A Gauge of Progress – My 2009 North Face Endurance 50 Miler

Race Recap

It was finally here.  The first race that I have run twice.  I was excited about the 2009 North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Mile as it was finally a chance to see what my first full year of running and training would result in for improvements on my times.

As quick background, two years ago I was like most people who would run (err.. jog) 3-4 miles once or twice a week.  I had never run even a 1/2 marathon, let alone had heard of “ultra running.”  Somehow in late 2007 I randomly stumbled into the San Francisco North Face store during a lunch break away from the office; it could have been any normal Thursday.  There was a table set up inside the North Face store and a lady was handing out race numbers for a 50 mile/50k race that coming Saturday.  We had a quick conversation, something to the effect of:

(TNF lady) “Are you here to pick up your bib?”

(me)  “Hahh, no.  There is a 50 mile race this weekend?  How many days are people out there for?”

(TNF lady) “Just one day, runners have 14 hours for the 50 mile”

(me) “Are you kidding?  I need to see who these people are!  Do you need volunteers?”

Thus it started.  I was a volunteer at the 2007 TNF50, in awe of “these people” that could run 50 miles.

In 2008 I trained for and ran the SF Marathon in August, and then trained more and ran TNF 50 mile in December.  I ran an 8:56.24, had the time of my life, and hurt really bad for several weeks after the race.

Looking back on 2009 my time has pretty much been preoccupied with work at Zynga, a social gaming startup here in San Francisco, and running trail in Marin and throughout Northern California.  The 2009 TNF 50 mile was my chance to see a three year progression of: (2007) non-runner “race volunteer” —> (2008) complete novice running my first 50 mile —> (2009) running junkie addicted to Marin trails with my first full year of training under my belt.  December 5, 2009.  The race was finally here.

The 2009 field was absolutely stacked. Steidl, Roes, Mackey, Wardian, Omine, Koerner, Meissner, AJW; guys I look up to and am in awe of in terms of their speed and endurance.  The women’s side would be a great race as well, even with late drops by some of the best female ultra runners.  I had been on trails with Caitlin Smith and Joelle Vaught in 2009 and knew that they would both be putting up fast times.

I had a plan from the start.  Run a conservative first 50k, pick up my buddy Nathan at Pantoll and have a blast the next 10 miles, and then hammer out the last 10.  I also had a personal goal to run all of Marincello at mile 44, and work to break 8:10 if possible.  Well.. the plan worked out great and I had a lot of fun all day.

The first 50k started in the dark, but by the time I reached Pirates Cove it was pretty much light enough to ditch the headlamp.  Daylight appeared just in time for the great coast views and I cruised along on through Muir Beach, making my way towards the first trip through Pantoll.  On Heather Cutoff and Coast View on up to Pantoll I caught about a half-dozen different guys that had probably gone out too hard, not fully knowing all of the climbing that they had ahead.  I was glad not to be the one slowing down and getting passed; some of those runners had a long day ahead.

Steep Ravine down from Pantoll was a blast (as always) and back up Matt Davis trail from Stinson Beach was actually pretty fun as well.  By the time I reached the top of Matt Davis I knew that I was doing much better than in 2008 as I was feeling great and didn’t think of Matt Davis as being the complete grind of a climb that stuck in my memory from a year earlier.

The out and back on the ridge to McKennan Gulch was fun as I was able to catch views of the front runners as they were coming back.  Steidl and Roes were running pretty much shoulder to shoulder, with other guys not too far back; it looked like the front was shaping up to be an epic race.

Back at Pantoll (mile 30.4) I picked up Nathan as a pacer and we took off down Alpine, making our way down and up various trails through Muir Woods before returning to Muir Beach for the last 10 miles.  Nathan might just be the best and nicest guy ever.  So nice in fact, that during our Thursday morning Headlands training runs together I had to tell him “hey man, don’t be nice to me the last 10,” and “hey man, don’t let me walk these” in regards to the last mini-climbs on Alta.  Well.. Nathan proved he didn’t need to be mean the last 10, just motivating, even as I put my head down and ran my way up all of Marincello at mile 44.  I was not sure that I would break 8 hours until we passed the aid station at mile 47.3 (the same aid station that I volunteered at back in 2007 so that I could “see who these people are”).

Even knowing that I would probably break 8 hrs I ran down Rodeo Valley as hard as possible and eventually hit the road back the the start/finish.  Right before the finish I saw my friends Kevin and Sonia and yelled to them “I am going to break 8 freakin hours!”  They had a good laugh at me afterwards.  I crossed the finish line in 7:53.48, 19th overall and a 63 minute improvement from 2008.  It was great having big hugs and laughs waiting at the finish from Devon, Nathan, and other friends and teammates from our funky little trail running club The Endurables. I stuck around after, cheering for runners, eating, laughing with friends.  It was great to see several Endurables runners cross the finish of their first 50 miler or 50k, as well as so many other runners who broke down some mental blocks of what they thought possible.  I can relate to the feeling, I was there a year ago.

I will do a 2009 year end recap after my last 50k on December 19, but wow, what a year of running and training it has been!

Full results can be found at UltraSignup.

Definitely check out Uli Steidl’s recap for a very entertaining view of the battle that was going on at the front (50 mile winner).

Geoff Roes’ recap of running shoulder to shoulder with Uli is also very entertaining.  What an inspiring year Geoff has had.

Check out Caitlin’s recap of finishing top female.

As always, Rick Gaston has a great summary and photo set from the day.

Finally, JB Benna/journeyfilm was out on the course and caught some really cool footage of “1 mile with Uli and Geoff” and a couple minutes of Caitlin Smith running and finishing 1st female.

Congrats to all runners at all distances.  Larissa congrats on finishing your 4th marathon-or-longer trail race in 5 weeks.  Thank you Nathan and Devon for the early crewing and Nathan for running with me the last ~20.  A big thank you to Jim Vernon for getting so many of us across the finish line, it has been a great year of running with you all.

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