Monday, December 3, 2012

December 3, 2012 – TNF 50 Mile Championships Race Report

Disclaimer - (Spoiler alert) Well before I get started, I am finding that this post is a bit different from most posts in that it is more therapeutic than informational.  Also, I am going to try my hardest to keep this post positive.  Due to the amount of time and effort that I dedicated to training for this event, the money I invested to get to the race, and the effort I put forth during the race.. it won’t be easy as I am VERY frustrated with the circumstances and the outcome. But here it goes…

The story starts on the days leading up to the race.  According to the weather predictions, the “most competitive 50mile race on US soil” was going to be run in flood-like conditions.  To be honest, this excited me.  I ran the course last year in perfect conditions and thought this new “wrinkle” would make the race more interesting and “tougher”.

At the packet pick up, I saw quite a few familiar faces… Rickey Gates, Adam Campbell, Adam Chase.. etc.  This crew gave me the heads-up that the course had been changed due to flooding in some areas of the trail and some sort of “jurisdiction” issues.  By the looks of the new map, much of the most technical climbing and single track had been removed.  The course now consisted of a myriad of turns and loops.  To be honest, just looking at it gave me a headache… but now I felt like it might actually set up even better for me.. lots of rollers.. forest service roads.. and mud.. perfect for how I felt coming in to the race.. fast, strong, and ready to climb. 

Fast forward to Saturday morning.. it’s 5am.. and time to get it on.  It’s raining.. windy.. but not too cold.  The Elite Wave is packed with a lot of big name guys from all over the world.  I always crack up when I compare my attire to the rest of this group.  They are decked-out in their sponsor’s newest, coolest gear, while I am wearing a menagerie of brands.. Adidas, New Balance, Nike, Swiftwick, Amphipod, etc. - My Flagstaff buds that are sponsored crack up when we race and love counting how many different brands I have on.. what can ya do.

As the gun goes off, we jet across the start line and quickly form a thick pack.  I wasn’t too scared about starting out hard, so within a half mile I took the lead running about 5:50/mile pace.  I kept this going for the first couple miles and as we started the first small accent, we had already established a small lead pack consisting of myself, Adam Campbell, Sage Canaday, and Cameron Clayton.  A large chase pack was about 30sec back.  For the next 4 or 5miles, the 4 of us traded lead position multiple times.  Looking at my Garmin, I was doing 7:15min/mile pace on the climbs and 5:30 to 5:50 pace on the downs & flats.  This pace was perfect for now.  I felt that eventually I would bring the pace up, but for now it felt relaxed.

As we winded our way up and over hills, the weather fluctuated between crazy and brutal.  There were several times that it was raining so hard that my headlamp beam wasn’t able to illuminate the ground in front of me.  The fog would get so thick in spots that a 10 sec gap made someone invisible… and the wind whipped the rain hard enough on the highest ridges to make trying to see painful. 

Regardless of all this.. we were racing.  Around mile 7, it was down to 3 of us.  Myself, Sage, and Adam.  We were still throwing down pretty hard… the pace stuck in that 5:45/mile on the downs & flats.. and 7:30/mile on the ups.  Sizing up Adam & Sage, I noticed that Sage was killing the uphills, opening a gap on every climb, but he was wearing road shoes and having trouble with traction - - would that hurt him later in the day?.. Adam was dominating the downhills.. flying down each descent - - would the downhill pounding take its toll?.. only time would tell.  - -  I was right in the middle… closing distance on Sage on the downs.. and Adam on the ups. 

Around mile 15, things opened up a bit.  Sage surged on an ascent.. and Adam responded on the ensuing descent.  At this point, I made a conscious decision to run my race and not get caught up in these early race surges.  I kept both Adam & Sage in sight and simply let them pull me along the trail.

Mile 17-ish - - I guess this is where everything went wrong for me, Sage, & Adam.  At this point, I am not 100% sure how big our lead was.  I know that I could see several minutes back in spots and I didn’t see a single headlamp, so my guess was around 5min-ish. 

Following the course, the trail splits and you are suppose to head downhill to an aid station, do a short loop, and head back up the hill where the trail splits from the route of origin.  The 3 of us did not go down the hill, but instead followed the markers taking us the other direction.  Honestly, I didn’t see a single marker, sign, etc pointing us down the hill.. and there DEFINITELY wasn’t a race official there to help figure out this junction (I later learned that a course official / volunteer was there for the chase pack – so I guess we out ran the officials??)  - - I would love to feel comfortable saying.. “yeah, this is part of trail racing”.. or “should have reviewed the map more closely”.. but I paid an entry fee.. I incurred a good amount of travel expenses to get to the race.. I put a lot of time into my training.. I was running hard.. oh yeah, and there was $10,000 at stake.. so for me, it’s hard to just write it off as if some kind of “trail culture” thing that I should just accept .. - - but… enough of that.

As I had no idea, we had “gone off course” I was still running hard.  Coming through mile 20 through 24, there were several sections where you could see up to 12min in front & behind due to the “out and back” nature of the course.. and I saw Sage (~7min) & Adam (~3min) in front of me and no one behind me.  

As I came through 26miles in around 2hrs 50min, my strategy was to keep the downs & flats around 6min/pace.. and the ups no slower than 8min pace.  Since the modified course was suppose to be ~46miles, I figured that would put my finish time close to 5hrs 10min which would keep anyone from catching me.. and I would have a decent shot of closing the gap on Adam and Sage if they fell off pace at all.

The next 6 or 7 miles, I fueled a lot and still had some good bounce in my legs.  My spirits were high.. but that changed as soon as I hit the aid station that I missed earlier.  For several minutes, I was explained the situation.. Sage, Adam, & I missed a turn on the first lap and if we wanted to have a chance to not be DQ’d, we would have to run a loop twice and go up and down the muddiest, sloppiest hill of the entire course twice.  This would make up the distance we missed.. but it definitely changed the nature of the race. 

So confused.. and a bit angry, I blazed out of the aid station.  I thought “well, maybe I won’t lose much distance..?”.. Then I passed Timmy Parr.  I hadn’t seen him all day long and all of a sudden he is in front of me.  What the hell!.. I asked him how he got ahead of me.. and he didn’t say much.  At this point, I kinda lost it and even considered dropping out.. I was thinking, “Did anyone run the course right?”.. “Due to the numerous amount of criss-crossing and multitudes of various runners, how would they know who cut what parts of the course?”.  I decided not quit, but instead ran the 2 loops. I was DEFLATED, so I walked the muddy hill the 1st time and jogged it the 2nd time.  … I literally went from cloud-9 thinking at best I had a shot to win and at worst earn a 3rd place finish… to crap “what place am I in”.. “who actually ran the course”.. “this hill sure is harder in the mud after 32 miles of running than it would have been when it was dryer and at mile 17”.. “what can ya do.. at least I wouldn’t be DQ’d.  Right?”

For the next 7 or 8 miles, I really shut it down running anywhere from 8min pace to 13min pace.  I was pretty much heart broken and was having a hard time dealing with the shocking realization that I was no longer going to meet my goal of making the podium as a top 3 finisher.. and that I could potentially be DQ’d. 

After being passed a few times, I finally woke-up and re-grouped.  I had Dylan Bowman reeling me in and this encouraged me to start pushing again.  The last 8miles went by pretty fast as I fought to keep Dylan at bay. 

As I crossed the finish line, I learned that I finished 6th place in a time of 6hrs 1min.  This was not the result I wanted, but I tried to hold my head high.  No disrespect to the guys in the top the 3 spots, but I am confident that I had a superb shot at the podium.  I guess it wasn’t meant to be.. I do know that regardless of my disappointment, I stuck with it and pulled out a solid day.  I’ll take pride in that, move on, and get ready for the next one. 


  1. I would be royally pissed as well. Go look at Uli Steidl's blog post from 2007. In 2008 Mike Wardian (if I recall correctly) ran a mile and a half down the wrong hill. It seems like this race has been rife with issues since the very beginning. I read a tweet from Rickey Gates that implied he got off course multiple times. That just should not happen.

  2. I think this quote from iRunFar is especially prescient:

    S of NorCal says:

    December 2, 2012 at 7:52 am

    "I’ve run this course every year but this one and each year the markings were confusing – or poorly placed – and the course marshalls were – at some critical junctions – merely bored teenagers who seemed to care more about their personal conversations than directing the runners. I won’t recommend this race nor run it again until NF steps up their game."

  3. i was wondering what happened to you. i thought prior to the race you would definitely be at least top 3 just based on the good running you had been doing recently. sorry about it. i do agree with you, in a race with 10000 dollars on the line, you would think they would have it really dialed in. a bit disappointing.