Author Archives: pennymacphail

Pacifica Foothills trail marathon, June 16th

Course map – of course!

I bade farewell to my husband at 6.30 am. I would be kissing a strange man at the top of Montara North Peak by eleven. The pre-marathon disaster this time was a knee problem. I dislocated my right knee c. 4 yrs ago. I’m gung-ho running through colds and stomach upsets but if my knee doesn’t give me permission – I don’t run. Imagine then how I laughed when a gentleman swung a heavy metal briefcase behind him on the Larkspur ferry and absolutely smashed my right patella from the side.  The knee that had survived 25 marathons without complaint now  ballooned.  The week before this race it was clear the only exercise I was going to have would be tossing  anti-inflammatories in the air and catching them in my mouth.

I am evangelical about how to strap knees for running. When recovering from my knee injury I experimented with every knee strap on the market – my knee specialist used to give me samples he had been sent to try out. Many are great for walking but absolutely none of them could stay in place during a long run, most of them move around and start squashing the patella instead of supporting it. The only solution I found was hand strapping using materials and a technique a physio showed me. I made a trip to the specialist medical supply shop in San Anselmo and got really good strapping stuff. You pull the patella to one side with three strips of waterproof tape then cover the lot with BSN Medical cover roll stretch adhesive tape. Any other materials get soggy and fall off. These ones survive a swimming pool and look better after a run than the rest of you.

The day before the race it suddenly felt ok again- but this was a hilly course  – well over 6,000 ft climb and I was absolutely prepared to drop out if the knee was at all uncomfortable. I had the knee strapped lightly and added a Cho Pat knee strap  – this just runs under your knee and helps the patella with tracking  http://www.cho-pat-store.com. I didn’t know how it would feel running and hadn’t been able to test that  – but unlike many knee devices it would take seconds to rip off and be easy to carry it if was a nasty mistake.

Knee strapped, looking silly but ready ..

And so I arrived at the San Pedro Valley park in Pacifica. I had run this marathon course before with Coastal Trails ( their Montara race is virtually the same) so I knew the race. This time the organiser was Inside Trail Racing http://www.insidetrail.com/, a relatively new company which is run by ‘the two Tims’.

(The local running world has been rather rocked by the demise of one running race company PCTR, the continued success of spin off competitor Coastal Trails and the rise of this one by ‘the two Tims’. Here is a blog that outlines the story – http://www.atrailrunnersblog.com/2011/12/delicate-fate-of-pacific-coast-trail.html)

The web site didn’t disclose details of entrants but I could see there wouldn’t be a huge field for any of the distances (50K, marathon, 30k, half marthon and 10K). Fine by me..less pressure on the restrooms and possibly less self enforced pressure on my patella. Everyone at check in was absolutely charming, I felt at home immediately and recognized a few names and faces among the entrants. These included ‘Mr X’  aka Pete Mingwah who I recognized from photos on FB posted by my certifiable  friend Chris Jones. His running is very different from mine, like Chris he runs at a steadier pace but does a lot more races and longer distances. His ambition is to run 52 marathons this year (they have  a week in which they run a marathon every day coming up this summer …aaarhh). His party trick is to spring into the air forming an X so I asked him to do one and I must say I was shocked at the speed, agility and height. I nearly chopped his head off in the photo as I was pointing the camera at the spot I thought he would occupy in the air.

Pete grounded

Someone who had not done this course before asked if it was very exposed as he was worried about he heat. I didn’t want to depress him so I replied ‘ it depends if you’re crawling or not’ . These words were to return to haunt me. Several others pummeled him with the grim truth. It is almost entirely exposed and it was going to be a HOT day..80sF.

Pete X

The race starts at the Old Trout picnic area. As former archaeologist I always love a bit of history. It is not named after Hamish’s ex but after a an ill fated trout farm operated by John Gay. It flourished until 1962 when destroyed by extensive flooding – you can still see some structures. The south of the area is still a seasonal water source for the town of Pacifica and the area is known for growing artichokes and pumpkins. The theme of water was to continue in today’s run.

One of the Tims waved us off  at 8.30am. Behind him a surprised family gathering was setting out a picnic. A striking balloon depicting a chocolate dipped strawberry bobbled in the air. If all went well I would pass that balloon 4 times. If not perhaps I could join them for lunch:0). The course was very much as I remembered. There are three hills. I named them before  The Face, the Pimple and the Zit. The Face is by far the largest, a 1,900 ft long jaunt through forest and then stone fire road to the top of Montara’s North Peak. You go up in forest on one trail then head up the mountain and back before returning to ground level on a different trail. I don’t know why I love it so much but I do, especially the top section. The views are spectacular and it is just a place to enjoy being.

Rather cool graphic (nothing to do with this race) shows the route up North Peak and gives you an idea of how cool the views are

You pass by the carpark and aid station before starting The Pimple- this is a fairly nondescript and to me just lightly annoying hill to get over – and then there is The Zit.. innocuousnessly named Hazelnut.  For some reason it just does not fit in with my running, it is worse than a steeper climb would be to me, it is an uncomfortable and featureless rumble around an uphill trail that has the audacity to force you through 19 switchbacks – the last 5 or 6 of which deliberately conspire to make you think they are  the final one causing tentative celebrations only to dash your hopes. My plan today was to try to ignore it as much as possible, pretend that I didn’t care how long it went on for while surreptitiously observing recognizable features so I would keep false celebrations to a minimum. Begrudgingly, I will admit that on account of being so awful Hazelnut does give you a moment of sheer delight when you DO  reach the top as it is a glorious protracted swoop for miles downhill,  interspersed only with  a gentle hurtle through pungent, shady Eucalyptus grove. It makes for a great finish. This is the end for half marthoners. Marathoners repeat the course.

Oddly enough the knee didn’t give me a moment’s concern during the entire run. Incredible.I absolutely could not have run on it at all three days ago. So lucky! But there was a big problem  – and that was the heat. I have never had such a tough race in my life. The first section up and down North Peak was good. It was warm but  I enjoyed the heat and I felt hydrated. I met up with a lovely lady called Anne Cottrell on the way up. She passed me and glided uphill with ease. I overtook her on the way back down and then we ran together for quite a while. The descent of North Peak can be very fast but I was cautious not to  hammer it on the first go for the sake of that knee …just incase ..so it was a very sensible and social time as we plummeted downhill talking. She had a lively sense of humour and we had a lot in common, it was a treat to have a like-minded companion. I appreciated it especially today as a wonderful person, Joanna Hawthorne, had just passed away in Northern Ireland after a long battle with a brain tumour and she was in my mind a good deal as I ran. Here were Anne and myself, both in our 40s, both with three children, both healthy, both enjoying meeting new people and exhilarated by our run (a run I couldn’t have attempted before the age of 39)   – the sense of personal challenge and accomplishment/appreciating the beauty of where we were/feeling alive. How unfair life is. How important it is not to take it for granted.

Joanna – who sadly passed away just before this race. She and her husband Corin were very much in my mind during this run.

Anne was doing the 30k  (around 19 miles) and, being great on the old uphill left me for good when we hit Hazelnut ( The Zit). I was delighted to see she kept up the charge and was first lady in that 30K with a time of 2.58. 12  – just 8 mins after the first man. The lady at the aid station old me she didn’t want to stop when she was done.  I look forward to being pulverized by her in a marathon one day!

There was only one aid station – and you reached it every six miles or so. The first time I reached it returning from North Peak I was certainly ready to refill my water bottle. The second time, coming down from Hazelnut I was REALLY thirsty. I refilled my bottle, drank a couple of little cups of coke and started up North Peak again  – but to my dismay hadn’t got very far when I discovered my bottle was already nearly empty. This has happened to me with dehydration before, you quench your thirst but it sort of pops back again. The liquid equivalent of being hungry after Chinese food. It was so hot and I had at least five miles of the North Peak circuit to run up and down – should I turn back to the aid station?  I couldn’t face that  –  it would add a good 20 mins to my time. When I got to the point where you meet the return trail I left my water bottle on a stump. With my hands free perhaps I could run up and down this thing a bit faster. People were really suffering in the heat, a guy running with me had two water bottles – and he was getting low already too.   They looked awkward to carry ( I can’t bear carrying two of them ) and I considered offering to carry one of his bottles for him as I had free hands but he might think I would expect payment in water.  On and on up the mountain, passing discarded clothing and one especially forlorn dehydrated lizard corpse. I tried to push the idea of water out of my head  – an unhelpful image of a surprise aid station at the top of the mountain kept springing up, a smiling lady offering  a jug of pink electrolyte drink…it was clinking with ice. What a joy it would be if I discovered some kindly soul had come across my water bottle at the  return spot and filled it with ice water as a little surprise for me!

I carry baby wet wipes with me and sometimes freshen my face and arms with them during a race. Today I wouldn’t risk that  – the sun was burning down on my skin  –  I would be really foolish to risk removing any sunblock that hadn’t slid off already. I still opened my pocket to considering they might be useful for something. If I squeezed them out just how horrible would it taste? No  – that was a non starter. I pulled one out to wipe my hands and  laughed out loud as it was so hot it was like a heated towel – how sophisticated.  Well I had a fresh clean paws now  – all the better to grip water with when I got to it.

The man with two water bottles slowed down and mumbled something disconcerting about not liking what his heart rate was doing but he looked ok so I passed him. Now I didn’t even have his water to look at.

Crawling up the last few miles of North Peak I started to feel quite dizzy. Soon I came across a couple who were hiking. The man had a large  water back pack and the lady’s  waist  was encircled with a water belt, featuring no less than  six pretty large bottles all still completely full of water. Feeling quite ashamed of myself but sensing a medical emergency, I tried to score some water. Yes I actually begged. “Excuse me..would you have any spare water?”.  They looked at me blankly.I had expected a sharp refusal from which I could run away, a lecture on my not carrying water which I could explain or …most likely a ‘delighted to help …what’s the race etc’ response. What I got was two unsmiling people who didn’t speak English. ‘What is washer…we do not know the word washer..what are you saying’?  The conversation was eating precious time and my attempts to point at the girl’s water failed to communicate anything beyond a mild cause for alarm. I think they were looking on the ground for a snake when I threw them a parched ‘never mind’ and lumbered on, really feeling a little shoddy for asking.  On I went. It was going to be at least another mile of uphill and then several downhill before I could drink. And then I met an angel……

I came to a group of three people hiking up the hill, they turned round as I approached and one of them immediately reached for the drinking nozzle of his water pack and offered it to me. Considering what I had just been through and how deeply unpleasant it would be for the average person to have a creature looking and smelling like me drink from something they would not have the opportunity to sterilize before needing to use again themselves,  interpreted it as a joke. My mind was full of how I could say ” actually I am quite mad with thirst would you mind …a little sip might stop me having a siezure’  and wondering just how odd that would sound. Perhaps I should faint and keep my mouth open in the hopes they might squish some water over my head to resuscitate me?  And I staggered on by them.

View from North Peak. Oohh water…

The guy who had gestured his water then asked if he could run with me. His friends were hiking a pace that was too slow for him and  he felt like a little burst of running. He immediately ran off at a hell of a pace, simultaneously asking how far the race was. As soon as I whimpered the word ‘marathon’  he dropped to my speed in a second, understanding that my current crawl was the topspeed of the moment.  It was a relief as it has happened to me in races before that people who are not racing have joined me, started chatting and I have found myself struggling to keep up with them in order to find out the end to an interesting story or avoid seeming rude.  Then he turned round and said ‘are you sure you don’t want some water’?  A heavenly chorus rang in my ears……………I hadn’t asked ………and I persisted in making sure he was sure ..and then I fell on that water. It was ice cold. Unbelievable. Quite the most magical moment. On we ran up the hill. He was just lovely, a young guy called Nick- in his twenties I guess. What a luxury to have my mind lifted by talking to him. I don’t remember much of the conversation – there was a lot of laughing and some stuff about his sister’s horse. I could tell he was just one of those thoroughly nice, caring, people. Without being asked he offered me more water two or three times as we climbed the last bit of hill and when we got to the turn around point we stopped. I’m not sure why, but on this course they don’t take you to the very summit of North Peak and despite his attractive water supply I didn’t want him to miss out on running to the top so I sent him off to do that. We stood together at the turn around and I thanked him again, and told him he was an angel. Rather than accept the praise he started wondering if I might also be  hungry because he also had some trail mix in his bag lol! I told him as nicely as possible that the very sight of that would make me throw up and cost me all the water I had acquired from our meeting. He then insisted I took  some more water before going back down and I accepted it gratefully  -laughing because it seemed so oddly intimate, like breast feeding. I told him he was an angel again,  kissed his cheek and turned to zoom downhill.  Minutes later I was thirsty again but the memory of that iced water and the great pleasure of meeting such a lovely person kept me going. I ran by his friends and yelled at them ‘your friend’s an angel’ and they smiled and waved …not looking especially surprised. I passed Mr two bottles on the way down and told him about my angel. I told him to say ‘hi Nick’ if they met too to freak him out.  This is an old running trick I enjoy playing on my Dad – asking a complete stranger to greet the person running behind you by name. It works best when you are 6,000 miles away from home and don’t  know anyone.

My two black big toes are feeling more comfy after some TLC from this man. he was very calm and polite but I think he may have needed a little lie down after tackling them.

By the time I got to my water bottle I was very seriously dehydrated again, sadly it was not filled with iced water and I plummeted down to ground level as fast as I could just waiting for that aid station. It seemed to take years …’come on where are you strawberry balloon?’…and there it was. I filled my bottle and drank it down straight, I filled the bottle again and began experimenting with the array of little drinks in cups on the table. I started wanting to giggle a lot and heard myself say ‘ mm my these are all delicious’ with an odd chuckle. It all seemed very funny to me at the time. I think it was euphoria.  I told the lady this was going to be my longest ever stop at an aid station and indeed it was. I knew I had to drink, wait for that thirst to hit me again and drink again. She suggested some  salt tablets which I took- I’ve never taken them before but it seemed sensible. I still had 6 miles to go. Off I ran. I was worried that I might have drunk too much but there were no swishing noises or cramps. As long as I didn’t fall over and land on my stomach and pop it, I’d be fine. Just then there was a noise behind me – a guy from the aid station was calling me back and pointing in the direction of North Peak. It turned out he thought I hadn’t done the second loop up there yet. There was a tiny, nasty  flicker of self doubt but then I assured him with confidence that I had done it twice already. When  I spoke to him later I added that I had been  prepared to knock him unconscious if I had to  rather than repeat it again today. It was impressive though that he chased after me. People manning aid stations aren’t always so clued in to what people are running – or indeed care so much if someone’s race get ruined by making that kind of mistake. I tackled The Pimple. Hot, hot, hot. How quickly my fresh water bottle emptied itself yet again! It was gone before I faced Hazelnut, The Zit,  for the last time. As I dragged myself along I was overtaken by two extremely fresh looking fast runners. It shook me  a little. Look at them..running along this as if it is a normal trail and not  Hazelnut! I couldn’t figure out what distance they were racing. How could they be so much faster than me but not be ahead of me before now if they were doing the marathon – it turned out they were unbelievably fast 50k runners. Leigh Schmitt who did the 50K in 4. 30.09 and Bret Rivers who did it in 4.30.44. The next person to finish the 50k was two hours behind them! I was also passed a while later by another man. As there were no photos with this event I coudn’t figure out who he was. I wondered if perhaps I was crawling on Hazelnut so badly that the entire marathon field was going to come storming by me. It was possible. I pushed myself as much as I could, arguing myself out of reverting to staggery walking instead of running, reminding myself that I am lucky to be able to try a challenge like this, pushing long term goals like water out of my head and hanging in there for the moment due any time now when I would  reach the top. And there it was. If I had had any moisture to burn I might have cried. Whooshing down I passed the last man who had passed me and kept going. That downhill took an awfully long time …………but soon the finish line glittered ahead ..and after it the aid station where  the guy who had chased me earlier kept the ice water flowing until I had downed three full bottles of the stuff . A hot day. A thirsty girl.

475 bottles of water and 26 miles later I drove home with all these goodies

The results were hilarious. Good news, I had come in first in the marathon with a time of  4.37.27.  However, there were only six people in the race – and none of them were women.  So I was first lady – and  last, lady most likely to become President, lady with best behaved children, cutest dog and sexiest elbows on he day . I’m so glad I didn’t know, it would have been far more difficult to keep going if  I known for sure I was racing against myself. I looked back at my result from the Montara marathon on the same course earlier in the year  – I did it in just over 4 hrs. My blog did say ‘we were rather lucky with the conditions, it was a perfect day  – I can imagine the course would take a great deal longer with extremes of wind, rain or heat’. lol A Tim gave me an exciting array of goodies  – a medal with a big Number One on it, a beer glass (nicked by husband…considering the kissing of strangers I’ll let it go) a cool water bottle that you can put Gu gel in and a really nice T shirt..lovely shape and material.  I hope this company keeps including the marathon distance in its races, I’d love to run with them again. Thank you Inside Trail and thank you my angel Nick. (Oh and thanks for 12 teriffic years of marriage Dear)

Marathon

Place Name City Bib No Age Gender Age Group Total Time
1 Penny Macphail San Anselmo CA 454 44 F 1 40-49 4:37:27.0
2 Scott Kunz Pacifica CA 452 30 M 1 30-39 4:55:08.7
3 Chris Eide Palo Alto CA 355 36 M 2 30-39 5:26:51.5
4 Ron Little Montara CA 453 41 M 1 40-49 5:28:34.3
5 J.R. Mintz Hercules CA 456 45 M 2 40-49 6:59:59.0
6 Peter Mingoa San Francisco CA 455 42 M 3 40-49 7:10:47.3
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Canyon Meadows Marathon, 3rd June, 2012

So tempting…

Hubble, bubble, toil and trouble …and that’s just before the race.

Good news. I had finally shaken the cold that had been bugging me for the two weeks since my last trail marathon. Bad news. I mean really rotten luck. I had picked up the stomach bug our family had been gifting to each other. Urgh.  On race morning  I woke up at 5.30am hoping to find myself recovered only to spend  30 depressing and memorable minutes in the bathroom. Here was a tempting Coastal Trails race –  one I hadn’t done before which is always a treat. Images of  beautiful forest were calling to me and the relatively low elevation at  just over 3, 000ft was converted in my mind to something gentle and manageable for a sick person- amd it was just 40 minutes away. I deployed all the advice I had gleaned off the net to see if there was any way I could conquer the ‘D’ word before the 8am start.

They reckon 25-30% of long distance runners suffer from ‘runner’s trots’ – where the combination of body jiggling, nerves and dehydration causes them to suffer from attacks of the ‘d ‘ word mid race. I have suffered myself on some normal race days. On trail runs there are plenty of bushes to run in to but whether bush or restroom is the solution, loss of time is always an irritating problem. Now I was facing the force of a bug on top of the force of nature …

So here was the advice:

1) I cut out my usual race day morning tea followed by very strong coffee, instead forcing  myself to drink four large glasses of water. My research had told me ‘D’ is exacerbated by as well as the cause of dehydration. I actually made the coffee and sniffed it. Sad addict.

2)  Clearly I couldn’t race like this so I took some Imodium. A horrid risk as I’ve never taken it before but there was nothing to lose. (no pun intended).The net is full of grateful runners swearing by it – not for daily use but for long runs/races.

3) Read all packaging. In a comic moment I turned the packaging over in my hands after swallowing the pills and read the possible symptoms for the first time. ‘May cause drowsiness, fatigue, dizziness’. Nothing that should pose a snag when running a marathon then. Lol!

4) If you want these things to work well you take them on an empty stomach and don’t eat for 2 hrs after. I had taken them just before 6am and the race started at 8am. I normally fuel up an hour before a race. What to do?  In the end I ate a quarter of what I normally do before a marathon and planned  – if I started the race – to take in more Gu gels very early on.

Around 6.00am I drove off  through the morning light feeling much better and considering shares in Imodium as it appeared to have produced a miracle instant fix. I turned on the audiobook I had been listening too – the biography of Steve Jobs and soon came to the very end of it. I had spent the entire book really not liking the guy but at the end the biographer gave Steve the last few words and in them he discusses the possibility of life after death. I won’t spoil it for you but suffice it to say my face was streaming with tears and I thought …he ‘got’ me or rather I ‘got’ him at the very last minute. It helped my get the minuscule nature of my problem into perspective. I’ll just get to the race and see how I feel. If I can’t start never mind, it’s good to be alive and all that.

About two miles from the race location in Redwood Regional Park I suddenly had an urgent need for restroom facilities. I looked for somewhere to pull over and seek relief in privacy but there was nowhere. It seemed sheer lunacy that I had left home. How was I going to transport myself from car to toilet without some form of explosion?. I paid my $5 and drove through the park entrance around 7am. I felt ludicrous. Have I really just driven 27 miles to use a restroom ..possibly  several times ..and go home. Fortunately, oh joy… I was directed to park right beside a restroom…and there was no queue. One high speed sprint and I was saved.  I remained there until I was sure it was safe and suddenly felt pretty confident again. I strolled up towards registration (might as well) while surfing the net with my iPhone trying to find out how long it takes Imodium to work.

I dare myself to register..

I might as well get my race bib just in case a miracle happened…and gradually it seemed possible it had just happened. But no – as I returned to my car the torrent continued. I hightailed it to the restroom and proceeded to pay a visit, rejoin the queue and repeat this for 7 times. What was I thinking coming here? Running certainly didn’t seem an option. I was more anxious about coping with the  drive home. During this time I received the gift of a friendly and familiar face  – Adona Ramos.

Adona, lovely lady. Finishing – first lady and course record in the 30k. 2.36.37.

Beautiful looking lady with an amazing petite figure resplendent in bright purple. This is what I would like to look like as a runner- I always seem to look more along the lines of a Russian shot putter who has been roughed up. We have raced together before and run about the same pace but she prefers the 20mile/30k distance. As she did the last time we shared a race she won her distance that day and set a new ladies course record. And looked chilled and immaculate at the finish. We started chatting about my ‘challenges’ and eventually the line of ladies were joining in and roaring with laughter. The conversations  and good humour kept going as people came and went but I remained. The  spirit of those ladies really helped, I had at least 20 people committed to creating a distraction if they found me in a compromising position on the trail. Two of them even sang for me during one visit to cover embarrassing noises.

Ten minutes before the start I suddenly felt good to leave the restroom. Am I now protected by the  power of Imodium I wondered?  I  took myself on a bouncy jog to see if anything disturbing happened.  A couple of ladies who had been at the restroom earlier applauded my effort which made me laugh..also a valuable test and also successfully passed. It really seemed ok. Either the worst was over or it would suddenly hit me again in about 30mins. That seemed to be the pattern. I watched myself join  the top of the  start line 2 mins before kick off  – nothing seem quite real. I was on auto pilot. Somehow I had decided to have a go.

If things went wrong  I was equipped to deal with disaster and I had a plan  – namley  run into the forest , hide, and emerge after everyone had passed and sneak back to my car. Off we went.

This course starts with a very challenging hill. I thought it had quite a nerve being on a c. 3,000 ft elevation course (this now looking something like a bowling green in the expectations of my imagination). Unlike many trail races though, this remains  a generous fire road so there is no need to kill yourself to get to the head of the pack for fear of bottle necking. I took it fairly gently and tried not to be alarmed by the number of people passing and ahead of me. It is important to remember people are running shorter distances, here  there were 5 milers, 30k, half marathoners and 50k runners all masqueradering as fellow marathon competition.  

After a while the hill continues steadily up but is broken by a few little downs and flats and I felt myself recovering and getting into a rhythm. At the turn off for the 5 milers I had no problems re. ‘ you know what’ and was filled with gratitude to be able to follow the pink ribbon marking the half  marathon course. I smiled to notice it was one of those rather mocking turns where the 5 mile yellow points to a shaded whoosh downhill while the longer distances face an arid steep uphill. The 30k and 50k runners were going to love the moment when they got to zoom down that on last leg! Eventually, we got to pretty forest trails and after a while I got to overtake a number of runners on downhill sections. As often happens I found what I call a ‘Flat Stanley’  – that is a person who is great on uphill but not on downs, the opposite of myself – and for mile after mile we separated on hills and met up again on flat sections which was rather amicable. There is a odd ridge top section on this run which was to me unexpectedly covered in deep sand.  The hot sun and flat sand combined to make me feel rather relaxed as if on a jaunt to a beach. I was just thinking ..how  nice to dig in and eat away a few easy miles on this stuff when I became aware there was a young lady creeping  up behind me. This turned out to be 27 yr old Nicki Wells. I am pretty good at knowing not to chase ladies ahead of me this early in a marathon – over exertion beyond what is right for you can often lead to a fizzle later on. But it is another thing entirely to resist speeding up a tad to ensure someone doesn’t over take you. When we all took a sharp right turn off fireroad into downhill single track forest the two of us absolutely shot down it. I felt quite a whoosh of adrenalin. I never allow myself to take risks and run fast on technical downhill like this when I am training and it was a blast, my body was comfortable, I was hardly breathing with the concentration and the lady, Nicki, was right behind me the whole way. It was terrific fun.  When we reached a more undulating section we passed a group of hikers who said ‘ well done, first ladies’.  This was cool as up until then I had known there were women in front of me but you never know who is doing a shorter course, it appeared all of them must have been 5 milers. The next burning question for both of us was  of course was …is this lady doing the half marathon or the full?

Nicki Wells – first lady in half marathon 1.47.23.

I normally don’t allow myself to ask but this time I did- and  she was doing the half. We parted company at the aid station at the bottom of this long down section. She was steaming off towards victory and I needed to fill up my bottle with electrolyte drink and grab a Gu gel…only one of us had ‘that’  long and challenging hill in our near future. Then I suddenly felt very weak, nauseous and dizzy… and my stomach which had been no trouble at all up until now started cramping.

The last section of this half marathon course is cleverly designed for a wonderful finish. After a section of straight fire road you return to undulating forest trail with a  few challenging ups on it  – but the exciting bit is that below you can see a forest road …and on it runners headed towards the very finish. You know you must soon come to a turn-around spot where you pop out of forest onto this road and hammer it home. But my stomach was cramping. I might have to stop at the half marthon stage.  I got to the road and could see a wooden shack ahead of me which I guessed was a restroom. I had to sacrifice the time and take a break. Were these cramps the precursor to another torrent of hideousness?   I opened the door feeling deflated and laughed out loud. Inside was quite THE  most beautiful, clean, sparkling white toilet. Moreover, oh joy.. it became apparent I had no need of the facilities at all. Yeeeees! The time I had wasted was nothing compared to the sense of confidence I had gained. My friend John McKinney tells me Imodium can stop a horse. I think this day it was more along the lines of thousands of stampeding Bison. What is IN that stuff?

The Gu gel had given me more energy by now, the cramping eased with a few Winnie the Pooh stoutness exercises (touching toes) and I sailed through the last section of the half marathon course, over a bridge, by a playground, passed some trees, turn the corner and the finish is right there. I soaked it all in knowing how I would savor each part when I was finishing my second loop. As I passed the finish/start area  Nicki was there eating watermelon – she had indeed won the ladies half marathon with a time of 1.47.23. This just missed beating the course record by c.5 mins.  She gave me a cheerful send off and I started the long trudge up the hill to do it all again.

As before I took it slow and steady. Two  men overtook me with such grace and ease they appeared to be gliding on a moving walkway but I didn’t give chase, I was just in it to survive now and I was oddly content.  I felt like  thanking my former self  who ran up here nearly two hours ago for being brave enough to start the race and was so grateful to be there. Now a funny thing happened. I did this big bad wolf of a hill, I passed the 5 mile turn off, I headed up more hills that someone had slipped into the course while I had been away and I waited patiently with tiring legs for the undulating bit and the lovely stream downhill. Had it not been for the pink ribbon I could have sworn I was running an entirely different course. Hill after hill after hill. I came across the second man who had overtaken me, Nick Cifuentes (who was to win the 50K) at an aid station and it turned out he was also baffled by these seemingly new  hills. Finally, we came to a  noticeable down in pretty forest and I had a few seconds rejoicing that the worst of marathon was over when a problem I had dismissed as unimportant suddenly took a turn for the worse. I had two black big toe nails.

And ‘these’ little piggies went to a marathon. Market next week.

This had happened during the Horseshoe Lake marathon I did two weeks ago. I had been unaware of them until I took my shoes off , they were not painful, there had been no trauma, they just must have been rubbing on my shoes. Now for some reason as I started downhill each step downwards gave me a stab of pain in the toenail. I guess my toes had swollen a little after running for a while and on downhills they were striking the top of the shoe.  My back was also starting to feel sore and I was developing a stitch in my left side so when I spurted out onto the flat sandy bit I was uncharacteristically relieved the downhill was over for now.  A little relaxing beachy bit would be nice for a while. And here it is…and more of it…and more. Just like the hills, my memory of this bit was nothing like so long. I was just waiting for that sharp right turn into single track forest down. While waiting for it I considered my toenails.

I had to prepare myself psychologically for the long steep down I knew lay ahead. There are kinds of pain. This is like childbirth I told myself. Let us view this as a positive pain..I am just loosening these nails and though it hurts it is not damaging me. This is how cute new toenails come into the world.  I also diverted my attention to the fun I would have posting whichever nail came off first to my great friend Emma Dell in the UK.  Yes really. Many years ago when I was an IT PR consultant and she the Head of Comms at neural networking company Neurodynamics,  I had attempted to shock her by first adding a weekly update on a toe blackened from running to our weekly PR report ..and then by mailing it to her once it came off. Not to be outdown  – and earning my undying love and admiration – she decorated it with varnish and rhinestones, placed it in presentation packaging and mailed it back to me.

Yay I won a dog. With Chris’ friend “Endorphin Dude’ at the finish. Dude indeed- he ran 88 miles last weekend.

Hands up if you’re a complete nutbar. Chris ran 100 miles followed by a marathon last week end. He then tapered into this marathon with a 22 miler yesterday.

I found the turn, jumped into the forest and coped the best as I could but my back , toes and stitch rendered me a  piteous wreck compared to the splendid duo of myself and Niki streaming down this track before. Just when I thought self pity could not deepen, I  turned a corner to find myself at the base of a steep climb  the top of which featured  three ladies on horseback. It all  looked rather precarious. Three shall we say not slight ladies supported by twelve skinny horse legs on a very rough, narrow, uneven, steep single track…a stumble could have them dominoing each other down a hell of a drop ..or have me end my days looking flat, pulpy and covered in horsehoe marks. One lady took command ” ….Now I know you’re racing but you have to stay where you are while we come down’.  The voice was not apologetic. It seemed to imply that this might be a good lesson for me in some way. Three and a half years later they glided by me without thanks and I ran off without wishing them a lovely ride. It is of course not the case that runners have right of way when they are racing in an event in regional park land, and you do have to remind yourself of that. Overwhelmingly people cheer you on, remove themselves and scoop dogs and children from your path – but they are not obliged to. I think perhaps I should have been a little nicer. It emerged they had just had a similarly charmless encounter with Nick before getting to me  – and doubltess had many more after me.  There is a distinct possibility three horse riders in Oakland now think runners are jerks.

When I reached the final aid station I was elated. There is always a point in a marathon when you know you can do it. This is the point where I suddenly felt weak the first time around and Niki sprinted off ahead of me. Now it Nick who slowed down here (he had a lot of running still to go being on the 50K) and it was my turn for a last hurrah. Bounce bounce along the straight fire road waiting for the last section of single track to begin. Now on trail looking down waiting to glimpse the forest road where you will be in the last few minutes of running. Then waiting for that turn off the trail and onto the road. I could see a flash of white slipping between the trees …a guy running well ahead of me (this was Andy Burnes) and I gradually closed the gap. He was my homing beacon. When I was on the road I could see him vanishing around a corner and I found myself sprinting towards him…I probably wasn’t moving very fast but if felt like sprinting. Over the bridge, passed the playground, round a corner and there was the finish. Andy finished in 3.54.11 and I was 3.54.19. What a glorious experience, to feel fit and strong, to be able to thunder through the last stretch. It seemed inconceivable that my stomach problems had been the same day. Thank you Imodium! I shall not be ashamed to bear witness to your help.

‘Pieces of Eight’ pose at finish. Feeling a bit emotional at this point.

I was so grateful to have been able to run. It turned out that I was first lady, forth overall  (it is a very small field I hasten to add – 38 people running, 17 women) and had set a new course record ….by an hour ( this is not as splendid as it sounds as we had a perfect day while last year’s runners has a mud bath!). First man, Stephen Souch came all the way from Montreal to humiliate the lot of us  – he  torched the course to finish in 3.19.59, also setting an new course record by 50 mins.

With first man Stephen Souch.

Thank you Coastal Trails. Thank you Imodium (blush)! http://www.coastaltrailruns.com/cm_spr_canyon_meadow.html

http://www.imodium.com/diarrhea-myths-facts/index.jhtml

Since this post I emailed Imodium to thank them and have received a bounty pack of vouchers :0)


Horseshoe Marathon, 19th May 2012

I don’t remember Salsa dancing..but it was a hot day

I was lucky to be able to have a go at this marathon as I had a stinking cold during the week. When it came to 5am on race day I felt ok and I decided to give it a whirl. If I could do it, it would be the first time I had done marathons on three consecutive weekends ..which appealed to me as a little goal. If I attempted it and made myself ill  – I would be in for spousal reproach and the possible removal of running privileges/wine money.

I tiptoed out of the house so as not to wake the family/have said spouse bar my exit and drove to a coffee shop. Yes I felt fine. I approached a caffeine giver person and ordered a latte but to my surprise I produced a strange croak interspersed with bits of silence and he produced a cupped right ear. As I hadn’t spoken to anyone yet that day I had had no idea I couldn’t speak. After some harrumphing I could communicate just fine but I stood there sanity checking myself …am I infact terribly ill? ….and decided all was well. It is just one of those things where the actual cold has gone (the main symptom of which was sore throat) and you are left pain free but sound impressively sick.

I drove for an hour and a half and found the race, the registration and finish booths all looked very jolly and welcoming nestling in the hillside and I was glad I had come. It is a friendly group and I knew it would be fine to start and just drop out if I had to. I bumped into Rebecca Yi who also ran the Cinderella marathon last week. We had a fairly joyless exchange where I complained about being sick and having to possibly drop out/dead and she explained that this course was pretty horrible, very exposed and nothing like as nice as last weeks’ one. She had done it several times before and was only doing it now to build up her mileage as a training run.  I wondered afresh if I was about to have a horrid time and whether or not I should run at all. I strolled lethargically up to the start line wondering ….am I  dizzy? Maybe I am terribly ill? ….but when I got there I was lifted out of myself by being entertained by a tall Indian man who was doing his first  50K, he was full of excitement and ‘here goes nothing’. Time to have fun and get sense of perspective. Off we went.

As soon as we started running I had a sense of relief. Having a cold is probably more of a handicap for most other runners than it is for me as my nose doesn’t function normally at the best of times. And all was fine. I started at a relaxed pace and was continuing the piteous, self obsessed wallowing in my own pernicious health when something really very nasty happened. We were winding up a steep, narrow single track when the man ahead of me spat with vigor and somehow a good deal of it landed on my face with droplets showering my open mouth. I don’t know how we managed this, whether he spat back over his shoulder or it ricocheted off something but it was a startling experience that brought me out of myself. I said: ‘arghh you got me!’ and started scraping my tongue down with my hanky and squirting water at myself to rinse it off.  It was disgusting but hilarious, why do these things always happen to me?. I believe there was a little horrified laughter from the line of runners behind me. He mumbled an apology and I worried he might think I was angry or something, so when he spat again a few minutes later and did so in an awkward way aiming straight down at his feet I attempted to display good humour and shouted: ‘missed!’. However, he didn’t respond and soon ushered me in front of him.

As it turned out Rebecca had done me the most enormous favour. The actual terrain was a joy compared to the twisted horrors of  my imagination. I ran with boundless pessimism, fearing each nice foresty bit would not last long and resigning myself to the start of some hideous never-ending trawl frying in exposed sun each time we emerged from cover. We ran by Horseshoe lake, bounced around a forest, streamed across a grassy hillside on flat trail, bounced around more deep forest climbing to reach a scenic ridge fireroad. This really had not been winding uphill for too terribly long before we came across the encouraging sight of the lead men returning. This is always a wonderful sign that  the turnaround must be coming up. You just have to factor in quite how much ahead of you they might be ..and they were pretty darn nippy. And then there it was – the aid station and turn around. I couldn’t believe my luck. My negativity and pessimism drained away and I thought …I am pretty sure I can do this. I knew the elevation was about 3, 600 ft and as such 2,000 ft or so less than many trail marathons including the one last week but still, it seemed too good to be true. Often I prefer races that don’t repeat at all but in my current state this was wonderful. I had seen everything I had to cope with and nothing was insurmountable or boring or grim. I love it when a course has  clear stages and it is a little like working through levels in a computer game. It was wonderful.

Ironically, if I had not been expecting some dreadful haul through exposed terrain at some time I might have found the grass and fireroad sections exposed and tough. Certainly they were hotter the second time around later in the day and many runners including myself ran out of water long before we reached the turnaround.

It was good to see Rebecca when we passed each other, she always looks very fresh and relaxed. It was fun to see her move up to second lady position and hold on to it. Our times were much faster than in the previous two

Rebecca – fresh as always- at the finish

years, possibly they had been running in extreme temperature before (which would make those exposed sections more arduous). There was also a small change in course too as the race was

All hail Jason Wolfe – finishing 20 mins ahead of me!

not allowed to take its normal route by the lake at the beginning – just from my feel and from my Garmin mileage I did wonder if the course was actually a little short – though Coastal Trails is always very keen to specify how accurately they measure their courses. Anyway, at least I can be absolutely sure on this course that I didn’t mess up and I ran the same as everyone else.  Jason Wolfe  won the men’s race in 3:30:30 (he looked amazing speeding along…his legs appeared to be carved out of wood) and I was first lady at 3:50:05.

It wasn’t a great race for meeting people as I ran alone for much of it and had to leave as soon as I finished (rushing home for my adopted Opa’s 90th birthday party!). Beyond the spitting incident the most memorable little exchange I had was with a guy who asked me if I had a band aid. It was rather frustrating as  – being a mother of three – it is difficult to catch me not in possession of a band aid. I went into girl guide mode and offered to fashion one from a wet wipe and my hair band but he preferred his blister as it was.

Before I left chatted with  a lady whose son Micah Brown had finished in second place between myself and Jason in 3.46:58. He was just 18 and this was his first trail marathon. She was very proud of him and I love that she had not just come along to support him  – she had done the 5 mile race herself too.

Off I went to  Opa’s party wondering what Opa was up to when he was 18, and what Jason Wolfe would be up to when he was 90.

Thank you Coastal Trails

http://www.coastaltrailruns.com/hl_horseshoe_lake.html

Horseshoe Lake Trail Run


Cinderella Marathon 12th May 2012

Once upon a time I attempted this Cinderella marathon before. It was not a fairytale ending. I did not go to the ball.

Last time- the cautionary tale:

When two rather plump hikers with a large fluffy dog affably pulled themselves to one side of the forest path to let me pass, they unwittingly concealed a sharp left turn fork in the trail. I  shot up a  horrendously steep section (let’s hear it for the Starflower trail) and continued unaware I was in error until I hit pink  ribbon. The brief moment of joy at the confirmation I was still on track was followed by an awful recognition. This is the top of a long fire road hill. And I am supposed to be going up it later, not down it now. I made the best repairs I could, I tried to retrace my steps but couldn’t be sure which of a cluster of trails I had emerged from so  I ran all the way down the fire road and back up again. As a consolation prize I found my friend David Schoenberg at the bottom and was cheered by his laughter at my misfortune. The really embarrassing thing is that I missed that turn on the second loop of a repeating course. The first time around I had had adult supervision, I was with David. We ran to the finish together and in the race autopsy it was clear that I couldn’t have a  finisher’s medal as I hadn’t done the right course and I was low on overall mileage. But in my mind it counts as a honorary marathon. Garmin information is not completely accurate in deep forest, but the fact that mine reported 11,000 ft of climbing  rather than the expected 5,oooft may hold the clue to why my calf muscles were moving around by themselves that night.

Cinderella II

The  gentleman in grey shorts must have been pleased with these official photos of the start.

So back I came. Hello Cinders …we meet again. Following last weeks’ disastrous late start at the  Western Pacific Marathon in Fremont, I arrived ludicrously early and had time to stroll around sampling the delights of all the different restroom facilities. At the first, the portaloo (full marks, nice and clean) I met my neighbor Johnathon Sonett from San Anselmo who was also doing the marathon. At the second, the permanent toilet at the park (quite beyond belief…people were leaving their cell phones outside encase they dissolved in the fumes) I met Sham and Stephanie. Recuperating from the restrooms, we entertained ourselves making a smiley face out of  Stephanie’s leggings and water bottles (see pic).

Stephanie’s smiley faces

Not only was Stephanie was wearing what I call  ‘creepy feet’ (shoes that look like feet and offer minimal protection), she was actually considering leaving them behind and tackling the half marathon course in completely bare feet. She is a young  mother. Has she not  trodden on enough pieces of lego to know better?  She insisted it could be done. I know she completed the race but couldn’t see a finish photo to check her feet…I wonder.

At the start. ooh I  can see my neighbour John and my hat

My feet were also causing me concern. My shoes offered plenty of  support  – I like as much puff and gel as  possible between myself and mother earth – but they looked kinda freaky. I have strangely wide feet  (circular like an elephant’s), misshapen toes of inappropriate lengths (following three toe surgeries) and a bunion the size of New Jersey.  So I accept that I don’t get to pick shoes  by appearance.  However, my friend Charles from the Marin Running Company in San Anselmo had forced me to sink to new depths when he pulled the cash out of my hand and kicked me out of his shop with the only pair of shoes in the place that I could wear…and they were these Nikes,  completely monotone in a disturbing light  turquoise  –  a  color I have always loathed. Joking aside, Charles always goes to a great deal of trouble not just matching runners to shoes but helping them to make their relationship work with various tricks. This time he had the novel idea of leaving the bottom part of  my right shoe unlaced  – giving New Jersey wiggle room but keeping the ankle secure. It didn’t help with the colour but I have to say I bought these shoes the day before the race and my feet were so comfortable they thought they’d spent race morning in a spa. On that colour though,some runners were helping me in my quest to consider then light blue when it was pointed out that they looked like Cinderella’s glass slippers  – which made me laugh out loud. I wondered now if I would retain both of them for the duration of the run. I have failed to do so before in mud.

With Sham, resplendent in my glass slippers

The race started with lovely news  as Wendell the race organiser and his wife were celebrating the birth of their two week old  son. Then the start sounded and 50k, marathon and half marathon runners streamed into the forest.  It is an interesting start. As ususal on trail, you do need to get to the front if you are a competitve  runner as the path funnels down to single track fairly quickly and you don’t want to be trapped behind people slower than yourself. The immediate trail has some extremely steep sections but it is worth busting  lungs to get over them in a good position  as it soon  flattens out so there is plenty of time to recover your breath. And off you go on a glorious rollercoaster ride in deep redwood forest. Actually very like a fairytale…but definately the Grimms original version with a smattering of violence and suffering in it. During the first mile I was overtaken by a pretty blonde-haired lady in a blue top.  I later found out this was Andrea Warburton. I was pleased to have a lady to run with but she disappeared into the distance and I could see her darting through the trees ahead like a bluebird.  I knew better than to chase her. I have learned from experience to run at my own pace …my plan is to take it beyond comfort into one notch of suffering and keep it there with as little whimpering as possible. Many people are much better on uphill than me and though I have improved by watching the departing heels of ladies like Caren Spore on these very trails and then tried to emulate them in training (to do so properly would require surgical insertion of some form of motor) I know that if  I push myself to stick with  them early in a race  I am in danger of fizzling. Aren’t I Caren lol. I also had to remember I had raced last weekend too  – even more reason to just guard long term energy etc. So I plodded on waiting to hit a comfort level that never quite arrived. It is so beautiful, I wished I wasn’t so tired.

I saw  Bluebird again at the 8 mile aid station. This is where you emerge blinking from the delicious cool forest and face the ‘ant under a microscope’ feel of a three mile crawl uphill on fire road. I passed her at the turn around as she wasn’t carrying water and had to stop to drink etc. but it wasn’t long before she stormed by me on the hill. Shortly after it seemed  like every other runner in California did the same. I had eaten a gel already to prepare for  this hill but really faced a terrible lack of energy. I know the best way for me to  get up this kind of slope  is  little steps inching up on my toes but I found I could only do short bursts of those before resorting  to power-walking with long strides, then  regular walking when I tired of that. The little steps were also causing some mild cramping in my calves so I walked that off every time it twinged. I have had calf cramps later on in races recently but it was a tad grim to have them so soon. I was pleased I  had just invested in a pair of calf supports  in Charles’ shop and hoped they would work. So far they just made me feel very hot.

So Bluebird  was off on the horizon, it was oddly comforting to see her go,  it was clear this was going to be a survival effort not a race for me. I laughed to find myself sort of cheering her on..it’s not a great sign when even you are not rooting for yourself.  But I do like the ladies to perform well.  I forced myself to eat another gel  and chipped away slowly upwards. The vultures were circling in my head.

Once you are at the top of that hill there is some rolling up and down in the forest before you plunge back down to the start area. It is a terrific technical surge down in parts and I thought how wonderful it would feel to be doing that heading to the finish. So half marathoners stop here and marathoners and 50k runners repeat the loop. Until you get there you don’t know which course many runners are doing and I was alarmed to see Bluebird  dart into the finishing tunnel ahead of me. I lumbered passed and headed back up the trail. At this point I felt quite nauseous and dizzy. I genuinely wondered if I should call it a day. I had already eaten three gels now and still wasn’t feeling a foundation of energy. Perhaps my body wouldn’t cope, it certainly didn’t feel good. I decided to slow it down and see if I felt better by the first aid station.  Just then Bluebird  appeared looking all fresh – she was on the marathon but had just stopped at the aid station and had gone down the finish tunnel by mistake. That encouraged me. I  staggered up the steep bits behind her. Another runner (Nathan) came by and the two of them were ahead of me for a long time.  I could see glimpses of them through the trees  – always well ahead but not disappearing so I felt I had some company.

Nathan VanNortwick

Again I ate even more gel and waited for positive effects but it was like they were duds. I was really suffering and oddly my right thumb holding my water bottle had gone totally numb (never had that before) so I continued with a eerie sense that all was not good. I’ve never had a race where I spent so much time thinking about how tired I was, I just couldn’t get my mind on other things. I kept trying to squeeze the thought that 26.2 miles is a heck of a long way out of my head too. Not helpful. After a while I turned a corner and to my surprise came across Bluebird. We were starting the down hill section leading to the aid station and the base of THE hill and I went ahead, it made sense as I know I  tend to go fast downhill but I wasn’t expecting to catch up with her again. We had a friendly exchange, and both groaned about how tired we were feeling. I told her I was ‘on fumes’ and she said she felt the same but I doubted she did and wondered if she might soon stumble over my unconscious carcass and think …wow that girl really was on fumes. I told her she would get me on the hill and she told me I would get her back on the downhill after it. I doubted it. I was thinking of a rescue team removing me from that hill.

I then also passed Nathan on that downhill. As I did so I commented on how wet he was. I asked him if he had stopped for a swim somewhere. Looking back this may have been a little rude (sorry Nathan) as the guy was just sweating a lot, but I was  actually thinking he may have thrown water over himself at an aid station (I have done so myself before, sometimes deliberately, sometimes trying to drink the stuff).  I don’t think I’ve ever seen a  runner so drenched and you will probably need to be a runner on a hot day to understand how much that state is to be admired. My own body was clearly retaining all H2O for critical organs and of course the need to keep my incessantly streaming nose going strong. That thing needs a hose pipe ban!.

I  turned around at the aid station, filled up my water carrier with sports drink, considered eating everything there ..fingers hovering over bits of potato and banana …and rejecting it all (feeling a little rude to the hosts….sorry it all looks lovely its just that I would throw up if I ate any of the things you have so thoughtfully displayed here)  and I just knew gel was the only thing I could keep down. Good news, I’d snagged a raspberry one ….they are quite invigorating! I’ve never eaten so many gels in a race before, I was begining to lose count. (Normally I bring and eat three, I have my own little entertainment going wondering which of the three flavours it will be when I eat them …always secretly hoping for chocolate espresso.) I wondered if my calorie intake might exceed the output.  And I  headed towards the hill.

Now something inside me changed.  In a funny way I felt good about going up this hill on the second loop, because I remembered all too well the horrid feeling of running down it knowing I had gone wrong and was out of the race before. I thought of  David and made a note to email him after the race. He is injured this year as I was last year and I am looking forward to running with him in the fall. I smiled remembering  his horror when he understood where I had gone wrong. It had helped that someone was sorry for me. Gradually the  gels gathered together in my stomach and decided to get the party started. I pulled my hat down, put some music on and thought lets just chip away and see how much I can get done before Nathan and  Bluebird swoop by me.

The heat was absolutely intense by now and it was a tough old climb. It is a sneaky hill as it keeps saying: ‘well done, welcome to my summit….step forward to refresh your drink at the aid station round the corner ……..PSYCH!!! ..here’s a really steep bit  instead..ha ha haaaa’. I was surprised when I had been on the hill for a while that I hadn’t been overtaken. Three thoughts kept me going:

1) How I regretted mentioning Nathan swimming. I kept dreaming of jumping in a pool.

2) I wasn’t sure if I was drinking too much water or if I was dehydrated. I wasn’t thirsty but I kept wanting to drink. I had perhaps drunk too much too quickly as I kept getting flashes of a cold chill.

3) Should I  look back down the hill to see where they are? I was worried that as soon as they passed me I might find it more difficult to keep going as I suspected they would completely disappear out of view, so I was getting myself ready for it mentally. I was also wondering if by any chance they weren’t right on my shoulder  – but I knew that if I looked and saw that for sure it would also be more difficult to keep going. Some of those shady patches looked tempting for a bit of standing still. In the end I promised myself I could look if I got to a particular spot ahead and kept moving the spot when I got to it. I never looked back.

I got to the final aid station and fell on the sports drink. I actually filled the water carrier, ran off, stopped and drank half of it and ran back to fill up again. I was getting significant cold flashes down my arms and back now – I decided it was  just the effect of the sun and I needed to drink more.  I was now worried about the two behind me, I had noticed neither of them had hats or a water carrier and that hill was on fire. Still, they might be just round the corner……go back and save them or nip ahead….mmmm… so I headed off, actaully still not feeling great but so happy to be on the last and mainly downhill stretch.

When I got to the very last part I stopped and turned to look behind me. I thought I might  see  Bluebird and I didn’t want to run in just ahead of her, I thought we could finish together because  she had been a strong lead for most of the race and had really helped to keep me going, but there was no sign of anyone and I ran out of the forest into the clearing where the finishers tunnel lay ahead. An amazing feeling to have done it. I have honestly never been so close to quitting a race, I have never felt so bad and have a recovery late on (normally I feel steadily worse towards the end). How wonderful to challenge yourself  and come through. Nathan came in next, then Andrea and after her Rebecca. A great day for the ladies, we had all broken the female course record (held by Rebecca herself).  Nathan and I weren’t a million miles away from the male one either. It turned out that there was no-one in the marathon ahead of me (it has to be said it was an extremely small field compared to the half marathon runners, and of course many people were doing the longer 50K) but it was cool to find out  I was actually the overall marathon winner. I noticed in the results  there were some amazing older runners in there. How many of the four of  us running today would accomplish that? I felt about 70 yr old at times, one male finisher actually was…and not hanging about either.

With Nathan and his friends at the end. Thank you Jen for the photo!

Andrea, Rebecca and myself. Three ladies in the top four.

Name City

Bib No

Age

Age Group

Time

Pace

1

Penny Macphail San Anselmo CA

413

44

1 F 40-49

4:22:40

10:06/M

2

Nathan Vannortwick Oakland CA

427

26

1 M 20-29

4:27:55

10:18/M

3

Andrea Warburton Lodi CA

428

30

1 F 30-39

4:39:22

10:45/M

4

Rebecca Yi Fremont CA

432

37

2 F 30-39

4:40:14

10:47/M

I checked the results to see if my neighbour John had triumphed (he has battled with injury and had to pull out of a marathon recently which is gutting) and he certainly had.  I absolutely love his finishing photo.

John at finish – I love this picture, just says it all

As always in my life, a position of confidence and competence is never long lived…

I was having some trouble breathing and feeling dizzy at the finish and sat down at the Coastal Trails aid station picnic tables, threw my soaking hanky and salt rimmed hat on the bench and held my head down to my knees. There may have been saliva streaming out of my mouth too as I was feeling quite nauseous. Very gradually I became aware that I wasn’t in Kansas anymore. There had been a double booking on that picnic area and the Coastal Trails event area was now further down the meadow. I was surrounded by  ladies in their Sunday best who were smoothing linen table clothes out and setting up vases of flowers and fine china for a graduation ceremony.Fortunately one of them (an 80 year old) was a keen runner. She patted my back comfortingly while also firmly lifting me  up,  passing  me my hat with the very ends of the fingernails and pointing out where I should go.

Picnic tables at the start- I was a little slow to understand they were turning into a graduation party when I finished

So I located the actual Coastal Trails recovery area and caught up with some other runners.  Stephen Itano had done the Western Pacific Marathon last week too, and though he stuck at the Marathon he was attempting the 50K  (love it, another person who makes me look normal). Wendell did his little prize ceremony – and I strode away with two medals jangling around my neck  (finishing and overall winner)….a much jollier scene than the year I limped away with  none. As always, I wore all bling (medals) on the drive home and was feeling pretty good about my morning when I decided to slather some Icy Heat balm onto my back as it was aching. At the finish I was alarmed to find my  iphone  capable of  nothing other than displaying an orange temperature alert triangle (it recovered after a while thank goodness). Perhaps a more intelligent person less caught up in the glory of finishing a marathon might have wondered what effect extreme temperature might have on Icy Heat balm. I held the pot between my thighs and unscrewed the lid with one hand while driving away from the park. My intention was then to scoop the thick balm out with my fingers and smear it on my back. What a surprise it was to have liquid Icy Heat slosh out of the jar like water and completely drench my lap…immediately turning solid again on contact with my body. So here we have little Miss Two Medals, breathlessly concentrating on the road,  genitals on fire, covered in glutenous wax. I decided not to stop for coffee on the way home. Thanks for another memorable day Coastal Trails http://www.coastaltrailruns.com

Sadly these runners turned back into a dog and a horse just inches before they reached the finish


Western Pacific Marathon, 5th May 2012

Featuring PB silliest race start and finish & Northern Irish bumble bee

Fashionably late, Western Pacific Marathon May 5th 2012

The sat.nav. in the car assured me I would get to the race by  7am. Not ideal (I had taken a little detour by mistake ahem) but ok for a 7.30am  start. Then I joined the jam outside the Quarry Recreation Centre. Cars were  backed up in two directions, sloooooooooooowly funneling into the park entrance – and each stopping at a booth to pay for parking. I didn’t know the area well enough to try to park elsewhere and jog to the start as I saw other people do …so I sat there, gazing forlornly at  the giant inflatable start funnel bobbing around on the horizon.

12 mins to start time aahhhh

Most of the cars were full of competent, calm people  – arriving in good time for  the half marathon and other races which started 30 mins later. There was no saving  one frantic little marathon hopeful.  I parked with literally 5 mins to go,  ran to pick up my race bib and chip and lumbered off to the toilets where a sympathetic line of half marathoners took mercy on me and let me go ahead of them. In the background the tannoy reached an excited pitch asking if everyone was ready ‘Yes’ the crowd cheered, ‘No’ I whimpered.  As the race started I still had to tackle the fiddly business of  attaching the timing chip strip to my shoe.  I finally got it done, clambered over bunting to get into the now deserted  race start funnel and careered through it painfully conscious of how comical I must look – a disheveled, panicked idiot. I was  holding my Garmin in my teeth, stuffing the course map down my top, juggling my ipod and  hanky while trying to detangle my headphones ….after a few minutes of running they had snarled into the tightest knot I have ever encountered.

With Chris Jones at finish, just the first of his marathons this weekend

There are two major benefits of starting like this and one drawback. On the plus side you have your own little send off (I received a special little round of cheers) and then you are so  insulated with gratitude to have made it and mortification to have caused a public spectacle you don’t feel the first few miles at all. In this case my mind was also fully occupied with the process of picking away at headphones wires.  I was lucky it was a flat fire road/path race. If it had been a trail on single track I would have been in the soup. On the negative side, the luck of the Irish will always ensure that if I start a race late my chip will not work.

I passed my friend Chris Jones and waved my knotted headphones at him. We had the most typical runners’ conversation in the world. I asked after his ankle injury. He asked after my back. I warned him not to push it to hard and risk damaging that ankle, and he warned me about my back. Then off we went to mess up our ankles and backs  by running a marathon on them. The difference between us is that 5.30am the next morning Chris would be treating his ankle to the OC Marathon. I love it when people make me look normal.

When I caught up to John (red shirt) and Russell (white shirt)  I fell into stride with them and we ran much of the distance to the 13 mile turn around point together. It was funny they were comfortable at the same speed because I was struck by how comically different their running styles were as I approached them. Russell is what I call a Darth Vader runner – they sort of glide along close to the ground hardly lifting their feet while John is one of the bounciest runners I have ever seen, he lifts his heel higher than his knee with every step, often close to hitting his thigh -I guess Russell would need to see a rattle snake to achieve that height. No style is right or wrong of course – each to his own. In the picture here I am catching up to them. In the end this is the order we finished in. John got frisky around mile 17 and breezed so far ahead he was able to wave at us from the other side of lake. Russell got a  second wind around mile 24 and stormed by him to strong finish in 5th place.  (John and I believe he deployed the magical powers of his mesmorizing bright orange shoes.) Our times were 3.19.57, 3.19.29 and 3.19.58 respectively. Kinda sweet.

Mr Bumble Bee

Oi wait for me…

They were great guys and we had a few laughs and adventures on the way. At one point we jogged up behind a man dressed entirely in yellow and black  and considered making bee  buzzing noises as we passed by, but he looked like he was suffering a bit so we just ran up to him and told him we thought he looked like a bumble bee. As soon as he laughed I had my suspicions and when he spoke ‘me stomach’s killin me’ I realised he was from Northern Ireland like myself (from Newcastle, close to my hometown Bangor) We high fived and cheered for Newcastle/Bangor  every time we passed after that.

I had worried I would find this course dull. Flat stuff by a quarry does sound grim. However, the place was really interesting. The quarry was filled with water in some places and marshland in others, the path crossed a few bridges and dipped under more so there was some variety and lots of things to look at – dog walkers, cyclists, squirrels, ducks and other birds. Above all,  the set up of the turn around aid station just stole the show for me. It was at the very end of a long spit of walkway, gorgeous marshland stretched off for miles on either side. The station itself was a burst of color on the horizon and as you ran towards it and the smiling volunteers manning it you couldn’t help feel a little elated. The weather added to the special atmosphere here too. There was no shelter on this stretch and the sun was bright and hot  – but there was the most  glorious cool breeze. The combination just made my skin feel like silk. Truly memorable.

With John at the finish

The marathon return retraced our steps. There were  buoyant exchanges  with inbound and outbound marathoners greeting each other, I looked out for Chris and Mr Bumble Bee and was of course interested to see if there were any females in front of me or sneaking up behind me. There actually weren’t  any ladies ahead or very close to me which takes away the thrill of competition but does allow you to relax and run in your comfort zone -and  considering my back problems that  is what I am supposed to be doing! We  soon reached a bigger field of runners as we met with the half marathoners. It was a welcome mental lift to have lots of people to watch but at times hard to get comfortable in your stride as you have to keep weaving around people.

Let’s hear it for Nakia’s knees

Around mile 21 the half marathoners sail off downhill to the finish and he marathoners are sent as if in disgrace on a punishing little  two mile detour along a straight, seemingly unending and fairly featureless lake side path. I looked at the mile 22 sign beside me and eyed the back of the mile 24 one across the track…I felt on the whole it might be more fun to fast forward the next little section of my life…and indeed these were the toughest two miles for most of us. I was praying to see the people I knew were ahead of me coming back towards the finish …you know you need body count coming back  before it is possible for you to get to the turnaround.  Eventually I saw the leading man, Doug.. yay. He looked very strong, so strong indeed I told him later  I considered tripping him up – but he said he was really suffering at that point. I also saw Nakia Baird who was to come in 4th man at all these little interactions. He certainly deserves an honorable mention as I later found out he has had 4 knee surgerie..so I took a photo of them (see pic). The option of cutting out running has not yet occurred to him! It was so  great to see John and Russell, both looking comfortable and determined, Russell  just getting ready to unleash his last hurrah. I took a sports drink at the mile 23 aid station and attempted to stagger around the turn around cone while consuming it and promptly  threw it into my eye (unless I stop I am just hopeless with those paper cups) so I headed off on the return winking vigorously at the people coming up behind me and trying to preserve my contact lens. I normally carry a spare contact lens in the pocket of my water bottle. When I went to take a sip of water at mile 5 I realised both water and lens were sitting on my car.

The finish was great, the course swoops down and around paths leading by an artificial beach and you can see the colorful finishers’ tunnel and aid area ready to welcome you home. I especially like that the course returns on a different path to the start route. I was really on fumes at this point and my back was very sore, I kept my eyes on John’s red shirt (still bouncing up and down in a lively fashion)  a good  way ahead of me …a friendly back if not face to lead me home like a harbor light. On the final turn John was out of view but I smiled when I heard a little  cheer and announcement as he crossed the line.

Now at this point I  have to admit I started anticipating the slightly childish but very human joy to be had in  finishing a marathon as the first lady. I have been fortunate to have the experience before and they do sometimes make a bit of a fuss of you. So though I knew my family would not be there,  I crossed the line ready to perhaps wave and don an ‘oh it was nothing’  expression while savoring a tender moment of personal pride in response to strangers cheering. And then I  shot through the funnel to complete silence. It was so silent I wondered if I may have taken a wrong turn until a smiling lady greeted me and we started sorting out my medal. When she realised I was the first lady in the full marathon she headed off towards  the tannoy operator to  insist that  he made an announcement. A few minutes later he did so but unfortunately ended with ‘congratulations first lady MELANIE SOANDSO.’  So here was the silliest finish in my running career. A couple of people high fived me and said ‘well done Melanie’… you can’t really not respond to a high five but in doing so you are kind of agreeing that your name is Melanie. Simultaneously  I heard John’s voice saying..’.I thought you said you were called Penny?’ And ahead of me I could see the  smiling lady returning with a ‘ THAT’s better’ expression on her face ………….and I’m think oh dear, how am I going to break it to her … It suddenly also seemed hilarious that we all had our names written on our chests in block capitals. It was hysterical. Bless her, off she went striding  purposely back towards the tannoy.

In the end it emerged that this company  has  a policy of only using the gun start time for the first three male and female runners home  for each event (its probably a common thing and it does make sense). So  I needn’t have bothered struggling to put the chip thing on.  It did turn out there was a problem with the  chip technology- just covering a series of numbers including mine – how typical of me ….see  luck of Irish rule at top of this blog. This problem also scrambled names – hence the Melanie. To be honest I thought John was called Brian for some reason, I started calling him John because that is what is written on his bib in the photos….and now see  he  is listed in the results as David. I wonder.

Overall I was delighted that I did this event, I was genuinely surprised at the beauty of the course …and the people were wonderful, runners and organizers. I think I’ve won a pair of shoes. The next humiliation will be when they have to tell me they don’t have any wide enough to cope with my  huge bunions.

Thank you Brazen Racing!

http://www.brazenracing.com/westernpacific.html

with Russell and Doug (first man home) at finish


Muir Woods Trail Marathon

April 14, 2012 (Envirosports)

Unforgettable.  Bounce around a trail marathon in Muir Woods, win a Chicken handbag  – then  stagger into the sea at Stinson.

Splosh

I sneaked this marathon in. It  was close to home, in a beautiful place. Hard to resist even though I did the Grizzly Peak trail marathon last weekend. AND it worked well to have  dead taper this week (virtually no running)  as it was Spring Break for the kids. 

So I arrived at Stinson at  8am, feeling a little more  nervous than usual – knowing I might just fizzle and not be able to complete the thing.  I have done two marathons a week apart before  – but only a trail marathon followed by a road race,  not two trails. Part of me was genuinely interested to see what my body would do ..like a scientific experiment ..one possibly involving cruelty to an animal, namely me.  I set out to have a go but  promised I would call it quits if I  started hallucinating or crawling. Initially I relieved the tension by telling as many people as possible (some of them trying to get away from me,  just walking their dogs on the beach) that I had run a marathon last week so that I could be remembered for the bravery of my start rather than the saddness of my decline later…” Did you hear a girl fell asleep at mile 11″?..but was soon seduced by the friendly atmosphere and was glad I had come. I compared my morning’s caffeine consumption with some other runners (my  quadruple shot latte won) and was just joking  it might not be enough when I came upon a stash of energy drinks. I drank one of them too. Delicious! I was committed now. If I didn’t  do at least some kind of significant run I would not sleep or stop talking for days!

Runners start arriving to pick up racing bibs

I very much admire this running company Envirosports. In my mind the chief organiser Dave and his team strike a perfect balance between keeping things relaxed, fun, welcoming and supportive to first timers and those who intend to take it slow or are unsure how they will fare – and yet exude a sense of being professional, competitive and serious enough to attract some good runners and urge them to do their best. They are also mean enough to plot race courses that are lung poppingly challenging – and they enjoy laughing about it before they send you off to experience it!!  It is also a caring organisation. These guys have excellent aid stations and medical support. They start races late if there is a queue for the rest rooms and they take the trouble to introduce runners to each other if they spot a connection …like an Irish accent. You don’t feel alone very long if you arrive to  race with these guys as a solo runner.

Dave kicked off the event with his usual  lively talk and  – as is traditional for him – drew people from the crowd, made them stand on a picnic table while he told their story (this time it was a couple celebrating their wedding anniversary with their 40th race together) and then thanked them for coming along to lead us in ‘The Star Spangled Banner’. What is funny is that it  horrifies people for a minute but they always make a stab at it and of course as soon as they start the crowd joins in. Dave also works the crowd into a frenzy of excitement by showing the rubber chickens and chicken handbags given to first men and women respectively in each race distance. The crowd of c 300 runners then moves en masse down to the beach for the start. Everyone is happy and relaxed, strangers chatting to each other – lovely atmosphere.

Muir Woods Trail Marathon start ( I am front left and so full of caffeine I can't blink)

We had a funny start. Running uphill on sand is hard and I pushed hard to get it over with quickly and to ensure I would be one of the front runners as it is not long before the race hits single track and you don’t want to be caught behind slower people. I found myself right behind the leading man only to discover he didn’t know where to go  – and it is a little confusing at the very start – so I used up a lot of precious lung capacity shouting directions at him and laughing because he was a directionless ball of energy  running around like a headless chicken. Once I got him  across the parking lot and over a little bridge onto the main road he flew away, the rest was  as always a very clearly marked trail.

The race itself is mentally relaxing as you are nearly always on a long stretch with no turn offs to worry about. Physically  – not so relaxing. The first section, aptly named Steep Ravine is ludicrously pretty but indeed steeeeeeeeeeeeeep and even features the much loved ladder pictured here. Dave informs us that a local woman is able to run up it hands free. I was virtually breath free scrambling up it but used definately used two hands!

Ladder on Steep Ravine

As I got to the  Pantoll Rangers station at the top of Steep Ravine there were just four men ahead of me. I passed a party of 15 rather jovial hikers, some not in the first flush of youth, starting their descent of the ravine. I felt a little bad for them. I hoped their party spirit would survive standing aside for the  295 runners I could see in their near future.

My future on the contrary was positively rosy as Pantoll  signals the start of a glorious and prolonged swoop downhill for c3 miles on the Dipsea trail to meet  the Muir Woods road. A good time to take in fuel like an energy gel as what goes down must go up. Once on the flat, marathoners wind uphill on a four mile out and back. The lower sections are lush forest, in places extremely muddy and generously endowed with horse poo. As you progress to the top the vegetation becomes exposed hillside grass. It was a happy moment turning back from the aid station at the top of it,  good not onlyto be going downhill but also to be plunging back to the  deep dark forest. This turn around  also gives you a chance to see how many runners are ahead of you and to assess how fresh the meat is creeping up behind and threatening to shatter your dreams of chicken handbag ownership. There was just one lady maybe a  quarter of a mile behind me – this was a fun and smiley looking Michelle who was to be the  second lady and we were to keep those places for the duration.

On the way down I ate another gel as I knew the hideousness that is the steep crawl up the infamous  Heather Cut Off lay ahead. So up the Heather Cut Off I went, starting to pass an increasing number of half marathoners and was  – as often – struck and charmed by the sincere generosity of spirit that leads so very many people to cheer you on as you do so. This is very Californian and very lovely. The odd person doesn’t want to be overtaken or doesn’t understand that is what is supposed to happen and makes the mistake of speeding up ahead of you, running beyond what is right for them then inevitably  flings themselves to one side in a dead stop – and you know you have messed up the hill for them.  Although I hate to admit I think I would probably have a  natural tendancies towards the second. Marathoners know they have to deal with  The Heather Cut Off twice as they loop around it a second time. So the best you can do is pull your hat down, think of the few steps ahead of you rather that the entire slope, get yourself into a good breathing rythmn (I favor the beat of ‘Ompa pa Ompa pa’ breathing  out on the Oms and in on the pa pas) and start looking out for little features to look forward to and check off the next time around. Two little mushrooms, a particular flower, a picnic table, people to recall in a particular place and wonder where they have got to when you return but they have gone, a tree shaded bit etc. The second tree shaded section is  celebration time as you are near the top.

Reaching the aid station you gaze lovingly at the ‘to finish’ sign the half marthoners are heading for on the left and instead turn right, tank up with fluids and sail down that long Dipsea trail back to the Muir Woods road again- and again stuff in a gel pack in preparation for Heather. The first time you cross this road it is empty, by this time it is lined with cars as people are literally queuing for miles along this road and walking back to the main entrance to Muir Woods. Dave always tells people they will know when they are near the ‘offical’ entrance to Muir Woods as they will start to see people in forest in high heels. I laughed to myself as I crossed the road just before a party of three ladies in high heels. Doubtless they were horrified by my appearance  – but I hoped my feet would be more comfortable than theirs  that night.

So back up Heather you trot. She is just as nasty as she was before and now you are more tired. One huge consolation though, the wind had got up and there was a wonderful cooling breeze. Enjoying this I promised myself I would continue the cooling process by running into the ocean I could see way down below if I survived the entire race. Reaching the top of Heather and heading back down Dipsea to home should be a great feeling. It IS  preferable to being on Heather but I just regretted that my body wasn’t feeling more comfortable so I could enjoy it more, but my side and calves were cramping and it was hard to do much else apart from will it to be over..and soon it was.

Self, chicken and absolutely delightful second lady Michelle Lorch

I was surprised to learn after I was second place in the marathon overall, I’m not sure where I overtook the other lead men, possibly at the Cardiac aid station at the top of Heather. The first man was in no danger of my doing so. He had been in possession of  his rubber chicken and wine for a good 20 mins before I arrived, his time 3.55 …which is pretty nippy. My time was 4.14.59 and I was delighted with that. I had intended to run it not race it and if I had pushed it any further I may well have hit a wall at some point. I had kept it comfortable and manageable for myself. More importantly, I was chicken rich. I had promised my friend Lucy (who keeps chickens in Ireland) that I would send her the bag if ever I won another. So she will be in the post on Monday.

As promised I ran straight down to the beach and plunged into the sea.

Thank you Enviropsorts!

http://www.envirosports.com/default.asp?PageID=20879

PS –   delighted to report the chicken bag ‘Betty’ has now arrived in Ireland and is looking pretty perky.  Lucy sent this photo :0)

Betty basks in Irish sunshine


Grizzly Peak Marathon

Oops. Performance more grizzly than peak. Saturday 7th April 2012, Tilden Park, Berkeley

Melanie, Myself and Melanie's poorly ankle

Coastal Trail’s Grizzly Peak marathon shirts are awesome. They have a bear going grrr on them. I’ve always wanted one and it was an adventure earning it. This is a gorgeous course. It is challenging with 5,700 ft elevation in the marathon but the route is brilliantly designed to help you get there and back  alive. With a complexity of twists and turns and opportunities to play chicken (road crossings), the route ‘rollercoasters’  more than I expected from the elevation maps and mixes types of terrain so you are never bored, never slogging away at an unforgiving and endless mountainside, but mentally occupied and  keen to see what is over a crest or around the corner. Above all the views are  unbeatable from dramatic panoramas of San Francisco/The Golden Gate bridge and Marin to stunningly pretty hillside and beautiful deep dark glorious forest. When you get to the half way point your head is full of highlights to look forward to on your second loop –  the finest praise you can give a  repeating course.

Good news

Before this year’s race the female course record was 5 hrs 20 . We needed someone to to strike a blow for womankind by reducing the disparity between this and the mens record of 4hrs 10 . And  hurrah for Maria Monks who smashed it down to  4 hrs 35. (Congrats also to speedy Chris Randall who moved our disparity goal posts setting a new male record at 3hrs 52). Second, third and forth ladies, myself, Lisa Hughey and Melanie Mecham also gave it a little dent with our times of 4hrs 42,  5hrs o1 and 5hrs 12  respectively.

Bad news

I did not do anything to improve the fairer sex’s reputation for navigation.  With not entirely uncharacteristic lousy luck (or as the race organizer Wendell would prefer me to phrase it sheer  incompetence once again)  I missed one liiiiiiittle super critical turn and helped myself to a spot of extra mileage and uppy bits. (See details of my race below-  including advice on how not to run this marathon)

Top Ten observations

Ah - how refreshing

1) Ladies often enjoy the sight of a queue for the gents and not for the ladies at these events. An hour before the start it was so here  – but the pressure on the facilities for the both sexes was too great as we neared start time. There were a  few distressed people still in line as the runners passed the toilets at the start of the race.  Be prepared to cut your losses and find a natural solution ladies.
2) This course is tough but beautiful and do-able.  Don’t be scared of the elevation or the long run times. There isn’t an inch of it you won’t enjoy thinking back to. Right up until the point when I messed up I was having a lovely time.

3)  Wear shoes with good grip and tie them tight. Think  – will this  part company from me in thick mud? Don’t waste too much time picking a dry path  through mud at the beginning. You are going in eventually.

4) The course IS very well marked  – and doing so is a tough old job. However, I was not alone in messing up and the two danger spots appear to be around the aid station on the marathon return – just before it and just after it. Before it, you complete a glorious downhill to reach road and a parking bay. Ahead you see an uphill  fire road. Don’t go up it. Your view may be obscured by parked cars/hikers milling around but you should see a fluttering of pink ribbon urging you to round the corner on the road to find the aid station. Then as you travel uphill after the aid station expect a sharp left, taking you off the main trail and onto singletrack. You may be distracted if there are a lot of runners coming downhill on your left or if you are an air head like me. NB: Although you have just passed a sign saying ‘Marathon Return’ don’t expect all the signs facing you on the return to say ‘return’.

5) Messing up is ok.

6) Don’t let messing up spoil your run.

7)  The shirt has a growly bear on it and is awesome.

8) There isn’t a physical turn around feature like a cone at the start/finish line. Don’t waste time staggering around asking people where it is, just run away.

9) There are at least 26.01 miles of this route I followed flawlessly

10) I want to do it again.

http://www.coastaltrailruns.com/gp_grizzly_peak.html

Learn now not to run this marathon. 

So I messed up at the second of the ‘danger spots’ mentioned above’. However, my cautionary tale involves more than just missing a turn. Read and weep/laugh/learn. So you pass an aid station bearing the joyous sign ‘marathon return’. Soon after there is a sharp left …I shot by this and proceeded up a challenging climb.  The race is effectively a circle with some  parts of the return sharing the outbound trail and others deviating from it  – so  it wasn’t a red flag that this was new ground. However, you should really look out for the confirmation pink ribbon which just says …yup you are on the correct path. I often do look out for these ..and rejoice when I see them …but I guess I let a lot of trail go without worrying about it because my mind was occupied with the climb. Also,although I am often running alone, here there was at least one runner coming up behind me. (rule # 1 never follow me. rule # 2 never assume anyone else knows what they are doing). Then I came to a fork in the path with coastal trail markings in both directions. mmmmmm. Effectively I had come to Gillespie Road. By sheer fluke I had come to a point where the trail I was on met a trail the actual route used both out and back – and I recognised it from the outbound trip. Just then  two runners arrived coming downhill on the left fork. (These were the lead marathon/ultra men – overachievers who could both run fast AND follow directions)

It is a great idea to turn on to Lupine trail after the Big Springs aid station

 

Now for some truly rotten luck. 

Looking back I guess when I  posed the question ‘marathon return?’ they thought I was asking if that is what they were doing. ‘Yes’ they said this was marathon return and ‘yes’…to them an entirely separate point, thinking they were speaking to someone who was  still crawling up the hill outbound on the marathon…yes we should now head up this hill. Let’s add a cherry to the cupcake now and have man who had been behind me catch up and  – with the best intentions – completely erroneously  recall there was an extra out and back bit on the marathon return so off we went up the hill in search of it. I thought it odd I hadn’t notice it on the map. If only I had realized at this point we  could have turned around and headed straight back downhill to the Big Springs aid station relatively quickly. Instead I traveled up Gillespie Rd, over Vollmer Peak and was half way down Lupine when it became clear there was no extra out and back. And oh dear here were all the  people that had been behind me in the marathon coming in the opposite direction. The man behind me vanished, he must have realized and turned around with them or jumped off the peak in horror at our mistake – but I pushed on to return to that aid station to be sure I knew what I was doing still. The nice lady calmed me down and sent me back for another go at finding my way back to the start.

HOWEVER 

Here’s the thing.Right up to the point where I messed up I was having a lovely time. And by the end I was having fun again.


It was a little sad when I realised the enormity of my mistake. Off my head went on a moaning and gnashing of teeth exercise (much along the lines of the bear on the race shirt) until my body joined in and started to fall apart too – my calves kept flashing those horrid little spasms threatening to cramp, my back was aching. It is amazing how the mental and physical work together (or besiege each other) in long distance running – especially when you are running alone. After a while the  car insurance phrase ‘accident forgiveness’ popped into my mind. I  stood still for a minute, literally slapped myself on the head and just thought I am going to be happy with where I am now.  I’m here to have fun, enjoy the run.  Also just appreciate this mistake is a long cut not a shortcut. Like many runners I have done the latter before (we all do it unintentionally of course) and have always said nothing is worse, so this is better. I must have looked nuts.

Then things brightened, I met two greyhounds who were so cute I stopped and patted them (awesome doggies always gives me a boost) and I happened to run by a couple of the nicest runners ever. The first, the wonderful Jim McCaffrey, was running bare chested with sweaty long hair streaming down his back. He was saying ‘hello, good morning, what a lovely day’ to everyone and greeted me warmly as I approached. He was infectiously buoyant. Later I told  his partner he put me in mind of  Jesus of Nazareth . She  said he is always the same  :0).

The wonderful Jim McCaffrey

Hoover - first dog

A little later I came across ‘Mr Moonlight’  (Chris Jones who was running with a shirt on about a moonlight race). He was such fun and so clearly appreciating just living in the moment he also lifted my spirits. I loved the rest of the run then and very much enjoyed the last few miles scampering downhill, sploshing in mud and keeping my eyes peeled for what was for many people the single most beautiful sight of the day….the toilets. Once you see them you are home.

After the race Mr Moonlight  produced his dog Hoover who hoovered up a few snacks and posed for this photo as ‘first dog’ wearing my medal. As I write this Chris is running a half marathon. Not a man for tapering!

What will surprise people who know me is  I was not the most  accident prone person on the day. To my knowledge one person was bitten by a dog, Ms Carrie Martin appeared to have broken two fingers…ahhh they looked nasty, and – very much in a style I can relate to – Ms Melanie Mecham waited until she was at the half way turning around point,  maximizing the size of her audience and selecting the only truly flat and completely safe surface on the course to  twist her ankle. Melanie also had a bit of a slipsies on the navigation. Despite her injury she headed back out again to make up her mileage. We are pictured in the first photo together above, kindred spirits.

Thank you Coastal Trails! 

http://www.coastaltrailruns.com/gp_grizzly_peak.html

With Mr Moonlight at the finish