Cinderella Marathon 12th May 2012

Once upon a time I attempted this Cinderella marathon before. It was not a fairytale ending. I did not go to the ball.

Last time- the cautionary tale:

When two rather plump hikers with a large fluffy dog affably pulled themselves to one side of the forest path to let me pass, they unwittingly concealed a sharp left turn fork in the trail. I  shot up a  horrendously steep section (let’s hear it for the Starflower trail) and continued unaware I was in error until I hit pink  ribbon. The brief moment of joy at the confirmation I was still on track was followed by an awful recognition. This is the top of a long fire road hill. And I am supposed to be going up it later, not down it now. I made the best repairs I could, I tried to retrace my steps but couldn’t be sure which of a cluster of trails I had emerged from so  I ran all the way down the fire road and back up again. As a consolation prize I found my friend David Schoenberg at the bottom and was cheered by his laughter at my misfortune. The really embarrassing thing is that I missed that turn on the second loop of a repeating course. The first time around I had had adult supervision, I was with David. We ran to the finish together and in the race autopsy it was clear that I couldn’t have a  finisher’s medal as I hadn’t done the right course and I was low on overall mileage. But in my mind it counts as a honorary marathon. Garmin information is not completely accurate in deep forest, but the fact that mine reported 11,000 ft of climbing  rather than the expected 5,oooft may hold the clue to why my calf muscles were moving around by themselves that night.

Cinderella II

The  gentleman in grey shorts must have been pleased with these official photos of the start.

So back I came. Hello Cinders …we meet again. Following last weeks’ disastrous late start at the  Western Pacific Marathon in Fremont, I arrived ludicrously early and had time to stroll around sampling the delights of all the different restroom facilities. At the first, the portaloo (full marks, nice and clean) I met my neighbor Johnathon Sonett from San Anselmo who was also doing the marathon. At the second, the permanent toilet at the park (quite beyond belief…people were leaving their cell phones outside encase they dissolved in the fumes) I met Sham and Stephanie. Recuperating from the restrooms, we entertained ourselves making a smiley face out of  Stephanie’s leggings and water bottles (see pic).

Stephanie’s smiley faces

Not only was Stephanie was wearing what I call  ‘creepy feet’ (shoes that look like feet and offer minimal protection), she was actually considering leaving them behind and tackling the half marathon course in completely bare feet. She is a young  mother. Has she not  trodden on enough pieces of lego to know better?  She insisted it could be done. I know she completed the race but couldn’t see a finish photo to check her feet…I wonder.

At the start. ooh I  can see my neighbour John and my hat

My feet were also causing me concern. My shoes offered plenty of  support  – I like as much puff and gel as  possible between myself and mother earth – but they looked kinda freaky. I have strangely wide feet  (circular like an elephant’s), misshapen toes of inappropriate lengths (following three toe surgeries) and a bunion the size of New Jersey.  So I accept that I don’t get to pick shoes  by appearance.  However, my friend Charles from the Marin Running Company in San Anselmo had forced me to sink to new depths when he pulled the cash out of my hand and kicked me out of his shop with the only pair of shoes in the place that I could wear…and they were these Nikes,  completely monotone in a disturbing light  turquoise  –  a  color I have always loathed. Joking aside, Charles always goes to a great deal of trouble not just matching runners to shoes but helping them to make their relationship work with various tricks. This time he had the novel idea of leaving the bottom part of  my right shoe unlaced  – giving New Jersey wiggle room but keeping the ankle secure. It didn’t help with the colour but I have to say I bought these shoes the day before the race and my feet were so comfortable they thought they’d spent race morning in a spa. On that colour though,some runners were helping me in my quest to consider then light blue when it was pointed out that they looked like Cinderella’s glass slippers  – which made me laugh out loud. I wondered now if I would retain both of them for the duration of the run. I have failed to do so before in mud.

With Sham, resplendent in my glass slippers

The race started with lovely news  as Wendell the race organiser and his wife were celebrating the birth of their two week old  son. Then the start sounded and 50k, marathon and half marathon runners streamed into the forest.  It is an interesting start. As ususal on trail, you do need to get to the front if you are a competitve  runner as the path funnels down to single track fairly quickly and you don’t want to be trapped behind people slower than yourself. The immediate trail has some extremely steep sections but it is worth busting  lungs to get over them in a good position  as it soon  flattens out so there is plenty of time to recover your breath. And off you go on a glorious rollercoaster ride in deep redwood forest. Actually very like a fairytale…but definately the Grimms original version with a smattering of violence and suffering in it. During the first mile I was overtaken by a pretty blonde-haired lady in a blue top.  I later found out this was Andrea Warburton. I was pleased to have a lady to run with but she disappeared into the distance and I could see her darting through the trees ahead like a bluebird.  I knew better than to chase her. I have learned from experience to run at my own pace …my plan is to take it beyond comfort into one notch of suffering and keep it there with as little whimpering as possible. Many people are much better on uphill than me and though I have improved by watching the departing heels of ladies like Caren Spore on these very trails and then tried to emulate them in training (to do so properly would require surgical insertion of some form of motor) I know that if  I push myself to stick with  them early in a race  I am in danger of fizzling. Aren’t I Caren lol. I also had to remember I had raced last weekend too  – even more reason to just guard long term energy etc. So I plodded on waiting to hit a comfort level that never quite arrived. It is so beautiful, I wished I wasn’t so tired.

I saw  Bluebird again at the 8 mile aid station. This is where you emerge blinking from the delicious cool forest and face the ‘ant under a microscope’ feel of a three mile crawl uphill on fire road. I passed her at the turn around as she wasn’t carrying water and had to stop to drink etc. but it wasn’t long before she stormed by me on the hill. Shortly after it seemed  like every other runner in California did the same. I had eaten a gel already to prepare for  this hill but really faced a terrible lack of energy. I know the best way for me to  get up this kind of slope  is  little steps inching up on my toes but I found I could only do short bursts of those before resorting  to power-walking with long strides, then  regular walking when I tired of that. The little steps were also causing some mild cramping in my calves so I walked that off every time it twinged. I have had calf cramps later on in races recently but it was a tad grim to have them so soon. I was pleased I  had just invested in a pair of calf supports  in Charles’ shop and hoped they would work. So far they just made me feel very hot.

So Bluebird  was off on the horizon, it was oddly comforting to see her go,  it was clear this was going to be a survival effort not a race for me. I laughed to find myself sort of cheering her on..it’s not a great sign when even you are not rooting for yourself.  But I do like the ladies to perform well.  I forced myself to eat another gel  and chipped away slowly upwards. The vultures were circling in my head.

Once you are at the top of that hill there is some rolling up and down in the forest before you plunge back down to the start area. It is a terrific technical surge down in parts and I thought how wonderful it would feel to be doing that heading to the finish. So half marathoners stop here and marathoners and 50k runners repeat the loop. Until you get there you don’t know which course many runners are doing and I was alarmed to see Bluebird  dart into the finishing tunnel ahead of me. I lumbered passed and headed back up the trail. At this point I felt quite nauseous and dizzy. I genuinely wondered if I should call it a day. I had already eaten three gels now and still wasn’t feeling a foundation of energy. Perhaps my body wouldn’t cope, it certainly didn’t feel good. I decided to slow it down and see if I felt better by the first aid station.  Just then Bluebird  appeared looking all fresh – she was on the marathon but had just stopped at the aid station and had gone down the finish tunnel by mistake. That encouraged me. I  staggered up the steep bits behind her. Another runner (Nathan) came by and the two of them were ahead of me for a long time.  I could see glimpses of them through the trees  – always well ahead but not disappearing so I felt I had some company.

Nathan VanNortwick

Again I ate even more gel and waited for positive effects but it was like they were duds. I was really suffering and oddly my right thumb holding my water bottle had gone totally numb (never had that before) so I continued with a eerie sense that all was not good. I’ve never had a race where I spent so much time thinking about how tired I was, I just couldn’t get my mind on other things. I kept trying to squeeze the thought that 26.2 miles is a heck of a long way out of my head too. Not helpful. After a while I turned a corner and to my surprise came across Bluebird. We were starting the down hill section leading to the aid station and the base of THE hill and I went ahead, it made sense as I know I  tend to go fast downhill but I wasn’t expecting to catch up with her again. We had a friendly exchange, and both groaned about how tired we were feeling. I told her I was ‘on fumes’ and she said she felt the same but I doubted she did and wondered if she might soon stumble over my unconscious carcass and think …wow that girl really was on fumes. I told her she would get me on the hill and she told me I would get her back on the downhill after it. I doubted it. I was thinking of a rescue team removing me from that hill.

I then also passed Nathan on that downhill. As I did so I commented on how wet he was. I asked him if he had stopped for a swim somewhere. Looking back this may have been a little rude (sorry Nathan) as the guy was just sweating a lot, but I was  actually thinking he may have thrown water over himself at an aid station (I have done so myself before, sometimes deliberately, sometimes trying to drink the stuff).  I don’t think I’ve ever seen a  runner so drenched and you will probably need to be a runner on a hot day to understand how much that state is to be admired. My own body was clearly retaining all H2O for critical organs and of course the need to keep my incessantly streaming nose going strong. That thing needs a hose pipe ban!.

I  turned around at the aid station, filled up my water carrier with sports drink, considered eating everything there ..fingers hovering over bits of potato and banana …and rejecting it all (feeling a little rude to the hosts….sorry it all looks lovely its just that I would throw up if I ate any of the things you have so thoughtfully displayed here)  and I just knew gel was the only thing I could keep down. Good news, I’d snagged a raspberry one ….they are quite invigorating! I’ve never eaten so many gels in a race before, I was begining to lose count. (Normally I bring and eat three, I have my own little entertainment going wondering which of the three flavours it will be when I eat them …always secretly hoping for chocolate espresso.) I wondered if my calorie intake might exceed the output.  And I  headed towards the hill.

Now something inside me changed.  In a funny way I felt good about going up this hill on the second loop, because I remembered all too well the horrid feeling of running down it knowing I had gone wrong and was out of the race before. I thought of  David and made a note to email him after the race. He is injured this year as I was last year and I am looking forward to running with him in the fall. I smiled remembering  his horror when he understood where I had gone wrong. It had helped that someone was sorry for me. Gradually the  gels gathered together in my stomach and decided to get the party started. I pulled my hat down, put some music on and thought lets just chip away and see how much I can get done before Nathan and  Bluebird swoop by me.

The heat was absolutely intense by now and it was a tough old climb. It is a sneaky hill as it keeps saying: ‘well done, welcome to my summit….step forward to refresh your drink at the aid station round the corner ……..PSYCH!!! ..here’s a really steep bit  instead..ha ha haaaa’. I was surprised when I had been on the hill for a while that I hadn’t been overtaken. Three thoughts kept me going:

1) How I regretted mentioning Nathan swimming. I kept dreaming of jumping in a pool.

2) I wasn’t sure if I was drinking too much water or if I was dehydrated. I wasn’t thirsty but I kept wanting to drink. I had perhaps drunk too much too quickly as I kept getting flashes of a cold chill.

3) Should I  look back down the hill to see where they are? I was worried that as soon as they passed me I might find it more difficult to keep going as I suspected they would completely disappear out of view, so I was getting myself ready for it mentally. I was also wondering if by any chance they weren’t right on my shoulder  – but I knew that if I looked and saw that for sure it would also be more difficult to keep going. Some of those shady patches looked tempting for a bit of standing still. In the end I promised myself I could look if I got to a particular spot ahead and kept moving the spot when I got to it. I never looked back.

I got to the final aid station and fell on the sports drink. I actually filled the water carrier, ran off, stopped and drank half of it and ran back to fill up again. I was getting significant cold flashes down my arms and back now – I decided it was  just the effect of the sun and I needed to drink more.  I was now worried about the two behind me, I had noticed neither of them had hats or a water carrier and that hill was on fire. Still, they might be just round the corner……go back and save them or nip ahead….mmmm… so I headed off, actaully still not feeling great but so happy to be on the last and mainly downhill stretch.

When I got to the very last part I stopped and turned to look behind me. I thought I might  see  Bluebird and I didn’t want to run in just ahead of her, I thought we could finish together because  she had been a strong lead for most of the race and had really helped to keep me going, but there was no sign of anyone and I ran out of the forest into the clearing where the finishers tunnel lay ahead. An amazing feeling to have done it. I have honestly never been so close to quitting a race, I have never felt so bad and have a recovery late on (normally I feel steadily worse towards the end). How wonderful to challenge yourself  and come through. Nathan came in next, then Andrea and after her Rebecca. A great day for the ladies, we had all broken the female course record (held by Rebecca herself).  Nathan and I weren’t a million miles away from the male one either. It turned out that there was no-one in the marathon ahead of me (it has to be said it was an extremely small field compared to the half marathon runners, and of course many people were doing the longer 50K) but it was cool to find out  I was actually the overall marathon winner. I noticed in the results  there were some amazing older runners in there. How many of the four of  us running today would accomplish that? I felt about 70 yr old at times, one male finisher actually was…and not hanging about either.

With Nathan and his friends at the end. Thank you Jen for the photo!

Andrea, Rebecca and myself. Three ladies in the top four.

Name City

Bib No

Age

Age Group

Time

Pace

1

Penny Macphail San Anselmo CA

413

44

1 F 40-49

4:22:40

10:06/M

2

Nathan Vannortwick Oakland CA

427

26

1 M 20-29

4:27:55

10:18/M

3

Andrea Warburton Lodi CA

428

30

1 F 30-39

4:39:22

10:45/M

4

Rebecca Yi Fremont CA

432

37

2 F 30-39

4:40:14

10:47/M

I checked the results to see if my neighbour John had triumphed (he has battled with injury and had to pull out of a marathon recently which is gutting) and he certainly had.  I absolutely love his finishing photo.

John at finish – I love this picture, just says it all

As always in my life, a position of confidence and competence is never long lived…

I was having some trouble breathing and feeling dizzy at the finish and sat down at the Coastal Trails aid station picnic tables, threw my soaking hanky and salt rimmed hat on the bench and held my head down to my knees. There may have been saliva streaming out of my mouth too as I was feeling quite nauseous. Very gradually I became aware that I wasn’t in Kansas anymore. There had been a double booking on that picnic area and the Coastal Trails event area was now further down the meadow. I was surrounded by  ladies in their Sunday best who were smoothing linen table clothes out and setting up vases of flowers and fine china for a graduation ceremony.Fortunately one of them (an 80 year old) was a keen runner. She patted my back comfortingly while also firmly lifting me  up,  passing  me my hat with the very ends of the fingernails and pointing out where I should go.

Picnic tables at the start- I was a little slow to understand they were turning into a graduation party when I finished

So I located the actual Coastal Trails recovery area and caught up with some other runners.  Stephen Itano had done the Western Pacific Marathon last week too, and though he stuck at the Marathon he was attempting the 50K  (love it, another person who makes me look normal). Wendell did his little prize ceremony – and I strode away with two medals jangling around my neck  (finishing and overall winner)….a much jollier scene than the year I limped away with  none. As always, I wore all bling (medals) on the drive home and was feeling pretty good about my morning when I decided to slather some Icy Heat balm onto my back as it was aching. At the finish I was alarmed to find my  iphone  capable of  nothing other than displaying an orange temperature alert triangle (it recovered after a while thank goodness). Perhaps a more intelligent person less caught up in the glory of finishing a marathon might have wondered what effect extreme temperature might have on Icy Heat balm. I held the pot between my thighs and unscrewed the lid with one hand while driving away from the park. My intention was then to scoop the thick balm out with my fingers and smear it on my back. What a surprise it was to have liquid Icy Heat slosh out of the jar like water and completely drench my lap…immediately turning solid again on contact with my body. So here we have little Miss Two Medals, breathlessly concentrating on the road,  genitals on fire, covered in glutenous wax. I decided not to stop for coffee on the way home. Thanks for another memorable day Coastal Trails http://www.coastaltrailruns.com

Sadly these runners turned back into a dog and a horse just inches before they reached the finish

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8 responses to “Cinderella Marathon 12th May 2012

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