Run fast ... fall down

Run fast ... fall down

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

the North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Mile Race

The North Face 50 - San Francisco was this last weekend. The idea to run this race came from an impromptu gchat with Alex who mentioned wanting to do Miwok again. I pointed him to this race as it shares much of the same course and he signed up. I gladly joined in as I thought it would be good fun to get outta Colorado in December.

I coincided a work related event at Berkeley the day before the race and ended up walking far too much around town and campus. My feet and legs hurt, but other than that I felt as good as I have in a long time, well trained and well rested for this 50 miles.

We woke up at 3, left the city at 3:45 and were dropped off right near the start for a 5AM start. We had a packed drop bag and decided to place it at Cardiac aid station (mile 18 and 31) and it worked well.
We took off in the dark on some mellow and wide trails. In the first few miles, we decided on a few goals. A) Finish in 10 hrs, B) finish better than 10 percent, C) finish better than 10 people, D) set a PR for 50 miles (better than 12:34), E) finish. In my other successful ultras, I've finished in the last 10 people... Hoped to change that today.

I aimed to go out at a 5 mi/hr pace and see how long I could hold that on the hills. Turns out, about 3 hrs. We started losing some time on the biggest of the climbs starting at mile 14. We dumped a lot of excess gear at our dropbag at Cardiac and waited a minute to see the leaders Mike Wolfe and Dakota Jones fighting it out for the $10K prize (they were at mile 31, when we were at 18).

We eventually made it out to a turnaround at mile 22 (watch read 23.6) at the 5 hr mark where 2-way traffic on a super narrow trail was difficult. I was closely monitoring my fuel intake by eating a gel every 30-45 mins along with salty treats at the aid stations and drinking a full 20 oz bottle every hour. After leaving each aid station, I had brief stomach troubles which went away if I backed off the pace and drank as much as I could. I spent some extra time at the 22 mile aid station eating probably a bit too much.

Next we dropped down to Stinson Beach and climbed back up the Steep Ravine part of the Dipsea trail masked with beautiful redwoods. Greatfully, the Cardiac aid station came a mile or 2 before we thought (31 rather than 33), grabbed fresh socks and headed out.

Everything continued well with high energy levels and the same slight stomach success. Coming back into Muir Beach (mile 42), I thought I had a chance at breaking 12 hrs. Alex was fighting gravity on the downhills and urged me to go ahead. I pushed hard on the steep climb out of Muir, picking off lots of runners in front of me. The climb went well, was over quickly and was followed by a steep descent into Tennessee Valley. This downhill was welcomed for me and I zipped by more and more people and was holding a sub-8 minute pace on the downhill.

Tennessee Valley aid station had a sign stating 44.5 miles - my watch read 43.8. I did some pace math in my head and thought I had the 12 hr goal in the bag. I had 1hr 8min to go 5.5 miles. After more steep climbing out of Tennessee Valley, I passed more people and reached the top of the last climb to arrive at the last aid station which said I had 1.8 miles to go. I was at 11.5 hrs. I bombed the steep downhill making mile 48 in 7m50s. I ran the 1.8 miles but knew the finish line was no where close and began to give up hope on my 12 hr goal. Someone shouted 1 mile to the finish, my watch read 11h48m. The last stretch was slightly uphill and my faster pace on the downhills was starting to catch up to me. I was pushing hard and was borderline overdoing it but my body did not feel like I already had run 48 miles this morning. However I was struggling to maintain a 10 min pace on this uphill. I was mentally wiped from thinking I only had 1.8 miles left when that sign was clearly wrong.
My watch battery died just as I caught first glance of the finish line and thus I didn't have a clock to watch. I pushed hard across the finish line and wasn't sure if I broke 12 hrs for another 20 mins! I found the results tent and learned my time was 11h58m. Pretty happy overall with this day. I ate a big bowl of soup, changed clothes and waited for Alex to finish strongly a little while later.

Garmin Data


  1. How is your IT band holding up? You seem to be doing very well, but I thought I would check. I've exhausted all my options, and I'm considering trying the surgery.

  2. Yes, IT bands are great. I'm one case where the surgery seems to have worked ideally. Continue to research, and be sure your doctor(s) help you in making the decision and style of surgical repair. I imagine many doctors have different ways of trying to cure the syndrome.