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Big Sur Trail Marathon, Sept 29

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

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

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

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

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

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

Big Sur Marathon

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

Pete on my race bib.

How far?

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

Coffee Disaster

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

With Kirstin Walter

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

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

My actual family

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two first ladies (Photo from Kirstin’s family)

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

Urgent message for Devon..

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

Stuff diamonds – we have babies and chickens

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

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

And finally …after a bit of a scrub down

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

Congrats to Devon and Nathan. It’s amazing what you can pick up on these trails!
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Mt Diablo Trail Marathon, Sept 15th

Alva Woof (fantastic name!) took this photo of me at her aid station

Last time the tarantulas absolutely freaked me. Now I was going to scare the hell out of them! I attached a ridiculous spider to my water bottle and headed off to Coastal Trail’s Mt Diablo race. Heh heh. People asked “‘Are you really going to run with that thing?”  But the spider was still making up her mind.

Hello ladies ….
It turns out their bite is no worse than a bee sting unless you are allergic to it. (How do you know if you are?)  They’ve got a bad reputation by hanging around with tiny unseen black widow spiders –  whose victims often collapse rasping ” it must’ve been that big fat fluffy one..get ‘im” . And oh yes there are plenty of black widows here too.

When I ran this marathon in 2010,  the revelation that Mt Diablo is a breeding ground for tarantulas was quite the pulse jolter. Moreover, this race’s September date coincides with their mating season – when Mr Fluffy and pals drape themselves seductively on the trails. I greeted my first amorous hopeful around mile three with a gentle smile. I assumed it was a child’s toy. It was not until there was an identical toy around mile ten and soon after a third that  curiosity drew me in for a closer look.  I bent over him. How cute. His fluff blowing gently in the breeze. And he moved. I rocketed in the air with a scream normally reserved for childbirth. I had no idea you could get tarantulas here, I thought they lived in Africa or something. A polar bear wouldn’t have surprised me more. Worse – I absolutely believed they kill people. No-one was around to tell me that wasn’t true.

Endorphin Dude’s pic ‘Fun before Facing The Devil

Pic from aid station volunteer Alva
When a park invests in such a fancy fire danger sign you guess it gets used  quite a bit. Try not to think the bear is grave digging.

Last time it was an unusually cool day. Course records abounded (including ladies marathon for me) and I thought the race logo of a moutain on fire was something to do with the name Diablo /devil. But no – the mountain actually is on fire normally around now and the day before the race was forecast to be 97/55 F. Chance of precipitation said ‘only if you cry’.

The course as a squashed eyeball Moving animated eye looking back and forth with pupil dilating

The course is fairly tough. The elevation is considerable with a 6, 760′ elevation for my race, the marathon and the way it plays out is kinda mean. The downs are so long they bang your knees into your rib cage. And the ups are  just asking for a slap. On and on and on …no sense of humanity.

Now I like to break the course away from geography and into a visual image I can cope with in little chunks. To me this one is clearly a stomped upon eyeball. Everyone runs up the optic nerve, 4 milers peel away before it becomes a hill, 10 milers climb to the first crest, Juniper Campground (where insane/unwitting people are camping knee deep in tarantulas) , everyone else continues into the eye ball to the blue trail (which clearly outlines the iris). Half marathoners get to the summit and plummet back the way they came. Marathoners and 50kers return the same way for a jot then take a left to complete the circle of the iris then its off for an adventure around  the vitreous sac. Marathoners hit optic nerve after that,  50kers loop around the iris again first. Now the pupil – that black hole – is the option considered by Allen Lucas (see pic) in his weepingly funny blog notthatlucas@blogspot.com.  When you get to the very summit and it’s all been a bit much, you can just ask a confused tourist  to help you up the railings and leap off.

Allen Lucas and his wife Diane. Do look up his blog. , So  modest about his running skills he is anxious he will not be allowed on the  Coastal Trails shuttle bus.

The race started. Last time I  felt rather  empowered by the start – two miles of  flat on a generous fire road. It isn’t going to win any beauty contests but has a lovely personality. There’s ample time and space to go at your own pace and find a good breathing rhythm before you hit hill. Today I felt meh.  It was just 8am yet the air we were  sucking in held a foreboding heat. “Quick chat about working conditions when you’re ready love” hissed my lungs.

At the start.I am 419 -Lady in yellow is giggling at spider

Adona gracing the 50k …..uh words fail me,make up your own caption or just fall on your knees

When I hit the hill last time I floated up it. This time not so much, just an off day. I slowed it down to find some sense of wanting to be there. I waved my spider around and had a few giggles. That helped. Part of me wanted to be running with my friends doing the 5ok (and pacing themselves behind me accordingly). Not only were fun people like Janeth, Endorphin Dude Tony and Pete running it, Adona ..Queen of the 20 miler had thrown her cap in the ring. There I’ve been trying to bully her in to running marathons and she goes all ultra on me. Honestly, I be feeling pretty darn pleased with myself if it wasn’t for these crazies putting the JUST in my marathons lol. (Their fellow cohort Chris Jones was running 100 miles elsewhere).

I’ve pinched this picture of you Leigh-Ann :0) This is where you get the first really amazing view and your body says ‘well done, you were right, it was a good idea to run up that hill after all”.

Then we climbed high enough to get a view. It is staggeringly beautiful. Perhaps the most striking of all Coastal’s events I have done. My spirits lifted, I started to have fun, my pace quickened and I began working my way up the field. The air also cleared, the valley floor seemed to trap warm air ( I noticed it later going down too). ,Up higher we even had a breeze. At one point  – just around where Leigh Ann is photographed (see pic), I wanted to soak in the view so much I started running up the hill backwards. I said ‘wow’ out loud as I turned. A  man a little down hill from me laughed. I guess it  looked like I was admiring him. We exchanged a smile as I did a little double take and hurriedly turned back so as not to overtake the next guy while  laughing and running backwards.  If someone did that to me I’d thump them for sure.

The summit – and my former shame

It was even more satisfying for me to reach the very summit  than most because well  – ahem – last time I missed it. My name is only on the course record for the ladies marathon by the grace of race organiser Wendell (and he had to add  time to it  to counteract knuckleheadedness.)

Just before the out and back to the summit there is a car park around mile 6. You emerge from bushes to cross this and can see Coastal markers for marathon and 50k runners disappearing down the other side of the mountain. To the left of these are directions for the out and back to the summit. I was struggling with an errant contact lens and whether that alone  was it or some vehicles/people were in front of the additional signage I don’t know – but though I pointedly looked for some higher echelon all I could see were two  fairly small rectangles of car park and those markers.  David Schoenberg  was just enough ahead of me to be out of sight, running up the summit,  and no-one was behind me.  This must be IT, what a let down. Wendell had told us to look for a message at the summit to check we had been to it. I frowned at the bleak car park and squinted at some  tiny letters on some metal thing but couldn’t make them out …I was expecting a sign he’d written.. odd.  Frankly rather disappointed with the summit, I shot off down the mountain, timing it to be just out of sight when David descended.

Prepare to Cringe

Neither of us saw the other again until the end. He had a fair idea what I had done but was too polite to air suspicions. It wasn’t until the conversation turned to the summit ….and my disappointment over it  raised a Coastal eyebrow that David  gently mentioned he had not had the pleasure of encountering me on the out and back . And the goof was uncovered. Awful – oh put my head in a bag!  And the worst of it was I knew I had done a really good run- now it was hard to tell what was speed and what unfair. I’m still cringing. After this when navigational slipies have added to my mileage and even cost me a placing or two I have been very content. I’m happy to be thought an idiot but not a cheat. Oh horrid feelings.

Just when you think it can’t get worse

You see – tiny monument, easy to miss

When I stepped onto this car park today all hopes that two years of cringing could come to an end evaporated as the size and clarity of the  summit return directions burned into my retinas. I literally covered my face and groaned. I recalled a small rectangular car park but here was a whole new world, my car park was a little overflow to the main one and  – as if designed to humiliate me – there was actually a  summit monument …a sizable, elegant  building with grand stairs.  I thought I had missed some tiny little single track hidden by bushes. They must have thought I was completely insane.

When I got to the top the view was outstanding. Today we had elastic bands instead of a message and I put mine on the end of one of my braids. If you have read my blog before you may remember I now avoid putting these on my wrist. I did it once and an hour later my hand started to  look like a plastic glove on its way to being blown into a rubber chicken.

Marathon
Elevation Gain: 6,760′
(Per Avocet Altimeter)

The summit is a chance  to interact with people (much mock horror at and waggling of  spider etc)  and to check out the field – who is ahead of you and who just behind…but  it is a guessing game who among them is running the marathon or longer.  The majority will be doing the half marathon  – they turn right as they come off the summit and return to the finish the way they came up. As I turned left myself I felt sure I was at least pursing  Dan Nahrwold (who won the Coastal Coyote ridge marathon two weeks ago…as his first marathon)  and one bright smiley lady in blue with those funny feet running shoes.  They were both well ahead of me but I hoped I might  catch up with them or at least see them as I was running better now and knew we were approaching a big downhill.

But it wasn’t to be. I saw Dan dwarfed by the mountains  in the distance but no-one else (I guessed funny feet girl must be a half marathoner).  Still the down was glorious. It is worth suffering the rest of this marathon just to experience this bit, I felt humbled by the beauty, it is more like flying than running..effortless and fast….and it goes on for 4.6 miles! At one point you pass through a distinctive section of rich dark soil scattered with quartz. I adored almost every second of it…

This is where I saw the moving tarantula last time. Then as now I was completely alone. Suddenly  – a  sharp pain in my right ankle. I froze and could hardly bear to look down I was so scared there would be a  spider attached to my foot (apparently if severely provoked they can jump on you…..maybe Dan had been rude to it lol)… but there was nothing to see. The pain was significant and I could see a sore on my heel but it went away after a while, I guess it was either a bee or a sharp stone. Nasty moment. It could have been an odd task for some coroner, prising a giant  fluffy spider from the hand of a runner for whom her  severe allergy to tarantula venom had been an unwelcome last minute discovery.

Mt Diablo – or is that Diabolical

Endorphin Dude Tony was not alone in a DNF (did not finish) today – but only he would run a half marathon the next day!

After the  4.6 mile blast down  I dropped in on Coastal volunteer black belts Alva  and Lynnard (who recently ran a 100 miler) and their cosy little aid station at North Gate. They were perhaps disappointed  not to be manning the really busy Juniper Campground station but this one has it’s own special thrill delivering runners at high speed as they plummet down what Alva called her ‘Wall drop’ and torch across a road to reach them. Never has an aid station said RTA pending quite so clearly to me. It is also a great position to have a good laugh at people. The down is over OOOOOOOOOOOver. Now we are up. Alva took the photo of me at the top of this blog at this station. They told me there was just one guy ahead of me – which was Dan. Later it emerged there had  been another lady but she had managed to get lost poor thing. She must have been way ahead of me too.

Now comes the up. I found this quite intense. I was well hydrated  – I’d been  drinking ahead of my thirst with such aggression I was probably making swishing noises- but the heat started to get to me. I battled to stop myself slipping into staggery walking too often or for too long – it can become a habit once you give in to it especially when you are running alone. By the time I reached the Rock City aid station I was feeling dizzy and getting cold flashes down my arms and neck.  Like the summit this is also a little out and back so you get to see other runners ..and I was surprised to see Dan leaving the station as I arrived, sad for him he had dropped back but pleased to have a person close by. Also to be honest it helped me not feel so bad I had been struggling. It was VERY hot. I was certainly ready to refresh my water bottle but not particularly thirsty and my mind was on the  woozy feeling  so I made a good decision in nabbing  a couple of salt tablets but a bad one in filling up my water bottle and heading off without also drinking stuff there.  My water was gone long before the next station.

Now I had two surprises. First a lady appeared running up behind me. A pretty awesome elite runner type with abs I would not cover in church . Where did she come from? I smiled and said hello in a ‘trying not to be

Evolution of calf sleeve usage. None, boring black, hot pink Waahhoo Janeth ones…50Ks worth of hot today!

horrified you are so close behind me’ sort of way. A monetary flicker of competitiveness sparked in me but meh. The strategic thing to do would be to hoof it now and be out of her sight by the time she returned from the aid station …not visible as an achievable quarry. But I was shut down to survival mode. Running not racing. Really worried about the dizzy thing. Anyway she was a fair bit behind me.

Then the second surprise came along. A whacking great cramp flashed up my leg. I’ve not had cramp since I started wearing calf sleeves. I stopped and tested the leg, if it was going to snarl up I wanted to head back towards the aid station and get someone to push against it. It was ok. I continued and every now and then a little flicker of cramp traced my calf. I ran/walked with that foot tensed, holding the lower leg like a wooden stump ( I might as well have put the spider on my shoulder and shouted ‘pieces of eight’ ). I really wondered what would happen. I was scared of being alone when a big cramp hit. I realised of course the very best thing I could have done was to have just eaten those salt tablets. Go Salt tablets!! It was an internal battle  – would they get into my bloodstream before the cramp hobbled me. This was a low point. My Garmin shows it took nearly 18minutes to cover the next mile.

Now there is a moment in this race where you know for sure people have snorted beer through their nose planning it. You have done a lot of uphill and the terrain has a ‘top of the ridge’ feel. You are ready for a left turn any moment now taking you  back to good old Camp Juniper and a joy dive downhill to the finish. Instead a corner reveals a trail akin to a rocket trajectory. At least I knew it was coming. I knew Dan didn’t. If only I’d been able to catch up to him I could have let him cry on my shoulder.

I did reach Dan after a while and we had a good old moan about the heat. It’s a terrible hill. I thought the stunning abs lady was coming up behind me but I turned a few times and didn’t see her. On we went, both suffering, walking now and then, the cramps flashes were frightening. Then Abs glided by us and disappeared. Wow.

Cautionary Tale at Aid Station. 

By the time I reached the Juniper Campground aid station  my cramps had finally finally petered out and my biggest concern was raging thirst. The worst is over – not. I proceeded to make a terrible mistake.

I had been dreaming of ice cold coke in  little paper cups for some time. My plan was to knock back two or three of them when I was filling my water bottle – but when I got the the station there were absolutely no little drinks ready. Normally there are lots of little cups filled with a range of drinks. There was a can of Coke on the table but it was empty so a lady headed off to find a new one. I could sense time ticking away and decided to cut my losses. I had to  drink something in addition to filling my water bottle so I plumped for water.  I attempted to lift a single cup from a stack of them with one hand but it wouldn’t come so rather impatiently,  I clamped the stack of  cups to my chest with my spider and bottle hand in order to claw a cup off the top. A grizzly would have made a neater job of it, cups everywhere. (by the way Grizzly Adams use to live on Mt Diablo in the 1850s) The lady returned with the Coke  and I felt a little  ashamed of my cup scattering, especially as she was being nice to my spider.  So I accepted a freshly poured cup and another and another and another straight from the can.

It was then a massive ball of gas formed under my rib cage.

I tottered towards what should have been a joyous victory dive downhill for two miles in excruciating pain. I threw up a little immediately (I hope those hikers can just remember the lovely view)  but the pain was horrid for miles until I surprised myself with a salute of burps as I neared the flat.  I had been dreading those last two miles of flat and I didn’t exactly enjoy them – but oh boy did I appreciate being pain free.

I crossed the finish, Wendell made sure to check I had an elastic band.  If I had been him I’d have submitted it to forensic examination to be sure it was legit. My time was of little interest, I just wanted to go home but when I found out it was  4.40.38  I rallied. That was  better that expected considering the heat, agony,fear of impending death etc. Dan was right behind me in  4.43.26. (I might add he had run a 20 miler the weekend between our last marathon together …I had tapered). The next person after us was 5.23 – and only five people were under 6 hours.

Special thanks to the Coastal Trails team and volunteers, and hugs to the two ladies who were talented enough to be ahead of  me but obliging enough to let me win. One by running off course too badly to be recovered  (and I think it was the poor funny feet lady as I don’t see a finish  picture of her) And one by running the  50k- Julie Neumann aka the stunning abs lady, see below.

Next up cold drinks. I opened the drinks cooler actually contemplating a diet coke (this is why I have three children…no pain memory) and paused for a moment. It was half full of icy water but had surprisingly few drinks in it. What a day. Would anyone notice if I jumped in and closed the lid?

Here are the results http://www.coastaltrailruns.com/d_results_12.htm

Self and Dan at finish. Seconds later Spidey had snatched that watermelon.

This is the Amazing Abs lady, Julie Nuemann. She won the 50k in 5. 36.41, half an hour ahead of everyone else! I wonder what her marathon time would have been, certainly waaaay ahead of me.

finish photo

tarantula1 Wildlife Guatemala   8 Facts About The TarantulaDid you know

 Males have much shorter lifespans than females. Female often live for 30 years. Go girls! Few males live long enough for a post-ultimate (‘the deed’) moult. Most males do not live through this moult as they tend to get their emboli, mature male sexual organs or pedipalps, stuck in the moult.

 (We shouldn’t laugh ladies….)

 


San Francisco Marathon, July 29th

Fastest chicken on the day  – give it up for Ken …as seen in the San Francisco Chronicle

So..4am found me snoring on the floor of a meeting room in Bite Communications’ San Francisco Office (where my husband Hamish earns a crust). The night before,  San Francisco’s hotels were stuffed to bursting and the city was dotted with little figures like me,  tugging sleeping bags into shops and offices. It is the largest marathon in Northern California and the 13th largest in the US – and few of the 25,000 marathoners wanted to travel far on race morning – it is a 5.30am start. This is because …very cool…it is the only event where runners get to cross the Golden Gate Bridge on the actual roady bit. The race is always on a Sunday, the first runners hit bridge around 6am and the last is off around 9am so the traffic can cope. It was especially cool this year as it is the bridge’s 75th anniversary.

I was not alone, I was accompanied by my rubber chicken, Ken – named after my Dad, whose genes render me susceptible to running marathons. Friends, family, neighbours etc were sponsoring me to wear him during the race to raise money for the San Francisco/Marin food banks (and for  local foodbanks in England, Ireland and Norway). No-one was terribly excited to see if I completed the race as they knew they’d never see their money again anyway….but adrenalin was pumping around the world to see which of these kind souls would be rewarded by wining rubber chicken of their very own in a glittering prize draw after the event.

Ken admires the view before his early night

I jumped up to turn off my wake up call from Snoozster.com (check it out if you don’t know it ..it is wonderful. The calls are made by a range of characters and are so unbelievably cheesy they are sure to make the grumpiest half unconscious person groan/laugh). It was dark outside but you could already hear noises from the race start…literally a 5 min walk from this office. How exciting. I just had one problem. Of all the important decisions made in that meeting room over the years, this must have been one of the strangest. I had to decide whether or not to wear my two big toe nails.

Blog chums will recall these blackened and threatened to part from the rest of me months ago.  A week or so ago they made a bid for freedom but on the advice of toe nail guru, my scarily tough soccer whizz friend Teena, I had strapped them down to protect the growing nail. My daily routine included lifting the nails off like little lids  – cleaning and disinfecting the hideousness beneath – and popping the chaps  back on. It had really worked like a charm, I lost no training time, suffered very little discomfort (unless kids/dogs jumped on them…which isn’t as infrequent as you might imagine) and was planning to run like this today. But as I stood up both toes were throbbing like crazy. It felt like they were infected. But on closer examination it seemed they had both just got to the point where they were rejecting the nail. I’d like to consult Teena but it is 4.15am on a Sunday. I’ve  not tried running in them without nails. You never want to race doing something different. Would the shoes rub on the fragile nail growth? It might be agony. Would some bandaging protect them or push down on them? Urgh. How ridiculous. Certainly I couldn’t run like this, I unpackaged the little rebels and gingerly returned the socks then attempted shoes….quite a moment of truth…..this really could stop me running today….it seemed was ok.  I ran around the office with bated breath, bandages on..off..on… and decided to run with them off. How weird. Drama over for now but I was really worried it was going to be a problem mid race. Well never mind. What else could I do but have a go. You wonder what other little personal dramas were going on in hotel rooms and office floors all over the city. To cheer myself up I wondered too how many soundly sleeping figures would snooze through that early start. At least I hadn’t fallen at quite the first hurdle.

Out on the street de-clawed, stuffed full of raisin porridge and a little later than intended at 5.15am, I navigated the signs showing you where to start depending on the number on your bib. (I had estimated  3 hours 15 minutes. It is a road race but not the fastest as there are a fair few hills. It was maybe ambitious but I erred on the side of boastypants in order to get a nice starting place. This put me in the second wave of runners leaving (just the sub three hr estimate elite women were ahead) so I was bibbed up to be jettisoned very close to the start, just seconds after 5.30am..if I could get there. In my own inimitable style I managed to get confused between the bib number signs on the left and those I should have been following on the right. I have done this race before so the mistake was beyond incompetent. With the left hand signs I located a friendly bunch in a trailer where I could have dropped a bag had I had one to discard ..and then eyed the runners with bib numbers similar to mine lined up inside a great  metal cage to the right and …now a little anxious about cutting it fine on time…ran up and down trying to find the door (following right hand signs) to get in. I found it and pushed my way up to my starting place just in time.

5.30 am. Good Morning San Frazzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

And off we went. This race advises against headphones but doesn’t ban them so I wore mine with just one ear in as usual. The beat of the music, the darkness, the relief at being in the right place at the right time to start, the fun and freedom of running down the middle of The Embarcadero  – normally a busy road across which I tend to be navigating three errant children – it was wonderful. I was using a new iPhone app called Runkeeper. Although I have never really paced myself in races, preferring to run by natural feel, it was interesting to have the app telling me how far I had run and what pace I was doing every  5 minutes.

Embarking on Embarcadero

The first five miles take you along the side of the bay, by Alcatraz Landing, Pier 39 and other tourist hot spots to the Golden Gate Bridge. It is a run I have done many times and never much liked – I am not fond of long lines where you can see where you are going stretching out ahead of you. Most recently I ran it in reverse on an ill-fated 15 mile training run. I got chatting and started my run late, shot through Marin, over the bridge and along the bay side to the Embarcadero and The Ferry Building only to miss my ferry home by 3 minutes. I shivered for an hour and a half waiting for the next one.

But today I was just lifted by the atmosphere. Running was no more effort than riding a motorbike – I was relieved to hear my pace was around 7.03 mins/mile thanks to Runkeeper as I didn’t seem to be making any effort. I knew I would find the later miles tough if I pushed a faster pace now so I just floated along. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to run a whole marathon feeling like this. Correctly I guessed today would not be the day for that.

Ken peeking over my shoulder. Near start.

An unexpected highlight of the race appeared on Chrissy Fields – the 130 acre salt marsh, now mainly laid to grass which covers the flat land leading to your climb to the Golden Gate Bridge. The area (first used as fishing base by the Ohlone Indians ..there are archaeological finds from middens there) used to be an airfield and has long had military connections. In the grey morning light it was lined with what seemed like a hundred people, the first group of them holding large images of servicemen and women who had died in recent combat – and the pictures were overwhelming. I felt my eyes prick with tears. The second group had person after person after person holding tall American flags.  I actually touched a forefinger to my hat as an automatic gesture of I’m not sure what, a salute of respect or something. Without getting into politics  – and I am ill equipped and poorly motivated to do so- when you have the opportunity and physical ability to challenge yourself to run a marathon it is terribly important to be grateful for that opportunity and to remember others just don’t have that chance.

I didn’t feel the hill rising to the bridge at all, the darkness and cool morning air encased me. It felt sort of floating and weird. I had joked to my Mother-In-Law  that the 5.30 am start wouldn’t worry me as I don’t wake up until 6.30am so I’d have a hour done before being conscious  – and in truth it almost seemed that way. The bridge was absolutely glorious. In addition to the dusky morning light everything was engulfed in fog. I knew my dear friend Devon Crosby Helms would be among the leaders (the race goes over the bridge then back again so runners pass each other there). I peered into the fog waiting to see figures running back, half way over still nothing and then after a while you could see a single light coming through the gloom…this was the motorbike leading the front  runners, another bike followed him and then a trickle of supermen glided into view..but no women. More men, and then YES ..there she was, looking strong and relaxed. I yelled at her and we waved to each other, I told her to get on with it as she needs the money :0) She did indeed continue to win the race with a time of 2.44.05. and snaffled the prize pot of $1,500- as she is just about to get married AND open a bakery in my home town of San Anselmo with her fiancé she will certainly put it to good use. If you’d like to give her more money you can consider investing in this our Kickstarter campaign .

Devon just a bit pleased with that win :0)

Behind Devon I spotted another familiar face – Anna Breton, who had the audacity to win the Oakland marathon I did earlier in the year and to have spent 15 mins playing with the baby she had given birth to just six weeks earlier before my carcass heaved itself over the finish line. She held that place to come in second. Clearly a VERY good runner!

Returning over the bridge you are facing a positive sea of runners coming in the opposite direction. I found it very moving. All sorts of shapes, sizes, ages etc . I spotted a few familiar faces

Bridge roady bit – fun!!

and looked out for more people I know. With thousands of people running there is a significant difference in start time if you are not in the first couple of waves  – and many of them were doing a two or three race weekend and were pacing themselves appropriately. Still it was kinda sad to turn off the bridge and tunnel under the road, I strained my neck for a last chance to perhaps see Endorphin Dude’s yellow cape fluttering in the crowd ..but no. Indeed  – as expected – I was yet to see anyone sporting anything remotely silly and was starting to feel a little self conscious about the chicken.

Every now and then someone would say ‘nice chicken’ or ‘ok tell me about the chicken I have to know’ and I enjoyed the little conversations it sparked. There are fewer conversations during races than there used to be as so many people are listening to music etc. I’m often really just trying to breathe so I would have a horror of running with someone who wanted to talk all the way but the odd exchange is very cool and at times memorable. A surprising number of people clearly put a bit of a spurt on to catch up and find out about the chicken as it is bugging them, and then they drift back away into the field behind you. Others compliment the chicken as a way to soften the blow as they overtake you..instead of the usual well intentioned but awkward: “good job’” which is always a little odd if you over think it: “I mean you ARE doing a GOOD job..but see me effortlessly gliding by ..now this is a FANTASTIC job”.

The more I talked about the food bank the funnier it seemed that here was a bunch of people most of whom who eat and drink too much and hence run to work it off parading around a city inwhich I am told 197,000 people struggle to get sufficient nutrition on a given day. It is over 40,000 people in Marin. How strange  – with such wealth in those places too.

This race has several ‘bits’. For me. Right after the bridge there is the deliciously elegant and prolonged swoop downhill through the Presidio overlooking the sea. I overtook a number of women on that downhill without exerting myself which was fun –   and I  found myself playing what I call ‘Flat Stanley’ with a German man  – ie someone who is good (and overtakes me) on hills and weak (and is overtaken by me) on downs whom I repeatedly meet and run alongside on flat areas. Every time I approached him he shouted in mock rage ‘ah the chicken is out to get me’. I developed a little stitch laughing. It was ridiculous …especially with him saying ‘chicken’ in a German accent.

Eventually, you reach the Golden Gate park. This is an interesting section as there are people (and bison) to look at, a few live bands and some characterful aid stations. One of these is offering cups of beer. I took one by accident. I ran up saying: “water please..water…water”. But  this was apparently too cryptic for the excited young man who handed me beer and said: “You thought we were joking …it really is beer”. Annoyingly, he was the last person in line at that aid station so I missed picking up both the water and the hilarity of the moment as it appeared to him.

I find this Golden Gate bit quite hard. Many people savor it but I wanted it over. You are sort of in a nice green place with ducks and trees and cute paths and roses but you are also very much running on a long straight road for much of it and to me it is a hurdle to get through.

Hello Mr Bison and friends

There is some interest as you see the first half marathoners finish and notice bouncy fresh meat in the field as second halfers and relay marathon teamers join the party. (You can do a half marathon by completing the first half of the marathon course or by doing the second half. Only the first half has the bridge..nuf said). Incidentally, it was reported later than someone stopped his girlfriend at mile 8 of their half marathon and proposed. It made me laugh. She accepted and was very happy. Most female runners I know would consider that to be the end of a beautiful relationship.

I seem to find mile 14 and 15 very hard in races recently. I had eaten a gel pack at mile 5 and 10 but anticipated this low and ate another around 14 and dropped back a little so as not to force myself through this low point. I was no longer on my mental motorbike and felt more like I was pushing one uphill. Still, I often seem to get a second wind around 17/18 so I plodded on, not really dropping my pace greatly but just not feeling very comfortable and concentrated on breathing a double exhale and a double inhale. I realized I was in the midst of the runners following the 3 hr 10 pacers. It felt comforting to fall into step with them for a while but them we came to a little hill where the race FINALLY leaves the Golden Gate Parky bit and starts the fun business of running through city streets.  The paced group maintained pace up the hill and I pushed to stay with them but overextended myself, it was a mistake for me. I pulled back and went into survival mode, just keep it ticking over – run at a pace you can continue …which was now dragging slower. Would the nice lady’s voice on my Runkeeper app stay as calm as my car GPS lady’s  when I take a wrong turn or would she get lippy with me if I hit a really terrible pace: “8 minutes per mile ……..WHAT ARE YOU THINKING …YOU ‘ORRIBLE LITTLE WINE GUZZLER …. GET A MOVE ON”.

Out of the park and the streets really are fun. I don’t know the city so I really have no idea where I am but it is oddly exhilarating running through  those big wide swooping hilly San Francisco streets.  Course-Map-for-Wirpo-1I’m told this is the Haight-Ashbury district. At one point they switch the route so runners alternate between streets. As I came to that point I was one of the first to be switched and soon found myself running down a long street with no runners visible ahead of me. On any other Sunday morning you would have to be crazy to do this. Now and then I almost stopped at red lights at the bottom of hills, it is so instinctive. Love it. This and the bridge are the reason to do this marathon if you get the chance.

gimme gimme

The final few miles were tough for me. The route is a little featureless. They could really do with a few bison there :0) The  spectators who are there are wonderful – but they are few and far between. I passed a place where a lady had been holding a sign saying ‘pick a positive thought’ when I ran the same race two years ago. I had decided then my thought was going to be  that skinny bitch isn’t going to pass me  as there was a woman creeping up on me. It wasn’t perhaps the spirit the sign holder had hoped to inspire but it did help me beat her :0). I smiled at the memory and looked behind me but there were no ladies to be seen. Some I had been tussling with were well ahead now – and others well behind.

Look away now – enormous cleavage coming through

I waited until mile 24 before pushing myself a little harder  – my pace quickened to 7.13 mins per mile. I forced it a little more at mile 25 and started to feel confident about a strong finish. Just then  a feisty young lady I had not seen before reached my  shoulder,  toyed with me for a while,  then zipped away ahead….ah ..now  THAT slightly put my ‘strong finish’ in the shade.  But it was still a pleasurable finish.

Very near the finish. People were laughing at the chicken :0)

I fixed my eyes on the Bay Bridge in the distance (the marathon ends at the giant cupid bow and arrow sculpture just beyond that bridge) and crunched through mile 26 at what was in my head a dead sprint but in reality was slowing to 7.18 minutes per mile. The very last stretch of road was odd. You seem to run towards the finish but it never gets closer. There was a moment of light relief when a man suddenly arrived at my shoulder urgently demanding to know what the chicken was for as he had been wanting to know since he had first seen it  miles ago. He loved that it was for the food bank and I was smiling as he sprinted ahead of me right up until the point where I stumbled on road curb and banged one of my toe nails. The pain took my breath away. It was a timely reminder of how lucky I was that those toes were ok. If this had been a trail marathon I am sure I couldn’t have coped. Just then I saw another man  come to a complete stop with about a quarter of a mile to go. I put an arm around him for a second and encouraged him to just look at the bridge, he was so close. He seemed grateful and started up again. People have done similar things to me in races and sometimes it is just the boost you need. He stayed close behind me right to the finish line and we shook hands at the end  – I could see from his bib number he had started well behind me – he had done a fantastic run  – his time was sub 3 hrs 10 mins. I broke away from him to be  interviewed by  The San Francisco Chronicle on account of the rubber chicken so we didn’t get to talk much. It  occurred to me later that that rubber chicken must have been quite surreal for him. Suddenly popping up and leading him home.

I finished in 3.12.04 which is actually a personal best for me. I was 13th  out of 4317 ladies and 208th out of 6456 people – and  third lady in the masters (over 40). I’ve decided to find it invigorating rather than depressing that no lady older than me beat me – the first two in the masters were 43 yrs old  – whippersnappers! I also did notice that the other ladies in the masters both ahead and behind me were ‘elite’ athletes  – you can tell from their three digit bib numbers. So I am really quite chuffed to have been running with ‘proper runners’ and done ok. What an experience.

But.

As always.  A moment of marathoning glory and dare I say pride is never long lived for me before a fall of some kind. I moved on from the journalist to receive my medal and was drawn to a tempting array of frozen banana and strawberry smoothies. I was thirsty and sucked deeply on one only to be quite incapacitated by an almighty ice cream headache. I staggered around looking for a bin and found another runner leaning over it clasping his head and groaning. We laughed at each other ..no words needed or possible.

I decided to sort out my camp at Hotel Bite and return to watch Devon receive her awards before going home. We chatted by the podium for a while during which I snapped some mindless shots of the general scene on my cell phone  – it them crashed just as she left me to accept her award. So imagine here a nice photo of her accepting the cheers of the masses – and then one of us together.

And finally

Congrats to Richard Ervais – who won the rubber chicken.

After the race, Ken the chicken and I were mentioned in the San Francisco Chronicle’s write up of the event. http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/Thousands-come-run-in-35th-S-F-Marathon

Penny MacPhail ran the marathon with a rubber chicken named “Ken” on her back, to raise money for the San Francisco and Marin Food Banks.

“The biggest problem is people ask you about it, and you lose a lot of breath explaining it to them,” she said.

The Food Bank chaps were delighted. The amount of money raised may be modest – c $4/500 but (speaking as an old PR person) publicity  like this, just keeping the name in the public eye  is priceless. I wonder if it may even inspire other people to raise money for them. Maybe we could have hundreds of rubber chickens scooting around the streets of San Francisco next year.

Thank you to everyone who sponsored me. Thank you Ken. Thank you San Francisco…and your groovy, foggy bridge. http://www.thesfmarathon.com/

Place Name Location Bib Net Time Pace Division/Place Sex-Age Sex-Place Gun Time Age Grade
51 Connie Mendoza Saint Petersburg, FL 263 2:54:27 6:40 F 40-44/0 F-43 4 2:54:31 84.54%
155 Stephanie Finelli Sacramento, CA 221 3:07:59 7:11 F 40-44/0 F-43 8 3:08:02 78.45%
208 Penelope Macphail San Anselmo, CA 20385 3:12:05 7:20 F 40-44/0 F-44 13 3:12:28 77.70%
328 Lesley Johnson San Antonio, TX 283 3:19:52 7:38 F 40-44/1 F-41 27 3:19:57 72.11%
353 Nancy Cook Belchertown, MA 298 3:21:34 7:42 F 45-49/1 F-48 33 3:22:07 77.78%
Runner Details Race Results

Bib:

20385

Name:

Penelope Macphail

Gender:

F

Age:

44

Hometown:

San Anselmo, CA

Overall:

208 out of 6456

Women:

13 out of 4317

F 40-44:

0 out of 303

Age/Grade:

77.70% Place: 28

Finish:

3:12:05 Pace: 7:20

Tag Time:

3:12:05

Gun Time:

3:12:28
Split Times

5 Km:

21:50 Pace: 7:02

7.4 Mi:

53:23 Pace: 7:13

Half:

1:34:32 Pace: 7:13

20 Mi:

2:25:33 Pace: 7:17

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


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