Monday, December 29, 2014

The North Face Endurance Challenge SF 50 Mile

Some impressions from the North Face Endurance Challenge SF 50 Miler:

That was a hard race.  As my first 50 miler, the distance surprisingly didn’t bother me all that much; I kept a steady effort right to the end.  But two things caught me off guard and made this hard: the number of runners on the out-and-back sections, and the mud.  Lots and lots of gooey, squishy, shoe-sucking, slip’n’slide inducing, mud.  Many miles of it.  Maybe 20% of the course, or 40% of my time out there.  Trails I’ve been able to jog up and run down at full speed became slow, tiring negotiations in footing.

Around mile 33:
Hiking couple: How long is the race?
Me: 50 miles.
Hiking Couple: Jesus Christ!
Me: Nah, he’s not running today.  He’s smarter than that.  

SC is crazy fast.  He came down heather cutoff, chasing down DJ, shortly after I crossed paths with DL coming down--the latter of whom I thought was fast.

I ate much less food than I expected.  I just didn’t want it.  One and a half epic bars, half a kind bar, and about a slice of orange at each aid station, mainly to keep my stomach non-empty.  I upped the tailwind concentration to compensate, which worked great.  

I need better shoes for long muddly/techincal courses.  I have some that work great for short muddy runs, and others for long runs on drier days, which I was wearing, but nothing that was great for this course.  The mud was orders of magnitude worse than I expected too.

600 runners in the dark with headlights on open trails in hills is very surreal.  You see lines of headlamps flowing through the hills and large groups of glowing abstract shapes from all the retroreflective pieces on running gear.  

After finishing, I bailed faster than at any race, skipping the food/beer/etc.  I wanted to get back home to shower and rest more than anything.  I wasn’t even hungry, but I did force myself to snack on the drive home.

Recent running form practice made it far easier to maintain pace than at any 50k I’ve run.  It took conscious effort, but it made a huge difference.  

That was the slowest climb up Steep Ravine ever.  But I can’t think of a better place in Marin to hit a low point on effort.

Waterfalls!  It was the first time I’ve been running north of Pantoll Rd.

Only one unexpected muscle bothered me, the left tibialis anterior.  Everything else was expected and manageable, albeit annoying.  

It took half an hour of stretching to stand the next morning.  Then another half hour of stretching to walk.   

I can see why people move up even further in distance:  1) Night running was surprising fun and peaceful.  2) After mile 20, nothing really got any harder.  

Instead of counting miles, I was counting half marathons.  This dejected a few people I talked to, but I find it a lot easier to have fewer mental chunks of distance to think about.  

I finished in 14:09:26, way near the back, so I certainly got my value out of the day.  After the second pass through Muir Beach, where I fell back to only 10 minutes ahead of a cutoff after a very slow negotiation down Coastal/Heather Cutoff, I started mostly passing people on the last couple climbs.  I never hit a mentally hard moment, but saw a number of people in this last stretch who were really working hard to keep going.  The last couple miles were under my original target pace too (which was very conservative). Leaving in the shuttle, headlamps were still coming down the hill from the Alta aid station.

The course, after 4 changes, was 50.8 miles.  Muir wood was cut out after a bridge washed out.  A second Bunker/Rodeo Valley loop was added at the start to compensate. Old Mine was added in place of part of Coastal.  The ridge trail past Willow Camp was shifted up to the road.  Dipsea was replaced with Steep Ravine, which I didn’t find out until reaching the bridge where they split.    

Finishing a 50 mile race has been a long standing goal, since I ran my first 5k.  It took almost three years, and ended up being a long slow haul, but taking my time, both in the timing of the race and in my pace, was worth it.  The only real pain was taking my shoes off at the end.

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