The Twisty Turny Road to CIM

My pursuit of marathon greatness has been a tumultuous path, to say the least. I began 2018 in an upward swing, running one PR after another in the mile, 5K, 10K, and half marathon. I had a seemingly perfect build up to the Rock ’n’ Roll San Diego Marathon in June, pictured above, only to have a bad day for what seemed like no reason at all. I shook it off and spent the remainder of the summer “playing” at running, entering just-for-fun races like the Portland vs Seattle Relay (we won!), the off-the-grid urban race Take the Bridge Portland (I got 2nd!), Ragnar Relay NW Passage (we won!), and the Dual Duel 10K on the track (I won!). I spent a nice chunk of time not running at all and road tripping around Norway, dreaming of what the next chapter might bring.


California International Marathon, otherwise known as CIM, has been on my mind since the very beginning of the year. I started a handwritten running journal on January 1st and wrote out every single date leading up to race day on December 2nd, 2018. Official training began mid-August. Most of the focus was maintaining volume from the summer and incorporating tempo-style workouts once or twice per week. Every workout was hard. Every workout I doubted myself, but found some way to play little mind games, convincing myself to try just another lap, just another mile–just get to the finish! Every workout went really really well. My pacing wasn’t quite where I wanted it to be, but I didn’t worry too much about that because it was still early in the season. I was still able to maintain or better my pace from the beginning to the end of the workout, each time. Below is a quick snapshot of my training.

14 weeks out:
48 total miles
Fartlek – 1 min/2 min/3 min/4 min/5 min w/2 min rest x 2. 6:20-6:40ish pace
14 miles on Sauvie Island w/12 miles @ 6:45

13 weeks out:
62 total miles
4 mile tempo – 6:25, 6:25, 6:18, 6:17
16 miles on Crown Zellerbach Trail w/14 miles @ 6:50

12 weeks out:
56 total miles
1 Mile @ 10K rp on the track / 4 min. rest / 4 mile tempo on Hollister Trail / 4 min. rest / 1 mile @ 10K on the track – 5:56, 6:20, 6:19, 6:20, 6:20, 5:52
16 miles around the waterfront w/14 miles @ 7:03

11 weeks out:
65 total miles
6 mile tempo on Hollister Trail – 6:22, 6:22, 6:21, 6:20, 6:20, 6:20
18 miles progressive on Wildwood Trail from Lower Macleay @ 8:23 (1,781ft of climbing)

10 weeks out:
18 total miles
5 x 1 mile @ 10K rp on the track w/400 rest – 5:53, 5:53, 5:54, 5:53, 5:51.

Annnd kerplunk. I woke up the next morning hobbling out of bed, my ankle sore and throbbing. I had noticed a bit of stiffness in the days leading up to then, but had thought nothing of it. I consulted a doctor right away and she told me in a matter-of-fact way that it was likely a stress fracture. That quick conclusion put me in a pretty dark state for the next 24 hours. A stress fracture would mean a TON of time off to heal, and I would have pretty much had to say goodbye to the goals I was chasing in the near future. I engaged in a whole lot of negative self talk. How could I have been so stupid to want more? How could I have been so selfish? Who was I to think I was capable of reaching for crazy big goals? I got caught in a downward spiral of self-loathing and a whole lot of melodrama.

The very next day I went in for an x-ray, a different doctor poked and prodded around my anklebone, and said, “Ehh, this doesn’t appear to be a bone thing, I think your muscles/tendons are just a little irritated”. And that was that! I took a bit of time off to let things calm down and have been getting a whole lot of help from Vince Blaney at North Lake PT and Rachel Wysocki at Tangelo to get back on track.

9 weeks out:
16 total miles
6.4 mile long run (sad!)

My first thought after two weeks of very little running was that CIM was over. I didn’t want to run a marathon if I wasn’t adequately prepared going into it. I’ve done that at Boston twice and New York once- each of which I was coming off of an injury going into the training cycle, starting from zero. Those races were not pretty, however neat to take part in. However, several people that I trust, including my coach Greg, thought I still had the capability to run well at CIM with this setback, and that I shouldn’t be so quick to write it off. Unlike Boston/NYC, I would not be starting from scratch. 2018 has been a really successful year with lots of PRs. I’ve already had some really good long runs and workouts in this current training cycle. There were still eight weeks left until CIM when I was having these conversations of “should I, shouldn’t I?” Still a solid amount of time. I wasn’t totally convinced that I’d be ready (I’m not still not convinced), but I decided I’d try my best. I proceeded to train with every intention of racing CIM.

So here’s where I’ve been since this whole weird ankle thing:

8 weeks out:
30 total miles
5 x 500m @ 10K pace then 5 x 500m @ 5K pace – 1:50, 1:50, 1:49, 1:49, 1:50 / 1:47, 1:44, 84 (400m whoops!), 1:45, 1:45
Portlandathon 5 mile – 30:43, 6:08/mile, 1st place. Felt comfortable and like I could have pushed more. Faster than my early season tempo runs!

7 weeks out:
33 total miles
10 miles ‘midweek long’, avg 7:59
16 miles hilly around Lake Oswego, avg 8:09

6 weeks out:
39 total miles
5 x 2K @ threshold pace – 7:37, 7:36, 7:37, 7:36, 7:31 (6:06/mile pace)
18 miles flat along Venice Beach/Santa Monica, HOT, avg 7:23

So, the good: my fitness seems generally fine. The bad: my overall volume is super low. I would feel better having a few really successful long runs with marathon pace miles thrown in, and speed work back in the sub-6:00/mile pace. There’s still time for all of that. My ankle is steadily getting better. I need more days of rest than usual between the harder efforts. Ultimately I want to give myself a chance at CIM. I would much, much rather take advantage of the likely great weather, advantageous course, and running with a ton of my Rose City Track teammates on a hype-filled weekend in Sacramento, opposed to waiting a little longer and running some mid-winter marathon by myself, consequently throwing a wrench in my 2019 plans which include Boston Marathon(!) in the spring.

I’m reminding myself that no marathon training cycle is perfect, and even when everything goes to plan, it can still be a crapshoot on race day. Perfect training doesn’t equal perfect execution. Maybe the obstacles thrown my way now will make me more resilient in the long haul. I know I’m better than my current marathon PR which is almost four years old. It seems worth it to give it my very best shot.

2 responses to “The Twisty Turny Road to CIM”

  1. Leslie @ TriathleteTreats Avatar

    You got this Liz! You still have plenty of time!! Sometimes going into a race a little more rested is better!! Keep up the good work!! Stay positive!! That is one thing that I have been working on with training and racing this year is being positive, trust the training, and what do you know, things are going great!! :)

    1. Liz Avatar

      Thanks so much Leslie!!


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Who is Mercury?

Liz Derstine, trail name “Mercury”, is a distance runner, endurance hiker, writer, and musician residing in Boston, MA. She holds fastest known times for women on the Appalachian Trail (supported, northbound), Long Trail (self-supported), and Pinhoti Trail (self-supported).

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