Monthly Archives: October 2012

Berkeley Golden Hills Trail marathon 13th Oct

How sweet to stumble on the roots of life and bring the gift of laughter to others.

My current husband has long diagnosed me with  ‘Penny Macphail Syndrome’. This is where bizarre things happen to me  – always sparked by a  twist of fate but fanned to inferno by some agent of my own incompetence. His favorite episode is  the  time a light fitting bust in a poolside sauna just as I entered it. I was pleased with how dark and steamy it was, lay along a bench enjoying the anonymity of the dark and gave no greeting  when the door opened a few minutes later.  And then a large man in wet bathing trunks sat on my face. The events of today have made his list.

At start with Amanda. Looks normal huh? Nope – she knows Chris Jones (always  a worrying sign) and was running another marathon with him the next day.

This is the third time I have done the Berkeley Golden Hills Marathon. It is a distinctively exciting race – challenging, buoyantly social, beautiful. The marathon is a side dish to the meaty ole Firetrails 50 miler which celebrates local  ultra running legend Dick Collins . Marathoners start at 9am in Tilden park forest. They bounce over hills and plunge through fairy tale forests for 26.2 miles to finish at Lake Chabot Marina.  Hotdog  50 milers start at that marathon finish at 6.30 am, run to our start, shriek a little at the spiders and cobwebs they have dangling over the aid station there, turn around and marathon it after us. Both races are a blast, all sorts of people come to play ….slow, fast, fat, thin, sane, unbalanced ..it has the professional set up that gets elite juices flowing but the accessibility to secure the everlasting devotion of many who have made it their first marathon or ultra. AND these organisers know how to throw an after race party and splurge on the goodies, there are prizes galore ( I really hate it when prizes are stacked around the fastest runners who already have a cloak of glory to swoosh around in) Here you are knee deep in groovy stuff for everyone, oodles of age groups things, random spot prizes and little gifts to show their appreciation if you make a  spectacle of yourself at the finish. Everyone gets a wine glass. Those things really should come with instructions…what do you do with it?

Tis Himself – Dick Collins aka The Legend. Hope no-one else read up about his chronic back condition. Bang goes my excuse for not running his 50 miler.

Nose and nos

My sinuses and chest were  petitioning  to be excused from PE  this week. They messed around with quite THE most  irritating dry cold which  produced nothing sick note generating in the way of symptoms but successfully left me feeling ..meh, shut down the little air supply that ever reaches my weird nose and deposited what felt like a  lining of  warm cookie dough on my lungs.I  counteracted by slathering myself  nose to ribs with Vicks Menthol Rub.
My back was acting up too  – I had congratulated myself on completing several marathons with minor flare ups then strained it good and proper hoisting  a complete stranger’s portly runaway Labrador into my car  – so it marinated it in Icy Heat. Then on went the coating of coconut sun lotion. Now quite the  olfactory sensation, I strode to race registration,  leaving in my wake a trail of  runners, sniffing  the air and narrowing their eyes  suspiciously at each other. Here it emerged I had committed the unpardonable sin of not actually signing up for the race : and you cannot register on the day. Macphail? McPhail?  Muckfail?  “No.” Giddy from my  fumes or just keen to get this highly flammable greased creature away from their desk they gave me a race bib and their blessing. Thank you Julie.

Many happy returns

You are supposed to park at the marathon finish and take a shuttle bus to the start. ‘Were you too smart for this?’ you ask. YaHA. Get up at  5.30am , drive virtually passed the start to catch a  7.15 am bus?  To those cursed with genius there was a second option. Sip morning tea around 7.15 am, drive to the  start for 8 am and lord it over the restrooms for some time before the herds stampede off the shuttle. Run. Get a taxi back. I tossed my keys, some cash  and a taxi number into a drop bag (the organizers bring this to the finish for you). Eagle eyed, I  noticed several other people had reused their  San Francisco Marathon drop bag for the occasion. I thought it sweet. (We may revisit this.)

The race

Well it is a glorious course  – high scenic hills,  deep dark forest, broad fire roads, technical single track, roller coaster undulating stretches, stiff hill climbs, grand sweeping downs. A bit of everything.  The beginning of this race is truly memorable as runners emerge from the chill forest and the tension of a race start to find themselves winding  up exposed fire roads, positively  ablaze with golden light – I guess that’s where the name ‘Golden Hills’ comes from ( I didn’t see anyone digging lol).

I quite literally found myself going dizzy trying to breathe deeply and expand my lungs – hyperventilating I suppose. How ridiculous would it be to render yourself unconscious 5 mins into a race! My Dad actually blew a hole in a lung once while racing so, with this in mind as a possibility, I adopted a shorter staccato breathing which seemed to work for me and I kept it up for the whole race – all a bit odd and very different to my normal.

A group of fast men streamed ahead and I ran in the second  little clump of people which included  red hat man and red top lady. There was no chit chat beyond a friendly hello  – I for one  had to just focus on air.

We chipped up the hill overtaking each other now and then, I did my usual of overtaking on any downs. Once we crested the first main hill I stayed ahead of the lady and ran with the guy for some time until he was a very good boy and retraced his steps up a hill to retrieve a dropped gel packet. And then the fun started  -we started meeting the  front runners in the  50 miler.  They had done around 23 miles and we about 3 I guess. From this point I felt less like I was racing and more that I was in the front row spectating the 50 mile race. I exchanged greetings of some kind with virtually all 252 of them them, shrieked at familiar faces, detained a few for hugging (Chris and Janeth) and only stopped high fiving more  after a high powered mishit with  Tracy left me cursing and sucking my fingers…I might as well have punched her in the face, how unhelpful…sorry about that, I hope your fingers didn’t hurt as much as mind did.  (I would have enjoyed that had I been running behind me getting irritated by all the greetings.)

Huge thanks to Brett Rivers ( San Francisco Running Company) for this pic. I LOVE Brett’s work – he has some weird superpower thing going on….he captures such a sense of moment…the feel of the place/race and the personality of the runners. My camera wants to go and live with him.

I  altered  normal race etiquette (men often give way to women, slow uphill to fast downhill etc) and showed a certain respect by getting out of  their way. For the most part this just means I engaged in polite and at times perilous activity running off  the trail to let them pass far more than I would normally do but twice I gave the greatest gift imaginable and stopped dead to hold a gate for an approaching 50 miler. Yes I do rock!  I even looked behind me once and considered embracing humanity further…should I hold a little longer for the man in the red hat. Naw.

Considering the people who marked this course we were lucky not to be sent up a few extra hills. Running royalty Speedy Yanko (above)  and she of Grand to Grand 167 miles in 6 days fame, Sarah Lavender Smith set out many of the ribbons – neither of whom can be trusted to resist a long distance or sheer cliff face. Sarah had done the final check run, starting in the dark with a head light ..I encountered her (with joyful hug) heading towards the marathon start  a little into the race. A trim figure backlit with golden light, hair braids a-flying. She looked like a cross between an angel and a Viking.

I ran alone for mile upon mile. Where I could glance back I saw no-one or the man in the red hat. All was good, just a relaxing run. No pressure.  The first time I ran this race I  fizzled so badly at the end I woozily ran into a hedge around mile 23 and spent the last mile staggery walking while people I had long passed streamed by me, most with kind words which I appreciated deeply at the time   – one with a ‘ have you done this before ?’…which made me  determined to run the same race again …better…preferably beating them. Since then the organizers  have had to change the course. The last few miles still trace the side of lake Chabot but now reach it a little further down the lake and do so by looping over a few hills which I think made it harder.  So I wanted to keep something in the tank.

I reached the final aid station. They refilled my water bottle and set me off with the most encouraging words imaginable…

.‘oh look..there’s ANOTHER woman coming’ .

The psychological stain of being swarmed on that last stretch before galvanized me into action.  I chugged up a little  hill and streamed fast down the other side heading for the lake. Many runners celebrate at the sight of this water. I allowed myself a modest internal cheer but knew think ‘ rejoice for we are done’  now honey and those last miles will seem intolerable. I  pulled my headphones off ..couldn’t cope with music…and ran as hard as I could – I’m not a sprint finisher so steady force it had to be.  I have to say I am very cross with this  lakeside path  – it’s sounds  like a flat, relaxing, stroll with your toddler kind of thing but some giant has  bunched it up into really mean little hills. Moreover, you can see a great big elegant swathe of lake stretching out endlessly along the water ..on and on. A landscape gardener’s delight but marathoner’s dismay. If I was doing the 50 miler I’d be up for  blocking it in with concrete for a direct route at that point.

Finally the finish. They even put out a tape for me to run through  – I don’t think I’ve ever had that before …what a treat.

Oh joy.

First three ladies. Petra, Self and Rea. My time was  3.56.05 , Rea ‘lady in red’  was right after me in  3.59.13 She also fought for it on those last miles. We had each other to thank for  a pretty nasty 20 minutes :0) The big difference between us is in 20 years time she’ll still be doing it :0) Petra McDowell was third lady with 4.13.48  – all three top  ten out of 151 people.  I was 6 mins faster than in 2011  YAY! but slower than my 3.50.55 the year before, despite fizzling at the finish. (There was a little course change after 2010 which might add a little time.) Looking at the top ten best performers over the years list it’s still all hail Mighty Caren Spore who annihilated me in 2010 with 3.43.47! And who is this Ms Lavender Smith person also looking DOWN at me ..that’s my angel/Viking lol).Rea made the list too today:0)  

And at the finish line – treat of all treats – there was the high wattage smile of Ms Christy Bentivoglio (who had done the Horseshoe half marathon then come to see friends finish at this event) and the welcoming grin of Lucas Wojciechowski. Two of the nicest people and coincidentally silliest names of my recent acquaintance.  Lucas’  skinny 20 yr old butt had glided over the marathon finish line in 3.26.06  – nearly half an hour before me and in second place,  just 5 mins after the first man Noah Brautigam.

Picture of Christy and self by the vastly entertaining Margaret. Margaret’s pictures are sensational mainly because she is making people laugh so hard. Pse note lady in hat behind me who appears to be on fire/about to detonate.

#2 man Lucas, young, fresh faced, fast- helping old lady across the grass

#1 man Noah. I think the shirt was holding me back.

With Margaret. I had this expression for a while after my massage. I’m sure it’s nothing to worry about.

Out of the Frying Pan Into the Fire

At this point I foolishly approached the massage tent, ignored their name ‘Monsters of Massage’  and lingered not over their logo of a laughing devil. My back was sore and I thought they might help me. It was excruciating. I thought I was being deboned. (read their web site – it’s a gas) It turns out I was sampling Ve Loyce aka ‘Monster”s own  method of ‘Attack Orientated Target Massage’. Ve Loyce savaged me while his henchman Tom tortured people on a table  beside me. Tom’s first victim (Mr Orange  – see pic) shamelessly ran away pretending he needed the rest room. When his  replacement started whimpering as piteously as I was, we stretched out out arms to see if we could hold hands. I told Ve Loyce that I  preferred my ex husband to him and was just considering playing dead when  he released his grip for a second and I bolted …must say I was moving fast and felt  pretty darn good..but I may have been in shock.

Mr Orange who ran away from the massage monsters. Yes we shared a marathon  – but  surviving the massage monsters made us kin.

And then..

Home time. I saw the first 50 miler in ..didn’t speak to him, just asked if I could poke him. He was real. 6.46.26 ..WOW!

I trotted off to call a taxi. The number I had  didn’t work so I got the number for On Time Yellow Cabs from the guy at the Marina entry kiosk.

This is how I met Resham.

The running was the easy bit of the day.

Resham has little to teach about speaking English, deciphering those inflicted with a Irish accent, or grasping the geography of the Castro Valley and surrounding regions.  At first, these being the primary offerings I was rating him upon, I thought he had little to teach. I was wrong.

It took 15 minutes to communicate where I was, and another 20 for him to find me…anxiously glancing at my watch. I was late. I had to get home for our family outing to the kids’ Octoberfest. Then my heart sank when he had never heard of Tilden Park or of the main freeway leading to it the I -80. He was keen on the similar sounding 880 but was talked out of it when I helped him plumb the marathon start location into his GPS gadget. We set off,  him encouraging me to join in with the directions as the lack of a house number on his GPS was worrying him. This is because the race starts in the middle of a forest not in someone’s house. It was when I fully realised that  the  concept of a running race  –  my entire little world at the time- was not something we were ever going to clarify – that I started seeing the situation from his point of view and being rather touched by him.  He was never going to be impressed I had run let alone won a marathon, always going to wonder why I left a car in Tilden and  how I got  to  Lake Chabot (I mimicked running and pointed at my number but he thought I was dancing). What on earth did he make of what I was wearing?

Damsel in distress. V similar looking.

We live some way from here, and my grasp of the area is kinda  limited to trails none of which I hoped we would be driving on this afternoon, so I fired up location services on my iPhone in order to concur or compete with his GPS . As has happened before, this somehow killed my battery dead. His GPS took us on a strange route,  c. 50 minutes later  we closed in on the park.  He was clearly hesitant as we entered forest but believed in me enough to keep going and layers of anxiety seemed to peel from his face when I pointed to my car – which endeared me to him. We parted in a friendly manner  – me hesitantly saying his name to pronounce  it right  …and ..a smart move….giving him a healthy tip on top of the $60 fare. I was so late – but I could still make the last hour or so of Octoberfest.

I rummaged in my drop bag (we said we’d revisit this) and discovered my key was missing. I recalled when I’d  picked the bag it had been opened, a shoe, a make up bag  – still containing $100 cash  – and some clothing was lying on the ground nearby. At the time my dearest concern was that the Castro Valley should not be exposed to the sight of my  underwear so I scooped everything up quickly and grabbed the bag. It never occurred to me to check for the keys. Doh!!

Now …..forest glade, no cell phone, no key, miles from home. I sprinted after Resham’s car screaming his name like a banshee. He skidded to a stop.

I couldn’t call  anyone at the finish to ask them to check the ground near the drop bags as my cell phone was dead. After some tough communication Resham understood and was up for me recharging my phone in his car –  then he had no cable.  He was fine with me calling using his phone but he had no internet connection and I had no numbers. So I called my husband on his phone and we decided the only thing to do was for me to taxi it back to the start. I spent a long time on that phone call. During it Resham sat quiet and patient, not interrupting or motioning for me to get on with it ..and not running his meter. I was stressed but I did notice it.  I also went back to the spot where the drop bags had been held at the start of the race  – now a completely unmarked piece of scrub land and checked the grass and noticeboards around there for  keys. He sat patiently. He didn’t understand. He didn’t run his meter. He watched me pointing at the trail and ‘dancing’ and smiled, calm and patient. We established I had had fun in this area earlier. All in all he had sat in Tilden Park with his meter off for at least 25 minutes before we left. Off we went.

Resham was more confident with return directions as he knew the ultimate destination but something strange happened on the I-580. One minute we were on it. Suddenly he  discover himself  on the 980 then eventually calmed at the 880. This  will make you rip your hair out if you live there and know the roads. It took well over an hour to drive back and cooked up c. $75. Back at the entry kiosk Resham had trouble trying to explain our mission (and why we shouldn’t pay as we were not parking to stay at the marina) so I leaned forward, spoke to the  man who had  given me this taxi firms’ number nearly three  hours ago and explained the key problem. He threw his head back and guffawed openly…… no pretense of concern, no social nicety just sheer exuberant joy ..’oh that’s priceless’ and waved us through dabbing at his eyes. We made his day.

Pardon my French several times today while looking for those keys

Back at the finish. I asked Resham to wait in the taxi while I ran down to the finish and started the process of looking for the key. I had hoped it would be right there on the ground where my bag had been  – no. I started to feel panicky. Several people helped me search, we lifted every bag up and checked beneath it, we checked the bushes nearby and under the tables where a key might have been kicked. I returned to the Monsters of Massage  to see if I had clawed it out of the bag whilst in the grip of agony. They liked the idea but the key wasn’t under their tables. The race organizer enlisted people to check the cars the drop bags had been transported in and some kind souls were starting to scour the ground of the route from car to drop bag deposit.

Just then a voice said -‘ yes someone found a key’.

While I had been searching two wonderful people had just set off around the finish area asking absolutely everyone  if they had found a key or heard of someone finding a key  – people manning stands, runners and supporters. Unbelievably someone had JUST found a strange set of keys in their drop bag and asked a lady manning a stand what to do with it. Now she was running around trying to spot them again.  I waited ..a quivering mess ..most grateful for the calming aura of Mr John Brooks who proffered his cell phone so I could let my husband Hamish know what was going on the second we saw those keys and if they were mine. They were. I hugged everyone who didn’t bat me off and fought back tears of relief.  OK I blubbed. My guess is that my key somehow fell out of my bag, either someone handling a pile of bags dropped mine upside down  or someone who also used a San Francisco drop bag opened mine to see if it was theirs, pulled out some stuff then …possibly in shock having encountered my underwear- moved on to the next bag. After that, either this person tried to make amends or a separate person spotted the key  – and chucked it ‘back’ into the wrong  bag. Today I learned that drop bags should have zips and padlocks.

Had I checked my bag, noticed the key missing and searched for it at the finish when I came in I would never have got that key back. I wouldn’t  have been there looking four hours later when the owner of the golden drop bag plunged a hand in and thought ..now what is that? Suddenly the hours spent driving around with Resham seemed rather poignant. I am also  so incredibly lucky that a person actually noticed alien keys in their bag.

So now I had to get back to my car. Many people tried to hook me up with a lift but it is a long and awkward journey whatever route you take and no-one was leaving immediately. I also had the nasty problem that I had run up $75 on Resham’s clock ..and that was before getting out of the car to search for the key about 20 minutes ago. Mr Brooks galloped up to the taxi with me on a fine white charger, threw me a bag of gold ($40 cash he had in his car) and even thanked Resham for his patience. How amazingly patient Resham was. Not because he was making easy money either. He had  stopped his meter when I got out. I gave him $80 ( $40 I had and $40 from Sir John). I told him it was all the cash I had and asked him to take me back to my car. He took time to fold the money carefully and drove off with an encouraging smile. Did he understand I had no more cash?

It was another good 40 minutes before we got back to my car. By this time the clock said $150. I offered to write him a check for the amount I owed him – but he gave an enchanting smile and said ‘I am happy.’ I shook his hand warmly and gave him a Cliff bar I had picked up at the race finish as I got out of the car. As I left he had parked up, opened his Cliff bar with great care, divided it into neat sections  and was eating it while gazing at a meadow in Tilden Park. He used to have a rice farm in Bangladesh and misses his fields.

Thank you Berkeley Golden Hills Marathon, Sir  John Brooks – who turns out to be the new owner pumping race experience, customer focus and infectious enthusiasm  into the recently demised running event company  Pacific Coastal Trails ( and has since declined repayment …so if you see him at a race, sell him a sob story and see how much you can get lol ) and of course Resham.

Wore my running for Pete sign today. Saw some of your best friends being awesome and met many who knew and missed you. xx

Marathon results

50 Miler results

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Big Sur Trail Marathon, Sept 29

The day I met Pete, at the Pacifica Foothills marathon in June. He performed his famous, bizarrely agile and high star jump for me and I became just one more in along line of fools who have aimed the camera too low to capture the moment properly.

With deep sadness, I have to dedicate this post to smiling gentleman of the trails, Pete Mingwah. Just two days after racing with many friends ( including myself ) at Mt Daiblo two weeks ago,  Pete suffered an aneurysm and died a few days later. He was 42 years young. An ultra runner, friend and Dad. I only met him recently – but, and I am so grateful for this, he just happened to pop up at almost every race I did in the last three months (we also realised we had done an uncanny number of the same races  before knowing each other), so I  got to know and love and respect  running Pete. We also became friends on Facebook  – and bonded over our other shared  hobby of loving and laughing at being a parent. Such a handsome guy with a distinctively beautiful smile, a fondness for  jettisoning himself  extraordinarily high up into the air to form a star, and an endearing habit of dining  upon baby food while racing.  To say he will be missed really doesn’t cover it. There was one small comfort at his funeral. His friend Janeth told me his doctors said running had probably extended his life.

Pete (left) with Tony and Chris after their 100 miler in August. That’s 300 miles of crazy right there!

Pete eating  baby food at Alva and Lynnard’s  Diablo aid station. The story of Pete as a runner is inspiring – for non-runners and runners with crazy dreams alike. Like many of ‘The Stamina on Toast Brigade’ such as Tony, Chris and Janeth who persist in belittling my running with vast flurries of races and daring distances. He changed his life by taking up running surprisingly recently -I believe his first marathon was San Francisco in July 2011. This summer he ran it again, his time sandwiched between his Summer 7 ( 7 marathons in 7 days) and a 100 miler!

We had a lot of fun pre-race at Diablo – I love this photo ..we are either being spiders or trying to scare them. Pete in red hat.

Pete’s own photo starting the final descent at Diablo. Who has the endurance to be on trails for ten and a half hours ..and then want to do it again next week? I know I may have used the expression ‘Raving Lunatic’ Pete  – but you know I meant awesome!

Big Sur Marathon

Pete was a member of Marathon Maniacs, and was rapidly moving towards Titanium status (your status depends on the number of marathons you have done). When he died his friends started running marathons ‘ for’  him. I pledged my Big Sur marathon. He achieved Titanium status the day after his funeral. Friends are now continuing to contribute races with the aim of hitting 4440 miles (his membership number) by the end of the year.

Pete on my race bib.

How far?

I booked in to do this marathon some time ago. I knew it was a wee ways away. We planned a family weekend in Big Sur. However, Pete’s funeral was the day before and  – on a much happier note  – my friend Speedy (Devon Crosby Zoom) was marrying Nathan Yanko..the only man on earth fast enough to catch her..the day after. So if I was going to do it I would have to drive there and back on the day. There was a shriek and uncorking of medicinal wine when I finally got round to Googling up just how far away it was the night before …which was the evening of Pete’s funeral. A seven hour roundtrip?  I went  for it. Pete and I enjoyed laughing at each other  – he laughed at my speed and I at his stamina. I freshly appreciated that stamina when it occured to me that driving there, running a marathon and driving back would take about the same ten and a half hours Pete had put in on Diablo. Thank you Daddy Macphail for letting me go and leaving you at the mercy of our children.

Coffee Disaster

I left home at 5am and drove for hours, constantly on the brink of stopping for coffee. Unbelievably, I found myself on a coastal road with mileage counting down to arrival  –  I had missed my last opportunity to caffeinate. I must have passed over 400 coffee shops. Staggering incompetence. There should be a  public information sign…

Billy No Mates   (translation for US readers  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/British_slang)

I felt a tad despondent  I didn’t know anyone there and everyone else seemed to swigging coffee and chatting in groups about how lovely their coffee was.   I thought about the  fun spider group photos we have of Diablo and started asking people in groups if  they’d like  me to take a photo with them all in it. I took pictures of nine groups.  Made me feel a little better.

Just before the race, organizer Dave Horn climbed onto a fire dept truck and addressed the crowd. He asked who had run the most marathons and established what he thought was a person who had run 170 of them. The man was indeed a clear and impressive winner but had actually said 107, it was deliciously funny to watch as he attempted to get a correction but was not heard over the cheering of the crowd. I was  also amused overhearing comments from perhaps a slightly less experienced guy who had ‘ simply drunk lots of water yesterday’ so he didn’t have to carry a water bottle in the race today.

 

Big Sur’s famous Bixby Bridge. This is the picture that lured me to sign up for this race. Sadly, you don’t get to run over it…it is waaaay too flat. But you do tumble down a hillside to reach an aid station by it, crawl back up to a turnaround and descend to it again. You also get to drive by it on the way home  and see poor souls still out there eating hill. History lesson – the bridge is named after the creek and the creek is named after New Yorker Charles Bixby who had a lumber business here in 1868. Before the bridge was built in 1932 the residents of Big Sur were often cut off in the winter, the 11 mile coastal road was often impassable. And the pour souls had no chance of reaching Starbucks.

I like to think of my races as a visual image. This one needed little imagination as it is clearly a set of teeth. Premolar (ok a bit pointy but go with it) , Canine and a little row of incisors, back to the Canine, Premolar and finish.

On the word go three men foolishly threw away the chance to initiate a deep and meaningful friendship with me and hurtled out of sight. Erik Stanley was to win the marathon in 3hrs 2mins. Faster than I could do a downhill road marathon on roller skates with a favourable wind behind me. Bet he had coffee. The other two doubtless finely caffeinated chaps Oswaldo Lopez and Sean Curry stayed together for the whole race and finished around 3.27.   But ..and let me shout from the roof tops…behind them strode a mighty pack of four strong ladies, one dressed entirely in pink..even her hair. (She was fun. I looked like a clap of thunder beside her.). Two of them fell back after a few miles but one lady crested the first hill ahead of me. I exerted myself more than I normally would at the start of a race to catch her  – frankly I just felt so sad for Pete. I knew I was supposed to feel I was running with him or honoring/celebrating him and like so many people that day I was running with flashes of very happy memories of him in my head  – but I couldn’t get passed a leaden saddness…and that feeling you want to do something about it/fix it.  This was an Envirosports event  – and they have  a no headphone policy,  I couldn’t lift my mind with audio..and today I wasn’t sure I had it in me to run in my own head.

When I got to the top of the hill I zoomed by her on the down. Darn. It looked like the best I was going to have was a  ‘Flat Stanley’ (someone who passes me uphill but I pass down hill so we only get to talk on the flat bits). Some time later she reached me I was climbing the next big hill and we got to talking.  And she was absolutely wonderful..so  perfect in fact that if you were going to put ‘the perfect woman’ into a movie this would be a bit OTT.  Her name was Kirstin Walter, she founded and directs Feelgood, a non-profit selling grilled cheese sandwiches to students in colleges across America to raise money to combat world hunger. She was of course beautiful to look at – long blonde hair..   perfect figure  ..and she has a ten month old baby. And she is young ..29 …nearly 20 yrs younger than me.  She hadn’t run a marathon for about 5 years ..however..when she did .she ran them in 3hrs 6. Not stopping for sandwiches then!!! (my pb is 3.12). Also …and a sensitive point for me..she was clearly not a klutz as she was carrying her phone loose  in her hand to monitor her running. We all know I would face plant and have that smashed up or arced off down an impenetrable cliff in seconds.  Had she not been such a lovely person I’d have pushed her over the edge to take the pressure off the rest of womankind. As it was I was keen to have her around so when we came to the next downhill I decided to try and teach her the way I run downhill. She absolutely nailed it!!! And we were able to run together for miles.

With Kirstin Walter

You too can dislocate your knee or tear discs by following my handy tips for running downhill fast.  1) Plant your heel firmly and lift it out or roll the foot over it depending on the terrain. Sometimes you can push off the toe to build speed.  2) If  you can see you don’t have to brake –  don’t. Many runners go down a long slope braking constantly rather than flowing down it. Chickens!  3) Hold your core tight and lean your head and shoulders so you fall down the hill with gravity. Do literally hold your arms out if you need help to balance 4) Get a strong breathing rhythm with a deliberate, long, calm exhale. 5) Don’t let your head micromanage your feet and legs. Lift your mind away from placing each foot and making sense of  each leg..let your subconscious figure it out. 6) Lengthen your stride, sometime it feels like you are running in slow motion. Spend as long as possible in the air.

At the third aid station my stomach suddenly cramped up. And I was surprised to find myself inside a Portaloo releasing a disturbing quantity of matter from my innards. What the..? Was my body reacting to the  long car journey or expressing outrage at the lack of caffeine? I Then recalled my misguided experiment adding Udos Oil to my Power Porridge that morning. All the grown up runners seem to swear by it but I’m not entirely sure race morning is when they consume it. Worse, I had only intended to add a drop and a whole lot whooshed in…and it’s awfully expensive so I still ate it. Ah. I emerged from the Portaloo and headed off downhill in pursuit of  Kirstin. So having just taught her how to run downhill so successfully, I was now struggling  to catch her. Eventually I did.

My actual family

As we approached Bixby Bridge Kirstin asked if anyone was meeting me there. It was such a charming idea I was smitten with a mental  image of my children lined up with home made posters, their father nodding sagely and offering strategy tips. (I’ve run my way to exhausting the family’s interest ..though the 3 yr old does like  rating medals for how well they make imprints in playdough). It turned out that this quite delightful young lady was accompanied by the winners of Most Lovely and Supportive Family In California. We had her ten month old baby Wendy (named after her mother who had died just a year ago), her divine  husband, his surfing friends, her father and his friend from work. They even staggered themselves along the hillside leading to the bridge so as to  hit her with numerous little boosts of support. But here is the most awesome thing… both she and every single one of them  made a pronounced effort to include me in all their happy greetings. And from then on I absolutely shared them with her.

Kirstin dancing towards her support team :0) I’m seething in the Portaloo at Bixby Bridge right now.

Even more exciting, they didn’t stay at the bridge….once we saw them there they proceeded to pop up in unusual places (again in splinter groups to give her …and now us..more hits of support). Her Dad took her water bottle at the bridge in order to refill it for her. We both expected him to return it to her the second time we reached the bridge …. but miles before the bridge he popped up in the forest!  I think he may have actually run up the hill with it…and done it pretty fast.

Back at the bridge I was again detained for some time studying the interior of a Portaloo.  Aaarrgh!   Kirstin was a good way ahead of me as I started back on the return leg…but her support team were out if force and cheered me on as if they had come for that express purpose. Normally other people’s families make me miss mine. I just  felt like an honorary member of theirs for the day.  Certainly makes a change from the type who yell ‘get her’ to someone behind you.

Self and Bixby Bridge (pic by Kirstin’s family)

I had suffered unspeakable horrors with two more restroom breaks (one au naturale which was expressly forbidden…I thought no judge would do me for it considering I had used all the portaloos on the course too)  When I got to the top of the penultimate hill  ‘the Canine’ (see map of race as teeth). The man at the aid station just had two words for me ‘Good luck’.  I was perhaps not looking my best?  But my stomach seemed to say “I’ve toyed with you enough now run along home and don’t do it again”.  I dug deep, inhaled the glorious breeze and  positively thundered down the wide rocky fire road.  Had Kirstin not been ahead  I wouldn’t have done it at half the speed..I seemed to be airborne for a lot of it. She heard me approaching …or possibly feared begin run over my a herd of elephants ..and waved behind her enthusiastically.  We were  both very happy to be together  as we hit the last hill ‘the Premolar’ and  – as expected –  it was a tough old crawl up. The conversation kept us both going.

This picture really capture the heat and terrain (pic of Kirstin by her family)

Finally we got to that last aid station  – with just a  2.5 mile blast downhill to go. We stayed together and were keen to  finish together. Envirosports is the company that awards a chicken purse (handbag) and a bottle of wine to the female winner. Could we squeeze two chickens out of them? I was especially keen to snare a chicken today as I had promised my friend Speedy (Devon Crosby Helms) it should be hers if ever I won one again …and she was getting married the next day. Devon’s bridal trousseau  bulges with far more glittering prizes from very scary proper races..like the US Marathon Olympic trials…but it needed a chicken purse.   We plummeted down fast but comfortable. I soaked up the sweeping view, salted breeze and golden light. Few people who ran race in Pete’s name that day will have done so dry eyed, but I was very much filled with joy as well as sadness as tears came to me there . I literally started flapping my arms in the air like a bird and  ‘flew’ along laughing with Kirstin – we kept passing  people completing shorter distances  – everyone was enjoying exchanging greetings,  marveling at the light and the view and the fact that our hills were done. There could be no finer way to celebrate friendships  made on the trails.

Two first ladies (Photo from Kirstin’s family)

Suddenly we turned a corner and there was the finish- a colorful gathering of people across the path (I jokingly asked Kirstin if they were all members of her family). We crossed the line together hand in hand, Kirstin greeting  the race official with “we want to split the chicken” . The time was 3 hrs 39 min.

Urgent message for Devon..

Of course all of my new family for the day were there  – and once again I was just blown away by how they all included me. It was quite the most joyful end to a race. They only had one chicken bag and one bottle of wine, but could mail out a second bag so we agreed I should  snap up the  chicken  for Speedy  – and team Kirstin claimed the wine. We parted company. I felt overwhelmed again.  Pete had won a marathon in style – a lady on each arm. I climbed into my car to start that looooong drive home, and was startled by a tapping on my window. Kirstin’s husband, positively beaming….they had found a bottle of wine for me too :0) Officially the perfect family!

Stuff diamonds – we have babies and chickens

I drove away feeling good, the expert marathon runner who had smiled upon the comments of novices earlier and tutored others in downhill technique during the race. What a pro. Off I went completely forgetting to pick up my T shirt and medal.  Thank you Envirosports for posting them to me.

http://results.us.eventdirector.net/4843

And finally …after a bit of a scrub down

honoured to be with Speedy on her big day :0)

Congrats to Devon and Nathan. It’s amazing what you can pick up on these trails!