Always approach marathons involving Muir beach with humility and a hearty breakfast. Yes be lured by the sweetly named and picturesque, Muir, Pirates, Rodeo and Bonita coves. But remember the mighty Pacific Ocean that carved them also left some pretty colossal piles of rock in-between.
Around 7am I was relieved to be clambering onto the Coastal Trails shuttle bus in Canyon Meadows field. It’s just over a mile from the race start at Muir beach. Some people jog it. Not me. My warm up routine is drinking coffee. I had considered cycling- anything to elminate the extra layer of pre-race anxiety navigating a shuttle entails. But as I eyed the road now I was sure the post-race me would have resented the cheerful person who had whizzed downhill to the beach earlier. The better plan – as recommended – is just to arrive nice and early. For once I had. Pass the medals. Also. And if you’re familiar with my blog get your fingers into pinch position. I was injury free!
We had a perfect running day – chilly but bright at the beach. The place was buzzing with atmosphere, the runners tops and event booths a lovely splash of colour against the backdrop of stark cliffs. Runners doing the 10m 20m, marathon and 50K races gather on a narrow wooden bridge leading to the beach just before the 8am start. There was a welcome moment of levity when race organizer Wendell explained that in order to accommodate all the distances (and there was a 7 miler later too) the marathon course was actually 26.3 miles instead of 26.2 – a gruff male voice in the crowd called out ‘That better be on my shirt’. Best pre-race heckle ever! And then we were off.
Normally I stand at the very front (in order to have less distance to run…simples! ) but today the bridge was narrow and I was a few rows back, chatting with my friend Adona. When we surged forward Adona being perfect in every way nipped gracefully off the bridge I ran straight into a waist-height orange cone stuck on a wooden post which had been obscured by the first few rows of runners. I think the cone was to stop idiots like me running into the post. I pranged it twice, once by running into it and then again by rebounding off the people behind me. It got me right under the ribs. How ridiculous. It reminded me of an event in England many years ago where a runner found himself gashed on the arm and kneed in the groin within seconds of starting a race. He had tripped over a cameraman crouched on the ground. I’m afraid the groin injury was delivered by me..toppling over him.
And off we went, heading up the cliff. It was glorious, the sea breeze cooling and invigorating, the scenery and the hill breathtaking in their own ways :0) This marathon is certainly a challenging one with 6, 250 ft of elevation. But hard to beat for beauty and a perfect race to do if you are visiting San Francisco and want to soak up the feel of the place. There is even a view of the Golden Gate Bridge – or fog containing it. Today we scored bridge and instantly forgave the hills we had had to climb to see it from such height.
I like to divide the course into manageable bits and so decided with more creativity than science that I would be progressing around a lady bug sticking its tongue. You run up the tongue, up and over one side of the bugs head, up and over one side of its body, up and over the other side of its body and return via the other side of its head to return down the tongue. The head and tongue are the 7 mile orange loop, the body the pink c. 12 mile loop. Clear? Fun! The hills are significant but if you enjoy downhill and don’t mind wiping out hikers on blind corners there are amazing stretches of prolonged down where this bug lets you fly!.
|Distance||Elevation Gain||Single Track||Dirt Road||Asphalt|
Before running I browsed the internet trying to find something to like about Marincello (the start of the pink loop after the aid station) As a former archaeologist I like to add meaning to runs with a dab of research, I Googled the name just because it was the part of the course that I most dreaded – a bleak, featureless crawl of a hill that bores me. Oh boy did I hit gold! Marincello was supposed to be a vast hilltop community. The story of its demise is absolutely fascinating- and kickstarted the preservation of all Open Space in Marin. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marincello
While reaching the top of Marincello today I had the first of three awkward moments in the race. I came across a guy running the 20 miles. He wasn’t up for a chat but asked what our average pace was. I didn’t know. “But you’re wearing Garmin aren’t you?” he said. How unfortunate. What are the chances? No one has ever asked me the pace in a race before – and now I had to explain that although I was indeed wearing a brand new top of the range Garmin I had not been sufficiently competent to turn it on properly. I told him I was steeling myself for the disparaging remarks my husband would have later – he had paid hundreds of dollars for it as a surprise gift ..and I had fumbled pressing one button. I expected him to laugh but no. Awkward. Did he think I was withholding the information? Some runners do get awfully serious about this stuff. To smooth the situation I offered a sporting estimate which seemed to make sense to him. I passed by. Later it hit me though – the estimate I had given was hopelessly inaccurate, more of a current pace on the gently undulating ground we were on than an ‘average’ pace he had asked for – bearing in mind the hills we had covered. I pushed from my conscience the possibility that he may have slowed down on account of my terrible guess!
My second awkward moment came when I was galloping down the last section of pink loop and suddenly received a series of sharp pains in the vicinity of my underwear. It turned out I was being slashed with the sharp edges of empty gel packets. When I eat them I tend to shove the packets down my top rather than littering or negotiating opening a pocket to put them away. This time a number of packets and tops had worked their way down a hole in my top. There was absolutely nowhere to hide even if I had been prepared to stop (and that is against the grain). Tantalizingly, I didn’t know how close the people behind me were – but I did know they were all men. All I could do was keep going, running as fast as I could but jolting with pain when the packets stabbed me and then rummaging in my shorts on every turn when I should be out of sight to the people behind me until I had located all of them.
The third cringe of the day occurred when I was on the orange loop repeat. Two attractive ladies were returning from the aid station I was headed to. They smiled, pleased for me rather than bothered for themselves that I was 7 miles ahead of them. Like most runners they were just out there having fun at their own pace. I smiled back and intended a warm “Hi guys” as we passed by but inexplicably “Hi gays!” came out instead. Their smiles dimmed a little – probably just in confusion or in response to my frozen expression. But I was tortured with the possibility that they were gay (I don’t think they were) – and now not only believed I had a problem with that (I don’t) but also that I was enough of a jerk to go around issuing bizarre taunts. And of course you can’t turn around and run after them and sort it all out – as to do so would surely seem to say ..’I’d like to publicly raise the question of whether or not you’re gay’.. or ..”I’m a crazy person”. Possibly they dismissed it as my Irish accent.
But more importantly, I also had an endearingly silly moment that will stay with me forever. As I climbed up from Muir beach to repeat the orange loop I crowned the hill to a faintly ridiculous sight. Two middle aged hikers were standing beside Wendell’s course marker – this pointed at the spot they were standing on and said ORANGE in bold orange letters. They were obediently eating an orange. I laughed out loud.
Thank you to David Altena who helped me when my legs started to seize up after the finish and gave me a lift back to my car and my Icy Heat gel so I didn’t have to sort out the shuttle thing. If my legs had been working I would have kicked myself for forgetting to take my usual anti-inflammatories before the race , I didn’t even have them with me. Urgh! To my glee David offered me some painkiller. When I accepted he made me laugh by producing a carefully wrapped bundle of anonymous red tablets. He said he had just decanted some from a large container but did wonder what the Police would think if they found them. What amused me was how many he had in the bundle – enough to fell an elephant. I’m glad his 20 miler went so well!
I assume they were Advil. Two of them and a slathering of Icy Heat – and I could feel no pain within the hour. Possibly under the influence of mind altering drugs, I signed up for my next Coastal event shortly after returning home – Mt Diablo in two weeks time.
This time I know in advance the place is a breeding ground for Tarantulas. Hopefully I will scream a little less.
Todays results: http://www.coastaltrailruns.com/cr_smmr_results_12.htm
September 12th, 2012 at 2:02 pm
I love your race reports (and that so many are at races I was at, albeit at much shorter distances and for much longer periods of time). And I agree that Christy and Adona are treasures. And that that pole has to go.
October 4th, 2012 at 2:26 pm
I have been admiring you from afar Allen…
October 15th, 2012 at 1:22 pm
Penny, I have finally found your blog – and what a post! The highs and lows of life and trail running, all in one column. We ran together (except you kept going) at the Pacifica ITR run in August I think – and I’m hoping we can do that again sometime.
October 15th, 2012 at 1:32 pm
Anne how lovely to hear from you – I remember you well. What a scorching hot day!! And what a great chat we had :0) I mentioned you in the blog of that one if you saw it. If you’ve glanced at my last blog you will notice that a wonderful running buddy Pete Mingwah passed away recently – he was running that hot day too …you may remember him ..he was carrying a water bottle the size of an office water cooler refill :0)
Would love to run with you again. What do you have lined up? P