Monday, December 6, 2010

Never underestimate a race when you venture into Ultra's - North Face 50k

When I signed up for this race a few months back I figured, "I just did an Ironman, 50k of trails should be cake!"  48 hours after completing the North Face 50k Endurance Challenge I can say I'm a bit humbled and have a greater respect for Ultra-Runners, or possibly questioning why people would do that to themselves over and over again!  I couldn't even fathom the 50 mile race going on at the same time!

Training could have gone better over the past month, but Thanksgiving and work got in the way a bit.  Still had my long runs in, but really no vision of what I wanted to do in the race.  Going into race morning, was sort of fun for the laid back atmosphere as I decided this was to be my "fun" race to finish off the year.  I was taking it seriously and would race as far as my conditioning would take me, but I knew it wouldn't be my best showing.

Started the morning picking up Liz and Annie on our way to the shuttle at 5am.  Annie had been a great training partner and even went off on my birthday "Epic" run with me earlier in the year.  Caught the first bus leaving the city and arrived at the festival area with plenty of time to get ready and socialize with everyone.  Hot coffee, propane heaters, and a good vibe from all the athletes made hanging out pretty fun. 

Gearing up for the race was a little stressful as the weather called for chilly rain storms to pass through the area.  Gloves, thin arm warmers, compression socks in addition to normal shirt and shorts.  Wary of my decision, but it turned out perfect for the day.  The rain came in every once and a while, but no downpours, so nearly perfect race conditions.

After a short speech from Dean, the race began at a mellow warm up jog out of the festival area and down into Rodeo Beach.  After a mile, my legs wanted to go, so I was off dashing through traffic and nearly up to the leaders.  Up the first hill and trying to pace myself with the extra post Ironman weight.  (Mom wanted me to put on some pounds after seeing me in Europe)  Heading down to Pirate's Cove is a fairly technical descent and I took it pretty fast and distance myself from the guys who passed me on the uphill.  In retrospect, I should have taken it easier as fast feet through there probably took more energy than braking.  Up and over the hill to Muir Beach and still feeling good!

Running along Highway 1 to Heather Cutoff and the long grind to Pantoll was a good way to try to recover, but then, just at a mellow turnaround I manage to step in a hole and tweak my ankle.  Serious panic attack goes through my head as I try to evaluate the situation.  The last time this happened my ankle swelled up like a balloon, but it didn't feel as bad.  Crossing the field to the hill, my ankle recovered and I felt good enough to continue (my mind was still grappling with the fact I still had 20 mile!).

4 miles and 1500 feet later at Pantoll and the legs are so grateful to get a let up, but now into some technical trails, so not really.  Some hopping, dancing, and running later, I arrive at Bootjack which was definitely my favorite part of the race.  So many people got out there including a few SF Tri PEP's who cheered us on.  You could hear everyone from  the bottom of a short hill and just wondering what was going on.  After grabbing a PBnJ, a Gu Brew refill I was off down the hill into Muir Woods.

Running the Dipsea Trail into Muir woods is steep, quads not happy.  Bottomed out and happy to see an aid station and start dosing up with some Coke.  Crossing a creek and steep climb, time to hike.  First time today hiking, and I was content with that.  Back down to the hill and onto the very rare portion of flat on this course.  I was so happy to be on flat.  legs could actually stretch a bit, and fueling was easier.  Cruised all the way back to Muir Beach and onto the evil climb we all were dreading.

The climb out of Muir Beach is just nasty with mud caking to your shoes at every step.  Hard to find a good line so you don't slip.  I don't think I even thought about running it for a second.  A friend caught up to me at the bottom of the hill, and I was thankful for someone to share the hike up.  95% of this race was alone time.

A good 45 minutes later, we finally crest the climb and are on our way back to Tennessee Valley.  Downhills hurt more than uphills now.  Quads screaming and I'm way too tentative to let loose.  Things are pretty blurry at this point now and I finally know why there is a brand out there called "Zombie Runner".  My only thoughts are moving forward.  I was so happy (probably didn't show it) to see a training friend Ivy at Tennessee Valley.  She's always got a smile and good things to say, so she encouraged me along and said I looked great (lying).

Final climb up Monticello and I know its the last one.  I make a deal with myself to run 2 minutes, then walk 1.  All the way up, I was cursing my watch when it hit those run marks, but it got me to the top!

Final aid station and final fueling to make sure there was not last minute cramping.  "2.7 miles to go" a volunteer said.  A euro-pro 50 miler came along and lets out a desperate "We go down now?" in an awesome German accent.  This put a smile on my face and some other laughed as well. 

Pain all the way down into Rodeo Beach.  Both physical and mental as I'm getting passed.  Still having fun though once I hit the flats and I know there was only 10 minutes of pain left, but one last short uphill just for spite.

Garnering all that I had left I try to charge up and finish strong.  I'm sure it didn't look like much, but it felt horrible.  Finishing, I was elated.  So happy to stop.  Got the medal, got some hot food, and sat my tired butt down.

This was an incredible experience and it showed me a new level of respect for the Ultra level of competition.  I'm not sure when I'll be back to it, but next time I'll be much more prepared.

Below are the course maps.  A little long according the my GPS at 33 miles, but those things are always a little off.  6,700 feet of elevation is the big number of the day though!

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