My 50K that wasn’t, but no hard feelings

Beginning exactly a year ago with the California International Marathon Relay, it’s been a pretty remarkable run on the race docket for me.  In the last 365 days, I did my first Ironman and set a PRs for sprint distance triathlon, Olympic distance triathon, half-marathon, and marathon.  Going into the Fall season, I figured I’d bite off my first ultra-marathon with the 50k North Face Endurance Challenge in the Marin Headlands.  Why not, right?  

The challenge (can’t really call it a “race” when I’m planning on 12:00 minute miles as a target pace) starts at Fort Barry just across the Golden Gate.  The 50k course goes up and over to Tennessee Valley beach, then to Muir Beach, then a huge ascent to Bootjack, then back to Muir Beach, and eventually back to Fort Barry. There’s about 6500 feet of climbing over 6 ascents, so it is indeed a challenge. The scenery and course is unmatched – Pacific Ocean, Eucalyptus trees, forests, winding trails along crashing waves.
I was aiming at a 12:00 pace along the way, which would bring me home in a little more than 6 hours.  As usual at race start, I wasn’t quite ready to go. Clad with full gear – water belt holding my trusty Hammer Strength Perpetuem, Clif Bar, Endurolytes, camera, band-aid, toilet paper (you never know…), rain poncho, socks, and an extra shirt running shirt – (this is why I posted that running was far less complicated as a kid)  – as the countdown to race start hit “0”, rain started coming down so I pulled out my poncho.  Ever try to slip on a thin later of wet plastic while wearing about the same amount of gear as scuba diver?  But the upside was that I was the very last person through the starting gate, which meant I could stop as shake hands with Dean Karnazes and told him I thought he was awesome.  Yes, I was a little starstruck.  He’s a little dude. He laughed and said – “You need to go man!” So off I went.

The 50k allows you to have a crew, which means that I volunteered my crew chief and top supporter more commonly known as Lena Sambucci, my awesome wife who understands my addiction to such things.   Crew could meet runners at mile 4, 14, and 26.  At first stop, I handed off my extra running shirt and socks, then got plowing away at the next climb to get up and over and down to Muir Beach.  This part of the trail was exactly the same as the 33k I did about a month ago. While the trail was still slick, the mud was only about 1/2 inch deep instead of the ankle deep slop I saw last time around.  A couple of runners where surprised at how slick it was, opening my opportunity to seem like an experienced trail runner expounding “you-should-have-seen-it-the-last-time-I-was-on-this-trail” lessons.

Down to Muir Beach then the start of the big climb – about 1500 feet.  Right around here – mile 7 – my right Achilles texted me.  It said – “Hey dude – you realize how many miles you’ve put on these wheels this year? Maybe this one ain’t such a good idea.” I shifted to a heel-toe stride on my right and kept my forefoot stride on the left to stretch.  During the 6 mile climb up to 1500, the leg got progressively worse.  A couple of burning, shooting sparks that I kind of ignored.  Got to the top and mile 14 and felt pretty mentally drained, mostly because I spent the last 6-7 miles thinking about my right leg.  Physically I felt good except for that.  My pace was 11:05/miles at the point, and Lena was there for crew help.  I changed my shirt, refilled my running belt, and took a good 10 minutes at this stop. I could feel that I looked drained, but figured on a second wind since we now had 1500 of descent to rest and refuel.

The downhill was pretty tough – lots of roots, rocks, built-in steps that slowed the pace and put more stress on my bad wheel.  I hit some flat, rolling terrain around mile 18 and realized that even on the flats I was only able to go at a 11:30 mile pace instead of my normal 9:15-9:30s.  My left hamstring started to tighten because I was compensating for my right and my right heel developed what I later saw was a blister about the size of my thumb. (If you that that is gross, you should have seen the shooting fountain of fluid that sprung when I popped it. :–)  Right around here, I decided I was going to call it quits at the mile 20 rest stop.  I realized I’d been going for about 4 hours total and was atrophying into an ambler instead of a runner.

At mile 20, I pulled the plug, hit stop on my Garmin, and then borrowed a cell phone to call Lena for pick-up. If this was Ironman or some other huge race, I probably would have pushed, but I’ve got too much ahead in 2011 to blow an Achilles and cause a much longer recovery time.  Even after I stopped, my quads and knees felt great, so fitness-wise, I was there.  Just too many miles on the treads in the past 12 months.  This means more time in the pool and maybe some easy cycling on the nice weekend days until January when Ironman training starts again in full force. I never really got into a race stride, which isn’t good if you’ve been in the hills for four hours.  That’s that.  We’ll get ’em next time. 

Race Notes – The Good:
  • Organization at the race was significantly improved over two years ago when I did the half-marathon distance. In past years, shuttles inexplicably dropped off the racers nearly 2 hours before the race start.  This year, they chopped an hour off of the wait time which was ideal to get settled, geared up, and ready to go.
  • Lots and lots of food at the frequent rest stops.  Great support along the way.
  • I think it’s a good value for the money.  The 50k sold out, and was $75 to enter.  You get all of the food, plus a North Face technical shirt and socks for schwag.  Plus a hot meal of baked beans, chicken breast, pulled pork, pasta, and roll.  Spectators can buy this meal for $8.

Needs Improvement:

  • The shuttle system.  It’s cool that you have to park at outside venues like Marina Middle School and Larkspur Landing to get to the race start.  But for spectators and crew, it doesn’t work out so well.  For example, Lena paid for parking at Tennessee Valley, but then the race organizers didn’t know if there would be a shuttle back to Fort Barry, and if there was, if there would be a shuttle back to her car.  That caused her more driving, and in a race that touts sustainability, it seems strange.  
  • All in all, Lena had to drive up and back along CA-1 several times just to be crew. Maybe a separate shuttle just for moving from rest stop to rest stop is the answer. Parking at the Bootjack rest stop (mile 14) was tough. Lena had to park 1/2 mile down the hill and walk up.  Would be nice to have parking for crew reserved somehow, or, this is where the dedicated crew shuttle would be huge.  There were douchebag specators there that were saving stops for friends by standing in them. Nice race karma there. 
  • They have bag check-in at race start which is awesome, but when I retrieved my bag, it was a free-for-all.  No one checking tags – I could have taken any bag there and walked away.

(Pictures to come in a separate post.)

3 responses to “My 50K that wasn’t, but no hard feelings

  1. Pingback: 2014 | Life without a day job

  2. Pingback: Left-handed swimming. Running 50 miles. | Life without a day job

  3. Pingback: 50-Mile Ultra Race Report: The North Face Endurance Challenge 2015 | Go Farther

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