(12/10/10 - Photos to follow this weekend)
I say that not because of how I placed, or how fast I covered the terrain at the 2010 North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Mile Championship, San Francisco, CA, Presented by Gore-Tex... (yeah, that's really the half-paragraph long name of the event), but rather because I had tons of fun and a mini-vacation at the same time.
This race was my last scheduled ultra-distance event of 2010 and it couldn't get here quick enough. I'm not gonna lie, I've been mentally checked out of running and training for the last 6 weeks mostly due to the cumulative physical and psychological fatigue of racing 11 ultra-distance events since February. I've been remarkably healthy through all of it - both my lungs and my legs - but that doesn't mean I wasn't run down.
I arrived in San Francisco pretty late on Thursday night after an uneventful trip that required no body scans, pat downs, or cavity searches, so I was a happy camper. By the time I was on the road in my very own rental car for the first time (I felt like I was playing grown-up), it was late enough that I decided to wait until Friday to meet up with my friends and fellow racers, Natalee and Brandon. Thankfully however, it was not too late to experience a $10 sushi feast at a hole in the wall restaurant near my hotel on Lombard St.!
Friday started early since I had to move my vehicle before it risked a 9:00am tow. I relocated my sweet Ford Escape (sarcasm intended) to a spot a few blocks away in a residential neighborhood that resulted in a $55 dollar parking ticket instead. Apparently, you can park there any time imaginable, except between 9 and 11am on the 1st Friday of each month. How convenient... it was there between 8 and 10am on the first Friday of December! That's my kind of luck, but in no way put a damper on the weekend. I figured as long as I found enough free parking over the next 4 days, I'd make up for the $55 dollar hit.
All this occurred while I roamed the streets of downtown SF soaking up the sights, sounds, smells, and buzz of the city (it's amazing how tall I felt after wandering through Chinatown). I eventually made it to the heart of the shopping district and picked up my race packet at the North Face store. After returning from my hilly 2-hour jaunt, I was finally hungry and ready to head down to San Jose to meet Natalee and Brandon for lunch.
After fueling our tanks, talking some trash, and making some friendly wagers on the outcome of the race, Brandon returned to work (business trip for him) and Natalee and I ran pre-race errands and hit the city for the remainder of the afternoon. We all reconvened for dinner in SJ and then went our separate ways to prepare for the looming 2:30am wake up calls which were necessary in order to catch the 3:45am shuttle. By 11:00pm I was finally all prepared for the pain and suffering that was in my near future and caught a quick 3+ hours of sleep.
One downside to running ultra's is how early they normally start. I say this since I'm definitely not a morning person, and feel that there is something inherently wrong with getting up and hitting the road while most individuals are just leaving the bars to head home.
Anyway, I met the rest of the gang shortly thereafter and Brandon and I piled into the bus for a short trip across the bay to the Marin Headlands and the race start. For the first time I can remember, I actually had a normal bowel movement before the race started as opposed to the 3+ I normally endure throughout the course of a 50 mile race. Off to a good start!
At 5:00 we were off into the darkness and it was amazing how fresh I felt and how much fun it was to be running again. I say this because I had done virtually no training over the last 6 weeks since the Deadman Peaks 50 in late October... a slightly longer taper than conventional wisdom recommends, but again, I was primarily doing this race for the experience and to get out of Colorado for a few days. In hindsight, I probably should have run more than a 17 mile long run in preparation for it, but considering I'm alive and well as I write this, I can't complain too much. Ultimately, the main difference I felt was the level of pain I had to endure to get through it. Normally the real meat-and-potatoes fatigue sets in around the 50k mark for me, but this time I was hurting, cramping, and hating life in general around mile 17. It was going to be a classic suffer-fest from there on, so my freshness and excitement were definitely short lived.
By the 9 mile mark we had already covered 2 substantial climbs (you are constantly climbing or descending at this race, with no flat running to speak of) and I was still within sight of the leaders. This falsely had me thinking I was a genius for taking a 6 week hiatus/taper, as I normally can't see the leaders after the first 15 minutes!
I was again shocked at the mile 13+ aid station to discover I was still less than 5 minutes behind the leaders. I still felt pretty awesome at this point but the fact I'd just covered a mountainous half marathon in 1:41 made me nervous. That's freakishly fast for a trail race with lots of climbing and descending and in hindsight was probably a big contributing factor to the bad hamstring cramps that hit me about 4 miles later.
This cramping hit in the middle of the day's longest and highest climb to the top of the beautiful Mt. Tamalpais.
Rain and cold winds were arriving at this point as well, so I was looking forward to grabbing my rain shell and dry socks at the Boot Jack aid station around mile 19. If there is one thing you can count on at 50 and 100 mile events though, it's that you can't count on anything, and this was the case when I discovered my drop bag was MIA. Having endured enough of these sufferfests' by now, I finally realize that getting pissed off and throwing a hissy-fit accomplishes nothing and saps valuable energy and mental strength, so I grabbed some fuel and hit the trail again, rather than having a pity-party with only one guest.
The remaining climb to the turnaround on Mt. Tam was gradual to say the least, but my legs were already toasted, so a lot of walking ensued. This created a new problem in that I needed to run to stay warm in the rain/wind, but really couldn't. With chattering teeth I reached the turnaround and began running again for the long descent through the enchanted forest down to Stinson Beach. On top of warming up from the increased exertion level, I was able to dry out under the thick canopy of Redwood's, but this mental boost was shortlived as I took a tumble and went rolling off the trail. A quick self-diagnostic confirmed that I only had surface wounds, and would unfortunately have to continue. (As twisted as it sounds, I was kind of hoping for a more serious injury that would get me out of running 22 more miles, but again, I just don't have that kind of good fortune very often!)
The remainder of the race was pretty uneventful and included more of the same: Climb, descend, walk, run, drink, GU, salt, aid station, etc. I will say the course was one of the most beautiful I've ever run (with the exception of the Hardrock Hundred), and the ocean views seemed to always sneak up on me right as I needed a pick-me-up. While racing I ran into both Natalee and Brandon at various points and this was another huge boost when I was getting low.
The last real challenge of the day was the slippery mud and complete lack of traction on the hills that resulted from the constant rain. If anything it added to the experience and makes the story and memory that much fonder at this point!
In the end, I finished in 8:48.37 good for 34th place in what was by far the toughest field I've ever gone up against. I have no complaints or regrets about this... if anything, it was awesome enough to make me want to return in 2011 and actually prepare for it next time!
Natalee went on to finish her first marathon that day in 5:42 which is stellar considering the difficult terrain and the fact that she'd never run over 10 miles in training for it!
Brandon finished the 50 miler in 11:36 which was good for a new personal record, and the privilege of buying my ticket to the metal concert we all went to the next night!
After sitting around in the cold and rain until 7:30pm waiting for drop bags to be returned (mine was finally found), we were bussed back to the city. The most adventuresome event of the evening was drinking medicinal alcohol and playing Angry Birds on the iPad.
Sunday was tourist day but Brandon and I looked like locals in the gay community based on how we were both walking!
We hit all the popular spots, including Coit Tower, Lombard St, Fisherman's Wharf, Pier 39, Ghiradelli Square, and finally the DNA Lounge where we had our eardrums destroyed by a bunch of angry foreigners.
I still haven't decided on a firm race schedule for 2011, but the Western States lottery on Saturday wasn't kind to me and this won't be my big event. I'm already registered for the Boston Marathon and the Leadville 100 again, so now I just need to fill in the gaps in between as I kick back and relax for a few weeks. It's time for me to pursue a month's worth of offseason hobbies which now include ice hockey and learning to play guitar!
In honor of an awesome weekend in the Bay area, here's a tune from Geographer, who conveniently are from San Fran and happen to be my current favorite artist... enjoy!