Saturday, December 05, 2015
The North Face Endurance Challenge: Gore-Tex 50 Mile Championship
37th Overall 7:32:16
Checking out the course:
Since this is the first ultra-trail race outside of Texas for me and in a hillier part of the country I allowed some time to do some course planning with my crew. My support team happens to be my wife Stefanie, Michael Young, and his wife Stephanie. Michael and I both wanted to see the aid stations that the support crews are allowed to be at (8.7 miles, 27.7 miles, 44 miles) to assist runners during the race. We brought the wives along to see the beautiful pacific coast and hopefully receive good feedback (never happened) on our driving ability through the never ending turns up and down the mountains (I call these hills, mountains). Once we figured out where exactly the aid stations were located Michael and I went for an easy run on the hillier part of the course at those areas. Since I don’t have hills like this to train on and most of my vertical training was on a treadmill, it was very important for me to actually run up some of the trails to get a better feel for effort required and mentally prepare for the day ahead. It was good to be on the course at pretty much the same time of the day that I would be out there during the race so I could determine if I needed any changes to my running attire as this is just a little over half way through the race. We went over a few logistics and pretty much had a plan for me getting into and out of this aid station quickly with everything I may need. The other aid station that the crew team is allowed is at Tennessee Valley. This happens to be the first and last aid stations for crewing. Coming into this aid station at miles 8.7 is going to be quick but also be dark since it will still be 6 a.m. We figured out where our exchange point would be and then ran most of the last climb of the course. It was important to see what I would be facing for the last hill so I could mentally prepare myself. Knowing the splits of elite runners from last year (thanks to Strava), helped me have a better gauge for the level of effort needed to run this hill. The last portion of the course we checked out was the start/finish area. It would have been stressful waiting until the morning of the race figuring out where to go. We worked out the potential logistical challenges with race morning parking and adjusted our wake up time as well as travel arrangements to the race.
I didn’t feel like I had the greatest night sleep but who does when the alarm is set for 3 a.m. My body was still on central time so it didn’t feel that early. I had my stuff ready to go so I got dressed, made some coffee, and we met Michael and Stephanie in the lobby. It was nice they were staying at the same hotel as he generously offered to drive us to the race. It was one less thing to worry about and I was able to relax and not have to think about a whole lot other than eat a little food. We were only a 20 minute drive from the park and I don’t particularly care to show up to a race this early, but we didn’t want to risk not being able to park close or take a chance with slow traffic entering the park. Once we arrived I did my normal pre-race rituals, had a little warm-up stroll, and drank a BeetElite Neo Shot. As I was sitting around waiting and studying the course map and elevation chart I decided to trace a copy of the elevation chart on my left arm, identifying miles for the peaks of the climbs. I’ve seen guys before with temporary tattoos on their arm which was basically what I was trying to do. It was nice to have so I wouldn’t have to guess where the hills were or how many there were in case I got confused or forgot.
Start – Tennessee Valley Aid Station (mi 8.7)
It was time to line up at the starting line and I hung off to the side talking to Michael while everyone came into the Elite coral. It was cool seeing some of the biggest names in the sport at the front and the comradery these guys shared. My plan for the day was to let the lead pack of runners go off the front and stay within myself for the majority of the race. Somewhere towards 35-40 miles I would push the pace and hopefully race hard until the end. The ideal scenario would be to catch and pass some of the front pack that went out too hard. I would need a perfectly executed race to attain my goal of sub-7 hours.
I started exactly as I had planned which was an easy effort as I just sat at the back of the pack of about 50 runners. The first mile is a slight downhill (6:37 pace) and then begins the first climb of the day. It wasn’t that steep and seemed to be a runnable hill. I was probably the first to walk but that was what I had prepared to do. If I didn’t feel like the effort was sustainable for 50 miles then I would adjust my pace to whatever it needed to be. I had enough power-hiking experience from my training that I could do so at a decent pace and could conserve more energy if I alternated power-hiking and running. The main group got ahead of me early, but I was still with a good number of guys. Once we reached the top of the hill we really started to cruise going down. It was already 4 miles and time to take a gel. I had two gels in my handheld bottle pouch and as I unzipped and went to pull one out I tripped on a rock and was on the ground before I knew it. My hands made contact first with the ground but my chest took a lot of the impact as well. I checked to make sure my head lamp was still on my head and immediately got back up and kept going. I was more embarrassed about the situation because I couldn’t believe I made a mistake this early on. I was carrying plenty of gels on my waist and could have easily grabbed one of those, but lesson learned. I felt a little discomfort on my left big toe which is what made contact with the rock, and my palms were a bit sore. Anyways we made it to the bottom (5:45 pace) and started the second climb. I did the same as the first hill and power-hiked with portions of easy running. This is where the main pack got out of sight and only one or two of us were together. The pace of these guys running wasn’t much faster than me walking and I was happy saving energy. We again cruised downhill (6:25 pace) for a couple miles into Tennessee Valley which is the first aid station with crew support. That seemed to go flawless and I was in and out of there with a new bottle and more gels. Average pace 7:18/mile for first nine miles.
Tennessee Valley- Stinson Beach (mi 27.7)
About a half mile after this I missed one of the turns and went right by a “wrong way” sign. Fortunately the guy behind me was close and got my attention otherwise it would have been a disaster. We introduced ourselves and started running together. There were a few guys about 100 yards further ahead so I picked up the pace to bridge the gap to make it a little easier running just behind them and not having to rely on course markings. There was a short steep climb at mile 11 and when I got to the top I felt a drop in energy and was trying to figure out what was happening. I was shocked that I was feeling this way and decided to take a gel with caffeine. It was definitely a sign of needing some fuel and immediately went away. We were able to catch the group ahead surprisingly on a more technical downhill trail. We stayed together and it was Mike Wardian (team Hoka) and a couple others. We began a long 5-6 miles climb to Cardiac (~1800’ vertical). Since I had embraced myself for this I actually enjoyed the climbing and the scenery as the sun was rising. It was a pleasant mix of switch back, single track trails, some rolling trails, and long steady sections. These guys were obviously stronger climbers than me, but I stayed focused and kept them within reach.
We made it to the out and back section (miles 21-25) and started seeing the lead runners (~25-30 minutes ahead) make their way back. It was a tight trail for two way traffic but we cleared the path and let them blaze on by. As we started to come back on the same trail there were quite a few more people to share the trail with which was nerve racking. This was a very uncomfortable section for me as I had to run on the edge of the trail and the wind would occasionally blow hard enough that I would lose my balance quite a few times. After a few guys passed me (and female leaders) I noticed they were leaning more into the wind so I tried that and it seemed to work. They were taking advantage of the downhill and running more aggressive than I was. I just couldn’t find my rhythm. After the two-way trail began a quick descend into Stinson Beach. At first I felt like I could run faster again, but the challenge was that this was a wetter section of the course with a lot switch backs going down. I took some of the early turns too fast and had a couple nasty falls, banging up my legs and hands trying to keep my body from hitting to hard. I intentionally slowed it down again and just ran it safely until the bottom. At Stinson Beach aid station which is the next spot for crew support, I ditched the arm sleeves, head lamp, changed shirts, and picked up a new bottle with Tailwind and more gels. I had been taking gels every 3-4 miles as needed and was feeling spot on with nutrition and hydration. 8:41/mile average pace for last 17 miles
Stinson Beach – Tennessee Valley (mi 44)
As you exit the aid station onto Dipsea Trail you begin climbing what seemed like an endless number of steps. There are some parts of the trail to the side that are runnable, but for the most part the steps were unavoidable. I dealt with it the best I could but it was a challenging section. Once off the steps there was still another 1200’ of climbing. My quads were on fire so for me power-hiking was the better option. I would walk up the hills as fast as I could until my hamstrings would burn for a while and then jog a little to give them a break. My pace was much slower (11-15 min pace) than I had anticipated but there was nothing I could do without blowing up. I knew what others ran last year in sloppier conditions so it was a little demoralizing not being able to get up this climb quicker. When you think you are at the top, you make a turn and realize you are only half way there. It was the toughest part of the day for me and I really struggled getting back up Cardiac. One consequence of walking so much was that my upper body got stiff and I was feeling a lot more of the pain from the earlier falls. It was more noticeable on the flat and downhill sections when I started to run. I tried my best to keep my mind off of the discomfort and focus on moving.
Once at the top we were merging with the 50k runners and the trails were getting more congested. My legs had not bounced back and I found myself in a funky spell of being comfortable with the pace of others and unable to increase the effort. I didn’t pick it up or attempt to pass anyone for a few miles as I was trying to get my head back into it. My average pace for miles 28 -36 was 12:10/mile.
My race plan for the last 10-15 miles was to increase the effort and pick up the pace. I had head phones with me that I planned to wear during this last part so I could crank up the volume to numb the pain and get into a fast rhythm. I had no idea how it would go but I gave it a try anyways. My first mile was 8 flat and next mile was 7:44. I had a great turnover and a lot of frustration to burn so it made for a more enjoyable experience. I kept up the effort and had a couple more climbs before getting to the next aid station with crew support. My attitude changed completely and I ran more determined than I had all day. I was beginning to catch guys ahead of me and on the uphill sections I alternated between power-hiking and running with more emphasis on getting up it the quickest. We had a quick descent into Tennessee Valley and I had another good exchange with Michael to get a new bottle.
Tennessee Valley – Finish
There is one last climb that is 1.75 miles with 800’ of vertical. If I was going to pass anyone it was going to probably be on this climb as the last few miles is pretty much downhill. I think I went by a couple guys in the aid station and at least two more on the climb. I was willing to hurt a little more as it was the last climb and I was feeling much more confident at this point. I tried to put as much distance on these guys before the top to make sure they weren’t going to be close for the chase into the finish. The last few miles went by fast as I was able to cruise at a seven flat and knew it was about over. Average pace for last 14 miles was 9:04.
Overall time: 7:32:16
Check out TNFEC 50 mile race data on Strava
I’m disappointed I wasn’t able to pull off a spectacular race and go sub 7 hours, but I think I ran an overall smart race and had the right intentions. There were a few of elites I would have loved to beat, but I did make it in before a couple strong runners. This is an extremely tough course if you don’t live in an area with hills to train. Pretty much everyone in the top 50 is from an area with plenty of elevation so they definitely had the advantage. Considering all my vertical training was done on a treadmill at 12% I’m in good spirits with my performance. The low point between miles 28-36 sucked, but honestly it wasn’t worth the risk for me to push harder as I wanted to finish. I will be able to recover much sooner and will be a lot stronger for my upcoming race schedule as I attempt to get a Western States 100 golden ticket. I know what I need to do and came away with plenty of takeaways. I will be back next year much stronger and ready to fight and make others hurt just as much as I plan to.
Special thanks to Michael Young for coming out on his time to support me and make my weekend and race day a success. It was great having the extra support and I’m sure Stefanie appreciated not having to drive to the aid stations. Michael is actually the first person to introduce me to Hoka’s and he also ran in the same race when I ran my first ultra-trail race.
I also have to thank my coach Ian Sharman for getting me fit for this race. There was a purpose for every workout and I definitely learned a great deal in the short time he has been coaching me. I came into the weekend fit and prepared to face the challenges I was going to have to deal with.
Thanks to Sterling Ridge Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine for providing me with unlimited use of their Anti-Gravity treadmill so I could do my recovery runs. Early on in my training I definitely benefited from having less impact on my legs during recovery days. I was able to get fitter quicker and also push hard on my more demanding workouts. As an Ironman athlete himself, Keith understands what endurance athletes go through and he cares for the athletes in our community.
Klean Athlete is another sponsor that has done wonders to my overall health and performance. They are committed to keeping all athletes clean from banned and unsafe substances. I have seen noticeable changes in my health and body from being committed to taking their supplements on a regular basis. It seems like there are more and more doping scandals making the news recently. There was actually some controversy before our race with allowing an athlete, who has failed a drug test in 2009, to compete in the elite wave. I like that more attention is being brought to this matter, but we have to continue to make it a topic if we want to see less of it in the future. Without a zero tolerance policy towards PED’s certain athletes will continue to cheat. If you have any races in 2016 and want to do your best I would encourage you to check out Klean Athlete’s website and learn more. If you need a recommendation on what to take send me a private message and I will be more than happy to help.
The North Face Endurance Challenge is a spectacular race and they could not have picked a better place to have a championship event. I have fallen in love with this part of the country and wish I had the opportunity to spend more time here. The views were amazing and weather was awesome! I met some great people from around the area involved with the running community and they were wonderful and very welcoming which is another reason why I will be back.
Shoes: Hoka One One Stinson ATR Trail
Shorts: Salamon S-Lab Exo Twinskin
Watch: Garmin Forerunner 220
Handheld Bottle: Ultimate Direction
Nutrition: Power Gels and Huma Energy Gels. Tailwind Endurance Fuel for extra calories
Prerace Drink: Beet Elite Neo Shot
Postrace Recovery: Klean Athlete Recovery