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Annual marathon attracts 14,000 runners to region

By: Matt Long, Folsom Lake Entertainer
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Every year on the first Sunday in December thousands of people descend on Folsom in the early morning hours. They don’t come to watch the sun rise, but instead are here for the start of the annual California International Marathon, the 26-mile, 385-yard run from Folsom to Sacramento. The inaugural event in 1983 drew 1,600 runners, but this year’s event, slated for Dec. 4, is scheduled to boast 14,000. According to the event’s founder, John Mansoor, it’s around the 12th-biggest marathon out of the 150 or so that are held in the United States. “In the late ’70s and early ’80s, I was a competitive runner hoping to qualify for the Olympic trials and I felt that the Sacramento/Folsom area could host an international event that would attract athletes from all over the world,” Mansoor said. “That was the reason I started it. I used to take training runs in Folsom and when I ran across the dam I could see the state capital and I thought it would be good to run from point to point, from the Folsom Dam to the state capital. It turned out to be a bit too long, though, so that’s why we start on Folsom-Auburn Road.” Mansoor, who is currently the race director of the CIM and the executive director of the Sacramento Running Association, which puts on the event, is proud that the event has grown over the years. “I’m happy about the growth for sure,” he said. “Running a marathon seems to be on a lot of people’s bucket lists, if you will, and I think that’s terrific. We’re at the point now where we have to manage our growth so we don’t diminish the quality of the event, so we keep the growth to a five to 10 percent increase each year.” The popularity of the CIM is predominately twofold; it’s a relatively downhill course with a drop in altitude of nearly 350 feet from start to finish and because of that, it’s a fast course. For the serious runner, it’s provides a great opportunity to qualify for the Boston Marathon, considered the biggest and best of all marathons. Mansoor said the CIM ranks in the top five of fastest marathons in the nation. “That exposure fuels our event; that’s our hook since we’re not a destination point like New York, San Francisco or Hawaii,” he said. “We also have very good weather most of the time, and runners like cooler temperatures so that’s why it’s held in December.” Other reasons for its popularity are the scenery and support, as Mansoor said the course, which has never changed, shows off the better side of the region. The course includes portions of Oak Avenue, Fair Oaks Boulevard and J Street. Denis Zilaff, the president of the Sacramento Running Association, knows the course very well. The 58-year-old Sacramento resident is one of 12 runners to compete in every CIM. “It’s just a terrific event,” Zilaff said. “The first part of the course is more rural and it’s just peaceful and you’re able to get your pace going. The second part of the course is through Fair Oaks, which features some rolling hills. Then the last six miles or so you get to East Sacramento and the crowds really start to grow. The streets are tree-lined and you have a nice canopy and the crowd support just pushes you through to the end. Downtown the crowds are huge and that really helps, especially for the first timer.” * * * California International Marathon When: 7 a.m., Dec. 4, 2011 Where: Folsom Auburn Road to the state capital Who: Around 14,000 participants Info: runcim.org