Tuesday, December 6, 2011

December 05, 2011 - North Face 50mile Championships

Thoughts Coming into the Race:
As race day approached, I found the anticipation of getting things going almost unbearable at times. Tapering is always such a tough mental exercise in patience.

The depth of this event was incredible and I couldn't wait to get out there and test myself in a 50miler against these guys. My last organized 50miler was Jemez in 2009. Based on my training & mindset leading into that event, I wouldn't say I was "racing"... so I was approaching this as my first 50mile race.

Getting to the Race:
Before I got to the start line, I had a bit of "drama" to deal with... First, they held the pre-race packet pick-up in Downtown San Francisco. For me that was an adventure.. but I made it out alive.. barely. Second, I show-up Saturday morning at 3:30am for the Shuttle Service to the race and to my surprise.. There was no shuttle!!!.. Talk about stress.. Eventually, I found my way to the starting line with a few minutes to get ready.. I am still not sure why the race decided not to pick us up??.. Despite all the drama, I ended up making it to the starting line.. and I felt ready to race.

The Race:
At 5am the gun went off. As we march off into the darkness, a large pack forms and quickly settles into a conservative pace. Excluding 2 guys from Salomon, we all stuck together and settled into a 6:15-ish /mile pace... each of us not wanting to lead due to a wicked head wind. Unfortunately for me, I some how was in the front with another runner, Jordan McDougal.. and we were providing a bit of a wind break for the field. During these miles, the Salomon guys took off and were quickly out of sight.

After 5miles of staying together and breaking the wind, I decided I wanted to close some of the gap on what was now 3 Salomon runners. Within a few miles, I had worked some separation from the rest of the field and was closing the gap on at least 2 of the front runners. Looking at my Garmin, I noticed that I dropped a couple 5:30-ish min miles.. but to be honest, I felt very comfortable, so I wasn't too concerned.

Around mile 10, I whipped by one of the Salomon Runners from South America. At the same time, I had managed to put about 2min on the "chase pack". Around that point, I came to a Y in the trail. I didn't see any markers telling me to turn, so I kept going straight up hill. As I looked over my shoulder, I saw the string of headlamps make the left turn that I passed.... Ouch!!.. I had already gone off course!!.. Even though it was very early in the race, it sucked in that I had put some effort into developing some separation.. and now I had just lost it all.. and then some due to a wrong turn..

I tried to stay calm.. but I couldn't.. I put in a surge and within a mile I had regained my lead on this group and was back in third. The problem was I burned up a bit of energy doing it. I should have accepted the fact that I went off trail and been more patient with regaining contact, but my temper just didn't allow it.

Honestly, the next 10 to 15miles are almost a blur. There was a group of about 10 of us that stuck together. We eventually caught and passed the Salomon rabbits, but I lost contact with the lead group around mile 24 when I stopped to take a leak. I was never able to regain the time I lost. The next 6 miles up to mile 30 I just tried to stay relaxed and I hope for a strong finish. I knew that I was only a few minutes behind the leaders and there was still plenty of race to run.
Somewhere around mile 30, I started getting passed.. first by Adam Campbell and Tim Olsen. Next by Jezz Bragg... then a few other folks... Then Jason Schlarb came wizzing by me.. It was pretty clear... I was bonking. Looking at my Garmin, between miles 31 and 38, I dropped a couple 12 to 13min miles... and believe me, it was NOT all uphill.. there was a good amount of gentle down.. and flat that I was now having trouble with. My quads were crying.. my stomach was growling.. I was in the pain cave and not liking it. In retrospect, I wonder if some of this was mental. I know that there was a definite physical aspect, but mentally, I became resigned to the fact that I wasn't going to catch up with the leaders and I think this simply crushed my motivation.

Around mile 38, I started to pull out of this hole and actually felt pretty good. I had been passed by a good number of runners, so now my focus was to go after as many as possible and hope for a Top 10 finish. I was steadily increasing the intensity of the next 10 miles. The miles started to fly by and I was passing people left and right.. Most of the people were 50k participants, but it was still a good feeling to catch and pass people on the trail.

At mile 47-ish, I noticed that one guy (ended up being Mike Foote) was on my tail and despite how hard I pushed, I wasn't able to gap him. He would continually close any gap I could muster up. With only 2 to 3miles to go, I kept telling myself, "If I keep my foot on the gas, he won't be able to get me".. so that's what I did. With about 1mile to go, I come to another section of trail where I see ribbons going in both directions. Based on the advice of one of the 50k runners and a couple spectators, I went straight... I quickly noticed that in the crazy bunches of ribbons flagging the course, there was no "orange" color.. which is my color... Dang it!!.. I took another wrong turn. I can see that 2 other 50 mile guys were smarter than me and went the right direction (Mike Foote & Jason Schlarb). Not wanting to lose all the hardwork that I had put in over the past 10miles to hold-off these guys, I started letting the legs go!!..
My last mile was a 5:20. I ended up passing Mike Foote with about 20m to go, so the wrong turn didn't cost me any placing.. but it definitely made me work harder than I wanted over the 50th mile.

I ended up finishing my first 50mile Race in 8th place in a time of 6hrs 52min. This result was not exactly what I expected, but all things considered, I am happy with both the effort and the outcome.

Post Race Reflections:
After any race where things didn't go exactly as planned, I have a tendency to reflect and try to figure out what I need to do differently to reach my goals. As such, below are a few things I need to do to be a more competitive Ultra Guy.... if that's what I want to do.
(1) Long Runs - Need to do more efforts over 4hrs. In the past 12months, I only had 3 runs longer than 4hrs.
(2) Nutrition - Still need to work on dialing this in over the longer efforts to prevent the severe "downs" in energy.
(3) Course Navigation - Some how I need to get better at this. May be a case of taking more time at "unclear" junctions.
(4) Experience - Learned that Ultras are like any other race.. If you want to win, you can't count on coming from behind. Fighting the urge to "let guys go" in the middle of the race is just as critical in the Ultra distances as it is in any other distance.

All in all... I had fun.. and I look forward to the next adventure in 2012!!..


  1. Nice recap. that kind of time is one that I am likely never to see, but it's somewhat enlightening to hear that you guys in the fron face some similar challenges, just a few hours earlier :-) Great race, well done.

  2. lookin forward to following all your accomplishments. this sport needs more fast guys, hope you stick around:)