The North Face 50: Race Report

I’m still trying to wrap my head around everything happened up in the Marin headlands this past Saturday.  It was definitely an experience I won’t soon forget.  I’m not sure if  have ever learned more from a single race than I did in The North Face 50.

I got in to town Thursday night to stay with my good friends Jordan and Rich.  To say they took care of me would be understatement.  I had everything I could have ever wanted pre and post race.  This made for a very mellow day before the race and I was totally relaxed and my body was feeling great.  It pretty much rained from the time I got in Thursday evening until the time I left Sunday afternoon.  All the rain forced a race course change that was announced Friday morning.  The State parks were, for good reason, worried about the erosion and toll a 1,000+ runners would have on the course.  The people at North Face that put on the race did a terrific job of working under the gun.  I saw and heard some people complaining that we would have to run 2 loops and the course would be just short of 50 miles but at least we got to run.  All the races (5k, 10k, & 13.1) on Sunday were cancelled.  I’m grateful I got to toe the line on Saturday.

On Friday, after a monster sleep, Jordan drove me down to the North Face store to check in and then we went to check where the race would start and finish at Fort Barry.  The rain was coming down pretty good as we drove out to the beach.  It reminded me of the end of point break and “50 year storm” scene.  It was beautiful out there and just got me more stoked to race in the gnarly conditions.  If there is one thing I have learned in my years of racing is that you can’t get stressed out over the racing conditions.  Whether it’s rain, heat, wind, or snow (Xterra Nationals in ’07 & ’08) everybody is dealing with the same thing.  There is no reason letting that kind of stuff get to you and taking your mind off the actual race.  To me it just added to the race… more memories and more suffering.

Saturday morning I was up early and headed up to the headlands for the 5am start.  Everything went very smoothly. I got to the parking lot, got on the shuttle, and soon enough was checking my gear.  I met up with Matt who was going to be crewing for me.  He hung out at the Tennessee Valley aid station in the gnarly weather where I passed 4 times during the race.  I’m very thankful for him being out there and it was good to see a familiar face the last 2 times through (mile 33 & 44) when I was a bit in the box.  With the course change we would now be running two 23.5 mile loops which I thought would help me out mentally but it actually cracked me a bit.  We ended up doing one 3 mile descent 4 times… again… no complaints I was just stoked to be racing.

The race:
So I jumped right on the starting line with the “real” runners. not scared (not smart). We rolled out in the dark and rain and the pace was very manageable. About a mile in sage canaday, adam campbell, and another dude started pulling away. I just sat near the front of the chase pack and pace was easy.   Then we started the first climb and again the pace was good.  Soon enough I found myself leading the chase pack and we were bridging up to the leaders a bit.  Not smart James! I mean i was leading some of the best runners in the game. So I slowed down and just jumped into the pack.

I was with the lead group and then we started a long descent. It was raining, dark, and muddy and we were ripping. I was staying right there. so much fun. I was on the feet of  two salomon dudes (the eventual first and second place guys… yeah… that’s how smart I am!)  feet and we were flying ~5min pace. I was pretty shocked at how easy it was for me to hang with them. We got away the rest of the group and there were now about 10 of us. We got back on the flat and i was, again, shocked at how easy the pace seemed.  We were Just rolling.  Then another gnarly, long steep climb. this one was a bit tougher but i just put my head down and stayed on their feet.

Then we rolled through the 8.9 mile aid station in an hour flat and had already climbed more than 1500ft.  So the pace was pretty hot for a 50 miler!! no worries.  I just stayed with them…  more flat and then another REALLY long, steep fireroad climb. I dug a little on the this one to stay with the group. we got to the peak and it was raining sideways and foggy. My headlamp was good but i couldn’t see more than a couple feet in front of me with all the moisture…. the group got away from me here.  The descent down to muir beach was technical, rocky, steep, and slippery. I didn’t want to risk my race with a broken ankle or face.

At the bottom of the descent I was caught and passed by Dave Mackey (I want to thank Dave for shoe advice leading up to the race. He suggested I run in the Hoka Stinson EVO’s and I did… and the worked great) and Rickey Gates and I ran just behind them back up the climb. This is what made me start to realize I went out WAY too fast.  Oh well…. We were at mile 12-13 and I had slowed quite a bit due to the conditions and now  some awesome, experienced, super fast guys were just now catching me. ignorance is bliss…

After the climb we continued to roll down the steep fireroad and I was still feeling good and rolling along. around my 14-15 i was caught by a couple more dudes and we were running the same pace up the steep climb back up. Then I was with Hal Koerner as we descended back to the Tennessee Valley aid station at mile 17.7. I was still feeling good but it seemed like my top end wasn’t there any more and I hadn’t been eating nearly enough.

After the aid station it was a 3 mile climb before a ~3 mile descent.  At the top of the climb at mile 20 I was really starting to feel it and gave up trying to keep up with the group I was with and just tried to regroup. I did start to come back on the descent and finished the first lap feeling ok in right around 3 hours.

I totally came un glued during the second lap. the first ~5mile loop was ok but at mile 32 climbing back up I cracked! haha… i was seriously laughing out loud. KABOOM! I started walking some of the super steep stuff and just trying to eat, but again couldn’t really stomach anything. I wasn’t sick or anything but everything I put in my mouth had a tough time going down. So at the aid stations I just started drinking coke/mtn dew and eating chips and that totally worked. my stomach got better and so did my energy… but I was still blown.

Around mile 35 I just wanted to finished and just kept moving on. I did a lot of power hiking on the climbs and rolled the descents as best as I could. I wasn’t in a bad state of my mind at all. I was seriously stoked just to be out there running further than I have had, in the gnarly conditions, and laughing at my ingorance for going out with that group!

I was really stoked to finish and my body was pretty intact. I mean my quads were a bit shot but that’s it.   No pains, niggles, or anything else. I am also super stoked with the condition of my feet.  I raced in one pair of  Pro Compression low cut socks and my feet were soaked and muddy from the start.  I didn’t have a single blister or hot spot all day!  I had already had a pretty big fire burning inside when it comes to running and pushing myself ot the limit and this race was like pouring gasoline on that fire! I have NEVER really blown up like that. Motivating to me….. that race, the distance kicked my ass… and I want a rematch!

Reading back over my previous post heading in this race I pretty much predicted what would happen.  I hope none of that came off arrogant or cocky.  I definitely wasn’t underestimating the distance or over estimating my ability.  I did what I wanted to do.  I wanted to run with the top guys and figure things out as I went.  I KNOW I went out way to hard and fast and should have been patient.  I have no doubt that if I would have raced smarter I would have finished much sooner.  However, I don’t think I really would have “known” what it was like to blow up like I did and that will serve as a valuable lesson that I won’t soon forget.  It will make me a better racer in future races.  I am just getting started with this ultra stuff.  I loved the 50 mile distance.  So much racing going on and such a good feeling to cross that line regardless of the finishing time.   I have a lot to learn about training, pacing , and nutrition for this distance and anything longer.  I feel I can kind of “fake” a 50k but racing like a jackal off the front with no fear isn’t necessarily the smartest way to go about racing 50 miles!  With all that being said I don’t have a single regret for the way I raced on Saturday.  It WILL pay off the next time I race and probably every race after that.

My friend sent me a rad quote after I told him about the race over beers Sunday night.  It definitely sums why I do the things I do and  in the manner I do them… thanks Brad.

“It had long since come to my attention that people of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things.”

-Leonardo da Vinci

Post race was a good time too. We headed out to Toronado for some of Norcal’s finest.  Nothing like some post race Pliny!

Then Sunday morning hit Trouble Coffee for a killer breakfast.  Best toast I’ve ever had!

That’s if for now and am in full on recovery mode… and then it’s time to start getting ready for 2013.

4 thoughts on “The North Face 50: Race Report

  1. Nuthin’ ventured, nuthin gained. You described this is how you were going to go after it and be happy with the result, whatever the outcome. Way to be true to yourself even when you went KABOOM.

  2. Pingback: 2013 is underway! | JAMES WALSH | JamesWalshRacing.com

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