The NorthFace 50 Mile Challenge
This was to hopefully be the icing on my cake for 2010. My racing year had never been better, and after the harsh pavement of the World 100k Championships, I was anxious to hit some trails and recover my brain from the mental taxation of aforesaid event. I had no intention of digging myself into a hole of woe, instead celebrate what trail running brings to me and to my many ultra running friends. Joy!
I was hosted by the wonderful Fitzpatricks of Larkspur, near the race start and finish area. Tim saved me a trip into the city and picked up my packet for me. Diana volunteered her day (starting at 3:00 a.m.) to take me to the race start and to crew me at all possible aid stations. She and Tim enlisted fellow ultra runner Jed Tukman to pace me from mile 28 to the finish. Everything was in order and I was relaxed and happy.
The night before the race, I was in bed by 8:00. I started waking up at 1:00, excited to be ready to embark on trails. Finally at 3:00 I got up, had coffee and oatmeal, and by 3:45 Diana and I were on our way to the start. She brought me to a shuttle at Rodeo Beach, gave me a throw away tee to keep warm in, and then we parted, planning on seeing each other at the second aid station.
At the start I milled about looking for familiar faces. Being out of the normal region and in the presence of athletes from around the country and world, I didn’t see anyone I knew until I finally saw Kami warming up. We briefly caught up, and continued to warm up. Finally as the start time drew near, I saw Krissy Moehl, Joelle Vaught, Lizzie Hawker, Jenn Shelton, and Rory Boseo. The final countdown came and went, and off we flew.
I ran with Joelle for a very brief period, then Rory for a bit. It was too dark to really see who was ahead, which was just what I wanted. I did not want to get caught up in the early race frenzie and end up suffering early and long. Then Jenn and I ran together for a bit. She asked me what I thought of the early pace, the runners ahead, was she going fast enough. I said “Honey, we’ve run 1 mile. We have 49 miles for them to slow down.” She bought it to some extent, but pulled ahead effortlessly nonetheless. I next found myself running next to Krissy. We chatted briefly, and I knew she was coming back from an injury. We crested the first climb, still in the dark, and as I took advantage of the downhill, she slipped further back. I surmised her injury was bothering her.
On and on into the darkness we ran. We finally hit aid station 1, but I blew through, not having drunk much in the cool temperature. Again we were faced with a long climb, and the headlamps ahead gave me an indication of how far up we had to go. I kept my heart rate below 170 on the climbs as much as possible, otherwise I was staying very relaxed. Still in the dark, I passed 2 women as we hit aid station 2, and Diana was there, very visible, handing me an open gel and a fresh bottle. It was a seamless exchange.
On the downhill I cruised along, chatting with whomever was nearby. Gradually the day began to lighten, and I could see the runners ahead. There was a woman I was closing in on, but we hit another long climb and she kept her distance. We broke out into the coastal area – narrow single track, grassy, windy, and I was feeling pretty slow. I didn’t fight the feeling or the wind, just kept plowing along. As usual, I got passed by the men on the climbs, and passed them back on the downs. Cruising along to the Muir Beach aid station I saw Devon who was cheering me on. I yelled out to her “Devon – where are you?” She assured me she was “Right here!” I was disappointed that she wasn’t in the mix that day. At this point I caught the woman I had been tailing, Helen Cosposlich, we visited briefly, and I pulled ahead.
The course went along the pavement for a spell, then entered single track again. I passed 2 women on my way, and really enjoyed the very, very long climb with short and not-to-steep switchbacks. I met a man from Juneau, who was there with 6 other Alaskans, feeling very proud of their Geoff Roes. The climb was relentless and deceptive. Every visible summit was false, until finally we reached the top. A little pavement, and onto single track in the woods, some technical downhill through a dense redwood forest, and I could hear the bells for the next aid station. As I climbed up to the road, Diana and Jed were there, ready with the gel, bottle and words of encouragement. I asked what place I was in. Diana replied “you’re in 10th, right where you want to be. There are some dreamers up there.” I ate a bit of banana as I was feeling peckish, drank some Mountain Dew, and listened to Jed describe the trail I was about to embark upon. I was on my way again, on some rolling, beautiful eucalyptus lined trail. I was clipping the heels of a runner before long, and asked him to choose a side for me to pass. He let me by and I opened up my stride. Feeling pretty good, I cruised along, until reaching a fork in the trail. The monitor there instructed me to the right, letting me know it was the beginning of a long out and back section.
I started to struggle in the now open space. In a few minutes I was facing the front pack of about 5 men, recognizing only Jeff Roes who was in 2nd place. A few other men came next, and then Erik Skaggs. We encouraged each other, then next was Hal Koerner, followed by Uli Steidl. Around another turn, and I met Lizzie Hawker, leading the women’s race. She was followed soon by Anna Frost. Another turn, and I saw Kami. We cheered each other on, and cresting a hill, I heard a familiar voice cheering me on. Looking up and seeing Krissy, sidelined, I was saddened that she had had to drop. Inspired by the 3 women ahead of me so far, I started to feel excited. I next met Joelle, then the 5th place woman, followed by Jenn, who looked fabulous. Seventh, eighth, and ninth were unknowns to me. I hit the turn around aid station, just as the skies started to open up. The volunteers were attentive, and as they filled my bottle and opened a gel, I asked someone to pin my number on, as it was barely hanging on by 2 pins. I was offered a poncho to run in, but politely declined. Finally ready to go, I cruised out and started to feel great – maybe from seeing the women ahead, or maybe because there was a tailwind.
I finally made it back to the turn that would bring me to Stinson Beach where Jed would start pacing me. Avery long downhill with lots of switchbacks, and I could see some women ahead that were getting closer and closer. I passed one as the trail flattened off, and followed the other one through the town as we hit pavement. Jed appeared on the road and led me into the aid station, with the woman ahead of me greeted by her coach with “Allez! Allez! Allez!” Diana handed me my bottle and Jed and I were off onto the next climb.
He was somewhat surprised that I wasn’t completely dead to the world. Because he was from the area, he knew all of the trails, so was able to describe each section we came to. The most beautiful for me was the Steep Ravine. Huge redwoods, a stream flowing down the center, rock steps leading upward. Jed described every little climb, which were walkable, which were runnable. We came to a ladder in the trail, and Jed teased about my “glistening calves” to the race photographer documenting the race at this trademark point. While Jed knew each trail, he didn’t know the course and continued to second guess the race course and aid station locations, consistently wrong but eventually right. I didn’t care, as long as we were on course and he could describe the trails, I was glad of the expertise.
Next aid station we saw Diana again, and she said the next two women were still just 3 or so minutes ahead. We scooted out and hit a very long, technical downhill. There were other races going on, and with marathon and 50k runners on the trail, it became somewhat congested. Jed started yelling ahead “50 mile racer coming on your left” which meant I had to run faster to get around. At last we hit a flat section that could have meant an accelerated pace, but with the rain and the multitude of runners, it was very slick, so I settled for gently tripping along from one side of the path to the other, occasionally skiing.
The next two aid stations were a blur. In and out amongst all the races, we were faced with another very long climb up an exposed, muddy service road. Too slick to run, we hiked the best we could. Jed did a good job of pointing out sites along the way (the Pacific Ocean is pretty awesome) and keeping me going strong at the same time. At last we reached Diana for the last time at mile 45. Again, we were back 2-3 minutes from the two women in front. Looking at the looming hill ahead, I left my last bottle with Diana, sure I wouldn’t need it for the last hour. Chugging along, Jed in front now, he said “if you run this entire hill, you will catch them, I guarantee it.” True or not, I had to try. I ran, in the sense that I wasn’t walking, the entire 20-30 minute climb. One more aid station, I drank some coke, and Jed asked if I wanted to carry a bottle. “I’m outa here” I said and started to fly down the hill ahead. It was without trees to block the view, and up ahead I spotted my first victim amongst the marathon and 50k racers. Jed was beside me and I suggested he not let anyone know we’re coming at this point. He knew better, and as we approached her we quieted a bit and breezed by. She looked up briefly, and then did a double take when she the color of my number. “Wow! Great job!” I could barely muster a reply, but acknowledged her best I could. I later learned it was Liza Howard, winner of Hard Rock 100 last summer.
I looked forward, and saw victim number 2. We continued to bomb the downhill and just as it flattened out, we caught her. Now Jed was giving me distance-to-go data. “One more mile! That’s just 4 laps on the track!” I was starting to go into all kinds of debt, evidenced by my loud squawks with every breath I took. “Arms! Arms! arms!” and “Breathe! Breathe! Breathe!” Jed was yelling. “Three laps on the track”, “Two and half laps”. Ugh. I was starting to tie up. The road turned gradually uphill and I desperately wanted to see if either woman was coming back. The curve in the road hid the finish line until the last minute, and I bombed down the grassy field to complete the course. My time was not stellar, 8:47 (a mere HOUR behind winner Anna Frost), but I was pleased with my overall place of 6th.
Diana and Jed did a fabulous job getting me through the day, and I ended my 2010 season on a very positive note, feeling motivated for 2011.