Wednesday, December 9, 2015

North Face 50 - Race Report

photo by Aaron Johnson

I have been planning to run this race for years, but every year as December neared I bailed for one reason or another.  My tendency is to shy away from hyped up races.  My rationale is as follows:  I love running through beautiful mountains.  More people and hype takes away from soaking up the natural beauty.  While I will never shake this feeling, I was pleasantly surprised with how much I enjoyed the North Face Endurance Challenge with thousands of people out enjoying the magical Marin Headlands.  It definitely feels more like a race when you are passing others, and getting passed the entire race, which is fun.  And since there are so many people around, I ran into old friends from high school,  countless running friends, and got to hang out with a large group of fellow Hoka Athletes.

The 5am start in the dark was a nice way to kick off the day.  The rocky coastline with its foamy waves and the somber grey Pacific Ocean slowly came into view.  Looking back from the ridge before the Cardiac Aid Station, the overcast sky was streaked with intense pinks and reds over the city.  Black silhouettes of pines gave way to a canyon a thousand feet deep in darkness interrupted by a long line of snaking headlamps.  Moments like these make racing feel like a celebration of health.  Working with critically ill patients who are stuck in a hospital bed makes me feel grateful and even obligated to exploit my physical capacities in places removed from civilization.  Sure you can see San Francisco from the course, it's not like we were out running in the south 40, but the dirt out here and in most places sure beats hanging around on pavement all day.

The sun came up, the headlamps were turned off and the cool overcast coastal weather was perfect for running.  I probably went out a tad to fast in the first third of the race.  At mile 17, Jeremy Wolf, Jason Schlarb and Eric Strabel blazed past me and I really didn't feel like trying to hang with them.  I eventually did catch up with Jeremy and shared quite a few miles with him - fun way to meet someone, a Hoka teammate no less.

I managed the rest of the race well.  Cramps started to creep into my legs about 5 hours in, and an occasional Saltstick pill kept them at bay.  I ingested 300 calories an hour, mostly of VFuel gels, and potato chips and coke at aid stations.  I don't think I've ever raced 50 miles or more without having to deal with nausea, so I guess I'll be sticking to this fueling strategy for awhile.

Climbs after 32 miles were a little steeper, and felt a lot steeper.
My downhill legs held up and I was able to sneak past Eric Strabel and Daniel Metzger in the last 2 miles to finish 15th in 7:01.  I was stoked to land in the top 20.  I really wanted to finish under 7 hours, but what's a minute or two? 

Having my wife and the Schulte's there to crew, cheer and hang out with afterwards was perfect.  Thanks for all of your help!  This is the second race in a row that I've run with Hal Koerner where I've been mistaken for him.  Can't help but laugh... I'm not THAT good looking, and my beard isn't that manicured.  All joking aside, it was fun seeing Hal and chatting with him a bit before and after the race.

Sponsor shout outs:

HOKA!  My Challenger ATR's worked perfectly, and it looked like half of the field was wearing them.  Enough traction for the wet roots and steps in the middle sections of the course, light enough to race in, enough cushion to pound down the fast downhill sections.  Congrats to teammates Larisa Dannis (3rd), Jorge Maravilla (4th), Darcy Piceu (9th), Emma Roca (11th), Jeremy Wolf (17th), Bob Shebest (24th), Paul Terranova (26th) and Michael Wardian (52nd).  Full results.

Hoka roll'n deep at dinner
FLUID:  I forgot to pack my recovery fluid for after the race, and who do I see at the finish line after completing his first ultra?  CEO Rich!  Thanks for hooking me up with 4 scoops of Chocolate Wave and congrats on your 50k finish!

Drymax:  My trail running socks were money.  No blisters, hot spots, nothing.  My feet felt totally normal after the race, really.  My Challenger/Drymax combination works very well for me.

VFuel:  Used a ton of their gels during the race, with no nausea.  Hoping to join there team next year!

Last night I was saddened by the news of North Face founder, Douglas Tompkins dying recently.   The New York Times article I read was enlightening.  As a proud Patagonia wearer I did not know the extent of North Face's conservation and was pleasantly surprised to learn about it.  It's comforting to know that people like him are out there, running companies with motives that extend beyond profit.