San Francisco Bay Area, Saturday December 6, 2008:
2:05 AM – Alarm sounds after 3 hours of anxious sleep. Hell I practically slept in my running shorts and socks with a Gu under my pillow. Take a quick rinser and eat some oatmeal and honey. Fill my water bottle with some Cytomax and throw the last bits of gear into my bag. Take my time getting ready but am finding it very hard to stay relaxed.
3:15 AM – Walk out my door in North Beach, find where I parked at 8:00 PM the night before after a long day at work/long work week. Make the 30 minute drive over the Golden Gate Bridge to Rodeo Beach in the Marin Headlands, still trying to stay relaxed but my mind is spinning with anticipation.
4:00 AM – Hop on the shuttle (an old school bus) that is taking runners from the parking lot to the race start/finish a mile away.
4:15 AM – Find a chair, rub some bodyglide on my feet, pull my socks and shoes on. Look over at the guy who just sat down next to me and I say “hey are you Kyle Skaggs?” (Record Holder at the Hardrock 100 Mile, only person ever to finish under 24 hours). It was…
4:45 AM – Take a pre-race snapshot with my teammates Kendall and Oliver and our coach Jim Vernon. As I look around I see LOTS of faces of people I’ve seen only in the pages of Trail Runner and the other running magazines or on the brand websites. Think to myself, sh*t this is a deep field.
4:58 AM – Start laughing in my head. How the hell did I find myself at the start of The North Face Endurance Championship, headlamp beaming on my head so I can see in the dark, about to run 50 miles with 10,700+ feet of ascent and decent. I had only completed my first marathon four months prior and a year ago I didn’t even know that there were people who ran more than 26.2 miles let alone with hills! Hell, I was a 1st-time race VOLUNTEER at this same race a year ago (aid station mile 47 woot!) just so that I could see what the people looked like who ran in this.
5:00 AM – We are off! Headlamp beams guiding us, I start off with my teammates Kendall and Ed. We are all buzzing and set a pretty strong pace while catching up with each other on what we have been up to over the last couple of weeks.
5:30 AM – Look at my watch and laugh to myself.. “only 9 more hours to go.” I glance over my shoulder down the ridge we had just climbed. A million lights (runners’ headlamps) seem to be gliding up the Bobcat Trail. The sky was clear and lots of stars were out.
5:40 AM (Mile 5) – Yell over at a runner that he’s going in the wrong direction at a Y in the trail and at the same time I trip over a rock and eat crap. Hands are a little scraped, luckily I had gloves on. Take a sip out of my water bottle while sand in my mouth helps me realize the damn nipple on my hand bottle is covered in dirt from the fall.. laugh it off.
6:10 AM (Mile 11) – Yell over at some more runners starting the wrong direction at the Y where Coastal meets Pirates Cove. They pass me a couple minutes later on the very technical downhill of Pirates Cove. I take in the killer views (even at night) of the coastline down below. Still keeping a very strong pace.
6:30 AM – Turn off my headlamp as I can finally see well enough from the dawn sky. Stuff it into my small hip pack, barely room, good thing I pulled a Gu out of there a half hour earlier.
6:50 AM (Mile 13) – Get to the Muir Beach aid station; crush some grapes, a couple chips and a brownie while my bottle is refilled. Realize that Nikki Kimball is standing right next to me also refilling (North Face sponsored runner, 3 time winner of Western States 100, one of the best ultra-running careers of any woman or man). I was honestly a little in awe but remained in race mode.
6:55 AM – The footsteps behind be are Susannah Beck’s (just won the Xterra Championships). We chat for a couple minutes. Mid-stride I bend down and pick up a Gu wrapper that someone had dropped on the trail. She compliments me on my form, no big deal..
7:10 AM – I start making my way up the switchbacks of the Heather Cutoff Trail. Susannah Beck and some other runners are still right behind me and we are chatting. We catch up to a guy who I instantly recognize so I say “hey are you the guy from all of the The North Face running ads?” He gives me a fist-pump and responds laughing “yes, I’m Guillermo Medina.” My jaw is on the floor but I play it cool while thinking in my head “holy crap right now I’m running sandwiched between Guillermo Medina and Susannah Beck!” Guillermo starts setting a pretty good pace so I pull over and allow Susannah and a couple guys she knows to pass.
7:30 AM (~mile 15) – A recognizable face from the magazines catches me from behind, its Nikki Kimball who I ran into at the Muir Beach aid station! We start chatting away and I quickly realize that besides being a great competitor she is also a super nice person. We run alone together for about an hour while talking about running, hunting, life, good beer, and future races. I ask her if she’s ever done the Tahoe Rim 100 and if it is a good one, she says yea its great and nothing more (I come to find out the next day that she won the dang race last year).
8:30 AM (~mile 23) – Heading up the Matt Davis Trail (the hardest ascent), Nikki and I pass two of the guys who passed me when Susannah Beck did. Around the same time I start feeling some cramp flashes. I wish Nikki good luck and slow my pace.
(miles 24-30) – The out and back section to McKennan Gulch isn’t the hardest trail but is grueling as I run through my first major wall of the day. The cramps in my quads have me worried. Still, its cool to see Kyle Skaggs, Kami Semick, Guillermo Medina, Susannah Beck and my teammate Cliff Lentz coming in while I’m headed out on the out and back section. Nikki Kimball runs by and we yell at each other to keep on rockin. I eat a peanut butter sandwich, grapes, Gu, skittles, potato chips, and pop a couple more salt tabs at the aid station at mile 26. A guy Nate down from Oregon who I met on the trail is there and we share a laugh at our experience on the stretch from miles 21-30. By the time I reach the Pantoll aid station at mile 30 I am feeling a lot better.
(miles 30-36) – I start to pass some of the 50K runners as I head out of Pantoll at mile 30. I run by the big rock that Randy bouldered while he, Dom, and I were hiking here a couple weeks earlier. I get passed by at least 3 runners while headed from Pantoll down through Muir Woods. I wonder if I’m going to slow but damn those runners are really hoofing it on some technical downhill. I stick to my game plan and sure enough I pass two of the three during the ascent up from Muir Woods. I’m told I “walk fast” during a steep ascent, I laugh and say thanks but all I can think about is reaching the aid station at mile 36 as I went through my water bottle way too fast on this leg. Also, where the hell did that third runner go who passed me..
(miles 36-41) – I cross Muir Woods road to a new trailhead and a group of leisure hikers yell at me asking what the race is. I yell back that I just passed mile 36 of the 50 mile North Face race. All I hear back is FIFTY.. like FIVE ZERO?! I join them in laughter for a second and shortly thereafter I see the third runner who passed me. We are in a pretty flat section and I am setting a stronger pace. We run together and chat for a minute, is a really nice guy and looks damn familiar. A minute later he lets me pass. Sure enough it turns out it was The North Face sponsored runner Sam Thompson. That guy is awesome! The Dias Ridge climb sets in at around mile 39. I speed hike it but its tough, I pass a couple 50K’rs hunched over taking breathers.
(miles 41-44) – I eat another peanut butter and jelly sandwich at the Shoreline aid station at mile 41 and run into a couple teammates running the 50K. We quickly say hello and share some positive support before I head off. I’m feeling good but keep looking at my watch. Damn, Hugh one of the VPs/my buddy from Zynga is waiting for me at the aid station at mile 44 to pace me in for the last 6, I need to hustle!
(mile 44) – I cruise into the aid station at Tennessee Valley and am charged by a madman yelling and running right towards me. Its Hugh! I have my bottle refilled while quickly throwing some food into my mouth and then we take off heading up Marincello for the last climb of the race. I run 100/speed hike100 up Marincello while listening and cracking up to jokes from Hugh.
(mile 47) – The last aid station! I top my bottle off one last time, grab a Gu and then Hugh and I head off. I tell Hugh the story of how I was a volunteer at that aid station a year earlier and had never heard of anyone ever running 50 miles. Glancing at my watch I realize that I would definitely break my 91/2 hour goal but also might be able to break 9 hours if I really hustled. We bomb it down Rodeo Valley for 1.5 miles and then hit the flats for the last 1.5 miles. 1/4 mile to go.. we bust around the corner of Fort Barry to the finish.
1:56 PM (mile 50 Finish Line) – I give Hugh a high-five right before the finish line and then start yelling up into the air as I cross. I am so amped I can’t settle down. Scattered in the crowd at the finish are friends who ran the 10K earlier in the day, my coach Jim, and some teammates who ran the 50K and had already finished. I’m glowing while chatting it up with everyone. I thank my friends for coming out and for their support and positive energy as it means a lot. We take photos and I run into Guillermo and Nikki and tell them thanks for the support during the race. Kevin and I bump into Dean Karnazes and talk with him briefly which is sweet. I hang out at the finish and get to see Kendall come across followed by Ed a little later. Its great to see them as we had spent so much time training out on this same trail to be able to be here at the finish. What an awesome experience, a Top 10 day? Definitely.
My Race Results: Total Time 8:56.24, 10.44 Pace, Overall Place 26th/172, Division Place 5th/41