Monthly Archives: August 2012

Cinderella Marathon, 18th Aug, 2012

Husband Hamish and friend Dave being sensible

Buttons made my day. Prince Charming  disappeared on me.

A tough week for my liver. Gorgeous UK friends Dave, Penny and family blessed us with a visit. And it was the last week of our kids’ summer holiday- time to spoil the darlings to assuage  guilt over my joy I will soon be free to run while they are detained at school.

It had been a long summer for Mummy Macphail

I focused on partying and trying to get them all to emigrate to America – and very  little running  occurred. So I called it a taper and reported for my second Coastal Trails marathon in a week, ready to atone for sloth, gluttony and wine consumption – and a little lighter thanks to the chunk missing from my left knee. Last seen before I knelt on a  Champagne flute in the hot tub. (Yes the left knee AGAIN!).

Hideousnessification of shoe. I hate turquoise.

Bizarrely, I was running this Cinderella marathon once again wearing ‘glass slippers’. The last three times I have bought running shoes the only ones that fit to the satisfaction of my huge, cantankerous bunion are monotone turquoise. This time I drove to a new store and was excited to learn they DID have size elephant in a wide fitting in an attractive shoe with pink and green on it. I tried them on. Sigh. “I think you’ll find you have something in monotone turquoise that is more comfortable”. They rummaged in the back and found some. It was lovely to hear my children laughing together.

To me this is one of Coastal Trail’s toughest courses. http://www.coastaltrailruns.com/cin_smmr_cinderella.html Its medium  elevation (the marathon climbs just 4, 740 ft) is deceptively do-able, and much of it is  shaded in Oakland’s lovely Joaquin Miller Park.  But then there is this one eyeball-popping hill ‘West Ridge’ which starts at mile 8 and outstays its welcome for around three miles. And marathon and 50k runners claw up it twice!  On hot days like this you’d  need to be a snake to enjoy how exposed it is.

Soon after the start I encountered lively spirit Anna Zeilaski. She was doing the 50K but was steaming along with me (doing the marathon  – which is 5 miles shorter) and even flew ahead pursuing some of those cheeky  half marathoners. Was she was an awesome runner or an inexperienced one?  Sporting instincts wanted a lady to kick ass… but motherly instincts worried …I’ve seen many runners start like Tigger and end like Eeyore. I minded my own but mentioned that her pace was awfully fast  for the 50k a few times every now and then.

After a while she did settle to a pace behind mine. I wished her well and missed  her company, she was infectiously smiling and bouncy.

The forest  trail lives up to its fairy tale name.  It isn’t a tame roller coaster type single track here though. The ups and downs can be long and I fear I irritated a few runners by doing my usual of blustering by them on the down and presenting an obstacle to be passed on the ups. Must learn to run uphill faster! Eventually my down work exceeded the ups of the gang I was coinciding with and I was alone for a stretch.

There is an advantage in knowing the course here for two reasons.

First of all,  I  recognized  I was on the final descent out of forest and around 5 mins away from ‘The West Ridge Experience’.  Time to dine. Fuel up.  A lesson from her majesty, running royalty Speedy Crosby-Helms- you want that stuff in you about 5 mins before a nasty hill. And this is quite the nastiest hill I know.

Secondly, I know this is pretty steep single track but you pop out onto fire road at the bottom, so you don’t need to be cautious about gathering too much momentum. I shot out of forest with an involuntary whoop of exhilaration  – you really can go fast there! – and found myself in sudden close proximity to  four startled  eyes and two gaping mouths. Two older gentlemen had been strolling along the fire road. I shouted : “catch me!” as a joke and swerved to avoid them and …. it was very cute….four little arms shot up in the air encase I really needed stopping. I do love that kind of  little exchange during races. Americans are so very uniformly supportive and friendly, they could easily have been annoyed.

Stephanie Queren..speedy on the 30K
On the way towards the Fish Ladder station I saw two very fit, strong looking ladies positively hammering it back towards the hill. They appeared to be locked in mortal combat so I checked the results to see who had won- but one was doing the half marathon and the other the 30K ..I wonder if they knew that :0) They both set female course records.  I raised a hand to high five them and they shot by without interest. A little embarrassing lol (still, contact at that speed might break an arm )

Mr Shoenberg …coming to a marathon near you this fall

And  – THE hill arrived. I did my best, remembering facing it on different race days and casting my mind back to race acquaintances especially David Shoenberg and Andrea Warburton (aka Bluebird) both of whom I knew were temporarily unable to run marathons today – David recovering from injury and building mileage up gradually with a steely patience and calm I will never  possess,  Andrea sentenced with disgust to the swimming pool in the late stages of pregnancy. I wished them both well. I hope they have the decency to pretend to be out of breath when they glide uphill by me here  in the future.

Shortly after getting to the final, actual, no psych, definite top of  the West Ridge climb runners stream downhill to the Moon Gate aid station – which you also pass near mile 3. Here was the  Buttons of my Cinderella marathon.  I don’t know his name but he was wearing a Coastal Trails Grizzly Peak shirt so is clearly a runner himself . He was THE perfect aid station helper. I passed that station four times  – every time he was alert and looking out for runners in every direction ….he saw me approach ( I had unscrewed the top of my water bottle ready for a fast refill). He took the trouble to shout at me to find out it I wanted water or electrolyte mix in the bottle,  selected the one I needed and was tipping it toward my bottle as I reached him. As it filled he gave  clear, brief details on mileage to the next aid station and asked if I needed anything else all with a sense of urgency that reflected how I felt. When I did need a gel he pointed to them clearly so I could find them quickly. It doesn’t help when well  people do more –  if they hand you one it might be  a flavour you can’t stomach, if they start listing flavours like  restaurant specials it burns time.  It was like a formula 1 pitstop – and all topped off with smiles and words of encouragement. He should hold aid station classes.

As I looped the start/finish which marks the halfway point and headed up into the forest again I encountered Andrew O’Connor. He had been ahead of me but had spent 2 minutes refreshing at the aid station there (some people like to change their shoes and stuff when they get the chance to leave a bag and revisit it like this. It amused me that he was so specific with the amount of time it had taken). I felt very sluggish at this point – just as I had the last time I did this race. Then I was  motivated by chatting to  Andrea Warburton then watching her flitting between the trees ahead of me  – her blue top reminding me of a bluebird. Andrew was inconsiderately only  wearing black shorts so he was more tricky to spot but I strived to keep him in view for a few miles. Later, I told a lady it had been exciting chasing a half naked man through the forest. It was his mother.  Oops.

By the time I lost sight of him I was feeling fresher again and was not lonely for long before Danny arrived at my shoulder. I decided he was the Prince Charming of the day as he approached  in a distinctively  gentlemanly manner- he  actually ASKED  if he could run with me for a while. How nicely put and thoughtful.  No-one would answer “no” – but it gave me the opportunity to be clear I welcomed company (as I did) or subtly indicate I would prefer staying in my  zone/not talking.  Had I not been overtly welcoming I am sure he would have put a spurt on and run ahead then settled back to his pace. I liked him. We chatted away, running comfortably at a good pace until we came to that steep downhill leading to the fire road and the  Fish Ladder aid station. I was not able to wow him with my insider knowledge of this being a good time to fuel up before the hill etc as he was a master Garmin user/map genious. Although he wasn’t familiar with the race, he had this point and all sorts of other key points plumbed into his device. How you do that I have NO idea. Either my Garmin is an inferior model or I owe it an apology for underestimating its capabilities.

Danny didn’t share my glee at reaching this point though. To my surprise he said legs had completely gone for downhill. I didn’t realize how serious he was  until I flew off down the hill alone. I did the Fish Ladder  aid station thing, doubled back towards the hill and was surprised how far back he was. But he looked great and I said I’d see him on the hill  – which I did. He caught up with me easily. It was amazing  – his legs really were rock solid on hill but shot for downs. He passed me but stayed in view and I was grateful to have a friendly back to focus on  for miles. There was a nice moment when  I encouraged a  bunch of giggly Chinese lady hikers to heckle him for showing off  at one point.  He waved back down the hill and we could hear him protesting.

Indian lady I helped, listed as ‘unknown runner’. She certainly made a full recovery here she is completing the half marathon..good for her!!

That West Ridge was getting very hot by now. I reached an Indian lady doing the half marathon who seemed to be really suffering from dehydration and exposure. I gave her the little water I had left, grateful for the chance  to do for someone else what a stranger did for me during the Pacifica Foothills marathon.  Now I started dreaming of Buttons shouting  of  ‘water or electrolyte’ at the Moon Gate.

I caught up with Danny. I had forgotten his issue with downs but clearly his legs hadn’t. He said ” Kill it sister” and I ran off laughing, thinking he would be right behind me, again not fully appreciating the extent of his discomfort. Buttons was his wonderful self and oh my goodness did that ice cold water taste like heaven. Such a happy moment, thirst gone, water in hand and off you go for just  1.7 miles of shady, predominantly downhill forest trail.

The last time I did this race, I paused to see if Bluebird might be there so we could finish together. Today I turned to check if Danny was there  – but he wasn’t. Both of these people helped me get through tough times on the course and both had been well ahead of me  for long stretches. I wasn’t going to  dash to the finish just ahead of them.

With Andrew O’Connor, second and semi naked man

I finished and finally caught up with Andrew (the  half naked man I had been chasing) He was stretched out on the grass surrounded by fans- one of whom took this photo of us. He had been second overall in the marathon, a full 5 minutes ahead of me ….that would be why I couldn’t see him. I was third with a time of 4 hours 6 mins and an average pace of 9.30/m. (This was  also a female course record…perhaps those speedy ladies  would have high fived me now had they not gone home over an hour ago).

Danny- Prince Charming- kill it brother!
I began to worry when Danny didn’t appear. I pestered the race organizers to find out what had happened to him but  had to leave without knowing. When the results came through I saw it had taken him c. an hour to cover those last 3 miles..before which point he was ahead of me. I  guessed he walked, probably in considerable discomfort  – he could easily have dropped out at Moon Gate. Brave with a dash of insanity. Well done Prince Charming. The people that inspire me most and I remember most take part with that kind of spirit.

When Wendell handed out awards we  met  Dominick Layfield who won the marathon in 3hrs 54.37. Not only did he put us in the shade with his speed, he proceeded to  outclass us by waving away  his second medal (one for being a marathon finisher and one for being first man), saying one was quite enough for any marathon.  I tightened my grip on both of mine, ran to my car and drove all the way home wearing them with with pride.

Thank you Coastal Trails, thank you Buttons!

With Christina Dietz. 2nd marathon lady, 1st in age group. ( It is a looooooooong time since I was in that age group!). Her family and I were so proud of her, great time on a toughie for her first trail marathon. The next day she was off to college to study psychology. Maybe she will figure out what is wrong with us…why do we keep running marathon

AND FINALLY

And here is my Cinderella of the day. Anna – the lady who I worried had started the 50K too fast. Boy did she go to the ball. She was overall winner of the 50k and now holds the female course record of 5.29.55! Strange thing – doesn’t she look like the 30k winner Stephanie Queren?

Marathon

Place

Name City

Bib No

Age

Age Group

Time

Pace

1

Dominick Layfield Park City UT

423

40

1 M 40-49

3:54:37

9:01/M

2

Andrew OConnor Eureka CA

430

28

1 M 20-29

4:01:03

9:16/M

3

Penny Macphail San Anselmo CA

425

44

1 F 40-49

4:06:53

9:30/M

4

Christopher Bair Oakland CA

402

29

2 M 20-29

4:25:02

10:12/M

5

Maxime Petazzoni Sunnyvale CA

431

25

3 M 20-29

4:25:35

10:13/M

6

Matthew Zaragoza-Watkins Davis CA

440

28

4 M 20-29

4:29:29

10:22/M

7

Steven Hofmeyr Oakland CA

419

44

2 M 40-49

4:29:44

10:22/M

8

Christina Dietz Tustin CA

409

21

1 F 20-29

4:36:36

10:38/M

9

Joshua Bergstrom Oakland CA

403

37

1 M 30-39

4:51:28

11:13/M

10

Natalie Martineau Vacaville CA

426

19

1 F 13-19

5:02:53

11:39/M

11

Daniel Zielaski Missoula MT

441

28

5 M 20-29

5:11:09

11:58/M

12

Michaela Burgess Citrus Heights CA

404

32

1 F 30-39

5:17:25

12:13/M

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Crystal Springs Marathon, 11th Aug 2012

Firmly clasping Ms Devon Crosby Speedtastic Helms

Such a happy little race. Despite a death threat, a live, laugh, love kinda morning.

A treat today. I rarely know people at these races but today Huddart Park glittered with cronies. Towering above me was running royalty Ms Devon Crosby Helms (aka Speedy)   – the blurry thing that shot by me  on her way to win the San Francisco Marathon two weeks ago. My race strategy was to surreptitiously grab hold of Speedy and drag along behind her (concealed in the dust cloud as she torched the trail). You can see me  just closing that grip on her at the start in this photo. Also present were various members of the certifiable ‘Stamina on Toast’ gang, Chris Jones (aka Mr Moonlight) and his cohorts  Pete Mingwah and Janeth Siva. I am pondlife compared to these lunatics in terms of mileage. They had come to play with marathons and 50ks by way of tapering into a 100 mile race, Run De Vous the next weekend. The cherry on the cake was a new acqaintance, race organizers Wendell and his wife had brought along their ridiculously beautiful new baby. How sappy am I? As I was finishing the race I found myself hoping that baby would still be there just so I could have another peek at him. SO gorgeous. (Note to self  – remember the pain of childbirth!)

Pleeeease can we bring Pumpkin?

Injury -wise? The ‘in the soup’ of the day was yet again my left knee. I’d spent the week  camping by myself with three children and a dog.  Let me just add the dog  suffered from diarrhea in the tent one night. So it would not be fair to say I done nothing all week   – but I hadn’t done much running. This pleased my left knee, recent pain eased and we were set for a strap and worry free race. However,  my son gave the car door a jolly good slam to capture a pile of billowing sleeping bags…and watched his mother sink to the ground clasping her left knee, shrilling obscenities. Knee had a car door shaped bruise on one side and a car interior shaped bruise on the other. In the middle there was some disturbing puffy stuff. Today I pulled on my calf support sleeves and observed knee ‘muffin top’. I consulted Mr Mingwah who would doubtless run had his leg been removed at the shin by a shark  – and he thought it needed strapping. I attempted to do so but it was all a bit strange. Normally I strap to stop the puffing. This ship had sailed. Had it been sore I really would not have run but it was just bobbly. I strapped it up and hoped for the best.

Pete after his relaxing 50K

Before we left Miss Rebecca Yi approached and shook me warmly by the throat, issuing a death threat if I beat her in today’s race. Gulp.

We do have  rather unfortunate history. Last year when I couldn’t run (due to torn discs in my back) Rebecca ran many of these marathons (often in pretty grim conditions) and set course records. This year she has returned running faster and beating her own course records but having me juuuuust ahead of her to spoil things. She has been very sporting about it but needed to clarify her limits as she was running a shorter distance than me  today (the 22mile race rather than the 26.2 mile marathon). Beating her would be unpardonable (and fortunately impossible) – but the message was clear. I tugged her pony tail jovially, pretending not to be scared. After that there was just a brief time for everyone to laugh at Chris’ strange new beard before we were off.  (This beard gives  me flashbacks to dealing with members of the Victorian Military Society during my days in PR at the National Army Museum in London. Elite members do NOT require false beards during  reenactments).

Chris with Nancy at finish, torch ‘im sister!

Good Morning Huddart Park. This sparkly skull denim hat belongs to my son but was all I could find stumbling around in the dark before leaving the house. I fear the dog may have taken my lucky marathon hat for a traumatic jaunt in the garden. It was not intended for extreme sweat and I left with a slightly blue head.

As planned, I clung on to Devon for dear life and was scuffed along the forest floor at her feet for the first mile or so chatting about bakeries and weddings until I fell off on a sharp turn. Devon had not realised there was a hill on this section :0) and glided out of view like a gazelle ice skating. I wheezed uphill  a tad slower. After a while it was clear  pollen or whatever in the forest was having a  laugh at my expense.  Both eyes filled up with water making my contact lenses float around. Nasty when you are speeding over roots and stones, I tried squeezing my eyes shut then wiping the  water. It  worked on the right eye.  I ran cyclops-style for a bit, gingerly opening the left eye now and then to see how it was doing. The lens was still doing a Micheal Phelps. I know from experience not to wipe the actual eye  with a hanky as it can make the lens fall out. So I did, and it did. Horrid feeling. Stopped dead at the beginning of a marathon when you are not even benefiting from a rest, trying to breathe calmly so you don’t puff the lens off your finger as you try to shove it back in your eye. All the time little figures nip by you on the trail.  To add insult to injury my knee strap was already dangling off. This is outrageous as I am awesome at strapping and have all sorts of exciting waterproof materials to construct fortifications with. But the thing was just too darn puffy. Still not sore though. I ripped it off, improved my cleavage by stuffing it down my top and forgot about it. My eyes remained a problem for the rest of the race, good in a way as it occupied me mentally. I wobbled over on my ankle a few times and lost the lens in the right eye a little later on too but coped. There is always something to cope with!

I love this marathon course. It looks a bit like a dumbell. Two circles with a straight line between them. You go uphill to form one side of the first circle, do the straight and if you are doing the marathon you complete another circle at the end before returning along the straight bit and reaching the finish by completing the other side of the first circle. 50K runners do an extended version of the second circle, 22milers turn around at the end of the straight and get a matchstick instead of a dumbell.

Distance Elevation Gain Single Track Dirt Road Asphalt
5mi 710′ 48% 40% 12%
11 mi 1,890′ 73% 22% 5%
22 mi 2,990′ 87% 11% 2%
Marathon 3,790′ 72% 26% 2%
50 Km 4,530′ 72% 26% 2%

Devon at finish. Right a couple of hours to burn and I’ll meet up with Penny

Everything went well  – the forest is exquisite. The straight bit made me nervous as it wasn’t marked (as there is only one path and you can;t go wrong) and I ran most of it alone. My legendary navigational goof up abilities render me vulnerable to moments of self doubt. I would have liked some  ‘yes you’re on the right track/we love you’ tapes.  Finally, I approached the aid station at end of the straight, knew I was in the right place,  greeted  22mile runners on the return with Crusoe-like enthusiasm. Surprisingly,  Speedy appeared.  Had she done the 50k loop already? Or maybe just the marathon loop? Was that possible? Proper runners will and do laugh at my bubble headed approach to running. To me, without a firm grip on mileage or time it was just possible that Devon had turbot charged it  (she is one of the fastest runners in America!) or  that I had been really dawdling..that can happen when you run long sections alone..or a combination of both. But it turned out that she had decided to turn around and do the 22 miler. It was very hot and the 50k loop is exposed. She had run 24 miles the day before, was feeling tired and decided it wasn’t right for her body today. Yes that rare creature does exist … a sensible runner. She has to focus on do what is right for the big grown up races she does. It hit me (correctly) as she slipped away that she could have done the less frazzling marathon loop but didn’t want to take away what might be a win for me. In running terms this would be taking candy from a baby. I was kicking myself for not encouraging her to play marathon with me when an icy chill flashed my spine. Devon  would now be taking candy from a different baby…a baby running 22miles…….would Rebecca Yi consider this assassination-worthy by proxy?

Rebecca Yi – bringing a whole new meaning to ‘killing it’ in a race :0)

The marathon loop is rather lovely. The best courses have clear sections.  It is nice to feel high, a little more exposed. The  first half of the four mile circle is pretty much spent plummeting downhill : ‘Relax and enjoy it’  –  you say to yourself – ‘don’t bother your little head with the harsh reality that what  goes down must come up’.  And oh joy I got my eyes back – whatever lurked in the dark body of the  forest didn’t bother me here. Then you crawl up the ‘ harsh reality’  straining to hear the musical laughter of people at the aid station signalling  you’ve completed the loop.

Me at finish (see trail of injured children in background)

I ran home pretty much alone. There is a super nasty shoot down a fire road at the end. It goes on for years and is miserably ugly compared to the forest. And then….oddly…. you pop out at speed in a children’s playground, behind which you can see the finish tunnel. The chance to wipe out/terrify small children is certainly a fun bonus and in my book definately makes this the most entertaining Coastal Trails  race finish to spectate. I especially warm to the way inwhich  runners tend to come through sporadically. There is often just enough time for one distraught child to be lead away and  a new, unaware family to take position before the next sweating, gasping , goggled eyed monster crashes through the trees. It is also pertinent to note that many people running are themselves parents or fond of children. And yet…how few of us make good choices when facing a split second decision here.  1) Swerve a few inches to ensure the happiness and safety of  a toddler staggering to a play structure OR  2) Thundering straight at it bellowing “MOVE!” in order to make an absolute beeline to the lights, lentil soup and medals of the finish and save a nanosecond on your time.

Devon had changed, done a weekly shop, built a sand castle in Half Moon Bay and was waiting in the shade to greet the mortals.  Rebecca spared my life. My knee was a little sore but signifiacantly less swollen than it had been at the start!! (ie running is good for you).  And once in the open air I found myself crying and winking at people less and less.  A bunch of us had a lovely time just chilling on the grass, chatting about Udo’s oil (which everyone but me seems to be consuming) before heading home. Who is Udo?

My time was 3.53.32 and I was first overall ……..thanks to Devon :0)  I did the same race in January with a time of 3.39.25 though mmm. Age may be getting to me. Hilariously … and only momentarily as there are many many runners who would annihilate me…..I hold the female course record for both the January and August events.  I must say it was a pretty comfortable run. I didn’t get to the point where I promised myself never to run a marathon again (which I often do around mile 18) and I didn’t have to choke back tears or vomit near the end ..so perhaps I should be pushing myself a bit more.  Still  – heat and sporadic blindness does make quite a difference.

What a fun day. Thank you Coastal Trails and runners http://www.coastaltrailruns.com/cs_smmr_crystal_springs.html

PS the baby was still there. I was hoping I had won him but they said no :0(

Nancy, self, Speedy and a gentleman from the Victorian Military Society.

Still laughing at Chris’ beard at the end :0)

 

Marathon

Place

Name City

Bib No

Age

Age Group

Time

Pace

1

Penny Macphail San Anselmo CA

878

44

1 F 40-49

3:53:32

8:51/M

2

Ahmed Hassan Palo Alto CA

871

33

1 M 30-39

4:02:36

9:11/M

3

Elizabeth Weil Portola Valley CA

890

30

1 F 30-39

4:03:46

9:14/M

4

Georgia Young San Francisco CA

593

35

2 F 30-39

4:20:10

9:51/M

5

Chris Jones San Francisco CA

874

40

1 M 40-49

4:20:10

9:51/M

22 mi

Place

Name City

Bib No

Age

Age Group

Time

Pace

1

Sean Handel Moss Beach CA

127

41

1 M 40-49

2:58:55

8:08/M

2

Devon Crosby-Helms San Francisco CA

559

30

1 F 30-39

3:04:27

8:23/M

3

Daniel Nahrwold San Francisco CA

365

33

1 M 30-39

3:07:08

8:30/M

4

Ruben Espinoza San Jose CA

275

26

1 M 20-29

3:16:25

8:56/M

5

Kristi Rossi Burlingame CA

335

44

1 F 40-49

3:36:36

9:51/M

6

Clarence Butz Berkeley CA

238

52

1 M 50-59

3:37:38

9:54/M

7

Rebecca Yi Fremont CA

364

37

2 F 30-39

3:38:39

9:56/M


San Francisco Marathon, July 29th

Fastest chicken on the day  – give it up for Ken …as seen in the San Francisco Chronicle

So..4am found me snoring on the floor of a meeting room in Bite Communications’ San Francisco Office (where my husband Hamish earns a crust). The night before,  San Francisco’s hotels were stuffed to bursting and the city was dotted with little figures like me,  tugging sleeping bags into shops and offices. It is the largest marathon in Northern California and the 13th largest in the US – and few of the 25,000 marathoners wanted to travel far on race morning – it is a 5.30am start. This is because …very cool…it is the only event where runners get to cross the Golden Gate Bridge on the actual roady bit. The race is always on a Sunday, the first runners hit bridge around 6am and the last is off around 9am so the traffic can cope. It was especially cool this year as it is the bridge’s 75th anniversary.

I was not alone, I was accompanied by my rubber chicken, Ken – named after my Dad, whose genes render me susceptible to running marathons. Friends, family, neighbours etc were sponsoring me to wear him during the race to raise money for the San Francisco/Marin food banks (and for  local foodbanks in England, Ireland and Norway). No-one was terribly excited to see if I completed the race as they knew they’d never see their money again anyway….but adrenalin was pumping around the world to see which of these kind souls would be rewarded by wining rubber chicken of their very own in a glittering prize draw after the event.

Ken admires the view before his early night

I jumped up to turn off my wake up call from Snoozster.com (check it out if you don’t know it ..it is wonderful. The calls are made by a range of characters and are so unbelievably cheesy they are sure to make the grumpiest half unconscious person groan/laugh). It was dark outside but you could already hear noises from the race start…literally a 5 min walk from this office. How exciting. I just had one problem. Of all the important decisions made in that meeting room over the years, this must have been one of the strangest. I had to decide whether or not to wear my two big toe nails.

Blog chums will recall these blackened and threatened to part from the rest of me months ago.  A week or so ago they made a bid for freedom but on the advice of toe nail guru, my scarily tough soccer whizz friend Teena, I had strapped them down to protect the growing nail. My daily routine included lifting the nails off like little lids  – cleaning and disinfecting the hideousness beneath – and popping the chaps  back on. It had really worked like a charm, I lost no training time, suffered very little discomfort (unless kids/dogs jumped on them…which isn’t as infrequent as you might imagine) and was planning to run like this today. But as I stood up both toes were throbbing like crazy. It felt like they were infected. But on closer examination it seemed they had both just got to the point where they were rejecting the nail. I’d like to consult Teena but it is 4.15am on a Sunday. I’ve  not tried running in them without nails. You never want to race doing something different. Would the shoes rub on the fragile nail growth? It might be agony. Would some bandaging protect them or push down on them? Urgh. How ridiculous. Certainly I couldn’t run like this, I unpackaged the little rebels and gingerly returned the socks then attempted shoes….quite a moment of truth…..this really could stop me running today….it seemed was ok.  I ran around the office with bated breath, bandages on..off..on… and decided to run with them off. How weird. Drama over for now but I was really worried it was going to be a problem mid race. Well never mind. What else could I do but have a go. You wonder what other little personal dramas were going on in hotel rooms and office floors all over the city. To cheer myself up I wondered too how many soundly sleeping figures would snooze through that early start. At least I hadn’t fallen at quite the first hurdle.

Out on the street de-clawed, stuffed full of raisin porridge and a little later than intended at 5.15am, I navigated the signs showing you where to start depending on the number on your bib. (I had estimated  3 hours 15 minutes. It is a road race but not the fastest as there are a fair few hills. It was maybe ambitious but I erred on the side of boastypants in order to get a nice starting place. This put me in the second wave of runners leaving (just the sub three hr estimate elite women were ahead) so I was bibbed up to be jettisoned very close to the start, just seconds after 5.30am..if I could get there. In my own inimitable style I managed to get confused between the bib number signs on the left and those I should have been following on the right. I have done this race before so the mistake was beyond incompetent. With the left hand signs I located a friendly bunch in a trailer where I could have dropped a bag had I had one to discard ..and then eyed the runners with bib numbers similar to mine lined up inside a great  metal cage to the right and …now a little anxious about cutting it fine on time…ran up and down trying to find the door (following right hand signs) to get in. I found it and pushed my way up to my starting place just in time.

5.30 am. Good Morning San Frazzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

And off we went. This race advises against headphones but doesn’t ban them so I wore mine with just one ear in as usual. The beat of the music, the darkness, the relief at being in the right place at the right time to start, the fun and freedom of running down the middle of The Embarcadero  – normally a busy road across which I tend to be navigating three errant children – it was wonderful. I was using a new iPhone app called Runkeeper. Although I have never really paced myself in races, preferring to run by natural feel, it was interesting to have the app telling me how far I had run and what pace I was doing every  5 minutes.

Embarking on Embarcadero

The first five miles take you along the side of the bay, by Alcatraz Landing, Pier 39 and other tourist hot spots to the Golden Gate Bridge. It is a run I have done many times and never much liked – I am not fond of long lines where you can see where you are going stretching out ahead of you. Most recently I ran it in reverse on an ill-fated 15 mile training run. I got chatting and started my run late, shot through Marin, over the bridge and along the bay side to the Embarcadero and The Ferry Building only to miss my ferry home by 3 minutes. I shivered for an hour and a half waiting for the next one.

But today I was just lifted by the atmosphere. Running was no more effort than riding a motorbike – I was relieved to hear my pace was around 7.03 mins/mile thanks to Runkeeper as I didn’t seem to be making any effort. I knew I would find the later miles tough if I pushed a faster pace now so I just floated along. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to run a whole marathon feeling like this. Correctly I guessed today would not be the day for that.

Ken peeking over my shoulder. Near start.

An unexpected highlight of the race appeared on Chrissy Fields – the 130 acre salt marsh, now mainly laid to grass which covers the flat land leading to your climb to the Golden Gate Bridge. The area (first used as fishing base by the Ohlone Indians ..there are archaeological finds from middens there) used to be an airfield and has long had military connections. In the grey morning light it was lined with what seemed like a hundred people, the first group of them holding large images of servicemen and women who had died in recent combat – and the pictures were overwhelming. I felt my eyes prick with tears. The second group had person after person after person holding tall American flags.  I actually touched a forefinger to my hat as an automatic gesture of I’m not sure what, a salute of respect or something. Without getting into politics  – and I am ill equipped and poorly motivated to do so- when you have the opportunity and physical ability to challenge yourself to run a marathon it is terribly important to be grateful for that opportunity and to remember others just don’t have that chance.

I didn’t feel the hill rising to the bridge at all, the darkness and cool morning air encased me. It felt sort of floating and weird. I had joked to my Mother-In-Law  that the 5.30 am start wouldn’t worry me as I don’t wake up until 6.30am so I’d have a hour done before being conscious  – and in truth it almost seemed that way. The bridge was absolutely glorious. In addition to the dusky morning light everything was engulfed in fog. I knew my dear friend Devon Crosby Helms would be among the leaders (the race goes over the bridge then back again so runners pass each other there). I peered into the fog waiting to see figures running back, half way over still nothing and then after a while you could see a single light coming through the gloom…this was the motorbike leading the front  runners, another bike followed him and then a trickle of supermen glided into view..but no women. More men, and then YES ..there she was, looking strong and relaxed. I yelled at her and we waved to each other, I told her to get on with it as she needs the money :0) She did indeed continue to win the race with a time of 2.44.05. and snaffled the prize pot of $1,500- as she is just about to get married AND open a bakery in my home town of San Anselmo with her fiancé she will certainly put it to good use. If you’d like to give her more money you can consider investing in this our Kickstarter campaign .

Devon just a bit pleased with that win :0)

Behind Devon I spotted another familiar face – Anna Breton, who had the audacity to win the Oakland marathon I did earlier in the year and to have spent 15 mins playing with the baby she had given birth to just six weeks earlier before my carcass heaved itself over the finish line. She held that place to come in second. Clearly a VERY good runner!

Returning over the bridge you are facing a positive sea of runners coming in the opposite direction. I found it very moving. All sorts of shapes, sizes, ages etc . I spotted a few familiar faces

Bridge roady bit – fun!!

and looked out for more people I know. With thousands of people running there is a significant difference in start time if you are not in the first couple of waves  – and many of them were doing a two or three race weekend and were pacing themselves appropriately. Still it was kinda sad to turn off the bridge and tunnel under the road, I strained my neck for a last chance to perhaps see Endorphin Dude’s yellow cape fluttering in the crowd ..but no. Indeed  – as expected – I was yet to see anyone sporting anything remotely silly and was starting to feel a little self conscious about the chicken.

Every now and then someone would say ‘nice chicken’ or ‘ok tell me about the chicken I have to know’ and I enjoyed the little conversations it sparked. There are fewer conversations during races than there used to be as so many people are listening to music etc. I’m often really just trying to breathe so I would have a horror of running with someone who wanted to talk all the way but the odd exchange is very cool and at times memorable. A surprising number of people clearly put a bit of a spurt on to catch up and find out about the chicken as it is bugging them, and then they drift back away into the field behind you. Others compliment the chicken as a way to soften the blow as they overtake you..instead of the usual well intentioned but awkward: “good job’” which is always a little odd if you over think it: “I mean you ARE doing a GOOD job..but see me effortlessly gliding by ..now this is a FANTASTIC job”.

The more I talked about the food bank the funnier it seemed that here was a bunch of people most of whom who eat and drink too much and hence run to work it off parading around a city inwhich I am told 197,000 people struggle to get sufficient nutrition on a given day. It is over 40,000 people in Marin. How strange  – with such wealth in those places too.

This race has several ‘bits’. For me. Right after the bridge there is the deliciously elegant and prolonged swoop downhill through the Presidio overlooking the sea. I overtook a number of women on that downhill without exerting myself which was fun –   and I  found myself playing what I call ‘Flat Stanley’ with a German man  – ie someone who is good (and overtakes me) on hills and weak (and is overtaken by me) on downs whom I repeatedly meet and run alongside on flat areas. Every time I approached him he shouted in mock rage ‘ah the chicken is out to get me’. I developed a little stitch laughing. It was ridiculous …especially with him saying ‘chicken’ in a German accent.

Eventually, you reach the Golden Gate park. This is an interesting section as there are people (and bison) to look at, a few live bands and some characterful aid stations. One of these is offering cups of beer. I took one by accident. I ran up saying: “water please..water…water”. But  this was apparently too cryptic for the excited young man who handed me beer and said: “You thought we were joking …it really is beer”. Annoyingly, he was the last person in line at that aid station so I missed picking up both the water and the hilarity of the moment as it appeared to him.

I find this Golden Gate bit quite hard. Many people savor it but I wanted it over. You are sort of in a nice green place with ducks and trees and cute paths and roses but you are also very much running on a long straight road for much of it and to me it is a hurdle to get through.

Hello Mr Bison and friends

There is some interest as you see the first half marathoners finish and notice bouncy fresh meat in the field as second halfers and relay marathon teamers join the party. (You can do a half marathon by completing the first half of the marathon course or by doing the second half. Only the first half has the bridge..nuf said). Incidentally, it was reported later than someone stopped his girlfriend at mile 8 of their half marathon and proposed. It made me laugh. She accepted and was very happy. Most female runners I know would consider that to be the end of a beautiful relationship.

I seem to find mile 14 and 15 very hard in races recently. I had eaten a gel pack at mile 5 and 10 but anticipated this low and ate another around 14 and dropped back a little so as not to force myself through this low point. I was no longer on my mental motorbike and felt more like I was pushing one uphill. Still, I often seem to get a second wind around 17/18 so I plodded on, not really dropping my pace greatly but just not feeling very comfortable and concentrated on breathing a double exhale and a double inhale. I realized I was in the midst of the runners following the 3 hr 10 pacers. It felt comforting to fall into step with them for a while but them we came to a little hill where the race FINALLY leaves the Golden Gate Parky bit and starts the fun business of running through city streets.  The paced group maintained pace up the hill and I pushed to stay with them but overextended myself, it was a mistake for me. I pulled back and went into survival mode, just keep it ticking over – run at a pace you can continue …which was now dragging slower. Would the nice lady’s voice on my Runkeeper app stay as calm as my car GPS lady’s  when I take a wrong turn or would she get lippy with me if I hit a really terrible pace: “8 minutes per mile ……..WHAT ARE YOU THINKING …YOU ‘ORRIBLE LITTLE WINE GUZZLER …. GET A MOVE ON”.

Out of the park and the streets really are fun. I don’t know the city so I really have no idea where I am but it is oddly exhilarating running through  those big wide swooping hilly San Francisco streets.  Course-Map-for-Wirpo-1I’m told this is the Haight-Ashbury district. At one point they switch the route so runners alternate between streets. As I came to that point I was one of the first to be switched and soon found myself running down a long street with no runners visible ahead of me. On any other Sunday morning you would have to be crazy to do this. Now and then I almost stopped at red lights at the bottom of hills, it is so instinctive. Love it. This and the bridge are the reason to do this marathon if you get the chance.

gimme gimme

The final few miles were tough for me. The route is a little featureless. They could really do with a few bison there :0) The  spectators who are there are wonderful – but they are few and far between. I passed a place where a lady had been holding a sign saying ‘pick a positive thought’ when I ran the same race two years ago. I had decided then my thought was going to be  that skinny bitch isn’t going to pass me  as there was a woman creeping up on me. It wasn’t perhaps the spirit the sign holder had hoped to inspire but it did help me beat her :0). I smiled at the memory and looked behind me but there were no ladies to be seen. Some I had been tussling with were well ahead now – and others well behind.

Look away now – enormous cleavage coming through

I waited until mile 24 before pushing myself a little harder  – my pace quickened to 7.13 mins per mile. I forced it a little more at mile 25 and started to feel confident about a strong finish. Just then  a feisty young lady I had not seen before reached my  shoulder,  toyed with me for a while,  then zipped away ahead….ah ..now  THAT slightly put my ‘strong finish’ in the shade.  But it was still a pleasurable finish.

Very near the finish. People were laughing at the chicken :0)

I fixed my eyes on the Bay Bridge in the distance (the marathon ends at the giant cupid bow and arrow sculpture just beyond that bridge) and crunched through mile 26 at what was in my head a dead sprint but in reality was slowing to 7.18 minutes per mile. The very last stretch of road was odd. You seem to run towards the finish but it never gets closer. There was a moment of light relief when a man suddenly arrived at my shoulder urgently demanding to know what the chicken was for as he had been wanting to know since he had first seen it  miles ago. He loved that it was for the food bank and I was smiling as he sprinted ahead of me right up until the point where I stumbled on road curb and banged one of my toe nails. The pain took my breath away. It was a timely reminder of how lucky I was that those toes were ok. If this had been a trail marathon I am sure I couldn’t have coped. Just then I saw another man  come to a complete stop with about a quarter of a mile to go. I put an arm around him for a second and encouraged him to just look at the bridge, he was so close. He seemed grateful and started up again. People have done similar things to me in races and sometimes it is just the boost you need. He stayed close behind me right to the finish line and we shook hands at the end  – I could see from his bib number he had started well behind me – he had done a fantastic run  – his time was sub 3 hrs 10 mins. I broke away from him to be  interviewed by  The San Francisco Chronicle on account of the rubber chicken so we didn’t get to talk much. It  occurred to me later that that rubber chicken must have been quite surreal for him. Suddenly popping up and leading him home.

I finished in 3.12.04 which is actually a personal best for me. I was 13th  out of 4317 ladies and 208th out of 6456 people – and  third lady in the masters (over 40). I’ve decided to find it invigorating rather than depressing that no lady older than me beat me – the first two in the masters were 43 yrs old  – whippersnappers! I also did notice that the other ladies in the masters both ahead and behind me were ‘elite’ athletes  – you can tell from their three digit bib numbers. So I am really quite chuffed to have been running with ‘proper runners’ and done ok. What an experience.

But.

As always.  A moment of marathoning glory and dare I say pride is never long lived for me before a fall of some kind. I moved on from the journalist to receive my medal and was drawn to a tempting array of frozen banana and strawberry smoothies. I was thirsty and sucked deeply on one only to be quite incapacitated by an almighty ice cream headache. I staggered around looking for a bin and found another runner leaning over it clasping his head and groaning. We laughed at each other ..no words needed or possible.

I decided to sort out my camp at Hotel Bite and return to watch Devon receive her awards before going home. We chatted by the podium for a while during which I snapped some mindless shots of the general scene on my cell phone  – it them crashed just as she left me to accept her award. So imagine here a nice photo of her accepting the cheers of the masses – and then one of us together.

And finally

Congrats to Richard Ervais – who won the rubber chicken.

After the race, Ken the chicken and I were mentioned in the San Francisco Chronicle’s write up of the event. http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/Thousands-come-run-in-35th-S-F-Marathon

Penny MacPhail ran the marathon with a rubber chicken named “Ken” on her back, to raise money for the San Francisco and Marin Food Banks.

“The biggest problem is people ask you about it, and you lose a lot of breath explaining it to them,” she said.

The Food Bank chaps were delighted. The amount of money raised may be modest – c $4/500 but (speaking as an old PR person) publicity  like this, just keeping the name in the public eye  is priceless. I wonder if it may even inspire other people to raise money for them. Maybe we could have hundreds of rubber chickens scooting around the streets of San Francisco next year.

Thank you to everyone who sponsored me. Thank you Ken. Thank you San Francisco…and your groovy, foggy bridge. http://www.thesfmarathon.com/

Place Name Location Bib Net Time Pace Division/Place Sex-Age Sex-Place Gun Time Age Grade
51 Connie Mendoza Saint Petersburg, FL 263 2:54:27 6:40 F 40-44/0 F-43 4 2:54:31 84.54%
155 Stephanie Finelli Sacramento, CA 221 3:07:59 7:11 F 40-44/0 F-43 8 3:08:02 78.45%
208 Penelope Macphail San Anselmo, CA 20385 3:12:05 7:20 F 40-44/0 F-44 13 3:12:28 77.70%
328 Lesley Johnson San Antonio, TX 283 3:19:52 7:38 F 40-44/1 F-41 27 3:19:57 72.11%
353 Nancy Cook Belchertown, MA 298 3:21:34 7:42 F 45-49/1 F-48 33 3:22:07 77.78%
Runner Details Race Results

Bib:

20385

Name:

Penelope Macphail

Gender:

F

Age:

44

Hometown:

San Anselmo, CA

Overall:

208 out of 6456

Women:

13 out of 4317

F 40-44:

0 out of 303

Age/Grade:

77.70% Place: 28

Finish:

3:12:05 Pace: 7:20

Tag Time:

3:12:05

Gun Time:

3:12:28
Split Times

5 Km:

21:50 Pace: 7:02

7.4 Mi:

53:23 Pace: 7:13

Half:

1:34:32 Pace: 7:13

20 Mi:

2:25:33 Pace: 7:17