Pacifica Foothills trail marathon, June 16th

Course map – of course!

I bade farewell to my husband at 6.30 am. I would be kissing a strange man at the top of Montara North Peak by eleven. The pre-marathon disaster this time was a knee problem. I dislocated my right knee c. 4 yrs ago. I’m gung-ho running through colds and stomach upsets but if my knee doesn’t give me permission – I don’t run. Imagine then how I laughed when a gentleman swung a heavy metal briefcase behind him on the Larkspur ferry and absolutely smashed my right patella from the side.  The knee that had survived 25 marathons without complaint now  ballooned.  The week before this race it was clear the only exercise I was going to have would be tossing  anti-inflammatories in the air and catching them in my mouth.

I am evangelical about how to strap knees for running. When recovering from my knee injury I experimented with every knee strap on the market – my knee specialist used to give me samples he had been sent to try out. Many are great for walking but absolutely none of them could stay in place during a long run, most of them move around and start squashing the patella instead of supporting it. The only solution I found was hand strapping using materials and a technique a physio showed me. I made a trip to the specialist medical supply shop in San Anselmo and got really good strapping stuff. You pull the patella to one side with three strips of waterproof tape then cover the lot with BSN Medical cover roll stretch adhesive tape. Any other materials get soggy and fall off. These ones survive a swimming pool and look better after a run than the rest of you.

The day before the race it suddenly felt ok again- but this was a hilly course  – well over 6,000 ft climb and I was absolutely prepared to drop out if the knee was at all uncomfortable. I had the knee strapped lightly and added a Cho Pat knee strap  – this just runs under your knee and helps the patella with tracking  http://www.cho-pat-store.com. I didn’t know how it would feel running and hadn’t been able to test that  – but unlike many knee devices it would take seconds to rip off and be easy to carry it if was a nasty mistake.

Knee strapped, looking silly but ready ..

And so I arrived at the San Pedro Valley park in Pacifica. I had run this marathon course before with Coastal Trails ( their Montara race is virtually the same) so I knew the race. This time the organiser was Inside Trail Racing http://www.insidetrail.com/, a relatively new company which is run by ‘the two Tims’.

(The local running world has been rather rocked by the demise of one running race company PCTR, the continued success of spin off competitor Coastal Trails and the rise of this one by ‘the two Tims’. Here is a blog that outlines the story – http://www.atrailrunnersblog.com/2011/12/delicate-fate-of-pacific-coast-trail.html)

The web site didn’t disclose details of entrants but I could see there wouldn’t be a huge field for any of the distances (50K, marathon, 30k, half marthon and 10K). Fine by me..less pressure on the restrooms and possibly less self enforced pressure on my patella. Everyone at check in was absolutely charming, I felt at home immediately and recognized a few names and faces among the entrants. These included ‘Mr X’  aka Pete Mingwah who I recognized from photos on FB posted by my certifiable  friend Chris Jones. His running is very different from mine, like Chris he runs at a steadier pace but does a lot more races and longer distances. His ambition is to run 52 marathons this year (they have  a week in which they run a marathon every day coming up this summer …aaarhh). His party trick is to spring into the air forming an X so I asked him to do one and I must say I was shocked at the speed, agility and height. I nearly chopped his head off in the photo as I was pointing the camera at the spot I thought he would occupy in the air.

Pete grounded

Someone who had not done this course before asked if it was very exposed as he was worried about he heat. I didn’t want to depress him so I replied ‘ it depends if you’re crawling or not’ . These words were to return to haunt me. Several others pummeled him with the grim truth. It is almost entirely exposed and it was going to be a HOT day..80sF.

Pete X

The race starts at the Old Trout picnic area. As former archaeologist I always love a bit of history. It is not named after Hamish’s ex but after a an ill fated trout farm operated by John Gay. It flourished until 1962 when destroyed by extensive flooding – you can still see some structures. The south of the area is still a seasonal water source for the town of Pacifica and the area is known for growing artichokes and pumpkins. The theme of water was to continue in today’s run.

One of the Tims waved us off  at 8.30am. Behind him a surprised family gathering was setting out a picnic. A striking balloon depicting a chocolate dipped strawberry bobbled in the air. If all went well I would pass that balloon 4 times. If not perhaps I could join them for lunch:0). The course was very much as I remembered. There are three hills. I named them before  The Face, the Pimple and the Zit. The Face is by far the largest, a 1,900 ft long jaunt through forest and then stone fire road to the top of Montara’s North Peak. You go up in forest on one trail then head up the mountain and back before returning to ground level on a different trail. I don’t know why I love it so much but I do, especially the top section. The views are spectacular and it is just a place to enjoy being.

Rather cool graphic (nothing to do with this race) shows the route up North Peak and gives you an idea of how cool the views are

You pass by the carpark and aid station before starting The Pimple- this is a fairly nondescript and to me just lightly annoying hill to get over – and then there is The Zit.. innocuousnessly named Hazelnut.  For some reason it just does not fit in with my running, it is worse than a steeper climb would be to me, it is an uncomfortable and featureless rumble around an uphill trail that has the audacity to force you through 19 switchbacks – the last 5 or 6 of which deliberately conspire to make you think they are  the final one causing tentative celebrations only to dash your hopes. My plan today was to try to ignore it as much as possible, pretend that I didn’t care how long it went on for while surreptitiously observing recognizable features so I would keep false celebrations to a minimum. Begrudgingly, I will admit that on account of being so awful Hazelnut does give you a moment of sheer delight when you DO  reach the top as it is a glorious protracted swoop for miles downhill,  interspersed only with  a gentle hurtle through pungent, shady Eucalyptus grove. It makes for a great finish. This is the end for half marthoners. Marathoners repeat the course.

Oddly enough the knee didn’t give me a moment’s concern during the entire run. Incredible.I absolutely could not have run on it at all three days ago. So lucky! But there was a big problem  – and that was the heat. I have never had such a tough race in my life. The first section up and down North Peak was good. It was warm but  I enjoyed the heat and I felt hydrated. I met up with a lovely lady called Anne Cottrell on the way up. She passed me and glided uphill with ease. I overtook her on the way back down and then we ran together for quite a while. The descent of North Peak can be very fast but I was cautious not to  hammer it on the first go for the sake of that knee …just incase ..so it was a very sensible and social time as we plummeted downhill talking. She had a lively sense of humour and we had a lot in common, it was a treat to have a like-minded companion. I appreciated it especially today as a wonderful person, Joanna Hawthorne, had just passed away in Northern Ireland after a long battle with a brain tumour and she was in my mind a good deal as I ran. Here were Anne and myself, both in our 40s, both with three children, both healthy, both enjoying meeting new people and exhilarated by our run (a run I couldn’t have attempted before the age of 39)   – the sense of personal challenge and accomplishment/appreciating the beauty of where we were/feeling alive. How unfair life is. How important it is not to take it for granted.

Joanna – who sadly passed away just before this race. She and her husband Corin were very much in my mind during this run.

Anne was doing the 30k  (around 19 miles) and, being great on the old uphill left me for good when we hit Hazelnut ( The Zit). I was delighted to see she kept up the charge and was first lady in that 30K with a time of 2.58. 12  – just 8 mins after the first man. The lady at the aid station old me she didn’t want to stop when she was done.  I look forward to being pulverized by her in a marathon one day!

There was only one aid station – and you reached it every six miles or so. The first time I reached it returning from North Peak I was certainly ready to refill my water bottle. The second time, coming down from Hazelnut I was REALLY thirsty. I refilled my bottle, drank a couple of little cups of coke and started up North Peak again  – but to my dismay hadn’t got very far when I discovered my bottle was already nearly empty. This has happened to me with dehydration before, you quench your thirst but it sort of pops back again. The liquid equivalent of being hungry after Chinese food. It was so hot and I had at least five miles of the North Peak circuit to run up and down – should I turn back to the aid station?  I couldn’t face that  –  it would add a good 20 mins to my time. When I got to the point where you meet the return trail I left my water bottle on a stump. With my hands free perhaps I could run up and down this thing a bit faster. People were really suffering in the heat, a guy running with me had two water bottles – and he was getting low already too.   They looked awkward to carry ( I can’t bear carrying two of them ) and I considered offering to carry one of his bottles for him as I had free hands but he might think I would expect payment in water.  On and on up the mountain, passing discarded clothing and one especially forlorn dehydrated lizard corpse. I tried to push the idea of water out of my head  – an unhelpful image of a surprise aid station at the top of the mountain kept springing up, a smiling lady offering  a jug of pink electrolyte drink…it was clinking with ice. What a joy it would be if I discovered some kindly soul had come across my water bottle at the  return spot and filled it with ice water as a little surprise for me!

I carry baby wet wipes with me and sometimes freshen my face and arms with them during a race. Today I wouldn’t risk that  – the sun was burning down on my skin  –  I would be really foolish to risk removing any sunblock that hadn’t slid off already. I still opened my pocket to considering they might be useful for something. If I squeezed them out just how horrible would it taste? No  – that was a non starter. I pulled one out to wipe my hands and  laughed out loud as it was so hot it was like a heated towel – how sophisticated.  Well I had a fresh clean paws now  – all the better to grip water with when I got to it.

The man with two water bottles slowed down and mumbled something disconcerting about not liking what his heart rate was doing but he looked ok so I passed him. Now I didn’t even have his water to look at.

Crawling up the last few miles of North Peak I started to feel quite dizzy. Soon I came across a couple who were hiking. The man had a large  water back pack and the lady’s  waist  was encircled with a water belt, featuring no less than  six pretty large bottles all still completely full of water. Feeling quite ashamed of myself but sensing a medical emergency, I tried to score some water. Yes I actually begged. “Excuse me..would you have any spare water?”.  They looked at me blankly.I had expected a sharp refusal from which I could run away, a lecture on my not carrying water which I could explain or …most likely a ‘delighted to help …what’s the race etc’ response. What I got was two unsmiling people who didn’t speak English. ‘What is washer…we do not know the word washer..what are you saying’?  The conversation was eating precious time and my attempts to point at the girl’s water failed to communicate anything beyond a mild cause for alarm. I think they were looking on the ground for a snake when I threw them a parched ‘never mind’ and lumbered on, really feeling a little shoddy for asking.  On I went. It was going to be at least another mile of uphill and then several downhill before I could drink. And then I met an angel……

I came to a group of three people hiking up the hill, they turned round as I approached and one of them immediately reached for the drinking nozzle of his water pack and offered it to me. Considering what I had just been through and how deeply unpleasant it would be for the average person to have a creature looking and smelling like me drink from something they would not have the opportunity to sterilize before needing to use again themselves,  interpreted it as a joke. My mind was full of how I could say ” actually I am quite mad with thirst would you mind …a little sip might stop me having a siezure’  and wondering just how odd that would sound. Perhaps I should faint and keep my mouth open in the hopes they might squish some water over my head to resuscitate me?  And I staggered on by them.

View from North Peak. Oohh water…

The guy who had gestured his water then asked if he could run with me. His friends were hiking a pace that was too slow for him and  he felt like a little burst of running. He immediately ran off at a hell of a pace, simultaneously asking how far the race was. As soon as I whimpered the word ‘marathon’  he dropped to my speed in a second, understanding that my current crawl was the topspeed of the moment.  It was a relief as it has happened to me in races before that people who are not racing have joined me, started chatting and I have found myself struggling to keep up with them in order to find out the end to an interesting story or avoid seeming rude.  Then he turned round and said ‘are you sure you don’t want some water’?  A heavenly chorus rang in my ears……………I hadn’t asked ………and I persisted in making sure he was sure ..and then I fell on that water. It was ice cold. Unbelievable. Quite the most magical moment. On we ran up the hill. He was just lovely, a young guy called Nick- in his twenties I guess. What a luxury to have my mind lifted by talking to him. I don’t remember much of the conversation – there was a lot of laughing and some stuff about his sister’s horse. I could tell he was just one of those thoroughly nice, caring, people. Without being asked he offered me more water two or three times as we climbed the last bit of hill and when we got to the turn around point we stopped. I’m not sure why, but on this course they don’t take you to the very summit of North Peak and despite his attractive water supply I didn’t want him to miss out on running to the top so I sent him off to do that. We stood together at the turn around and I thanked him again, and told him he was an angel. Rather than accept the praise he started wondering if I might also be  hungry because he also had some trail mix in his bag lol! I told him as nicely as possible that the very sight of that would make me throw up and cost me all the water I had acquired from our meeting. He then insisted I took  some more water before going back down and I accepted it gratefully  -laughing because it seemed so oddly intimate, like breast feeding. I told him he was an angel again,  kissed his cheek and turned to zoom downhill.  Minutes later I was thirsty again but the memory of that iced water and the great pleasure of meeting such a lovely person kept me going. I ran by his friends and yelled at them ‘your friend’s an angel’ and they smiled and waved …not looking especially surprised. I passed Mr two bottles on the way down and told him about my angel. I told him to say ‘hi Nick’ if they met too to freak him out.  This is an old running trick I enjoy playing on my Dad – asking a complete stranger to greet the person running behind you by name. It works best when you are 6,000 miles away from home and don’t  know anyone.

My two black big toes are feeling more comfy after some TLC from this man. he was very calm and polite but I think he may have needed a little lie down after tackling them.

By the time I got to my water bottle I was very seriously dehydrated again, sadly it was not filled with iced water and I plummeted down to ground level as fast as I could just waiting for that aid station. It seemed to take years …’come on where are you strawberry balloon?’…and there it was. I filled my bottle and drank it down straight, I filled the bottle again and began experimenting with the array of little drinks in cups on the table. I started wanting to giggle a lot and heard myself say ‘ mm my these are all delicious’ with an odd chuckle. It all seemed very funny to me at the time. I think it was euphoria.  I told the lady this was going to be my longest ever stop at an aid station and indeed it was. I knew I had to drink, wait for that thirst to hit me again and drink again. She suggested some  salt tablets which I took- I’ve never taken them before but it seemed sensible. I still had 6 miles to go. Off I ran. I was worried that I might have drunk too much but there were no swishing noises or cramps. As long as I didn’t fall over and land on my stomach and pop it, I’d be fine. Just then there was a noise behind me – a guy from the aid station was calling me back and pointing in the direction of North Peak. It turned out he thought I hadn’t done the second loop up there yet. There was a tiny, nasty  flicker of self doubt but then I assured him with confidence that I had done it twice already. When  I spoke to him later I added that I had been  prepared to knock him unconscious if I had to  rather than repeat it again today. It was impressive though that he chased after me. People manning aid stations aren’t always so clued in to what people are running – or indeed care so much if someone’s race get ruined by making that kind of mistake. I tackled The Pimple. Hot, hot, hot. How quickly my fresh water bottle emptied itself yet again! It was gone before I faced Hazelnut, The Zit,  for the last time. As I dragged myself along I was overtaken by two extremely fresh looking fast runners. It shook me  a little. Look at them..running along this as if it is a normal trail and not  Hazelnut! I couldn’t figure out what distance they were racing. How could they be so much faster than me but not be ahead of me before now if they were doing the marathon – it turned out they were unbelievably fast 50k runners. Leigh Schmitt who did the 50K in 4. 30.09 and Bret Rivers who did it in 4.30.44. The next person to finish the 50k was two hours behind them! I was also passed a while later by another man. As there were no photos with this event I coudn’t figure out who he was. I wondered if perhaps I was crawling on Hazelnut so badly that the entire marathon field was going to come storming by me. It was possible. I pushed myself as much as I could, arguing myself out of reverting to staggery walking instead of running, reminding myself that I am lucky to be able to try a challenge like this, pushing long term goals like water out of my head and hanging in there for the moment due any time now when I would  reach the top. And there it was. If I had had any moisture to burn I might have cried. Whooshing down I passed the last man who had passed me and kept going. That downhill took an awfully long time …………but soon the finish line glittered ahead ..and after it the aid station where  the guy who had chased me earlier kept the ice water flowing until I had downed three full bottles of the stuff . A hot day. A thirsty girl.

475 bottles of water and 26 miles later I drove home with all these goodies

The results were hilarious. Good news, I had come in first in the marathon with a time of  4.37.27.  However, there were only six people in the race – and none of them were women.  So I was first lady – and  last, lady most likely to become President, lady with best behaved children, cutest dog and sexiest elbows on he day . I’m so glad I didn’t know, it would have been far more difficult to keep going if  I known for sure I was racing against myself. I looked back at my result from the Montara marathon on the same course earlier in the year  – I did it in just over 4 hrs. My blog did say ‘we were rather lucky with the conditions, it was a perfect day  – I can imagine the course would take a great deal longer with extremes of wind, rain or heat’. lol A Tim gave me an exciting array of goodies  – a medal with a big Number One on it, a beer glass (nicked by husband…considering the kissing of strangers I’ll let it go) a cool water bottle that you can put Gu gel in and a really nice T shirt..lovely shape and material.  I hope this company keeps including the marathon distance in its races, I’d love to run with them again. Thank you Inside Trail and thank you my angel Nick. (Oh and thanks for 12 teriffic years of marriage Dear)

Marathon

Place Name City Bib No Age Gender Age Group Total Time
1 Penny Macphail San Anselmo CA 454 44 F 1 40-49 4:37:27.0
2 Scott Kunz Pacifica CA 452 30 M 1 30-39 4:55:08.7
3 Chris Eide Palo Alto CA 355 36 M 2 30-39 5:26:51.5
4 Ron Little Montara CA 453 41 M 1 40-49 5:28:34.3
5 J.R. Mintz Hercules CA 456 45 M 2 40-49 6:59:59.0
6 Peter Mingoa San Francisco CA 455 42 M 3 40-49 7:10:47.3
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