Tag Archives: Marathon

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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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


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


Montara Marathon, March 2012

Saturday, March 3rd 2012. San Pedro Valley Park, Pacifica.

Traditionally I start Costal Trail events with some mishap. At Crystal Springs I squirted Icy Heat gel into my eye while investigating how to open the tube moments before the race began. At Montara I lost my hanky.

A minor thing for most people, this is a disaster for me as (bizarrely) I only have half a functional nose and it streams as soon as I start running. No hanky means no breathing.  I was auditioning various items in the car to be replacements …tissues are useless as they become saturated with sweat…a diaper was a serious contender…then I  found  the hanky lying under my car..I mean how on earth did it get there?? with two minutes to go.

So starting the race with hanky was quite a relief.  The pre-race tension melted away as the half marathon, marathon and 50k runners kicked off at 8am and soon plunged into beautiful dark comforting forest. It is worth pushing yourself towards the front of the herd at the start so you don’t get trapped behind slower runners on the single track uphill. For many of us it is always a fine balance between fighting to get breathing under control and staying in a good position – good to know you can afford to go for it on this one as while it is a long hill the first mile or so is relatively comfortable.  (I missed the start at Steep Ravine a month ago (I was chatting duh) and sprinted to get to the head of the pack to be free on single track near that start. Not a good idea, I was still sucking in air like a hyperactive vaccum cleaner 5 miles later.)

The course (http://www.coastaltrailruns.com/mm_montara_mountain.html is a series of hills forming a half marathon course.  A big hill, a teeny one and then a medium one. Marathoners repeat them all, 50K runners do the same and then hit the medium one again. This really is the kind of run where you can help yourself by being strategic when you deploy your energy gels. At least with a repeating course you can learn from your mistakes. (Here I learned to fuel up for that third hill as I  fizzled out on it during the first loop).

The first and big hill one is like a friendly giant. It is a long hill but divides into clear sections which give you a wonderful sense of achievement and anticipation as you gradually rise to North Peak. The top section is glorious. An open expanse of fire road slashed in rock, much of it is gleaming white in the sun  – almost like a glacier. The views are stunning and you get to soak them in while you are running, even if you are not the kind of runner who likes to stop. I found it rather sweet that we got to pick up an orange rubber band on the first visit to the top and a purple on the second. (Note on this, like most people I put them on my wrist initially which for me was a mistake. My wrists are not particularly big but my hands do tend to swell towards the end of a marathon and I was startled to realise I had given myself a huge throbbing hand an hour later. So I moved them to a finger which was fine and then ..a  fun option for ladies …to the end of my braids). 

Flying back down from North Peak (above) is tremendous fun.  For serious competitors it’s a chance to see how hard you have to work to catch the leaders and to eyeball how fresh the meat is creeping up behind you. But that really isn’t the style of these events overall.  There is always good banter when runners get to pass each other and it is important to stress just what a lovely mix of people join in at these events. Everyone benefits from being encouraged by each other. The sense of competition is just right, enough of a race for the lead people to be pushed but the type of event where first timers or people who intend to hike parts feel in good company. Everyone has their own challenge and everyone is respected for being there and achieving their own goals.

The lower section of the descent from North Peak is a blast – you hurtle around gloriously pungent Eucalyptus trees in a fast series of switchbacks. At the bottom you have an odd little portion on flat ground (it is hard to adjust after being downhill for so long), there is time for a tantalizing glimpse of your getaway car in the parking area and the finishing line before you pass the refreshments table and head up the smallest of the three hills. As runners pass this station on every loop and are visible for a decent length of time it makes the event more interesting than some for supporters. Small children will find it fun to sneak the candy, energy bites and gels!

Jason Wolf and I finished as first man and lady a little over 4 hours  – and are the current course record holders ( have to stress  we were rather lucky with the conditions, it was a perfect day  – I can imagine the course would take a great deal longer with extremes of wind, rain or heat)

On a repeating course I like to name things and pick features to revisit as little mental goals along the way. I named the first hill the Gentle Giant, the second The Pimple and the third The Zit. The second is not a big deal, up up up, down down down, you can cope with that. The third, charmingly named Hazelnut is hideous. Absolutely hideous. I suppose by that stage your legs are tired so it is unfair to blame the hill entirely but I will anyway. The gradient is more difficult to get comfy on, there is an endless series of similar looking evil switchbacks which lure you into thinking you have reached the top over and over again. I started naming the switchbacks ‘Git’ , ‘Frog leg’, ‘Rat Face’ etc  towards the end and searching for distinguishing signs to entertain myself. Then, oh joy, it is all suddenly over and you can relax into bouncing along a delightful downhill, interrupted only by a stunning excursion through a grove of Eucalyptus trees. On your final loop this downhill makes for a joyous finish.

If you are thinking about doing this race do it. I would push you to consider the half marathon rather than the 10K which doesn’t have the nicest bits of course. Forgive the Zit and form a memory to cherish zooming down North Peak. I gave Wendell a big kick on the shin for making me run up The Zit twice, it made me feel much better. You might like to try this too.

No hazelnuts were hurt in the making of this blog, though a few may be slightly offended.