The North Face Endurance Challenge, San Francisco 50 mile

Ever since our great experience crewing for friends last year at The North Face Endurance Challenge in San Francisco last year, we’ve wanted to go back.  We did, for Miwok 100K and again, had an incredible experience.  The scenery, the trails, the hills, all top notch.  The 50 mile race this year fit nicely into my training plan for Rocky Raccoon 100 mile (yes. yes.), so TNFEC San Francisco it was!  We also conned a few friends into running the race as well and had a few other friends come down to crew, making it a big Klamath running party.
At the Start

Ready to go! 4:00am.

We had problems with timing and missed the Long Haul movie showing – bummer!  I’ll have to catch it another time.  Thai dinner (as per usual) and mango sticky rice to go (breakfast?) and we got back to the apartment late to pack up.  Joe and I slept approximately 3 hours before having to wake at 3am and we were on our way.  North Face was really great about communicating a few course changes due to inclement weather – the worst was a bridge washing out in Muir Woods!
I was really looking forward to running through Muir Woods and instead we were going to run the first 5 mile loop again.  This was a bit of a let down, although I did appreciate their communication and planning.  We also were not going to run up the Dipsea trail and instead run a different trail that was parallel.  Not complaining about that change!  Who wants to run up 300 stairs after running 30 miles?

Race start!

So, back to the actual race.  Joe, Andy, and I started in Wave 2 and Nathan and Jason started in Wave 1.  Joe and I started running and I decided to take it out rather conservatively, because I had read an article about how too many people run hard in the beginning and can’t sustain their pace towards the end.  Isn’t this always the case?  Friends who ran the race last year stated the same thing, that it was easy to run too hard early on.  So we walk/jogged up the first major hill of a few miles, which probably wasn’t necessary looking back.  The grade was absolutely runnable, and we live in an area where there’s a 1500ft climb in every direction, so we should have just run.  Regardless, hundreds of people passed us, running up the hill and some breathing very hard, which surprised me!  I bet Wave 5 passed us, if there is a Wave 5.  We made up a bit of time on the downhill, putting down ~7:00 miles for the few downhill miles, then headed up the same loop again.  We ran/walk again, ran down again… I rolled my ankle slightly because the fog was rolling in and interfered with my headlamp light – think: driving with brights on in the fog.  I took the headlamp off and held it in my hand and that seemed to work until the sun rose.  It was a surreal experience to have the fog rolling in with the daylight while looking over the ocean.

We’re friends in this photo…


foggy sunrise.

Eventually we meandered towards Tennessee Valley (now at mile 13ish instead of 8) and I was a bit bored.  I say ‘meandered’ because Joe and I were running fairly slow at this point.  It was amazingly slow.  The trail downhill into TV was muddy and had an enormous puddle at the bottom, which I hurdled over to avoid wet feet so early in the race.  I refilled a water bottle and quickly went on my way.  I had been running back and forth with several people at this point, people that could hike up hill faster than me but I could bomb down a hill faster, and Joe and been running within a few feet of me the whole time.  Jason appeared at the next aid station and proclaimed, “ I wondered when I’d see you guys!”  It was great to run a few miles and catch up, as it had been a few months since we last ran with each other.
running into TV

Running into Tennessee Valley

I should add that at this point, and for the remainder of the race, I had an awful song in my head.  The dreaded song was Taylor Swift’s ‘Shake it Off.’  Even better: the hilarious video someone made of an 80s aerobic dance competition dubbed over with Taylor Swift’s single was ALSO in my mind.  The entire race.  I guess there are worse songs/videos to have stuck for 10hrs… at least the beat was good for running.  And thinking of aerobic dance moves (the running man!) wasn’t too bad to think about either.
Seriously, you should probably check this out:
 But be prepared that the song will be in your head for a week.  You’ll thank me.
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The trail got muddier and muddier, headed down the Pacific Coast Trail with a river of mud flowing down between the rocks.  This is where I started getting irritated with my shoe choice.  I almost never get my shoe choice wrong, and debated about this for a few days before deciding to run with the Altra Olympus, which [apparently] do not work well in wet mud.  I hadn’t experienced mud on these trails before and couldn’t imagine how bad it could get.  I actually wouldn’t say the mud was bad (Hagg mud is much worse!), this Marin County mud was just more watery.  The Olympus doesn’t have aggressive tread, or any tread actually, and worked like pontoon boats for my feet – Basically my feet hydroplaned on the water and made me run very cautiously downhill, which is NOT my normal style.  I vowed to change my shoes at mile 35ish when we would visit the drop bags again.
We started running up the hill, the Bolinas Ridge I believe, which was running up a mud river on single track.  The only way up was to go splashing right through the mud river, so everyone was drenched at this point.  On top of the hill (I remember these hills from Miwok), the trail is super narrow and it becomes difficult to pass anyone, so naturally, TNF decided to have an out and back.  The first runners came bombing through and everyone else had to jump out of the way and into the grassy hillside to avoid collision.  This is acceptable, but after 250 runners, it gets a bit old.  Jumping into the hillside turned those 5 miles into a fartlek of jogging/stopping/jogging/stopping, which was sooooooo irritating for all but the elite runners.  I’m sure it was a bit irritating for them too, since half of these folks couldn’t move over properly when it was our turn to run down the hill.  Trail etiquette, people!

Example of the narrow trail and how everyone had to stand uphill to allow runners to pass. There was a 100% slope downhill.

Still running slow slow slow, Joe and I ran into the Stinson Beach AS and saw our friends.  I put on a happy face (I actually had nothing to be unhappy about, nothing was hurting, nothing was bothering me except for the lack of speed) and I started hiking up the lowest Dipsea stairs while listening to everyone’s conversations around us.  Joe, Jason, and I were still running together and the trail veered away from the actual Dipsea stairs and up a gorgeous ravine with redwoods and waterfalls.  I may have preferred the stairs for the chance to hike at this point, because I hit a low.  It seemed that everyone else around me sped up and were energized, whereas I wanted to take a nap.  I let another 15 people pass me by and I noticed how everyone were powering up through the ravine with no problem.  There were also hundreds of geriatric tourists in safari-gear hiking down the trail and some were passive-aggressive about having to share the trail with crazy ultra runners by blocking the trail and refusing to move when someone tried to sneak by.  Eventually there was a weird trail-ladder to climb up and still the trail switchbacked up to the Cardiac AS.

The ladder.  photo: C. Duarte – thanks 😉

Joe and I finally reached the aid station and I got to change out my shoes to the trusty old Pearl Izumi N2s.  Ohhhhhhhh I felt better immediately.  Joe took some advil for achy knees and we were off – after at least 5 minutes of sitting and changing socks and shoes.  I took a cup of Cliff drink on the way out, and became crazy energized.  I powered down the hill and flew through the mud with my new energy.  My confidence may have been a bit too much because I fell on my butt when the mud got bad, but I jumped up and ran even faster, down into the 6:00s for mile pace.  I was flying, splashing, scaring people out of the way… it was hilarious.  Somehow I misinterpreted how deep a puddle was and stepped in the center, but my leg was enveloped in a knee-high wave of mud water.  Rock on!
photo 3

let’s go!!!!!

Eventually we went back up the hills, long long uphills back to the Tennessee Valley aid station, where our friends were waiting to run the final 6 miles in.  I had long lost Joe and Jason and couldn’t see them from the top of the hill.  I stopped looking and focused on powering up the hill as fast as I could hike.  I passed everyone back who passed me earlier in the race and kept run/hiking the uphill.  Finally arriving to TV, I was still in this insane mode of running fast and wanted to finish as fast as possible (new goal, to get under 10hrs).  I got a bit nervous because I couldn’t see my pacer, Amber, at first, but once I saw her, I got really excited and clapped my hands – lets go! woot woot!  I grabbed a single saltine cracker and another cup of cliff shot to wash it down because I was nervous that I hadn’t eaten in a while and would bonk in the final 6 mi.  I told Jeremy that Joe was wayyyyyyy behind and his knees were hurting, so it could be another 30 mins.  I could see him deflate a little, because he would have to wait a while 😉

dude be like…. whaaaaaat.


beast mode of runner and pacer

Amber and I start hiking up the hill, still at a good pace but I wasn’t pushing as hard because I had already passed everyone I cared about passing at that point.  I filled her in on the race so far, etc, etc, and all of a sudden, Joe and Jeremy appear beside us.  WHAT??? I left him in the mud!  Apparently, Joe got energized as well but I had put some time on him flying downhill, but he had made up for it by powering uphill, so we were caught up again.  This was a riot, because our friends had a bit of a competition of ladies vs guys and the crap-talking began.  It was all in good fun, bantering back and forth, because Joe can really move up hill… but my downhill is insane, so I knew I would get back any time he put on me up.  And, the race took us downhill for a few miles before the finish… so it looked to be in my favor.
photo 4

I’m in front, Joe a bit behind. 😉


Amber leading the way!

We reach the top, I pass Joe, and start killing the downhill, running in the 6:00 miles again.  I put some time on him, but he was also flying!  Amber and I got a lot of looks while we flew downhill, it was hilarious.  We hit the pavement flying, but unfortunately there was a mini uphill and I slowed while Joe pushed, getting very close again.  Amber jogged a bit ahead and saw a runner, said good job to her while sneaking a glance at the race bib, then came back to me and said, ‘she’s a 50 miler, go get her!”  The finish was on a slight downhill, and Joe was right next to me at this point, but seeing another woman (prob in my age group) right ahead, I threw down a late sprint and surged into the finish, 2 seconds in front of Joe and the other girl.  Ha!  Honestly, I would have held hands with Joe in to the finish if the girl wasn’t there, since we basically ran the whole thing together.  We were quite a team!

Joe right over the shoulder!

My finishing time was 10:08 for 51.6 mi (says my garmin) with a ‘running time’ of 9:44 (not sure what that means) and an actual 50 mi time of 9:33.  Not too awful when I look at it that way, but still my second worst time.  The last 10K was around 50 minutes (with a huge climb halfway) and the last 5k was around 22 minutes.  Faster than my freshman year 5K in college!
photo 1 10478535_10152448204302213_3401114635707873300_n
We met up with everyone after the race and compared stories while enjoying a beer post-race.  The post race festivities were much more enjoyable this year, as last year it was very cold.  This year it was in the 60s and sunny after raining for a week.  We got lucky!
So what the heck happened here?  I have a few theories, and they are both probably true.  The first is that I have trained pretty well leading up to this race, following an actual training plan and running good mileage weeks.  Since I’ve signed up for my first 100 next month, I have had to commit to training.  The weeks have been generally with 1-2 workouts a week (speed, tempo) and 2 long runs (back to back) every weekend.  I’ve been running the speed workouts hard and fast, since I am really a 10K runner at heart.  The long runs have been really casual, focusing on just putting the time in.  So – workouts at 6 min pace and long runs at more like 12 min pace.  I literally ran 35 miles at 12 min/mi pace then ran 15 ‘racing’ at 10K effort (or slightly slower).  I was definitely comfortable the entire time, even running downhill in the 6s because thats the pace I’ve trained at in workouts.  It was the ‘in-between’ pace of 10 min miles that I couldn’t hold.  My other theory was nutrition: I was eating whole foods the first half of the race – bananas, potatoes, rice and peanut butter.  These things are what I eat during long runs in training and it helps keep my stomach from growling and wards off the dreaded nausea from too much sugar.  However, once I finally took a cup of cliff shot energy drink, I work up and flew down the hill.  I think this was a combo of finally having quick release sugar and also the psychological effect of changing the shoes and being more confident and comfortable in the mud.
Either way, I am not unhappy with the race, and I think running the last 15 mi fast after jogging 35 miles is impressive (as opposed to the opposite of running too hard in the beginning), but also shows how I could have evened out the pace a bit more and likely run a lot faster.  I think the race shows that I will be fine running the 100 mile, because I will be plodding along at 12 min mi pace for at least 80 miles of the thing and I can probably hold that pace for a long time.  It just wasn’t an appropriate pace for a competitive 50 mile.  Oh well.
photo 2

Mudd looks worse than Hagg Lake 50K, but I assure you, it was not.


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