The 6,000 runners in the 32nd California International Marathon set off on a fast course Sunday. They strode over gentle hills, ran past rustic country landscapes and through joyous town gatherings. They descended to the finish line, and ultimate celebration, at the state Capitol. And along the way, each stage brought its own adventure.
Adventures of the course
Dawn beneath the dam
The race started at 7 a.m. near Folsom Dam, just as darkness gave way to shimmering morning light.
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Chris Benjamin, 39, an attorney who lives near Kansas City, had just finished wolfing down a prerace meal: electrolytes, salt tablets, a banana and a protein bar chased by a swig of Pepto-Bismol. Benjamin last ran in the CIM in 2006, and has run a total of 22 marathons and seven endurance races of 100 miles or more.
Benjamin had a determined goal Sunday: He wanted to shatter his lifetime best marathon of 3 hours, 31 minutes by running under 3:15. He hoped the Sacramento event, nationally renowned as a speedy course, would net him a good qualifying time for the fabled Boston Marathon.
“This brings out really good memories,” Benjamin said. “It’s a fast course, and it’s very well-supported, with people coming out to cheer us on and with a beautiful finish line.”
Festive morning in Old Town
The runners reached the quaint shops and cheerful sidewalks of downtown Fair Oaks, emerging from around a bend as a street corner band blasted out Van Morrison’s “Gloria” with its energetic lyrics, “I wanna shout it ev’ry day – Glor-ia! – Yeah-yeah-yeah-yeah!”
Andria Saint-Evens and 4-year-old son Bryce positioned themselves near the water station as husband and dad Rob Saint-Evens came into view. Andria shook a set of bells and hoisted a sign, “Run Rob Run!” Rob saw his wife and son instantly. He went from full-stride to a sudden stop, embracing them both before resuming the race.
“He always stops for a hug and a kiss,” Andria Saint-Evens said.
Smooth, sightless handoff at Manzanita
Just past the halfway point in the race, at Fair Oaks Boulevard near Manzanita Avenue, two legally blind runners orchestrated a smooth relay handoff.
Aaron Scheidies, a three-time winner of the U.S. Association of Blind Athletes National Marathon Championships, stripped off an ankle bracelet with a computer tracking chip and gave it to Michael Kinoshita, 19, of Folsom.
Kinoshita put on the bracelet, surveyed the vague shapes and forms ahead of him and took off running.
This was Kinoshita’s sixth time running the CIM. The track and cross country athlete at California State University, Stanislaus, learned long ago how to run past any limitations of blindness.
At Folsom High School, he excelled at cross country after developing a high-stepping running style to best handle the rugged trail bumps and twists that can trip up vision-challenged and full-sighted runners alike.
“I fell constantly,” Kinoshita recalled. “But I overcame those challenges by having a little more trust in what I was seeing in front of me ... and by following by other runners and picking up my feet higher.”
He would high-step to glory Sunday. His two-man team, USA Blind Elite, finished third in the marathon relay challenge with a time of 2:34:50.
Rhythms of ‘The Wall’
The legendary point of exhaustion for most marathoners comes at “The Wall” – 20 miles into the race. There, near Loehmann’s Plaza in Arden-Arcade, Rex Womack and the Drum Circle Rhythm Community of Sacramento offered them strength, pounding out pulsing, tribal sounds on conga, djembe, ashiko and klong yaw drums.
“The runners start hearing us from a mile away. It just really picks up their beat and their spirit, right before The Wall. We have runners come back, telling us we gave them the extra boost to keep on running,” Womack said.
He added: “For us, it’s a marathon of the hands.”
The glory of the finish
Kevin Pedrotti, a Capitol lobbyist from Fair Oaks, was on his 10th CIM. With every new year, “It just gets longer,” he said. He once finished the race in 2 hours, 33 minutes. On Sunday, he was hoping for 3:10. He made it in just under 3:08. And once again, he experienced the joy of the finish.
Race attendants draped his body with thermal wrap and gave him his finishers’ medal. His eyes searched through the throng at the finish line west of the Capitol for his wife, Janet. She was heading up his greeting party with the family’s goldendoodle, Frankie, and friends and neighbors. He found his way to them, fighting the intense pain building in his Achilles and hamstrings, and hugged them in exhausted joy.
Chris Benjamin was bare-chested when made it to the finish – and its carnival of race photographers, massage tents and vendors serving up water, bananas and recuperative non-alcoholic beer. He had ditched his shirt at the 20-mile mark, “where the bongos were awesome.” He recorded a lifetime best of 3:13:30 and was feeling glorious.
“This was the highest-energy event,” he said, “of all time.”