After a long day of hiking and running on a cold but beautiful Saturday in the Marin Headlands, Jesse and I crossed the finish line at the North Face Endurance Challenge 50K.
The race was exhausting, invigorating, challenging, effortless, and an emotional and physical rollercoaster in the best, and most alive, way possible. Some earlier miles were more difficult than the last miles, and hiking was not necessarily an easy replacement for running. I learned many lessons during this eight-hour endeavor, and I can say with confidence that I’ll be up for the challenge again in the years ahead.
Rewinding to Friday night and our ravioli dinner, I looked outside and saw my worst fear: rain. As I’ve mentioned before, the flash flood conditions during last year’s race when I paced Jesse for 25 of the 50 miles made the experience miserable. Fearing for the worst, we went to sleep expecting the race to include rain yet again. However, on Saturday morning, the sky was clear but the temperatures were freezing: the Arctic blast crippling the Bay Area is still in full swing. Thankfully, Jesse visited the Nike employee store last week and kindly bought me a proper running jacket, so I layered that over a longsleeve t-shirt and felt comfortable for most of the race.
After a minor SNAFU with the shuttles (they didn’t come every few minutes, more like every 20), we made it to the starting line with minutes to spare, just long enough for a porta potty stop and a selfie with the ultramarathon man himself, Dean Karnazes.
The race started with a gradual downhill mile to warmup, and then a steep incline at Miwok Trail. Our tactic for this race was fairly simple: hike when it’s steep but run when flat/less steep sections present themselves. We ran the flat and downhill miles and took our time at the aid stations (in retrospect, I would have spent less time stopped at aid stations and more time moving and fueling, but I wanted to be sure I didn’t bonk like last weekend’s 13-miler).
For the most part, Jesse and I had a great time. We pushed each other to run as much as possible, and he encouraged me when I wasn’t feeling good (usually after eating too quickly at the aid stations). I experienced trails I’d never seen before due to their inaccessibility from from any trailhead or road.
The best part of the race was near the beginning, on the Coastal Trail. I hadn’t ran on this section of trail since last December, when the rain and mud had made this area treacherous. The coastline reminds me of Big Sur, and the elevation profile is mostly flat.
The scenery was absolutely gorgeous and reminded me how thankful I am to live in such a beautiful location that prioritizes pristine outdoor areas. The course was very well supported, with an aid station every four to six miles equipped with many food and fueling options and friendly, motivating volunteers.
The worst part of the race was the last third: from Muir Beach to Tennessee Valley back to Miwok and the finish line. The course went from unhikable steep terrain to punishing descents, so the last third was either too steep to run or unpleasant to run down.
There’s something really satisfying about spending the same amount of time as I would sitting in my cubicle at work running and hiking outside on a beautiful day. After Jesse and I crossed the finish line, I felt mentally and physically exhausted and freezing cold but also very content with how the day went; we enjoyed ourselves while doing the best we could without pushing the pace. To top it off, we snapped another selfie with Dean Karnazes, the ultramarathon man appearing at the finish line of my very first 31-mile ultramarathon.