Last time the tarantulas absolutely freaked me. Now I was going to scare the hell out of them! I attached a ridiculous spider to my water bottle and headed off to Coastal Trail’s Mt Diablo race. Heh heh. People asked “‘Are you really going to run with that thing?” But the spider was still making up her mind.When I ran this marathon in 2010, the revelation that Mt Diablo is a breeding ground for tarantulas was quite the pulse jolter. Moreover, this race’s September date coincides with their mating season – when Mr Fluffy and pals drape themselves seductively on the trails. I greeted my first amorous hopeful around mile three with a gentle smile. I assumed it was a child’s toy. It was not until there was an identical toy around mile ten and soon after a third that curiosity drew me in for a closer look. I bent over him. How cute. His fluff blowing gently in the breeze. And he moved. I rocketed in the air with a scream normally reserved for childbirth. I had no idea you could get tarantulas here, I thought they lived in Africa or something. A polar bear wouldn’t have surprised me more. Worse – I absolutely believed they kill people. No-one was around to tell me that wasn’t true.
Last time it was an unusually cool day. Course records abounded (including ladies marathon for me) and I thought the race logo of a moutain on fire was something to do with the name Diablo /devil. But no – the mountain actually is on fire normally around now and the day before the race was forecast to be 97/55 F. Chance of precipitation said ‘only if you cry’.
The course as a squashed eyeball
The course is fairly tough. The elevation is considerable with a 6, 760′ elevation for my race, the marathon and the way it plays out is kinda mean. The downs are so long they bang your knees into your rib cage. And the ups are just asking for a slap. On and on and on …no sense of humanity.
Now I like to break the course away from geography and into a visual image I can cope with in little chunks. To me this one is clearly a stomped upon eyeball. Everyone runs up the optic nerve, 4 milers peel away before it becomes a hill, 10 milers climb to the first crest, Juniper Campground (where insane/unwitting people are camping knee deep in tarantulas) , everyone else continues into the eye ball to the blue trail (which clearly outlines the iris). Half marathoners get to the summit and plummet back the way they came. Marathoners and 50kers return the same way for a jot then take a left to complete the circle of the iris then its off for an adventure around the vitreous sac. Marathoners hit optic nerve after that, 50kers loop around the iris again first. Now the pupil – that black hole – is the option considered by Allen Lucas (see pic) in his weepingly funny blog email@example.com. When you get to the very summit and it’s all been a bit much, you can just ask a confused tourist to help you up the railings and leap off.
The race started. Last time I felt rather empowered by the start – two miles of flat on a generous fire road. It isn’t going to win any beauty contests but has a lovely personality. There’s ample time and space to go at your own pace and find a good breathing rhythm before you hit hill. Today I felt meh. It was just 8am yet the air we were sucking in held a foreboding heat. “Quick chat about working conditions when you’re ready love” hissed my lungs.
When I hit the hill last time I floated up it. This time not so much, just an off day. I slowed it down to find some sense of wanting to be there. I waved my spider around and had a few giggles. That helped. Part of me wanted to be running with my friends doing the 5ok (and pacing themselves behind me accordingly). Not only were fun people like Janeth, Endorphin Dude Tony and Pete running it, Adona ..Queen of the 20 miler had thrown her cap in the ring. There I’ve been trying to bully her in to running marathons and she goes all ultra on me. Honestly, I be feeling pretty darn pleased with myself if it wasn’t for these crazies putting the JUST in my marathons lol. (Their fellow cohort Chris Jones was running 100 miles elsewhere).
Then we climbed high enough to get a view. It is staggeringly beautiful. Perhaps the most striking of all Coastal’s events I have done. My spirits lifted, I started to have fun, my pace quickened and I began working my way up the field. The air also cleared, the valley floor seemed to trap warm air ( I noticed it later going down too). ,Up higher we even had a breeze. At one point – just around where Leigh Ann is photographed (see pic), I wanted to soak in the view so much I started running up the hill backwards. I said ‘wow’ out loud as I turned. A man a little down hill from me laughed. I guess it looked like I was admiring him. We exchanged a smile as I did a little double take and hurriedly turned back so as not to overtake the next guy while laughing and running backwards. If someone did that to me I’d thump them for sure.
The summit – and my former shame
It was even more satisfying for me to reach the very summit than most because well – ahem – last time I missed it. My name is only on the course record for the ladies marathon by the grace of race organiser Wendell (and he had to add time to it to counteract knuckleheadedness.)
Just before the out and back to the summit there is a car park around mile 6. You emerge from bushes to cross this and can see Coastal markers for marathon and 50k runners disappearing down the other side of the mountain. To the left of these are directions for the out and back to the summit. I was struggling with an errant contact lens and whether that alone was it or some vehicles/people were in front of the additional signage I don’t know – but though I pointedly looked for some higher echelon all I could see were two fairly small rectangles of car park and those markers. David Schoenberg was just enough ahead of me to be out of sight, running up the summit, and no-one was behind me. This must be IT, what a let down. Wendell had told us to look for a message at the summit to check we had been to it. I frowned at the bleak car park and squinted at some tiny letters on some metal thing but couldn’t make them out …I was expecting a sign he’d written.. odd. Frankly rather disappointed with the summit, I shot off down the mountain, timing it to be just out of sight when David descended.
Prepare to Cringe
Neither of us saw the other again until the end. He had a fair idea what I had done but was too polite to air suspicions. It wasn’t until the conversation turned to the summit ….and my disappointment over it raised a Coastal eyebrow that David gently mentioned he had not had the pleasure of encountering me on the out and back . And the goof was uncovered. Awful – oh put my head in a bag! And the worst of it was I knew I had done a really good run- now it was hard to tell what was speed and what unfair. I’m still cringing. After this when navigational slipies have added to my mileage and even cost me a placing or two I have been very content. I’m happy to be thought an idiot but not a cheat. Oh horrid feelings.
Just when you think it can’t get worse
When I stepped onto this car park today all hopes that two years of cringing could come to an end evaporated as the size and clarity of the summit return directions burned into my retinas. I literally covered my face and groaned. I recalled a small rectangular car park but here was a whole new world, my car park was a little overflow to the main one and – as if designed to humiliate me – there was actually a summit monument …a sizable, elegant building with grand stairs. I thought I had missed some tiny little single track hidden by bushes. They must have thought I was completely insane.
When I got to the top the view was outstanding. Today we had elastic bands instead of a message and I put mine on the end of one of my braids. If you have read my blog before you may remember I now avoid putting these on my wrist. I did it once and an hour later my hand started to look like a plastic glove on its way to being blown into a rubber chicken.
Elevation Gain: 6,760′
(Per Avocet Altimeter)
The summit is a chance to interact with people (much mock horror at and waggling of spider etc) and to check out the field – who is ahead of you and who just behind…but it is a guessing game who among them is running the marathon or longer. The majority will be doing the half marathon – they turn right as they come off the summit and return to the finish the way they came up. As I turned left myself I felt sure I was at least pursing Dan Nahrwold (who won the Coastal Coyote ridge marathon two weeks ago…as his first marathon) and one bright smiley lady in blue with those funny feet running shoes. They were both well ahead of me but I hoped I might catch up with them or at least see them as I was running better now and knew we were approaching a big downhill.
But it wasn’t to be. I saw Dan dwarfed by the mountains in the distance but no-one else (I guessed funny feet girl must be a half marathoner). Still the down was glorious. It is worth suffering the rest of this marathon just to experience this bit, I felt humbled by the beauty, it is more like flying than running..effortless and fast….and it goes on for 4.6 miles! At one point you pass through a distinctive section of rich dark soil scattered with quartz. I adored almost every second of it…
This is where I saw the moving tarantula last time. Then as now I was completely alone. Suddenly – a sharp pain in my right ankle. I froze and could hardly bear to look down I was so scared there would be a spider attached to my foot (apparently if severely provoked they can jump on you…..maybe Dan had been rude to it lol)… but there was nothing to see. The pain was significant and I could see a sore on my heel but it went away after a while, I guess it was either a bee or a sharp stone. Nasty moment. It could have been an odd task for some coroner, prising a giant fluffy spider from the hand of a runner for whom her severe allergy to tarantula venom had been an unwelcome last minute discovery.
After the 4.6 mile blast down I dropped in on Coastal volunteer black belts Alva and Lynnard (who recently ran a 100 miler) and their cosy little aid station at North Gate. They were perhaps disappointed not to be manning the really busy Juniper Campground station but this one has it’s own special thrill delivering runners at high speed as they plummet down what Alva called her ‘Wall drop’ and torch across a road to reach them. Never has an aid station said RTA pending quite so clearly to me. It is also a great position to have a good laugh at people. The down is over OOOOOOOOOOOver. Now we are up. Alva took the photo of me at the top of this blog at this station. They told me there was just one guy ahead of me – which was Dan. Later it emerged there had been another lady but she had managed to get lost poor thing. She must have been way ahead of me too.
Now comes the up. I found this quite intense. I was well hydrated – I’d been drinking ahead of my thirst with such aggression I was probably making swishing noises- but the heat started to get to me. I battled to stop myself slipping into staggery walking too often or for too long – it can become a habit once you give in to it especially when you are running alone. By the time I reached the Rock City aid station I was feeling dizzy and getting cold flashes down my arms and neck. Like the summit this is also a little out and back so you get to see other runners ..and I was surprised to see Dan leaving the station as I arrived, sad for him he had dropped back but pleased to have a person close by. Also to be honest it helped me not feel so bad I had been struggling. It was VERY hot. I was certainly ready to refresh my water bottle but not particularly thirsty and my mind was on the woozy feeling so I made a good decision in nabbing a couple of salt tablets but a bad one in filling up my water bottle and heading off without also drinking stuff there. My water was gone long before the next station.
Now I had two surprises. First a lady appeared running up behind me. A pretty awesome elite runner type with abs I would not cover in church . Where did she come from? I smiled and said hello in a ‘trying not to be
horrified you are so close behind me’ sort of way. A monetary flicker of competitiveness sparked in me but meh. The strategic thing to do would be to hoof it now and be out of her sight by the time she returned from the aid station …not visible as an achievable quarry. But I was shut down to survival mode. Running not racing. Really worried about the dizzy thing. Anyway she was a fair bit behind me.
Then the second surprise came along. A whacking great cramp flashed up my leg. I’ve not had cramp since I started wearing calf sleeves. I stopped and tested the leg, if it was going to snarl up I wanted to head back towards the aid station and get someone to push against it. It was ok. I continued and every now and then a little flicker of cramp traced my calf. I ran/walked with that foot tensed, holding the lower leg like a wooden stump ( I might as well have put the spider on my shoulder and shouted ‘pieces of eight’ ). I really wondered what would happen. I was scared of being alone when a big cramp hit. I realised of course the very best thing I could have done was to have just eaten those salt tablets. Go Salt tablets!! It was an internal battle – would they get into my bloodstream before the cramp hobbled me. This was a low point. My Garmin shows it took nearly 18minutes to cover the next mile.
Now there is a moment in this race where you know for sure people have snorted beer through their nose planning it. You have done a lot of uphill and the terrain has a ‘top of the ridge’ feel. You are ready for a left turn any moment now taking you back to good old Camp Juniper and a joy dive downhill to the finish. Instead a corner reveals a trail akin to a rocket trajectory. At least I knew it was coming. I knew Dan didn’t. If only I’d been able to catch up to him I could have let him cry on my shoulder.
I did reach Dan after a while and we had a good old moan about the heat. It’s a terrible hill. I thought the stunning abs lady was coming up behind me but I turned a few times and didn’t see her. On we went, both suffering, walking now and then, the cramps flashes were frightening. Then Abs glided by us and disappeared. Wow.
Cautionary Tale at Aid Station.
By the time I reached the Juniper Campground aid station my cramps had finally finally petered out and my biggest concern was raging thirst. The worst is over – not. I proceeded to make a terrible mistake.
I had been dreaming of ice cold coke in little paper cups for some time. My plan was to knock back two or three of them when I was filling my water bottle – but when I got the the station there were absolutely no little drinks ready. Normally there are lots of little cups filled with a range of drinks. There was a can of Coke on the table but it was empty so a lady headed off to find a new one. I could sense time ticking away and decided to cut my losses. I had to drink something in addition to filling my water bottle so I plumped for water. I attempted to lift a single cup from a stack of them with one hand but it wouldn’t come so rather impatiently, I clamped the stack of cups to my chest with my spider and bottle hand in order to claw a cup off the top. A grizzly would have made a neater job of it, cups everywhere. (by the way Grizzly Adams use to live on Mt Diablo in the 1850s) The lady returned with the Coke and I felt a little ashamed of my cup scattering, especially as she was being nice to my spider. So I accepted a freshly poured cup and another and another and another straight from the can.
It was then a massive ball of gas formed under my rib cage.
I tottered towards what should have been a joyous victory dive downhill for two miles in excruciating pain. I threw up a little immediately (I hope those hikers can just remember the lovely view) but the pain was horrid for miles until I surprised myself with a salute of burps as I neared the flat. I had been dreading those last two miles of flat and I didn’t exactly enjoy them – but oh boy did I appreciate being pain free.
I crossed the finish, Wendell made sure to check I had an elastic band. If I had been him I’d have submitted it to forensic examination to be sure it was legit. My time was of little interest, I just wanted to go home but when I found out it was 4.40.38 I rallied. That was better that expected considering the heat, agony,fear of impending death etc. Dan was right behind me in 4.43.26. (I might add he had run a 20 miler the weekend between our last marathon together …I had tapered). The next person after us was 5.23 – and only five people were under 6 hours.
Special thanks to the Coastal Trails team and volunteers, and hugs to the two ladies who were talented enough to be ahead of me but obliging enough to let me win. One by running off course too badly to be recovered (and I think it was the poor funny feet lady as I don’t see a finish picture of her) And one by running the 50k- Julie Neumann aka the stunning abs lady, see below.
Next up cold drinks. I opened the drinks cooler actually contemplating a diet coke (this is why I have three children…no pain memory) and paused for a moment. It was half full of icy water but had surprisingly few drinks in it. What a day. Would anyone notice if I jumped in and closed the lid?
Here are the results http://www.coastaltrailruns.com/d_results_12.htm
Did you know
Males have much shorter lifespans than females. Female often live for 30 years. Go girls! Few males live long enough for a post-ultimate (‘the deed’) moult. Most males do not live through this moult as they tend to get their emboli, mature male sexual organs or pedipalps, stuck in the moult.
(We shouldn’t laugh ladies….)