CIM Tips and Tricks

The past 3 years, this week has been my peak week of training for the California International Marathon (CIM).  Although it’s not this year for me, it is for so many runners! 

Blog 159 

I love this race and not just because I have ran my 3 fastest marathons on this course.  I love it for so many things: the weather, the crowd, the small town feel, the “runner’s race” vibe, and my list could go on and on.

I knew when I finished last year that I just needed a break from the course.  Running the same race year after year can be fun, but it also can just get old.  I knew I needed to step away from the same thing this year and that I did.  I am very glad I am not currently training for a marathon, but I also definitely get jealous of all those runners planning their CIM race weekends and race strategies.

Since I have run this race 3 times, I thought it might be useful to some of those running it this year to put together a list of a few tips and tricks for CIM.  When I think about CIM and planning my races there, these are some of the things that have stood out in my mind.  They definitely come from my biased viewpoint, but hopefully will be helpful to those of you running it for the first time this year!

CIM 220 


First tip, if you are taking the shuttle to the start, get there early!  Every bus I have been on lets you stay on the bus to keep warm once you get to the start line.  Personally, I like to be there early and relax, one year my bus was late and it was a mad dash to the porta potties and start line, not so fun. 

Second tip, if you aren’t far from the host hotel, just walk to it and get on the bus.  I stayed down the street one year and waited and waited and waited for a bus and watched them all drive up the street.  Finally we all ended up walking the few blocks up to the host hotel to get on busses because ours never came which made it a close call getting to the start line.

Porta Potties

A very, very important thing pre-marathon.  Last year there were TONS, I have never seen a race with so many porta potties.  If you go all the way to the far end you can usually get back in line easily for multiple trips.  I know I can’t be the only one who goes multiple times pre race.

Gear Check

Don’t pack anything valuable in gear check.  I know many races say this and at some races I actually do check things like my beloved iPhone, but this race I would not.  Although I have never lost my bag, I know people who have.  Plus seeing the bag check first hand 3 years in a row I would never risk it.  It is pure madness of flying plastic bags in a frantic craze to get to the start line. 

Personally, the best thing I have found to do is wear throw away sweats and don’t bring anything that I don’t plan on either running with or tossing along the way.  It does help if you have people at the finish line with warm clothes (since it’s typically cold!) or have a really close hotel room you can hurry back to.  If neither of those work, just check warm clothes you don’t care about. 

Water Stops

There are many water stops, but the first few, as with any race, are pretty crowded especially if you are near a pace group.  For this race I like starting with a small bottle to use from the start, then toss when I am done.  I then use water stops later on when it’s not quite as crowded and have started hydrating early.  Win win!

Garmin Length 

I always like to know how long people run courses according to their Garmins so that I can use that to help with my pace calculations.  When you are getting down to seconds in a marathon goal, every little bit makes a difference.

My Garmin Lengths: 
2008: 26.33
2009: 26.32
2010: 26.30

Since there aren’t too many turns and this isn’t a huge race that requires a lot of weaving, you can get pretty close to accurate if you run the tangents right .  If you are trying to break 4 hours or qualify for Boston, those extra tenths do make a difference, so I always try to account for them in my pace planning. 

If you want to figure out a method to compare your Garmin to a pace band, I talk about how I do it in this post.   


This is a “net” downhill course, but not a purely downhill course!  There are never-ending rolling hills in the first half that definitely take their toll on the legs.  Just be patient, use the downhills to your advantage and keep an even effort on the uphills, but don’t go into this race expecting all downhills because you will be in for a little surprise. 

There is a small bridge you have to go up and over at mile 22.  It’s not a big hill at all but can feel like it.  This is the LAST "hill" and it’s smooth sailing to the capitol building after that. 

Do yourself a favor and don’t look at the street signs at this point.


If you haven’t booked already, I highly recommend the Hyatt.  it is super close to the finish line, extended late checkout without a fee (unlike the Sheraton) and very close to the host hotel for buses in the morning and across the street from the expo for the day before


There is a relay!  Be aware of the exchanges (there are 3 exchanges for 4 total relay legs). You can usually tell they are coming because of the amount of people that are around, but just stay to the right to stay out of the traffic. 

Also just make a mental note that the people speeding by you at mile 22 are possibly only on mile 2 of their run so don’t be discouraged.

Course Preview Video

If you are a runner who likes to see what they are in for when it comes to race courses (like me!), this video is a great drive through of the course.

So who is running CIM this year?  Does anyone have any other questions or anything else to add?

I have a whole category on CIM with all my training, race recaps and anything else I have blogged about when it comes to this race. 

Enjoy the rest of peak week and I hope you get through tapering without too much taper madness.

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32 Responses to CIM Tips and Tricks

  1. Alyssa November 8, 2011 at 7:02 pm #

    Thanks for the tips! I am really excited for everything about this race… now I just need a goal. :)

  2. Louise Rothwell November 8, 2011 at 7:30 pm #

    Just found your blog and love it! Am training with my husband for Austin but, live in a very flat area! Not great training for hills! Any tips?

    • Aron November 8, 2011 at 8:48 pm #

      Treadmill? I have also heard of people using freeway ramps or parking garages to get hill training when they don’t have any hills. If I think of anything else I will let you know :) good luck!

      Anyone else have any tips?

  3. Laura November 8, 2011 at 7:45 pm #

    Great post! I’m not running CIM this year, but I finally feel like I’m ready to try a full marathon again (i.e. redo the disaster that was my first). I’m sort of thinking about running this one next year, and reading your post is making me excited!

  4. Kristine @ Running on Hungry November 8, 2011 at 8:18 pm #

    Ahhh yay thank you for writing this post! :) I’m getting so pumped for CIM! I have my last 20 miler this week and then it’s taper time!

    (Can I still do the Turkey Trot if I’m tapering? Please say yes!) I promise I’m only doing the 5K!

  5. Madison November 8, 2011 at 8:39 pm #

    Thanks Aron, I am thinking of running this race one of these days and these are some great tips. You are awesome!

  6. Rachel November 8, 2011 at 9:49 pm #

    i love CIM! but i am a little biased since it is my hometown race : ) totally agree with your note on the “downhill” nature of the course, so runners be aware of those rollers!

  7. Susan - Nurse on the Run November 9, 2011 at 5:45 am #

    This post makes me want to run CIM! I hear it’s a great race and is definitely on my to do list…too many races out in California! If nothing else, those medals certainly look awesome, and I’m a sucker for a good medal.

  8. thepixelsuite November 9, 2011 at 7:58 am #

    Great tips; I especially like the water bottle idea. Loved seeing you after the finish at CIM two years ago just after you BQd.

  9. Kate November 9, 2011 at 8:20 am #

    I’ll be spectating some friends who are running CIM this year. Are there certain spots on the course that are better for spectating?

    • Aron November 9, 2011 at 8:37 am #

      I haven’t spectated before but I have heard from my family and friends thats its a really easy course to spectate since it’s pretty much a straight line. Just look at the map and see the side streets you can cut in on. I think the popular spots are near the relay exchanges, so you might want to avoid those for less traffic. Have fun!!

    • Kristin November 9, 2011 at 4:16 pm #

      I agree with Aron – the popular and best spectating spots are near the relay exchange points. You can find directions to each of these on the CIM site. The other fun place to spectate is right downtown near the end. The streets are lined with people, and cafes and restaurants are open, so you can grab some coffee or hot cocoa. I’ve done the relay for the last two years and it’s a really easy course to spectate! Have fun!

  10. Haute Running Mama November 9, 2011 at 8:26 am #

    I would also add that if you haven’t booked a hotel staying in Folsom (my hometown) is awesome. The Hilton Garden Inn is inexpensive and nice, offers coffee in the morning and has a VIP heated tent with private port-o-potties at the start line. Yeah you have to drive back afterwards but who cares. Folsom is a nice, quiet town with some darn good places to eat…I am not biased or anything, lol.

    P/S Totally agree about the rolling hills :) I think people sign up thinking it’s like Top Of Utah. Net downhill doesn’t mean a total downhill course.

    • Aron November 9, 2011 at 8:37 am #

      Good call on Folsom!! I have never stayed at the start but that sounds so nice :) Maybe next time ;)

  11. shelby November 9, 2011 at 8:49 am #

    I pounced on this post when I saw it in my reader! I’m doing my first CIM (tenth marathon overall) this year and really hoping for a long-sought PR. Thanks for all of the tips and information!

  12. Nelly November 9, 2011 at 12:46 pm #

    Great tips! I wish I could run this race – I signed up back in April with hopes that my injury would allow be to train for a marathon, but I didn’t heal in time. While I’m on the right track towards healing now I think, I don’t think I could even think about doing a marathon until next fall I think.

  13. Kristin November 9, 2011 at 4:11 pm #

    Ahahaah! I cannot believe I’ve never done this marathon. If I do two more relays, and do the two legs I’ve never done before, I guess I can say I’ve done the whole course! But I’d really like to do the entire 26.2 on my own. Maybe next year! I like all your tips though :)

  14. Runner26 November 9, 2011 at 5:38 pm #

    This was great! I’m not doing cim but a very good friend of mine is (one of the sticks). I emailed her your post (hope that’s ok). If I were doing this race, I’d certainly appreciate this info!

  15. Meredith November 10, 2011 at 7:33 pm #

    Yay, thanks Aron! I’m running this race and quite excited (though very tired this week). I’ve been thinking about how to strategize, and this is helpful. Thanks :)

  16. Naomi November 10, 2011 at 8:19 pm #

    This is great! I can use all the help I can for this race. Thank you for writing and sharing your experiences!

  17. RoseRunner November 14, 2011 at 7:16 pm #

    Yes!!! Love this post — I was LITERALLY thinking today about how I would check out your blog to find out what your Garmin read during your 3 CIM’s. It is good to be mentally prepared if you usually clocked a 26.6…I’m glad to see it is pretty accurate!

    Wonderful advice. Do you happen to know the car drop off situation near the start? Jonathan and I booked a room in Folsom, two miles from the start. I guess I could walk there…but I was thinking it might be easy for him to drop me off.

    • Aron November 14, 2011 at 8:02 pm #

      I know a lot of people get dropped off, I personally never have so I don’t know the exact logistics (how far you have to walk, etc) but people do do it! I can ask around :) I heard it can get a little crowded, but I think they have a pretty good system of dropping off… I do know you can’t park at the drop off.

  18. Courtney (Pancakes and Postcards) November 20, 2011 at 1:41 pm #

    Cool post Aron! I think I’m running it… for fun… part of it with my mom. But these tips are super helpful! I am hoping to just have fun at my hometown race. And hopefully it doesn’t rain.

  19. crystal December 2, 2011 at 10:27 am #

    Hi there,
    I’m running my first marathon CIM this Sunday. I’m wondering, where are the best places for my husband and 2 year old to go to spectate? We live on the other/Folsom side of Fair Oaks.. so my husband has to get on the other side of FOB before 7am or wait until 8:40 to come out and see me.

    Any suggestions on what I should pack for the Post race?

    I hope to do many races after this! Your blog rocks.

    thanks, crystal

  20. Sesa December 9, 2011 at 6:29 pm #

    Hey Aron, thank you for writing this CIM Tips post. It was so helpful for me, and a few of the runners I know told me they also used it while strategizing for the race, ha ha. Thanks to you, I carried my own water bottle for half of the race, adjusted my goal pace for 26.3, not 26.2, miles, and had my family carry my gear check bag. I was also mindful of holding myself back during the downhill portions of the first few miles.

    Even though I didn’t make my goal time, everything else for my first marathon went along seamlessly, thanks in part to you! Love your blog, and I’ll refer to it when I sign up for other races. :)

  21. Sandy December 22, 2011 at 8:29 am #

    Thank you for posting this! I have never ran this marathon before and your information was extremely helpful!! I am seriously considering doing this marathon so you have helped me out so much! Have a great holiday!

  22. Paulette November 27, 2012 at 1:23 pm #

    This is fantastic – thank you SO much for sharing! This is my first CIM and 3rd marathon. My first 2 were pretty rough so I’m nervous, and tips help a ton.

  23. Lauren @ Sassy Molassy November 28, 2012 at 10:38 am #

    Someday I want to run this one! It always sounds like a great marathon and perfect time of year.

  24. Lizzie September 22, 2013 at 2:37 pm #

    Hi Aron,
    Are there any places to park at the finish line so that I can take the shuttle to the start and then drive back to my lodging? Thanks for the great info. Running my first CIM this year, 2013 and looking forward to it!

  25. Lizzie September 22, 2013 at 3:04 pm #

    Do you know if it’s possible to park around the finish line so that I can take a shuttle to the start and then have my own car to drive back to the place I’m staying? I’m pretty bold when it comes to “sneak parking” – as long as I won’t get towed.
    I’m running CIM this year (2013) for the first time and am really looking forward to it! Thanks for the great posts, Aron!

    As for tips to flat landers regarding hills for future reference (I’m fortunate to live in the mountains!) I find that there’s a hill of some sort in every town. Find one in yours or drive to one and train, train, train until you do hills with a smile! Don’t expect that great training routes come right out your back door! Being from Colorado, I easily drive an hour to get a flat speed session in.


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