Fastest course in the west.

The Storm Years: 1987 and 2001

Story #14 in a series of 25. Written to celebrate the CIM’s 25th Anniversary on December 2, 2007. By Cynci Calvin.

Are we having fun yet?
First let’s take a look at the reasons behind the California International Marathon’s December date. Wouldn’t you think that a world-class outdoor athletic event would be scheduled at a time when weather issues are minimal? Here are some answers.

The CIM’s December date has long been controversial. Why would an outdoor world class event chose to be scheduled in December, a time perceived by the general population “winter” with its accompanying bad weather baggage? The reasons are the same today as they were when the founders established the event.

  • First and foremost – this IS California and it is “The Valley.” Snow is highly unlikely and if it occurred there would only be a dusting. Statistics collected over the CIM’s 25 years show that there is less than 80% chance of significant precipitation; the valley’s rainy months tend to be January, February and March. On the other end of the spectrum, the temperatures have never ranged into the 80s and 90s (or even the 70s!) that can occur in September and early October.
  • For athlete development purposes, the elite and sub-elite runners benefit from a season that begins with shorter races in January and builds up to the marathon distance closer to the end of the year.
  • Runners in warmer climates are able to do their longer distance training in the fall with its relatively cooler temperatures and shorter days, rather than in the much more intense heat of the valley summer.
  • Runners from northern regions of the U.S. and from Canada are happy to come to California and run in mid 50s, versus their sub 20s.
  • In the Sacramento are, “Fall” continues into December; the trees are still
  • The event’s date, always the second weekend after Thanksgiving, minimizes travel and family obligation conflicts with both Thanksgiving and then later December holidays.
  • It is a time endorsed by regional visitors bureaus, because it is a great time to fill hotel rooms.
  • The race season from early September until mid- to late-October is packed with road races. If the CIM relocated to any of the October or November dates suggested, there would be serious conflicts with several local popular and historic events like the Sacramento (now Cowtown) Marathon, Clarksburg and the Apple Hill Runs.
  • The date precedes the major traffic congestion created by frenzied holiday shoppers.
  • Finally, and this CIM fan’s favorite reason: after all that marathon training late summer into late fall, runners can rest and relax during the December holiday season – guilt free!

Just how bad was it?
Now let’s take a look at 1987 and 2001. Below are statements and links to more commentary from a mere sampling of the ones who know – they were there. Both years had steady rain, but in 1987 winds are described at 40 to 50 mph whereas in 2001 weather data shows winds around 25 mph. Most veterans of both events will say that 1987 was the worst. A common thread in their descriptions is the sense of pride in braving the elements and crossing the finish line in spite of them.

Race Director John Mansoor
I have to sympathize with the runners who must face less than ideal conditions after all the training they put in to, but my greatest sympathy goes to the volunteers and spectators who brave the weather to help the runners reach the finish line.

Patti Gray (now Bellan) – 1987 Women’s Winner in 2:40:49
Were you a runner in high school and college?
Yes, I ran for U.C. Davis as John Mansoor can recall. He coached the men’s team there for awhile and we knew each other well. John gave me some good advice back then I had fun joining his running club for campouts, etc. His wife, Heike, was also a really good runner. (Please say hello to both for me!) At Davis I was coached by Sue Williams and she transformed me from a mediocre high school runner into a top collegiate athlete. Sue was and still is my mentor. I felt her coaching was like magic for me. I won 3 NCAA DIV II national track championships at Davis and I think I still hold 3 school records there. That shocks me; I thought they’d be gone in a year or two.

Before Davis, I ran at Foothill High School in Pleasanton, CA and had a couple of encouraging coaches who made me promise to run in college even though I never went to the State meet or won any major high school races. The current U.C. Davis Track Coach, Jon Vochatzer, actually coached track at my high school for a year before heading to Davis.

Was the CIM your first marathon?
No, my first marathon was in 1983 at Honolulu. I ran a 2:51 in some pretty bad weather. I actually didn’t train for it specifically; I just did it after our cross country season. Sue told me how that time could get me to the trials. So, I ran my second marathon in Eugene Oregon the next fall to qualify for the 1984 trials. I was geared up for the 1984 trials and I was VERY fit. Unfortunately I became injured a week or two before the race and didn’t get to run. I was totally devastated. After that I ended up winning Honolulu in 1984 in some more bad weather and finished second in the World University Games in Kobe Japan in 1985. I went back to Honolulu in 1986 and took a third, but ran my P.R. of 2:36. After that, I started to gear up for the trials again and the 1987 Cal International Marathon was part of that process.

Why did you choose the CIM?
I chose CIM because I thought the timing was good as a build to the trials and I also wanted to race it as I considered the Sacramento area my home turf after having gone to Davis and logging so many miles in the area. The course looked good and I was just attracted to it and had it in my mind that I would like to try and win that race for about a year before I actually did it.

When you awoke race morning, what were you thinking? Did you consider not running?
Funny, I somehow knew it was going to rain. When I woke up that morning, I think I said something like, “it’s just raining, but at least it’s not windy”…and then we went to the starting line and I had to eat those words.

I was ready for the rain because the year before I had attempted to run Twin Cities and had to drop out when my body started shutting down due to some snow flurries. I was so mad at myself for not being prepared for any weather possibility. I NEVER dropped out of races. I think that was one of two in my whole life. So, I just put it in my head that in can rain hard in Dec. in Sacramento and I’d better be ready. All fall, whenever there was a rain storm, I went out and ran a hard run. I still remember one workout I did. Sue had scheduled me for 2 x 7 miles, dropping my time each mile. It was howling wind and pouring. I went out and did it by myself. It was tough, but I know that workout help me a lot on race day.

During the run, did you consider quitting?
It was REALLY hard, but I’m not a quitter. That week, the person who sponsored me from Adidas, died of a heart attack. Because I dedicated the race to him, I really couldn’t quit. But, even with that in my mind, I would have to honestly say I thought about quitting, that’s how hard it was that day. I remember thinking that and then looking up to notice this woman on the race course just standing in the pouring rain with that wind howling and she was cheering like it was a sunny day in Disneyland. I thought, if she can come out and cheer me on, I can do my best too. I thought about all those people who set up the race, and my coach who was trying to meet me at different points with jackets, hats, etc. My parents came to watch and I just had to keep going. In the very last mile I really just wanted to walk or crawl, and then there were some of my running buddies from Davis cheering. That got me home.

How did the race unfold for you?
I got out on pace, and then it was one of those, out of sight out of mind things. I think someone was closing in at the end, but I never ran against another female. I was just trying to catch up to and stay behind as many big guys as possible. I ended up catching up to a runner I new from the Aggies and I ran behind him for about 8 miles. It really helps to be small in the wind!

After you finished were you OK?
I was very happy inside, but TOTALLED on the outside. It was very tough mentally to get through that race and it took everything I had inside and out. It took me a while to recover and I really never did get it back to a level I felt good about in time for the trials.

How did your running progress after 1987?
I ran poorly at the trials and then did some racing after that. I pretty much retired soon after. I had been running since I was 13 and training and racing hard for almost a decade. I just needed a break. I got married to Phil Bellan (He ran for Cal Poly and was first scratch runner in the Dipsea one year.)and coached at Mills College for 6 years. We moved to Idaho and I coached for a bit here too. But, we had two children and so I stopped coaching to be with them more. I run now mostly for the social and mental benefits. I also teach Health in P.E. at a local junior high school and I like to practice what I preach.

I see that you are running competitively now as a masters runner with the Boise Aggies – what is your next race?
I have run in some local races and twice in the last few years I have gone to cross country nationals, once with a team made of my Boise friends and last year with my old Davis teammates. We put a team together with the Aggie Running Club and just had a blast. We also won the Master’s National Title and so we got to joke with our coach, Sue, that it took us 25 years, but we finally got her a National Championship!

I run with a group in town called the Boise Aggies, we are an off-shoot of the Asics Aggies. A long time Aggie, Emil Magallanes, coaches us and it’s just a lot of fun. You should check out the website he made, BoiseAggies.com. I will probably do a few local road races this fall, but my main goal is training for life. Our son, Eric, is running cross country for the first time with his 7th grade team and so that’s been a joy. I hope he gets as much from the sport as my husband and I have. It is just an amazing sport!

Do you have any plans to tackle another marathon, and if so, which one?
NO…but if I did, you know I’d come home to the CIM!

Peter Maher – 1987 Men’s Winner in 2:16:49
Note: Maher will be profiled CIM Story – Against all Odds.
There was never a worse day. I never warmed up one bit. The second mile was the hardest part. That’s when I made the decision to slow down. If you go out too fast in weather like this there is a tendency for hypothermia. That 2:16 was worth a good five minutes better in these conditions.

Mark Conover – 1987 3rd place male finisher
A unique aspect of Mark’s 2:18 finish was that it kept him “under the radar screen” as a likely contender at the U.S. Men’s Olympic Trials. As he caught and pulled away from the lead pack at the trials, the reporters were scrambling to find out more about him. His “dark horse” status was thanks to that deceptively “slow” time at the CIM.

Mark was one of the more amazing success stories to come out of the 1987 CIM. He stunned the American running scene when he won the 1988 U.S. Olympic Men’s Marathon Trials, beating favorites Ed Eyestone and Pete Pfitzinger with a six-minute PR that netted him $50,000. This was only his second marathon, and guess what? Although not as severe as his first marathon at the CIM, the conditions there (held in Jersey City, NJ) were cold and windy.

Mark Conover (CA) 2:12:26?2)
Ed Eyestone (UT) 2:12:49?3)
Pete Pfitzinger (MA) 2:13:09

His trip to Seoul in 1988 was disappointing; he had to drop out at mile 19 due to severe blisters. He began training again, setting his sights on better times and the 1992 Olympics. As the Trials approached, flu-like symptoms plagued him and although he qualified to run the Trials, he did not make the team with his 2:18:17 time. The symptoms persisted and in 1993 he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease.

Here Mark’s true success story begins. Throughout an intense chemotherapy regimen Mark kept running, his own form of therapy that he felt was synergistic to the traditional treatments. In March of 1994 his cancer was declared to be in remission, and in June of 1995 he ran a 1996 trials qualifier of 2:20:35.

He has since retired from professional running and now turns his experience and skills to coach future distance running champions as the head Cross Country Coach at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.

The 1987 California International Marathon
Was my…1st marathon.

When I woke up race morning…
I hoped it wouldn’t start pouring.

I wore…
A singlet and shorts.

The wind was so bad that…
I watched it uproot a tree and topple it on top of a car. I also watched it rip the singlet off eventual winner Peter Maher as I ran along with him. It looked like a plastic bag flying in the wind as it went off in the distance.

I was so wet that…
I thought I was out for a run back in Humboldt County.

When I finished…
I was ecstatic that I got my Olympic Trials Qualifier and held on to 3rd place.

Will you return to run the CIM?
I am now more of a coach than runner, as head (Cross Country) coach here at Cal Poly. So, my days at CIM are most likely long behind me.

Bruce Deacon (British Columbia) – 2001 Men’s Winner in 2:22:12
“I’m a duck, I’m a duck, I’m a duck…

Irina Safarova (Russia) – 2001 Women’s Winner in 2:36:36
I knew if I stayed with the other ones I had less chance of winning. I felt good so I decided to speed up. I made it. It was not too difficult.

Magdalena Lewy – 2001 2nd Woman in 2:37:57 (and a seven-minute pr)
It was pretty hard, the wind was hitting your face. There were some really, really bad spots… but everyone had to do it.

CIM Honor Roll 24-time CIM Finishers

Steve Haun
Strangely enough, the 1987 CIM turned out to be one of the most relaxing I’ve ever run. Because the conditions were so terrible, the strategy was simple: Get downtown as comfortably as possible, time no object. The 3:57 finish was over 45 minutes slower than the previous year, but the running was just not that hard. Because I wore practically everything I owned I was plenty warm. One other thing I remember about 1987. During some of the windier parts of the course people were running in single file, each person trying to draft behind the other. It looked like a trail of ants going down Fair Oaks Blvd.

Steve Polansky
I thought 87 was way worse than 2001. In 87, when you made the turn on the 1/2, the wind was right in your face. I kept looking for wide bodies to run behind. Wheneever someone started to run to fast or too slow, Id start searching out my next blocker. 01 was more rain, but heck, you cant be more than 100% wet. At mile 16 at Bella Bru, I got a laugh out of the crowd when I began imitating the breast stroke when I was running.

Barry Turner
The 1987 CIM…
was my 12th marathon.

When I woke up race morning…
I thought it only has to get better.

I wore…
A t-shirt.

The wind was so bad that…
In the pack I was with we took turns leading so others could tuck in from the wind.

I was so wet that…
It did not matter.

When I finished…
I felt on top of the world, after finishing this CIM in a 6:35 pace I knew there was nothing I could not accomplish. And to this day CIM #5 stays with me in a most affirmative way.

As George Parrott would tell me the rain and wind are strength builders, this marathon was pushing it the extreme state.

Tim Twietmeyer The 1987 CIM
When I woke up that morning…
Woke up? I’d BEEN UP all night listening to the rain and wind pound the windows.

I wore…
A tank top. Once you’re soaked to the bone, the fewer the clothes, the better. Just trying to avoid the massive chafe.

The wind was so bad…
That I had people lined up behind me so they could draft off the big guy. That is, until we got downwind. Er, side wind, there is no downwind on this course when a storm is coming in.

I was so wet…
When I finished I had two more Mimosa’s than usual at the Sutter Club

Denis Zilaff
I was in the best shape of my life in 1987 and expected to shatter my PR. When I awoke to a typhoon I still expected I could PR and since I had a running partner to help pace I thought I was still bullet proof.

Dressed in a polypropylene long sleeve shirt and hat I thought the elements would not affect me, so we start off on a PR pace running through six inches of water at the six mile turn and laughing with the spectators slicked out in the burg of Fair Oaks. The sails started to shred between 10 miles and the half-marathon turn. Worse yet, when my buddy saw his wife, a warm cup of coffee and his car, he looked at me and wished me good luck and dropped. As I made the turn solo, my hat blew off and pinned against a cyclone fence a hundred yards back. Now I was faced with a dilemma, should I go back and get the hat or forge on without it? I went on, sans hat and a running partner. I finished the race well off my PR but got much more than a best time or medal, I got bragging rights. The 1987 CIM is legend, the 35 MPH winds are now 50 MPH with gusts to 70 and the rainfall now exceeds 4 inches and we were kicking fish out of our path.

As for 2001- It was a drizzle with puffs of wind, but can I tell you about 1987?

Carol Dehlinger (19-time CIM finisher, 215-time marathon finisher; she will be here for CIM’s 25th and her 20th CIM/216 marathon)
CIM 1987…
Was my 7th marathon and 2001 was my 142nd.

When I woke up race morning I thought…
In 1987, I thought ok, it is really wet and windy, but I came from Spokane, so I am going to have fun. 2001, I thought 1987 all over again, but I really thought the wind was stronger in 2001, or after 140 marathons I was just brain damaged and had forgotten the 50 mile winds from 1987.

I wore…
In 1987, shorts and a cotton shirt, and froze to death. This was before moisture wicking anything!
In 2001, by then I had all of the latest performance wicking gear and was actually quite comfortable in wet weather gear.

The wind was so bad that…
1987, I think I actually ran 30 miles that day because of all of the back pedalling my legs did. 2001, same thing, worst head wind I have ever encountered, EVER!!!!

I was so wet…
1987, I couldn’t see anything because my head was down to keep the wind and rain out of my eyes.
2001, the rain came from the side and I kept getting water in my ears like when you go swimming!

When I finished I…
In 1987, when I crossed the finish line the Capital Mall was one big mud hole and I sank to my ankles in mud.
2001, I knew not to step in the mud because I am a fast learner.

Have you ever run a marathon in worse conditions and if so which one(s)?
1987, my 7th marathon and the worst weather ever!
2001, my 142nd marathon and the 2nd worst weather after 1987. CIM really knows how to welcome us out of towners.

Since this will be my 20th CIM, you can see that I don’t scare very easy. If a marathon was so darn easy, everyone would be running them. Bring on the weather for 2007! I am looking forward to CIM 2007. It is always a pleasure to come down from Spokane each December to run CIM. I was looking over the results the other day from the last 20 years and havn’t seen many out of staters like me with this many CIM’s under their belt.

Neither rain, nor wind, nor sleet, nor snow or dark of night…
The show must go on…

We’re all familiar with these phrases, but how they relate to staging a marathon? What would cause a marathon to be cancelled? The day before the 2007 Boston Marathon, Technical Director Dave McGilvray was asked this question while the worst Nor’Easter in New England’s April history raged outside the Expo. His answer: “A Tsunami… or a race day blizzard that started dumping a foot of snow a minute.” He went on to caution runners NOT to run if they were unprepared for windy, rainy conditions. When the CIM’s Race Director John Mansoor was asked the same question in an interview for this story he replied, “Although it is highly unlikely in early December, major flooding could cause a cancellation. A dam or major levy break is another possibility.” Sacramento is situated below the flood plain and protected by a system of dams and levies. In early December the surrounding reservoirs are still low so heavy rains are just beginning to fill them. Springtime can be another story: in the spring of 1986 the American River came within an inch of overflowing the local levies. If that had been marathon day, one more inch would mean no CIM. This was not the case for the 1987 and 2001; yes – the winds gusted and the rain poured, but with the reservoirs nowhere near capacity, flooding was not an issue.