Monday, December 8, 2008

North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Mile

The North Face Endurance Challenge Presented By Gore-Tex presented several hundred runners with quite a challenge in the Marin Headlands north of San Francisco this weekend. There were 10K, Half Marathon, Accelerade 50K and 50 Mile distances. I was one of 210 people to enter the 50 mile division, with the unfortunate start time of 5:00am. I say unfortunate because we had to catch a shuttle to get to the start line before 4:00am, which means the alarm was set for 2:30am in order to get up, get ready, drive across the Golden Gate Bridge ect. Ugh. I am glad we were local, and didnt have to drive a long way to get there. (Thanks for waking up and driving us there Abby!)

This race is one of the few ultras worldwide with a significant cash prize ($10,000 for first place), so the best runners in the world showed up. It was fun to run with the best. My goal was to run the whole thing, no matter how steep the hills. Like most ultras, it was a humbling experience.

The setting of the race was beautiful, we often ran on hilltops that looked out over the Pacific and other times we had views of the Golden Gate Bridge. You didn't want to gawk too long though or you could land on your face. This race had almost no flat parts, you were basically going uphill or going downhill. The uphill was tough for obvious reasons, the downhill killed the quads and shook the insides. Somewhere around mile 20, I was running downhill without any other runners around and I noticed the smell of vomit. As I was thinking that maybe I stepped in something, I suddenly puked all over the place. No warning at all. I didn't feel nauseous, but I was distressed that I lost all that food I had been trying to keep down! One of the most difficult parts of an ultra is consuming enough calories to get through it. I gulped down my drink and the gel I had been carrying and tried to double up on eating the rest of the race.

Starting around mile 22, the course seemed to go up and up and up and up. I was exhausted. By the time we started to descend the hill around mile 30, I was starting to think that maybe I went out too fast. It was about this time that was passed by a familiar runner, Karl Meltzer. Karl has won dozens of 100 mile races and recently ran the the entire 2,174 mile Appalachian in less than 55 days. The fact that Karl was passing me at this point was another sign that I went out too fast. Amazingly, Karl didn't just fly by, we passed each other back and forth for several miles, and he ended up ahead of me by only a few minutes. It probably helped that at some point he accidentally inhaled an electrolyte tab, causing him to throw up, allowing me to pass. Ouch.

Around mile 37, I faced the steepest hill I had seen all day, straight up, no switchbacks. I gave up on my original goal and decided to walk the hill. One thing that made me feel better, everyone else was walking the hill, you could see a winding line of walking racers all up and down the hill. As I was thinking there was no way anybody could run this hill after 37 miles, I heard footsteps. Fast footsteps. And then, a smiling Nikki Kimball passed me with what looked like very little effort. Nikki has won the Western States Endurance run, and on this day ended up in 22nd place, 3rd woman overall.

The remaining 13 miles was a struggle, but fortunately I was able to keep the wheels from falling off. For the most part I ran the rest of the way, the worst part being the downhills. I was worried that my quads would be killed by the downhills. Fortunately, my quads stood up ok, but the backs of my legs were cramping terribly. It was so bad that my toes would uncontrollably point downward because my calfs would cramp mid stride, causing me to stumble and almost fall several times. One thing I learned during the San Francisco 24 hour race, running faster can cause an adrenaline spike that kills the pain enough to keep going. So thats what I did.

For the first time in an ultra, I was dreading getting to the finish line. I knew the moment I stopped, I was going to get racked with cramps. Don't get me wrong, seeing the finish line come up was thrilling, and it felt great to cross the finish line. But as soon as I slowed down, yikes. Luckily Abby was there to help me through th worst of it.

After 15 minutes or so, I was able to stand back up, and check out the results: 8hrs, 50mins, 23rd place, 3rd in my age division! One interesting thing, the slow age division is the 21-29 yr olds, the winner was in his 40s and most of the top 25 were in their 30s. So hopefully I have my best years ahead of me!

As the 3rd place finisher in my division, I got to go up on the podium and I won a nice new North Face shirt. I also go to meet Dean Karnazes. Deans book is what originally inspired me to get into all this crazy ultra stuff, so that was cool.

This was the last race for 2008. It was a big year, 2 boston qualifiers, a run from Chicago to Indianapolis, 130 miles in 24 hours, and a 50 miler in extreme terain. Now im ready for 2009!