Monday, March 14, 2011

Dutchy was a treat

It’s Sunday afternoon and I’m on the train to London from Cornwall after a fantastic weekend in Southwest England which culminated in a fantastic small town marathon. The Dutchy Marathon, put on by the Cornwall Athletic Club started in the town of Redruth which used to be the center of the mining trade in England back in the 1800s and the birthplace of the steam engine and steamliner. Today it is a sleepy town in a mostly farming and tourism district dominated by the coastal cities that garner the bulk of the attention today.

I arrived in Heathrow on Friday and took a 6 hour train to the near end of the Cornwall peninsula to start the weekend. I was worn out from travel that had started at 4pm on Thursday in San Francisco so I hit the bed hard that night. I was staying in the Penventon Park Hotel, a quaint but upscale hotel a five minute walk from town and the train station.

Saturday was a rest day but I wanted to see the town and learn as much as I could about Cornwall so I toured the city and hit their small local tourist office. Here I learned how important Redruth was to Corwall during this mining times and read about the Cornish Pasty, the original Hot Pocket. Being a local treat I couldn’t leave town without having one and there were four shops offering them piping hot and fresh. Yum.

Near town is Carn Brea a rather large hill providing incredible views of both the north and south coastlines on a clear day. Saturday, unfortunately, was not such a day. So I skipped the climb to its peak and instead took a few photos (will add the link to them soon) of it, the pastureland surrounding town and a few other sites.

Those who read my past blog entry know I have been nursing an undiagnosed injury and I wanted to take it extra easy today, so I booked a deep tissue massage midday then spent the afternoon in the lounge writing and enjoying another Cornish favorite – Cream Tea. This is English tea service consisting of Clotted Cream made fresh, scones and Earl Grey tea. If you haven’t had this cream it is a very thick, almost buttery cream. I learned how to make it in the tourist shop but can’t follow a recipe to save my life so I’ll leave that to the professionals. Very worth trying if you find yourself in Cornwall.

That evening was the usual pre-race pasta party where I met several of the runners in Sunday’s race including a chap from South Africa, living in Barcelona who is in the middle of a running holiday. Dutchy is just a training run for him – he was doing the Dutchy 20 miler, not the marathon – as the London Marathon in April was his big goal. He had already run the marathon in Barcelona and had several other races lined up. The other goal of his holiday was to test the theory that sex was a good stress reliever before a long run so he was on the prowl much of the weekend. I watched him attempt his charms on the front desk girls for a while.

I also met a couple from about 40 miles from here who were down to celebrate the husband’s 50th birthday on Sunday. He too was running the 20 miler in preparation for the London Marathon. We had a very interesting chat as the couple were soon to be moving from Cornwall up to the Birmingham area where he was to become the new headmaster at a private school there. It sounds like an incredible job with envious perks. The couple, soon to be empty-nesters would be moving into the headmasters house and filling its 8 bedrooms, enjoying its full size pool and 20 acre grounds. They were trying to figure out how to furnish such an immense place coming from their small 3 bedroom flat.

In meeting with the race organizers I learned I was clearly the racer who had come the farthest for this event and that tomorrow’s race would be mostly flat with a few small rolling hills and great views of the southern English coast line. There was a hill at mile 3 and two on the back side of the double-loop course; the second a mile long. The hills certainly didn’t rival anything in the Bay Area and since hills had done me in at Golden Gate in February, I mentally breathed a sigh of relief.

That evening I slept well, not worrying about sleeping through my alarm because the race didn’t start until 10:30 the next morning. I dressed my chair then watched BBC footage of the on-going saga in Japan, where they are living through the aftermath of the worst earthquake there in recorded history.

Race day started at around 7am for me, up before the alarm, then down for some breakfast and preparation for the race. I checked out of my room 30 minutes before the start and quickly stripped off the second layer I was planning to wear because the skies above turned to nothing but blue. The sun was out and it was going to be a monumentally gorgeous day in Cornwall. There were about 750 people signed up for the race, the majority were only up for the 20 miler but about 250 of us needed 6.2 more.

We all casually lined up behind a small tape line marked with road cones and precisely at 10:30 the starter's pistol went off and so did we. The race quickly left Redruth and headed out into the country side. We passed grazing fields for cows and farms growing various vegetables. There are no fences between properties here. Instead the boundaries are marked by thick hedges with vines intertwined. There was a gorgeous field of bright yellow marigolds at mile three.

As we passed through the next township a little old lady in her compact car decided to join us. The course monitors tried to stop her from cutting across the course but she was adamant about taking the same road with us and butt right in. She drove slowly up the course surrounded by runners for much of the next mile. We joked about affixing a bib to her front bumper.

After a short climb up the first hill we got our first view of the southern coastline. Absolutely gorgeous. The clear blue skies gave us sweeping vistas. A flock of very lucky sheep were grazing on a pasture right at the cliff’s edge affording them a million dollar life.

As with many races after the first 5 or so miles you start to see the same people who are holding a pace very similar to your own. One woman in particular, stood out. She was between 60 and 70 years and held an incredibly strong and consistent pace. She was a model of running economy and was just ahead of me. She became my rabbit for the day.

After the coast line, the course turned inland and we hit the first of the two backside hills. Neither was all that challenging but being from very hilly country in the Bay Area I was able to pick off several runners during the climb. Downhills are the hardest on my injury so I tried to take them easy and most of those I passed regained their position by mile 13.

The nice thing about a double-loop marathon is knowing the landmarks along the way. You know that when you can see the coast you are nearly half way. When the hills come it will be 20 and 22 miles. And this helped me hold a strong pace throughout the second loop with Jenny, the 60-something steam engine and I trading positions.

Twenty miles in I was feeling great. My injury had not been bothering me. Sure a few muscles had said hello from time to time but the conversation never turned ugly and passed nearly as quickly as it had started. Even the final hills weren’t generating leg fatigue – just the usual ache most marathoners feel at this point.

Mile 25 was a junction where we had turned left to start the second loop. This time we would go straight toward the finish. Or so I thought. That mile was anything but straight. We turned numerous times and went up, down and up again before reaching the finish. A cruel way to end a marathon. But the final hill led into the finishers shoot and with 3:43 on the clock I stepped over the final chalk line.

Congrats all around and groan-filled stretching was then everyone’s activity. What made this marathon extra special was that the Penventon Park Hotel, the event sponsor, opened a series of first floor rooms to us to use for showers and changing. Heaven.

Cornish pasties, hot coffee and lots of water from the other sponsor H2O on the Go brought us all back to health.

Marathons are a great way to experience a place you have never been and Dutchy provided an incredible tour of Cornwall. I certainly understand why so many English come here for holiday. I look forward to returning myself.

A six-hour train trip back to London was tough on a weary body. My left Achilles is screaming. Wonder if I can get shock therapy in London?

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