Tag Archives: Marathon in California

Coyote Ridge, 1st Sept 2012

Always approach marathons involving Muir beach with humility and a hearty breakfast. Yes be lured by the sweetly named and picturesque, Muir,  Pirates, Rodeo and Bonita coves. But remember the mighty Pacific Ocean that carved them also left some pretty colossal piles of rock in-between.

Around 7am I was relieved to be clambering onto the Coastal Trails shuttle bus in Canyon Meadows field. It’s  just over a mile from the race start at Muir beach. Some people jog it. Not me. My warm up routine is drinking coffee. I had considered cycling- anything to elminate the extra layer of pre-race anxiety navigating a shuttle entails. But as I eyed the road now I was sure the  post-race me would have resented the cheerful person who had whizzed downhill to the beach earlier. The better plan – as recommended  – is just to arrive nice and early. For once I had. Pass the medals. Also. And if you’re familiar with my blog get your fingers into pinch position. I was injury free!

A Muir beach shuttle in1890. Returning to the Sausalito ferry. Here is a rather amusing history of the beach. http://www.bellobeach.com/history.html

I love this lady  –  Adona Ramos, the poster girl for 20milers. We stood side by side grinning  while her friend Dennis took picture after picture inwhich she inexplicably appeared to be growling or  detained against her will.  This is the best of them. I look like a celebrity stalker!

We had a perfect  running day – chilly but bright at the beach. The place was buzzing with atmosphere, the runners tops and event booths a lovely splash of colour against  the backdrop of stark cliffs. Runners doing the 10m 20m, marathon and 50K  races gather on a narrow wooden bridge leading to the beach just before the 8am start. There was a welcome moment of levity when  race organizer Wendell explained that in order to accommodate  all the distances (and there was a 7 miler later too) the marathon course was actually 26.3 miles instead of 26.2 –  a gruff male voice in the crowd called out ‘That better be on my shirt’. Best pre-race heckle ever! And then we were off.

Normally I stand at the very front (in order to have less distance to run…simples! ) but today the bridge was narrow and I was a few rows back, chatting with my friend Adona.  When we surged forward Adona being perfect in every way nipped gracefully off the bridge   I ran straight into a waist-height orange cone stuck on a wooden post which had been obscured by the first few rows of  runners. I think the cone was to stop idiots like me running  into the post.  I  pranged it twice, once by running into it and then again by rebounding off the people behind me. It got me right under the ribs. How ridiculous. It reminded me of an event  in England many years ago where  a runner found himself gashed on the arm and kneed in the groin within seconds of starting a race. He had tripped over a cameraman crouched on the ground. I’m afraid the groin injury was delivered by me..toppling over him.

I think this is the 7mile start- but it shows my orange cone and post nicely :0) Thanks Deborah for posting this picture

And off we went, heading up the cliff. It was glorious, the sea breeze cooling and invigorating, the scenery and the hill breathtaking in their own ways :0) This marathon is certainly a challenging one with 6, 250 ft of elevation. But hard to beat for beauty and a perfect race to do if you are visiting San Francisco and want to soak up the feel of the place. There is even a view of the Golden Gate Bridge – or fog containing it. Today we scored bridge and instantly forgave the hills we had had to climb to see it from such height.

Another picture courtesy of Deborah. Here is the start – I am just behind Mr 893 at the front

I like to divide the course into manageable bits and so decided with more creativity than science that I would be progressing around  a lady bug  sticking its tongue. You run up the tongue, up and over one side of the bugs head, up and over one side of its body, up and over the other side of its body and return via the other side of its head to return down the tongue. The head and tongue are the 7 mile orange loop, the body the pink c. 12 mile loop. Clear? Fun!  The hills are significant but if you enjoy downhill and don’t mind wiping out hikers on blind corners there are amazing stretches of prolonged down where this bug lets you fly!. Ladybug animated gif 1

Distance Elevation Gain Single Track Dirt Road Asphalt
7mi 1,900′ 21% 64% 15%
10mi 2,740′ 26% 65% 9%
20mi 4,390′ 32% 50% 18%
Marathon 6,250′ 29% 54% 17%
50 Km 7,130′ 30% 55% 15%

Christy Bentivoglio was there, smiling for California as usual and making everyone around her feel good – as long as they didn’t look up at the cliffs. Her enthusiasm is infectious. I’m sure she got a few dogs walkers to sign up for the 50K. “Have a go, you’ll be fine in Crocs.”Christy – bless her! This is the wattage of her smile AFTER 20miles. I think there may have been beer in the Camel Back

File:MarincelloTrail.jpg

The Marincello trail is actually the main Boulevard of the failed Marincello Development. This could look like downtown Sausalito today!

Before running I browsed the internet trying to find something to like about Marincello (the start of the pink loop after the aid station) As a former archaeologist I like to add meaning to runs with a dab of research, I Googled the name just because it was the part of the course that I most dreaded – a bleak, featureless  crawl of a hill that bores me.  Oh boy did I hit gold!  Marincello was supposed to be a vast hilltop community. The story of its demise is absolutely fascinating- and kickstarted the preservation of all Open Space in Marin. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marincello

Janet Bodle (right) is an inspiring runner. I know through her grandson. Here she is finishing the marathon today..64 yrs young and two hours ahead of the next person her age. She recently completed her ambition to run a marathon in every state. I’d like to see us both on that start bridge in 20 yrs time!

While reaching the top of  Marincello today I had the first of three awkward moments in the race. I came across a  guy running the 20 miles. He wasn’t up for a chat but asked what our average pace was. I didn’t know. “But you’re wearing Garmin aren’t you?” he said. How unfortunate. What are the chances? No one has ever asked me the pace in a race before – and now I had to explain that although I was indeed wearing  a brand new top of the range Garmin I had not been sufficiently competent to turn it on properly. I told him I was steeling myself for the disparaging remarks my husband would have later – he had paid hundreds of dollars for  it as a surprise gift ..and I had fumbled pressing one button. I expected him to laugh but no. Awkward. Did he think I was withholding the information? Some runners do get awfully serious about this stuff. To smooth the situation  I offered a sporting estimate which seemed to make sense to him. I passed by. Later it hit me though – the estimate I had given was  hopelessly inaccurate, more of a current pace on the gently undulating ground we were on than an ‘average’ pace he had asked for – bearing in mind the hills we had covered.  I pushed from my conscience the possibility that he may have slowed down on account of my terrible guess!

Alexandre finishing his 20 miler. We ran most if it together. The poor man will never know how close he came to witnessing my gel pack retrieval rummaging

My second awkward moment came when I was galloping down the last section of pink loop and suddenly received a series of sharp pains in the vicinity of my underwear.  It turned out I was being slashed with the sharp edges of  empty gel packets. When I eat them I tend to shove the packets down my top rather than littering or  negotiating opening a pocket to put them away. This time a number of packets and tops had worked their way down a hole in my top. There was absolutely nowhere to hide even if I had been prepared to stop (and that is against the grain). Tantalizingly, I didn’t know how close the people behind me were  – but I did know they were all men.  All I could do was keep going, running as fast as I could but jolting with pain when the packets stabbed me and then  rummaging in my shorts on every turn when I should be out of sight to the people behind me until I had located all of them.

The third cringe of the day occurred when I was on the orange loop repeat.  Two attractive ladies were returning from the aid station I was headed to.  They smiled, pleased for me rather than bothered for themselves that I was 7 miles ahead of them. Like most runners they were just out there having fun at their own pace. I smiled back and intended a warm  “Hi guys” as we passed by but inexplicably  “Hi gays!” came out instead. Their smiles dimmed a little  – probably just in confusion  or in response to my frozen expression. But I was tortured with the  possibility that they were gay (I don’t think they were)   – and now not only believed I  had a problem with that (I don’t) but also that I was enough of a  jerk to go around issuing bizarre taunts.  And of course you can’t turn around and run after them and sort it all out  – as to do so would surely seem to say ..’I’d like to publicly raise the question of whether or not you’re gay’.. or ..”I’m a crazy person”. Possibly they dismissed it as my Irish accent.

Edvard Munch was inspired by this marathon

But more importantly, I also had an endearingly silly moment that will stay with me forever.  As I climbed up from Muir beach to repeat the orange loop I crowned the hill to a faintly ridiculous  sight. Two middle aged hikers were standing beside Wendell’s course marker  – this pointed at the spot they were standing on and said ORANGE  in bold orange letters. They were obediently eating an orange. I laughed out loud.

David Altena – The Supplier!

Thank you to David Altena who helped me when my legs started to seize up after the  finish and gave me a lift back to my car and my   Icy Heat gel so I didn’t have to sort out the shuttle thing. If my legs had been working I would have kicked myself for forgetting to  take my usual anti-inflammatories before the race , I didn’t even have them with me.  Urgh!  To my glee David offered me some  painkiller. When  I accepted he made me laugh by producing  a  carefully wrapped bundle of anonymous red tablets. He said he had just decanted some from a  large container but  did wonder what the Police would think if they found them. What amused me was how many he had in the bundle – enough to fell an elephant. I’m glad his 20 miler went so well!

I assume they were Advil. Two of them and a slathering of Icy Heat  – and I could feel no pain within the hour. Possibly under the influence of mind altering drugs, I signed up for my next Coastal event shortly after returning home  – Mt Diablo in two weeks time.

This time I know in advance the place is a breeding ground for  Tarantulas. Hopefully I will scream a little less.

Todays results: http://www.coastaltrailruns.com/cr_smmr_results_12.htm

Now this is the real Adona.  How lovely to share a day like this together again- winning the  ladies 20 and  marathon, both  female course records. Try not to notice that she looks like a mannequin in a sports shop and  I look like roadkill. I can hear my parents groaning” Penny you’re a messer”.

With somebody’s thumb and first man in the Marathon Dan Nahrwold. Everyone else ran over the hills, Dan stepped over them. This was his first trail marathon, he did it in 4 hrs 13!!!! I was 4 hrs 22.29

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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

Canyon Meadows Marathon, 3rd June, 2012

So tempting…

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

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

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

So here was the advice:

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

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

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

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

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

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

I dare myself to register..

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nicki Wells – first lady in half marathon 1.47.23.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With first man Stephen Souch.

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

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

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