The North Face Endurance 50-Mile Race is like the Super Bowl of the Ultra World. If you're looking for an epic destination race, you can't go wrong with choosing one of the many trail racing options available here! There is a 5K, 10K, Half Marathon, Marathon Relay, Marathon, 50K, and 50-Mile race, all happening in one weekend. And the weather turned out perfect, without a cloud in the sky.
I signed up for the Super Bowl 50-Mile option of course. In what sport can you get on the same field and compete with world class athletes? I heard about one guy who lines up at the front of this race and for a few fleeting moments gets to race with the stars of the field, before dropping back to reality in the ultra slow mortal world. He is supposedly friends with Geoff Roes, and hovers on the edge of the starting line, so he doesn't get in anyone's way. I'm a bit star struck, so I would never do something so bold. And I don't know any elite runners that would vouch for me way up there in the front of the starting line! Maybe I'll do that someday though, in a smaller field, just for fun. Its nice to dream, isn't it?
My goal for this race was simply to finish, but I was secretly hoping to come in under 12 hours, before the sun set. My last two 50-mile races were relatively comfortable and pain free. At least that's how I remember them. So I set out to push the pace a little to see if I could hold it together for the full 50-miles. It was risky, but I was confident that I would finish the race, either way. I skipped the first two aid stations, stopping only briefly to to drop off my headlamp at the second aid station. The first 10 miles were covered in about 2 hours, for a 12 minute average pace. If you can hold a 12 minute pace (5 miles/hour) for 50 miles, you'd be done in 10 hours (sounds simple right?). Throw in some monster hills, stairs, and rooty downhills and even the fastest runners can be sent home crawling. I stopped at the next aid station at mile 13 to eat a little and to refill my bottle.
Using a combination of Vespa and Perpetuem allows me to get away with less calories from aid station food. When using Vespa, you're supposed to consume less calories since you should be burning fat more efficiently. With the cool weather, I was taking less salt (I carry Saltstick Electrolyte Capsules with me), since I wasn't sweating as much either. I took my first electrolyte pill after about 2 hours, and then once every hour after that. I stopped taking them later in the race, because it was colder, and I had very little muscle cramping.
At around mile 11, as we are going up a series of switchbacks, I witnessed something very disturbing. A fellow runner cut a corner up the trail and joked about it with his friend. He only cut off 5-6 feet, but I did not find it funny. "Look at me! I'm cheating! I'm not going to win anyway, so it doesn't matter", was basically what he said.
My mind flashed back to a recent fight with my wife over the principles of cheating. I was playing a game of "Words with friends" (comparable to scrabble), with a random opponent. I was losing very badly by over one hundred points. The game was practically over when I drew two blank tiles, and had only one good place left to place them. The only way to even make the game close was to use all 7 tiles, in addition to the letter "T" that was on the board. There was no way my brain could have come up with the answer - if there was even an answer. So I cheated. I used an online descrambler. Predictably, it failed. My wife witnessed all this and was disgusted with me. She told me "cheating is a reflection of my character and that cheating in small things opens the doors to larger things. Is this how you want to raise your daughter?". This created a lot of tension between us, and when you're in the proverbial doghouse, life kinda sucks.
The realization that I was no different than this fellow runner was like a sucker punch to my gut. I was no different. I was ashamed of myself. Cheating is wrong. It didn't matter that I would never cheat in a race. Running is not a game to me. It is a way of life and a passion. "The root of all evil lies in little things; little things we do and little things we fail to do." I felt like scum. And I struggled to let it go. For miles, I wallowed in my own shame. But I eventually realized that I needed to forgive myself and move on, or else I would throw away my race and the blessings that were given to me. So I promised myself that I would become a better person, to work on the little things I so often overlook. I started by picking up little bits of trash left on the course. I probably would have done so anyway, but little things loomed large today. I smiled more and encouraged more runners even more than I usually do.
After 6 hours and 26 miles, things started to deteriorate. At the aid station at mile 26, a volunteer took my water bottle and filled it with Gu Electrolyte Brew. She must have heard me wrong when I asked for water. The mixture of Gu Brew and Perpetuem tasted quite disgusting (imagine mixing raspberry gatorade and chocolate milk, and then drink it when you're already feeling bad). The vile concoction made me feel sick in the stomach. By the time I got to the next aid station nearly 5 miles later, I felt horrible. And you can check out my mile splits in this section to see how slow I was crawling. I was thirsty, short on calories, and nauseous. I stared at the aid station food in a stupor.
The aid station itself was a glorious site, like an oasis rising up from the desert, but now that I made it, I didn't know what to do! I didn't feel like eating. I sat down, feeling wretched and tried to take in some chicken broth. And then a trail angel offered me some Tums. And magically, my stomach pains were relieved, and energy slowly seeped back into my ailing body. I was revived. And I started to run again.
That is when I started to run with Devan, who had been running barefoot for 4.5 years. This was his first 50-miler, and he was running in homemade huarache sandals! I loved reading Born to Run, and have always dreamed about running with the Tarahumara Indians (who run in huaraches) someday. So I shadowed Devan for the next three miles, stalking him like the paparazzi. I took pictures of him, and excitedly told spectators about his homemade sandals.
At times, I struggled to keep up with him. At around mile 36, I finally passed Devan to continue my race with new life and inspiration. At mile 38, I found a runner in the middle of the trail, cramping badly during one of the many steep climbs. He was low on salt and he didn't have any electrolyte pills. Here was my chance to "pay it forward" and I quickly split my electrolyte pills with him. He later told me it saved his race. To me, it was "just another little thing" like greeting a fellow runner with a smile or picking up a piece of trash on such beautiful trails. And helping another fellow runner made me feel really good. I ran well to the next aid station (42.6 miles into the race).
I tried to include runners in my pictures whenever I could. Sometimes, I'd have to chase them down to get a better picture!
My Garmin showed only 41.6 miles at the 42.6 mile aid station. All of a sudden, I felt like I got punched in the gut again. Did I miss the 38.9 mile aid station somehow (I thought the aid station at mile 38.9 was mile 37, where there was a hard cutoff)? My mind was playing tricks on me. I felt deflated and defeated. The next mile was dreadful. My spirit was crushed. In my mind, I had another DNF on my hands, on the same course, due to another dumb mistake, and after so much hard work and good running! I felt like a total failure. But then the fellow that I had shared my electrolyte pills with caught up. And he assured me that I did hit the 38.9 mile aid station, and that they were behind me all this time. And again my legs came back to life, with renewed strength and resolve. I am finishing this race after all! Both misery and bliss is a state of mind.
The sun started to go down as I left the 45.5 mile aid station, with another climb to scale before a nice downhill to the finish. I ran well and even managed a nice sprint to the finish line. It wasn't the time I wanted, but I was really really happy to finish. It was a long day, and I felt at peace with my effort. I felt like a stronger person and runner as a result of this race.
This was my 5th 50-mile finish. I got a snazzy medal at the finish line. I increased the frequency of the Vespa servings to every 3 hours, with one 30 minutes before the race. I used my trusty La Sportiva Crosslites (version 1.0), which I have used in all my 50 mile races. 360 people started the race, and 318 runners finished before the 14 hour cutoff. Two days after the race, I found out I came in 303rd place, and my bib number was 303! In my last race my bib number was 157, and I came in 157th place. But then after another day, the results changed and they put me in 304th place. Someone must have fixed an error and pushed me down one slot. Oh well. It was cool while it lasted. This was my slowest 50-mile race, but also the most difficult. You can tell from my mile splits when I was suffering. In my previous 50-mile race, my slowest miles were in the 19 minute range, and that usually included an aid station stop and some
Barefoot Devan ended up finishing the 50-miler in 13:36:xx. A 15 year old girl finished the race in 13:43:xx. I think she finished with her Dad (or some random 51 year old with the same last name) at the same time! There were 3 people in the 60+ Men's age group, which was won by Jim Magill (65 years old), who routinely kicks my butt in the ultras I run. The winning time was 6:19:04, by Mike Wolfe, and 6:56:07 by Anna Frost (12th place overall).
I felt under trained for all my races this year, but even more so for this one. I felt like I needed more time on hilly trails to prepare for this one. But having a newborn baby doesn't give me the time I wanted on the trails, which is needed for long, hilly monsters like this one. But I can't complain, because I was lucky enough to even run 5 ultras (3 50-milers, and no DNFs) this year. I'd rather sacrifice the training runs and still participate in these little trail parties! Maybe next year, I'll be able to train better and maybe make some attempts at longer distances (100K and/or 100M).
I felt some pain in my soleus (calf) during this race and a couple weeks before the race, during my trail runs. I would describe them as "niggles" that come and go. I probably felt it at least a dozen times during my race, but ignored it and just hoped for the best. I also felt a knee "niggle" on my left knee a few times (probably the result of a tight IT Band), which I've never had problems with. It never materialized into anything serious though. I might take 2-4 weeks off running to heal and recover before ramping up my mileage again to prepare for my next adventure (Way Too Cool 50K, American River 50, Quicksilver 50, Miwok 100K, Rio Del Lago 100M, and Quad Dipsea stand out as possibilities for 2012 so far, pending lottery results and my wife's vetoes)...
Race Reports from some faster runners:
Geoff Roes, 5th place: http://akrunning.blogspot.com/2011/12/pretty-tough-end-to-pretty-tough-season.html
Ian Sharman, 11th place: http://sharmanian.blogspot.com/2011/12/tnf-endurance-challenge-championship.html
Sarah Lavender Smith, 19th woman: http://www.therunnerstrip.com/2011/12/north-face-endurance-challenge-50-mile-race-report/
My Garmin read 50.49 miles and 13:23:xx but I forgot to stop the watch, so I am not sure how fast my last section was. I felt like I was flying though, which is always a fun way to end a race.
Elevation Chart (10,059 feet of elevation gain):
Pictures of nighttime running doesn't work too well, but I took some anyway...
Watching the sky slowly light up with different colors is always a pretty sight...
This guy was all smiles in his first 50-miler. He finished one place behind me.
A blurry sunrise. Sunrises are best seen from a hilltop, where you can see where the sun breaks the plane of the horizon, and not a hillside. Still, it was a glorious site to behold the sun after a couple hours of darkness...
We saw little wildlife, but there were some beautiful horses on the course. Some were just grazing in their pens and some had riders on the course.
Really? A car? If I could tuck it in my back pocket as trash, I would.
I didn't take too many pictures of bridges, partly because wherever there is a bridge, the terrain is usually easy to run on! I didn't want to waste too much time on prime running real estate!
There were a ton of stairs. Going both up and downhill. After 30+ miles, stairs really suck.
I never get tired of running through majestic forests...
And this aid station had an ambulance! I'm glad I didn't need it!
Here is Barefoot Devan in action...
The skies are getting darker... Thank goodness I had my headlamp!
Seeing the skies change again at dusk is also a special treat... I could see city lights in the distance...
And the world doesn't go to sleep... In a way, it comes alive in a different way... I saw an animal dart across the trail... It was about the size of a fox or bobcat...
Did you notice the little purple angel that kept showing up in my pictures? Or is it some little spirit that the camera caught? Most likely my camera lens was dirty and it created an interesting lighting effect on some of the pictures...