The North Face 50: Pre Race

It’s hard to believe that in a couple of days I will be running The North Face 50.  The fact that I am toeing the line (in the Elite wave no less) and the way all of this happened is pretty nuts.  The North Face 50 has been a race I have watched from afar through the years.  Some how I always knew long distance running would be in my future but just didn’t know when.  The race is kind of the Super Bowl of ultrarunning in the US.  There’s a big prize purse, all the fast dudes show up, and there’s NO holding back.

How did I end up here…. dumb luck, destiny, fate???  Who knows…. Here’s a quick recap….

After Kona last year I spent a lot of time on my bike, started crossfit, and ran a bit.  When the new year came I stopped running and just raced my bike.  I didn’t run a step for about 3 months.  In March my life kind of got turned upside down.  I quit racing altogether, started running again, and just a week back running Slater asked me to pace him in the Zion 100 miler.  Outside of running my life was mess and I was a wreck.  So I (way to quickly) built up my mileage and a month later ran 40+ miles (2 shifts) of the Zion 100 Slater and it was truly life changing.  By far it was the most running I had ever done in a single day.  It was early may and I was still not in good place with my life but the final 18 mile shift of running with Slater in the middle of night, ripping some epic single track made everything bad in my brain shut off.  I realized again how much I love running, not racing, just running.

Needless to say that long weekend in Utah changed me… in a good way.  On the drive back Slater and the crew talked me into jumping the Holocomb Valley 33 miler.  I didn’t tell anybody other than Slater but that following week I also signed up for the North Face 50.  I still don’t have any idea what possessed me to do so.  It was months away, I had never run a standalone marathon, 50k, or any race over 13.1 miles.  I just knew that the running was making things better, goals are good, and it was a race that I knew I wanted to do someday.

I had a bit of setback on all fronts after Zion and I kinda forgot about TNF50.  Being back home things got really rough for me again, but I kept running.  Unfortunately my overzealous return running left a mark and I had shin splint that wouldn’t go away.  I actually though I may have had a stress fracture.  I ran the Holocomb Valley 33 miler and finished 4th overall.  It was fun, but super hard for sure… but I was hooked.  However my shin was getting worse.  I cut my running WAY back ~20 miles/week.  Then in mid July I jumped into the Lake Stevens 70.3 in Washington.  It was just for fun and I had fun, but the 13.1 run was maybe the worse run of my life in any race, definitely the slowest.  It was time for a break…. from everything.

So I stopped running again after Lake Stevens to let my shin heal.   Not a big deal.  I wasn’t worried about it because at this point The North Face 50 wasn’t even really on my radar or any other races for that matter.  It was still over 4 months away and I still really didn’t even think I would do it.  I was more concerned with just getting my life back together.    I was more focused on just making it through the days as it was clear that my life was changing every way.

After 2.5 of weeks of no running I woke up one morning and noticed I didn’t have any pain or any sensation in my shin going down the stairs, which hadn’t been the case for months.  So in early August I eased back into running over the next couple of weeks and on the 21st I started 30 days of running #30in30.  Those 30 days changed me in many ways.  I still wasn’t sure what I was going to do with my running, but looking back now this was the turning point for everything I had going on in my life and also when I started to become a runner again.  During that 30 days I unexpectedly won Endure the Bear 50k and for the first time actually considered toeing the line at The North Face 50.

Over the next couple of months I kind of put myself through a running boot camp.  In the 2 months leading up to this coming weekend I have done the following:

Those are just some of the races and “big” runs.  There was also a lot of other good running, riding, and yoga mixed in.  My body is feeling really good right now and I think I’ll be toeing the line pretty fresh.  This is all very new to me but to stay I’m excited about what the future with bring, both in and out of running, would be an understatement.  I am finding being hopeful is a pretty powerful thing and there’s not much I think I can’t do right now.  Yasi posted a quote the other day that pretty much sums it up:
 “One of the happiest moments ever is when you feel the courage to let go of what you can’t change.”
So after all the big running and some good results I think I’m ready…. but Saturday will tell.  A couple of weeks ago I did get transferred to the elite wave, which may be a bit bold (read: STUPID).  My goal for the race?  I’m going for it.   I requested a move to the elite wave after I saw that the elite wave goes off 3 minutes before the rest of the pack.   I want to put my hand in the fire.  I have NOTHING to lose and I’m not scared… at all.   I am going to jump in the lead/chase pack and hang on for dear life and for as long as I can.  I am pretty sure there will come a time when I totally explode but if/when that happens I’ll laugh and be totally content with having given it a go. Worst case scenario I think is I have to walk a mile or two, regroup, and then finish my first 50 miler.  There will still be cold beer at the finish line!  I just want to see how long I can hang and what I need to do to get to that next level. I know this may not be the smartest approach to running my first 50 miler but I want to see and feel what it takes to race with the best in the sport.  I am well aware this could lead to a blow up of epic proportions that i have never experienced before, but I am ready and willing to pay that price.   I may be way out my of league (and mind) but I want to see if I can do it.  I like the ultra thing because along with being a good runner you have to have a considerable amount physical and mental toughness.  I may not be as good a runner as any of these guys but I will put my toughness up there with any of theirs, especially after what I have been through this year.  My tolerance for suffering is at an all time high!  So the TNF50 will be a total learning experience for me and I’m kinda tripping out that I will be running 50 miles on Saturday…
I have received a lot of very encouraging emails, texts, and messages this week and I just wanted to say thanks! It feels good to know that I have so many good people in my corner supporting me and willing to help.  I have been filled with motivation this week.  It’s hard to remember a time when I have been this stoked to race and also when I have felt this good.  I have a clear head and feel very fresh.  It’s such a different feeling than when I was racing Ironman last year.  I don’t think I ever went into any of those races last year completely fresh and without any residual fatigue.  I feel completely the opposite now.  I feel under cooked and bouncing off the walls.!
A couple of weeks ago Stages & Stereos released a new EP and the title track, “Anchorless”, has been running constantly through my mind.  The lyrics speak clearly to where my mind is right now…
‎”i won’t be a ghost of a man who’s ashamed of his death, push the pace, watch the clock tick away, we progress, shake it off, carry on!”

Here’s some pre race commentary.  It’s kinda nuts to see my name on that list.
Here’s a video of last years race:

Lastly… the weather could be pretty gnarly.  They are calling for nasty storm to roll into town start Wednesday and raining through the weekend.  From what I have been told the trails up there get pretty nasty with it rains.  So if running 50 miles wasn’t gnarly enough the weather will add another level of difficulty.  Bring it on… I think the tougher the day is the better and the better chance I’ll have to find that “place” I’m looking for.
 I guess that’s it. My next post will be on the other side of  TNF50.  I am no idea what will happen but I really can’t wait to race on Saturday.


  12 comments for “The North Face 50: Pre Race

  1. November 28, 2012 at 7:17 am

    I’m really excited to see how it all unfolds for The North Face 50. Your running amazes me! Also love the quote that you put up.
    That’s one of my favorite quotes ever and it speaks volumes to me every time I read it. I constantly have to remind myself, especially now as well, that as hard as it is, it takes courage to overcome in order to make things better in the end. Consistently trying to change things that have proven time and time again to not be willing to change is essentially the definition of insanity. I guess I’m still learning that until I build up enough courage.
    Go with speed.

  2. November 28, 2012 at 8:00 am

    The weather will up the mental toughness factor. Fight the power.

  3. November 28, 2012 at 8:05 am

    Have a great race James. Can’t wait to see how it goes for you.

  4. Stephanie
    November 28, 2012 at 9:19 am

    Been following your blog for a long time now, and I just wanted to say good luck this weekend!! Super exciting! You’re awesome, and I can’t wait to see how the race plays out!

  5. Michele Giannone
    November 28, 2012 at 11:23 am

    Go get ’em coach! absolute inspiration! #dreamcrusher

  6. November 28, 2012 at 12:11 pm

    Man I’m so stoked to see what happens Saturday. Regardless of the outcome I sense something epic coming and it’s as exciting for everyone following along as it is for you.

    Go get it, find the pain, embrace it and cruise!

  7. November 28, 2012 at 3:45 pm

    Love it. Live it.

    Always fun to watch your journey J-dub. Go get it!

  8. November 28, 2012 at 8:57 pm

    You can’t control what you you get out, only what you put in. Go do work. Good luck Walsh.

  9. November 29, 2012 at 8:06 am

    Have fun out there James!

  10. Ali
    November 29, 2012 at 9:37 am

    Inspirating! I love to read all your runnings! Enjoy this weekend to the fullest! I’m rooting for you and i have no doubt your natural running skills will soar you to a top finish! Can’t wait to read all about it! And if it’s doesn’t storm I’ll be there rooting everyone on! Kick ass!!
    Ps.. Don’t forget, Russian River Brewery is just 30mins North ;)

  11. November 29, 2012 at 11:56 am

    “So if running 50 miles wasn’t gnarly enough the weather will add another level of difficulty.” … you mean, add another level of EXPERIENCE and MAKING MEMORIES!!!! It’s going to be a great day my friend – I think your mentality going into this thing will pay dividends! Enjoy it my friend!

  12. November 30, 2012 at 1:49 pm

    I LOVE the approach! More so that it is your first 50miler. Because you know, you cannot get experience if you just jog it.
    Good luck and have fun!

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