The North Face 50 Mile Championships Race Report

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wow… 50 milers are hard. I started this post the sunday morning after the race at 6:45 am after one of the worst nights of sleep I’ve had in a long time. Every part of my body ached… but in a very satisfying way.

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we had rain in socal the week of the race and ruby helped me get ready for the muddy conditions.

Our trip up north was rad. Maggie and I rented a little studio in Mill Valley and had a lot of fun checking out some killer restaurants and cafes. We also got to hang out with my good friend Brad quite a bit and meet his girlfriend. Traveling just to race doesn’t have much interest to me these days. I want to go places that are fun and interesting and more than anything just make it more of a vacation for us than just about the race.

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pre race jog with my favorite person in the world

As for the race… we couldn’t have been luckier with the conditions. yeah the trails were wet and there was quite a bit of mud but we did not get any rain. It rained on an off from the time we got of the plane on thursday night until hours before the race but we started the race under clear skies and blazing full moon.

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my race was average but definitely indicative of where I am right now in regards to running/racing 50 miles. I wish I could say I stuck to my plan but I didn’t. I felt good and rested on the start line but probably went out a bit too hard. Shocker I know. With the minor course changes the packs stayed together longer than usual during the first 11 miles. I was just having a good time chatting with Vargo and Dylan and never felt like I was pushing. For the most part I was in the second pack and between the first and second pack there must have been at least 30+ dudes together if not more.

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After a bit of confusion after the second starting loop (mile 11) when a good chunk of the front runners missed the turn I found myself in the lead group heading up the Miwok climb. Not where I should or wanted to be. So I stopped to go to the bathroom and let them go. I continued up the climb and then descended to the Tennessee Valley aid station (mile 14). I saw Maggie, got a new bottle, and was on my way. I was definitely a bit of ahead of where I should have been… or more importantly wanted to be. For the next couple of miles I ran with Vargo and then we descended to the Muir Beach aid station (mile 18). I was still feeling good and staying on top of my nutrition.

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The course is brutal.. but so beautiful

At mile 19 we started the climb up to Cardiac and I had guys all around me… just ahead and behind. I couldn’t get my legs to go up the muddy switchbacks. It felt like I was stuck in 2nd gear. My energy was good, my head was good, but my legs wouldn’t go. I slogged along for a bit, put down more gel, and got passed by a few guys. I continued to feel like crap from the Cardiac aid station (mile 23.2) all the way to the Mckennan Gulch aid station (mile 28.1). I just didn’t have any power during the 9 miles of climbing. Pretty much the worst part of the race to hit a low spot. It could very well have been because I went out too hard and I’ll be absolutely honest I was getting a bit worried as I was only half way through the race and was having a bit of a pity party.

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I was thinking about how nice it would be to drop at mile 33 where I would see maggie next and just chalk it up to not being my day… but then I got my head on straight. I was talking with Maggie right before the start of the race about how stoked I was just be healthy and fit again. It’s been a long road since getting hit by a car on memorial day weekend of last year. A lot of ups and downs and for the first time this fall I’ve finally felt like I’m back to where I was before then. So I rallied and was going to get this thing done no matter what. Going through those low spots is all part of running ultras and that was reinforced after watching Sage Canaday’s post race interview and reading what Rob Krar posted on Facebook. When the going gets tough even the best contemplate pulling the plug. You just gotta get through that low spot and get to work.

Just after the mile 28 aid station I passed a struggling Rob Krar. We shared a couple words and I continued to roll. Once back on the Matt Davis trail my legs and body started to come around and I was rolling all the way down to the Stinson Beach aid station (33.1). I passed a couple of guys on the way down and got to see Maggie again. I climbed well out of Stinson beach and that climb was one of my favorite parts of the course. I caught a couple more guys and but was also passed by a charging Rob Krar… damn can that dude power hike. I topped out at the climb and rolled down to the Cardiac aid station (mile 35.8). I was feeling better now then I was when I rolled through there at mile 23.

Next was a long, super muddy descent back down to Muir Beach. I still had good legs and my spirits were high as I was getting a lot of encouragement from all the 50k runners running in the opposite direction. I got to the Muir Beach aid station at mile 41 and slammed some coke and water. Then it was time for about a 1000ft climb out of Muir Beach on some super steep fireroads. I ran and power hiked my way up the climb. I was feeling pretty good and was stoked that i felt better from mile 30-40 than I did from 20-30.

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working hard or hardly working? power hike/jog up from Muir beach trying to rid myself of a stabbing side stitch.

Nearing the half way point on the climb I started to get a gnarly side stitch and could not get it to go away. It slowed me down a bit on the descents between the climbs but going up was fine. I got to the top of the climb and did my best to roll the descent while i felt like was getting stabbed in the gut. I really couldn’t believe that my legs/quads were fine and the only thing holding my from going full blast on the descent was a side stitch.  A mile before I got back to the Tennessee Valley Aid station (mile 45.1) the side stitch finally eased up. In trying to get it to away I had stopped eating and drinking which I new would cause some issues the last 5 miles…. and it did… a slow sufferfest to the finish.

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thankfully… the final turn off the trail for the finish line

I was shocked and stoked to see Maggie and Brad at the Tennessee Valley aid (mile 45). Maggie was originally going to just head to the finish after Stinson Beach. I walked through aid with her and she gave me a pep talk and then it was time for the last climb of the day. I ran 99% of it, not fast, but I got it done and then rolled into the finish in 7:11… very stoked to be done. With the course changes the race was actually 51 miles with 9500 ft of climbing. In 2012 when I ran this race the course was shortened to 46 miles and I also ran 7:11. I’d say running the same time with 5 more miles is definitely a bit of an improvement.

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done.

I was feeling pretty wrecked post race. It’s weird. this fall the first 30 minutes after my races have been very rough for me… worse than i can ever remember. not sure what’s different but i have been in a world of hurt whether it’s been a good race or bad. Maggie would probably have a lot more to say about it as she’s the one that’s had to put up and deal with me as I swear I’m never going to race again!

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earned ’em.

I am very happy with my race out there on Saturday. It’s wasn’t great but it wasn’t horrible. It could have been better, but it could have been a lot worse. I know I have more in me when it comes to racing 50 miles. I honestly think I can go ~6:45 on that course and I’ll definitely be back to give that a shot.

This was only my third 50 miler and it’s apparent I still have a lot to learn… from pacing, nutrition, and training. I think I have 50k’s dialed. I can race them well with the amount of miles I run, i know how hard I can go, and eating is pretty simple for a 3.5-4 hour race. 50 milers are going to take a bit more work. Hopefully I’ll be back there next year for another crack at it and with Maggie racing as well.. I really love the race and the course and everybody that shows up. It’s a huge running party! It’s awesome to be able to race against the top guys and girls and see where you stack up.

I knew heading into North Face that I needed to up my miles a bit and I did… but I think it was too little, too late. My mileage was kind of all over the place the 2 months leading up to Saturday. From 30 miles per week recovering from the Whoo’s in El Morro 50k, 74 miles the week of the Lake Hodges 50k, and then a couple of weeks in the 60’s. I probably averaged just over 50 mile per week (53 miles to be exact). I really think I need a solid chunk of training where I am getting in 65-75 miles a week if I am going be able to “race” 50 miles. My leggs are as strong as they’ve ever been but I need to harden them up and I believe more miles is the only way to do that. The challenge for me is running those kinds of miles and not getting injured. I think I’ve done a really good job of being conservative, and holding back my running volume since coming back from a stress fracture in June. I know I’ve built a good base and I’m confident I can build upon that. The phrase “training to train” comes to mind.  I don’t really have any ultra’s on the calendar any time soon. so after some recovery I am going to “train to train” and hopefully, smartly get my body to the point that I can handle more mileage.

What’s next? That’s a very good question. I have a couple of options and I’m not sure which one I want to take yet. I am hoping to figure things out this week while letting body recover from the thrashing it took on Saturday.

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the new normal happy hour

crucial race info:

pre race meal: pizza at tamalpie

pre race beer: lagunitas IPA

pre race breakfast: Rise protein bar and a handful of woats. 1 gel 15 minutes before start.

immediately post race: 16oz can of coke delivered by my beautiful future wife. she always knows what i need.

post race meal: burger with joule bacon and fries at bel campo meat co. with Maggie, Brad, and Claire. Then an ice cream cone on the way home.

post race beers: Drakes 1500 pale ale, Marin Brewing Co. 3 Flowers IPA, Headlands Brewing DIPA

 

  5 comments for “The North Face 50 Mile Championships Race Report

  1. December 10, 2014 at 8:29 am

    Well done James! Looked like a beautiful course. I’ve done some biking up there on a visit to the states in 2003. Rode Seattle to San Francisco. Keep it up! What’s next? Ross.

  2. December 10, 2014 at 9:34 am

    Awesome job James! I love the pre-race beer and the post race beers recap. Keep up the killer work.

  3. December 10, 2014 at 11:47 am

    Great performance, this was probably the most competitive 50 miler of the year..

  4. December 10, 2014 at 1:24 pm

    Training at altitude will get you that 6:45. Of course, it won’t matter because you are gonna be a daddy.

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