dry-heave, which led to barfing up some gel and water. In my mind, I was dropping out and had failed big time and was generally feeling terrible. I texted Mitch, but he didn’t text back so I called him and let him know what was going on. He encouraged me to not give up and to finish the race, since I was so close (10k feels like a long way after you’ve hit the wall). So, off I went again, trying to regroup my mind and legs. Around this point, I think the 3:45 pace group ran by and I was with them for a little. At mile 21, I stopped on bridge and thought again about quitting. From here, it was a series of mental games with myself. Bargained to get to the next 5k mat, knowing I had friends tracking me. Then bargained to get to mile 22, where I said it was only 4 miles and I could do that even if it was super hard. I let myself walk through the water stations in the last 10k, and just trudged on to the finish. Finally, it was the last mile, and I saw Mitch one last time outside of our hotel, which was close to the finish. At this point, I had no idea what my time was because I had stopped my watch when I thought I was dropping, and also because I never programmed my new-to-me watch to show total elapsed time on any of the screens. Instead, it said 26.32/26.32. I just knew I didn’t accomplish my A goal or B goal. I got my medal and post-race disposable jacket (better than a mylar blanket!), snapped an obligatory pic, and then started crying when I saw Mitch walking to meet me. A friend texted me congrats with my time, which I still didn’t know. 3:48:47, a 6 minute PR that beat my C goal.

This was my fifth marathon and I had just run a time I wouldn’t have dreamed about a year ago, and here I was feeling crushed. Luckily, Mitch and my running friends understood how I was feeling, and let me be a little dramatic and sad about it (which I am still doing by writing this guest blog post) (Editor's note: Alec Lorenzoni would hardly call this dramatic). Anyway, now that I am a week removed from CIM, I am feeling better about how the race turned out. Now that CIM is done, I’m ready to enjoy family time and holiday festivities, as well as more spinning and strength again. I’m sure it won’t be too long until the race itch comes back though. A huge thanks to Bert for putting together my training plan, offering advice and support, and making sure I was still having fun. He’s definitely the best free coach I’ve ever had! 10/10 would recommend (Editor's note: If you'd run faster, I'd probably start charging people. Ouch! Too soon?).


I'm very proud of Natalie. When we started this phase of our relationship, she admitted to me that she had no idea that when we were all off running in college that we weren't just jogging easy. Workouts were a new concept to her. Then she went to Orange Theory or something and learned that you can try harder at exercising (an oversimplification of her epiphany). To say that she was green is an understatement... and she's turned herself into quite the little runner. And she just jumped right into whatever I threw at her. Her workouts were all going so well this fall, I was overly confident that she was very fit. And I still believe that. But you have to run the race on that day, and sometimes that is hard. I was fitter than I'd ever been in April 2015, but then
ran poorly. I believe that if CIM had been a week later, Natalie would have run a lot faster. She's a different runner now than she was a year ago, and three years ago, when she was first foolish enough to engage in coaching with me. All those miles in her legs and all those workouts don't go away. She just has to keep it up, as it all cumulatively builds into muscle memory (which is very real).

As I mentioned before, this race was on Sam's birthday. KC and I were busy building him a new loft bed while she was running, and I had my phone sitting in the room with the tracking up for her and Thomas Adam. I was anxious watching her splits clipping off consistently under 8:20 pace for the first two hours, worried that she might be going out too fast in less than ideal conditions. We were crestfallen when she went AWOL at the 35K for a while. After she finally hit that timing mat, I got a text from Mitch letting me know she was still alive and was going to make it to the finish. She got back after it and dropped her pace back down, but the damage was already done. She was short of her A and B goals. We tier our goals for a reason though, and for her to walk away with a PR and ahead of her C goal (which I think was her realistic goal back in the spring) is cause for celebration. Which I'm glad to say that she did. But geez, look at that Nuun water bottle in the background after the race! Runner nerd.

As with most of my blog posts, I will end this abruptly just to press publish.

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Race Photos