Oops. Performance more grizzly than peak. Saturday 7th April 2012, Tilden Park, Berkeley
Coastal Trail’s Grizzly Peak marathon shirts are awesome. They have a bear going grrr on them. I’ve always wanted one and it was an adventure earning it. This is a gorgeous course. It is challenging with 5,700 ft elevation in the marathon but the route is brilliantly designed to help you get there and back alive. With a complexity of twists and turns and opportunities to play chicken (road crossings), the route ‘rollercoasters’ more than I expected from the elevation maps and mixes types of terrain so you are never bored, never slogging away at an unforgiving and endless mountainside, but mentally occupied and keen to see what is over a crest or around the corner. Above all the views are unbeatable from dramatic panoramas of San Francisco/The Golden Gate bridge and Marin to stunningly pretty hillside and beautiful deep dark glorious forest. When you get to the half way point your head is full of highlights to look forward to on your second loop – the finest praise you can give a repeating course.
Before this year’s race the female course record was 5 hrs 20 . We needed someone to to strike a blow for womankind by reducing the disparity between this and the mens record of 4hrs 10 . And hurrah for Maria Monks who smashed it down to 4 hrs 35. (Congrats also to speedy Chris Randall who moved our disparity goal posts setting a new male record at 3hrs 52). Second, third and forth ladies, myself, Lisa Hughey and Melanie Mecham also gave it a little dent with our times of 4hrs 42, 5hrs o1 and 5hrs 12 respectively.
I did not do anything to improve the fairer sex’s reputation for navigation. With not entirely uncharacteristic lousy luck (or as the race organizer Wendell would prefer me to phrase it sheer incompetence once again) I missed one liiiiiiittle super critical turn and helped myself to a spot of extra mileage and uppy bits. (See details of my race below- including advice on how not to run this marathon)
Top Ten observations
3) Wear shoes with good grip and tie them tight. Think – will this part company from me in thick mud? Don’t waste too much time picking a dry path through mud at the beginning. You are going in eventually.
4) The course IS very well marked – and doing so is a tough old job. However, I was not alone in messing up and the two danger spots appear to be around the aid station on the marathon return – just before it and just after it. Before it, you complete a glorious downhill to reach road and a parking bay. Ahead you see an uphill fire road. Don’t go up it. Your view may be obscured by parked cars/hikers milling around but you should see a fluttering of pink ribbon urging you to round the corner on the road to find the aid station. Then as you travel uphill after the aid station expect a sharp left, taking you off the main trail and onto singletrack. You may be distracted if there are a lot of runners coming downhill on your left or if you are an air head like me. NB: Although you have just passed a sign saying ‘Marathon Return’ don’t expect all the signs facing you on the return to say ‘return’.
5) Messing up is ok.
6) Don’t let messing up spoil your run.
7) The shirt has a growly bear on it and is awesome.
8) There isn’t a physical turn around feature like a cone at the start/finish line. Don’t waste time staggering around asking people where it is, just run away.
9) There are at least 26.01 miles of this route I followed flawlessly
10) I want to do it again.
Learn now not to run this marathon.
So I messed up at the second of the ‘danger spots’ mentioned above’. However, my cautionary tale involves more than just missing a turn. Read and weep/laugh/learn. So you pass an aid station bearing the joyous sign ‘marathon return’. Soon after there is a sharp left …I shot by this and proceeded up a challenging climb. The race is effectively a circle with some parts of the return sharing the outbound trail and others deviating from it – so it wasn’t a red flag that this was new ground. However, you should really look out for the confirmation pink ribbon which just says …yup you are on the correct path. I often do look out for these ..and rejoice when I see them …but I guess I let a lot of trail go without worrying about it because my mind was occupied with the climb. Also,although I am often running alone, here there was at least one runner coming up behind me. (rule # 1 never follow me. rule # 2 never assume anyone else knows what they are doing). Then I came to a fork in the path with coastal trail markings in both directions. mmmmmm. Effectively I had come to Gillespie Road. By sheer fluke I had come to a point where the trail I was on met a trail the actual route used both out and back – and I recognised it from the outbound trip. Just then two runners arrived coming downhill on the left fork. (These were the lead marathon/ultra men – overachievers who could both run fast AND follow directions)
Now for some truly rotten luck.
Looking back I guess when I posed the question ‘marathon return?’ they thought I was asking if that is what they were doing. ‘Yes’ they said this was marathon return and ‘yes’…to them an entirely separate point, thinking they were speaking to someone who was still crawling up the hill outbound on the marathon…yes we should now head up this hill. Let’s add a cherry to the cupcake now and have man who had been behind me catch up and – with the best intentions – completely erroneously recall there was an extra out and back bit on the marathon return so off we went up the hill in search of it. I thought it odd I hadn’t notice it on the map. If only I had realized at this point we could have turned around and headed straight back downhill to the Big Springs aid station relatively quickly. Instead I traveled up Gillespie Rd, over Vollmer Peak and was half way down Lupine when it became clear there was no extra out and back. And oh dear here were all the people that had been behind me in the marathon coming in the opposite direction. The man behind me vanished, he must have realized and turned around with them or jumped off the peak in horror at our mistake – but I pushed on to return to that aid station to be sure I knew what I was doing still. The nice lady calmed me down and sent me back for another go at finding my way back to the start.
Here’s the thing.Right up to the point where I messed up I was having a lovely time. And by the end I was having fun again.
It was a little sad when I realised the enormity of my mistake. Off my head went on a moaning and gnashing of teeth exercise (much along the lines of the bear on the race shirt) until my body joined in and started to fall apart too – my calves kept flashing those horrid little spasms threatening to cramp, my back was aching. It is amazing how the mental and physical work together (or besiege each other) in long distance running – especially when you are running alone. After a while the car insurance phrase ‘accident forgiveness’ popped into my mind. I stood still for a minute, literally slapped myself on the head and just thought I am going to be happy with where I am now. I’m here to have fun, enjoy the run. Also just appreciate this mistake is a long cut not a shortcut. Like many runners I have done the latter before (we all do it unintentionally of course) and have always said nothing is worse, so this is better. I must have looked nuts.
Then things brightened, I met two greyhounds who were so cute I stopped and patted them (awesome doggies always gives me a boost) and I happened to run by a couple of the nicest runners ever. The first, the wonderful Jim McCaffrey, was running bare chested with sweaty long hair streaming down his back. He was saying ‘hello, good morning, what a lovely day’ to everyone and greeted me warmly as I approached. He was infectiously buoyant. Later I told his partner he put me in mind of Jesus of Nazareth . She said he is always the same :0).
A little later I came across ‘Mr Moonlight’ (Chris Jones who was running with a shirt on about a moonlight race). He was such fun and so clearly appreciating just living in the moment he also lifted my spirits. I loved the rest of the run then and very much enjoyed the last few miles scampering downhill, sploshing in mud and keeping my eyes peeled for what was for many people the single most beautiful sight of the day….the toilets. Once you see them you are home.
After the race Mr Moonlight produced his dog Hoover who hoovered up a few snacks and posed for this photo as ‘first dog’ wearing my medal. As I write this Chris is running a half marathon. Not a man for tapering!
What will surprise people who know me is I was not the most accident prone person on the day. To my knowledge one person was bitten by a dog, Ms Carrie Martin appeared to have broken two fingers…ahhh they looked nasty, and – very much in a style I can relate to – Ms Melanie Mecham waited until she was at the half way turning around point, maximizing the size of her audience and selecting the only truly flat and completely safe surface on the course to twist her ankle. Melanie also had a bit of a slipsies on the navigation. Despite her injury she headed back out again to make up her mileage. We are pictured in the first photo together above, kindred spirits.
Thank you Coastal Trails!