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
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10 responses to “San Francisco Marathon, July 29th

  • Nicki

    Penny,

    Great job out there and that’s fantastic you were able to help out the food banks too!

    I saw you charging back across the bridge and the fuel for my next 5 miles was the excitement at the prospect of a new and undoubtedly entertaining blog post. And the eventual report exceeded expectations.

    So true about the 5:30 start beating the conscious mind. That’s always been my tactic and the rationale behind the fact I insist on starting my long runs before sunrise. Those early hours are a vacuum that don’t normally exist in my day. Something along on the lines of “what happens before 6am stays before 6am”.

    I was pleased with my race, 7 minutes off my old PR. Trying to get myself to sit down and write a recap, but no sign of it yet.

    Take care of those toenails and all the best for the next race!

    Nicki

    • pennymacphail

      Great to hear from you Nicki – go write that recap….I want to read it. Wish I had spotted you on the bridge. And I’m not surprised at that great time, well done….it isn’t a course designed for PB times.

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