Saturday’s 50K was epic. Now that I’m a few days removed and can walk normally again, I can safely say that the North Face Endurance Challenge 50K was an emotional and physical rollercoaster, and I can’t wait to do it again (and maybe tackle the 50 mile distance).
I woke up a little before 4am to the sound of rain as Jesse was leaving our apartment for his 5am 50 mile race start. I wished Jesse good luck and started getting ready for my race. When I left our apartment around 5am, the rain had stopped, and I was thankful Jesse would not have to relive the monsoon-like weather as he had in 2012.
I arrived at the race start with lots of time to spare and tried to stay hydrated and warm. I was more than ready to take off when my wave (wave 4) started at 7:04am.
I felt good starting the race and went out likely a bit too hot. It’s always mentally difficult to start the race in the last wave and feel like you have to catch up to the rest of the runners. I ran up most of Bobcat to Alta and felt my right leg start to hurt and tighten up a bit. Having ran only about a 10K at this point, I was a little worried.
One of my goals for this race was to spend as little time as possible in the aid stations while making sure I grabbed adequate fueling. At the 5 mile aid station, I grabbed a handful of Clif bloks and ate them during the hike up the steep Miwok trail in my attempt to be as time efficient as possible.
From Miwok to Tennessee Valley, I enjoyed the descent and the break from the steep uphills. I knew another steep hike was coming, so I grabbed another handful of bloks for my hiking break. I tried to eat a potato dipped in salt, but it immediately made me feel like I was going to throw up, so I stuck with bloks (lots of the bloks) for the entirety of the race.
After the steep (but relatively short) hike up Tennessee Valley, we were greeted with the sharp descent down Coastal Trail. While I usually enjoy this section of trail, the rain had made it muddy and slippery, forcing me to tread carefully where I usually run. This stretch of trail always reminds me of Big Sur, and I was grateful for this visual stimulation. After the steep descent at Muir Beach, I stopped at the aid station for a few minutes to chug several cups of electrolyte drink and eat a few hundred calories. I knew Heather Cutoff was coming up, and as I reported in the Mt. Tam 30K recap, I despise this challenging section of trail.
Upon realizing that an out-and-back section that was part of the course change included Heather Cutoff, I was immediately a bit put off. The elite men were charging down the trail, while everyone heading up was forced to dodge them while also trying to avoid slipping in the mud. After a few minutes, I realized how cool this vantage point really was. I had the unique opportunity to see elites like Rob Krar, Tim Olson, and Alex Varner in action, which doesn’t often happen when you’re a mid-pack runner. With the out-and-back, there was also a bigger opportunity to acknowledge fellow race participants and give and receive props. The camaraderie and excessive mud really made this section of the course feel like Woodstock.
Heather Cutoff and the dreaded Coast View trails were slow due to the mud; the prospect of slipping made sections I wanted to run unrunnable. After reaching Cardiac, I stopped for a couple minutes to eat and drink and gather myself.
I felt terrible after the turn around, descending back toward Muir Beach. All of the lateral movements as part of the effort to avoid falling had expended a serious amount of my mental and physical energy, and my right quad and IT band were screaming. I tried to run (it was more like a hobble) when I felt comfortable, but this descent was one of the lowest points of the race for me.
After reaching Muir Beach aid station again, I stopped to walk for a few minutes while I tried to eat as much as possible in an effort to regain some energy. I knew the next section would be brutal: the Fox Trail. After climbing Muir Beach, the Fox Trail is a relentless, steep uphill. With almost a marathon down and my right knee aching, I really lost my sense of humor and started wishing the race would end. After a descent into Tennessee Valley and a quick stop to eat more bloks, I checked my attitude and started heading back up towards Alta.
At this point, I met a woman who I had seen multiple times during the race. Jen saved me during this section of trail – while Tennessee Valley can definitely be a run/walk, I had no gusto left in me to run. We chatted about other difficult race circumstances, where we went to school, and how much we’re both scared of biking as we hiked toward the home stretch. Jen stayed with me as we descended towards the finish, and I tried my best to keep up with her as I hobbled/limped/jogged.
When I hit 31 miles on my watch, I was a little annoyed knowing the course was long and I had about a mile left. Keeping a positive attitude was seriously challenging, and I continued putting one foot in front using all of my will power. I was completely shot. One thing about running ultras: they make you feel like you can conquer anything having endured a feat so difficult physically and emotionally.
Final time: 7:22. My splits:
What’s next? Jesse and I have both entered the lottery for the Way Too Cool 50K. We may be running another ultra as an early birthday present to myself. In two days, we leave for Kauai and will spend the rest of the week relaxing, recovering, and trail running.