TNF Challenge 50 m Pace/Observer Report

** editor’s note: I started writing this after the race but somehow my post was deleted before I finished**

Joe and I headed down to watch The North Face Endurance Challenge 50 mile in  San Francisco December 7 weekend.  We had a number of friends running in the race, and since we are within drivable distance, it was a great opportunity to catch up and cheer on some peeps we hadn’t seen in a while.  After a harrowing drive down (it took 5 hours to drive what normally takes 2, snow blizzard conditions past Redding, CA, which typically never sees snow, me white-knucking the entire way)… we finally made it to downtown SF where we were staying.

We initially had planned on arriving to watch the race at some point in the morning, as there was a 5:00 am start (ughhhh).  Our plan changed around when our friends, Tiff and Stephen, hadn’t picked up their rental car in time and needed a ride to the start.  We were happy to oblige (despite the 3:00 wake time) because we were there to watch the race, not casually lope in whenever we felt like it.  This put us in to crew the race for Stephen with Tiff, which was definitely going to be fun.  Joe and I realized we had never been a crew before (or rather, I hadn’t… as Joe always crews for me!) and we had never actually watched an entire 50 mile race from the sidelines before.

Another friend of mine from college, Peter Hogg, was running in the race and we were very thrilled to see how he fared against stiff competition the Marin County hills.  Plus, it sounds weird and nostalgic, but Peter and I both started our ultra running adventures at the same race, the Woodstock 50 mile back in September 2011 (He won, I got lost for over an hour and took 2nd).  Since then, Peter has exponentially gotten better at running ultras, and I have more-or-less remained the same (hopeful, but not really actually running faster/better).  We had a few other friends running in the race, Gerad Dean and Nick Glatt, who we were happy to see and cheer on too.

At the start of the race, everyone was just milling around in the dark and cold, a loooong line forming at the portapotties and trying to get some coffee down, even though it was like brown water instead of caffeine.  I was looking for Peter when I spotted two people that looked like good midwestern parents, and since I haven’t seen them in 8+ years, I wasn’t sure it was Peter’s parents.  Turns out they were!  We were all reunited and had some good laughs about me being a weirdo and trying to figure out who they were.  We watched the race go off and Stephen stuck into the first corral (apparently no one was caring who went where?) and everyone kind of just slowly made it out.  Ultras are so impressive at the start… casual, nbd type of attitude.  How could you be nervous? (ha, ha).

We ate breakfast at a diner then made it to the first point (somewhere around 8 miles?) where we could come in contact with the race.  Little white headlamp lights appeared and followed in a line down the mountain and the leaders blasted through.  It was impressive to watch how fast runners go through the aid stations without barely taking a break.  They are truly racing from the beginning.  (I usually blow through aid stations thinking I’m hot shit until I regret it later and have to take a lot of time at each one).  Peter came through really quick and was looking strong.  We missed a lot of people, as everyone was clumped up.  Stephen came through and was feeling great.

At the second aid station we could have access to runners (mile 28ish), everyone was much more spread out.  It was a lot of fun to see the leaders fly through again.  Everyone was super cold standing there without the sun hitting us yet.  Michelle Yates looked incredible and strong, and the guys were still racing up front.  Peter came through when I was standing in line for the bathroom (isn’t that how it always works?) and a few more friends ran through.  Nick didn’t feel so hot, so Joe made plans to run with him the last 11 miles as a pacer.  Stephen came through and was ahead of pace, and Tiff made plans to run with him the last 6 miles.

We drove to a point on the course where Joe could jump in at an aid station (where crew wasn’t allowed access…) and while we were waiting, Peter ran through, now in his DePauw tiger stripe jersey!  I called out and asked if he needed a pacer… he says no.  I say, well, do you want one?  Like, can I run with you the last 6?  Sure, he says.  He’s never had a pacer.  Definitely never needed one.  And I’ve never been one, but I wanted to!

nickjoe

Joe hanging back as pacer to Nick

peterjohanna

Finally got to be a pacer! Peter has a ‘fick face’

It was a lot of fun, and a bit of a course preview for me, as Joe and I entered in the lottery for Miwok 100K, which runs over some of the same course.  The hills were as expected, and the race finished on a really long downhill.  This downhill would have killed me if I were the one running 50 miles.  Peter was wanting to run sub-7:00hrs, and it was going to be so close.  He picked it up big time going downhill while I updated him on the places of people in front etc.  He ended up finishing really strong at exactly 7:00hrs for 14th place!  Incredible.  Also coming from midwest flat-training (near Detroit).

tiff_stephen

How cute are people that can hold hands while running downhill in an ultra? Tiff and Stephen, all smiles.

Gerad finished really strong, as did Nick.  Stephen had a really great race after a not-so-great feeling section after mile 30.  Everyone did well!  I had to catch the bus back to the aid station where I left my car and stood, shivering in my post-run clothes, waiting for over an hour.  It was terrible.  I was pissed, because I could have run back 6 miles in less than that and stayed warm!  What the heck.  I finally got back to the car and made it back to the finish, where I was envious of everyones post-race meals 🙂

We went to dinner near the finish to catch up on old times and had a pretty early night.  The next day we met more friends from college living in the Bay area and had brunch.  I loved catching up with everyone and can’t wait to hang out again.  It was a blast crewing and pacing for the first time and will anticipate the next time.  Friends – enter races!  Ask me to pace!!

In the mean time, I did not get selected in the lottery for Western States (my 6.4% chance with a single entry was not lucky enough that day!), but we found out a week later that Joe and I both got into Miwok 100K (very excited) and Laurel Highlands 70 in PA.  We have a ‘big’ racing spring coming up.  This will be very interesting.

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