(photo by Brett Rivers)
It normally doesn't take me this long to write up a race report. But this hasn't been a "normal" week. In between finishing The North Face Endurance Challenge 50 mile race last Saturday afternoon and getting home last night, I slept in six different beds in five different cities in three different states. And I was busy the entire time. So, regardless of any desire to write this report, I would have struggled to find the time. And frankly, some mixed emotions about the race left me unsure about what I'd write. But once I got home last night I realized I had to had to get this done...
When the plan is to run 50 miles, sometimes none of that matters.
I finished my pre-race-thoughts blog post with that sentence after discussing why I felt good going into the race. And last Saturday during the race, none of it mattered.
In the weeks leading up to the race I decided that my "A" goal was sub-9:00. My "B" goal was to beat my 9:33 from the 2009 race and my "C" goal, well, I guess it would have been sub-10 or sub-10:30, but I hoped it didn't get there. I finished the race in 9:17:39, placing 95th overall. So I hit my "B" goal and I know I have a lot to be proud of. My issue with the race is that I didn't run the race that I wanted to or am capable of and it hurt a lot more than I think it should have. And that burns. Without further rambling, here's the story:
Lukas, Tyler, Jason, Erin and I flew up to San Francisco Friday morning. We drove straight into the city to pick up our race packets at the North Face store. Packet pick-up was smooth, efficient and easy-peasy. Standing in line right behind us was Anna Frost who won the 50 miler last year. Lukas and I talked to her for a few minutes. She was super cool and friendly. We talked about her preparation for the race and she seemed calm and psyched to race. (Her prep definitely worked out for her again this year - she crushed the race, winning the women's race again with a time of 6:56:07, which was good enough for 12th overall!) One thing I love about ultras – there's very little pretension among the elites and they are grouped in right with the rest of us. Almost all the elites that I have met have been approachable and psyched to chat. (As a side note, I met Krissy Moehl this weekend and got to talk to her for a little bit and she was just as cool. Of course I was psyched to hear her talk about her race at North Face and getting selected to run Hardrock again in 2012, but she was asking me about my race at North Face and my plans for 2012 too. Ultramarathoners are mostly normal people with normal lives and jobs. They seem to really appreciate where they are and how they stay there.)
Anyway, after getting checked-in, we had a massive lunch at the Cheesecake Factory, stopped by Aaron’s office to say hi and then rolled out to Mill Valley to settle in for the evening.
Since the race started at 5am and we wanted to be there right around 4am, it was lights out before 10 with the hopes of getting at least some sleep.
Lukas and I were up at 2:45, out the door at 3:45 and at the race site a little after 4. After training together a lot during the last four or six weeks, Lukas and I were planning to start together and run as much of the race together as possible. We both knew that at some point one of us would pull ahead (or fall back) but until then, having company would be huge. We saw Dominic and Jack and some other Coyotes at the start line and then before we knew it, we were off. Lukas and I watched the front packs of headlamps twisting around that trails headlamps heading out towards Tennessee Valley.
It was a beautiful morning. Clear skies and a little cold at first, but it warmed up enough pretty quick. The first 14 or 15 miles of the race went great. With a very deep pool of top talent at the race, the front runners went out FAST. Lukas and I were running at what felt like a comfortable pace, but in retrospect may have been too fast for me, given my preparation and training. We hiked some steep hills, but were running everything else nice and smooth. At about mile 16 or 17, during the last parts of the climb to Cardiac, I started to feel "it". I made it to Cardiac (mile 18) in 2:50, right behind Lukas and Yanko (a guy who joined us around mile 10), but I was working hard to keep up with them. And it was far too early to be working hard.
(Cardiac aid station/drop bags. Photo by Pedro Martinez)
During the next stretch towards the McKennan Gulch out-and-back, I started suffering a bit. My legs were getting heavier and heavier. I kept generally with Lukas until about mile 20, then I just fell apart. It was around that point that my mind started getting to me. I was convincing myself that I'd done everything wrong – too little training, not enough calories, poor recovery since Catalina - and regardless of whether any of that was true, the negative took hold. During the last 2 miles before the turn-around, with Lukas out of sight, I'd convinced myself that it was time for my first DNF. The only thing that kept my mind positive was that I got to see most of the top men and all the top women fly by me headed back from the turn-around. Those runners were moving! It was especially fun to see Dominic and Jorge on their way back, running in the top 20-30.
By the time I rolled into the aid station at the turnaround (mile 22.8), I realized hadn't seen Lukas on his way back. Instead, I found him at the aid station. He was waiting for me. He said he was struggling, knew I was hurting and wanted us to fight through it together. I tried to convince him to go on ahead, but he wouldn’t listen and we stayed (mostly) together for the next 20 miles. I owe it to Lukas that I finished the race at all. I'm not sure I was mentally strong enough to do that second half on my own.
My diagnosis at the time was calorie deficit. I can't remember how many calories I took in during the first three hours, but I bet it was less than 300. And that is just plain dumb. I probably should have had twice that many. So, beginning at the McKennan Gulch aid station, I stuffed my face every chance I got - mostly with potatoes dipped in salt and GU chomps - and loaded up on the chomps and gels for the time in between aid stations.
Those 27 miles were tough. Despite the fact that the longest hill is the first climb to Cardiac from miles 14-18, there are five killer climbs in the last 20 miles of the race. I hiked (or willed my body up) them all. We ran the downhills and the little bits of flat. And just kept moving. And despite eating more than I ever have at any race, I don't think I ever recovered from not getting enough calories early. But I did make it so that I could survive to the finish. The pity is that on such a beautiful course, I could barely focus on enjoying it!
At about mile 29, during the climb up the Dipsea Trail, we ran into fellow Coyote, Pedro, who had some encouraging lies for us and took a couple photos. And we trudged along. Me just trying trying to keep up with Lukas.
(photo by Pedro Martinez)
With six or seven miles to go, Lukas took off and I couldn't keep pace.
The worst part of the race was the last 2 miles. I literally lost the will to run. With two miles to go, I let myself walk and get passed by a few more people. That sucked. The official photos (my bib number was 414) show me running it in to the finish, but that's only because I ran the last few hundred meters!
(photo by Aaron Spector)
(photo by Aaron Spector)
(photo by Meganne Kanatani)
I can't remember ever being so happy to just be done with a race and can't remember ever feeling so shitty. But I did beat my time from 2009! I crossed to the cheers of Jimmy, Kate, Gareth, Lukas (he finished in 9:09) and Aaron and staggered around for a minute (you can sorta see the salt on my face and you can definitely see the sweet Pablove temporary tattoo!):
(photo by Aaron Spector)
then I chugged a couple bottles of coconut water:
(photo by Aaron Spector)
(photo by Aaron Spector)
I have had the week to think about what went "wrong". Here's my list:
- As I mentioned above, I didn't eat enough early. I usually don't take in very many calories at the beginning of runs or races, but that doesn't work for 50 miles. I was in a pretty deep calorie deficit three hours in and by the time I tried to fix it, it was sorta too late. From then on I ate a ton and that saved my race but the damage had already been done. This was a stupid rookie mistake that I shouldn't be making anymore.
- I didn't put in enough miles in training. I was well prepared for a marathon or maybe a 50k, but not 50 miles. I needed probably 15-20% more miles each week - the 16-20 Saturdays plus 12 mile Sundays, should have been more like 20-24 mile Saturdays and 14-16 mile Sundays.
- I don't think I was recovered enough from the Catalina Eco Marathon. In my mind Catalina was a training run, but I ran it more like a race. Trying to race those two races three weeks apart, on the training volume I'd done was too much.
- I think Lukas and I went out a bit too fast for the first 15 or so. It was a super fast field up front and the front 40-50 were flying away from the start so it didn't seem like we were pushing too hard, but we must have been. Or at least I must have been!
- I was coated in salt pretty early and remained that way throughout the race. I definitely didn't take in enough during those same first three hours, but from then on, nearly every time I ate I made sure to get electrolytes also. I don't know if that means I was taking too much or not enough salt, but I imagine it means something not so good!
- Mental weakness. I needed to push through some of the hurt, especially towards the end. Getting passed so many times in the last 5 miles is utter bullshit.
Regardless of my mistakes, North Face is a great race. It's organized and run as smooth as butter. The course is beautiful (assuming you can enjoy it). And it's sick being out there with such an incredible field of lots of the world's best ultrarunners. The course had been changed a lot since the route I ran in 2009 - same idea and nearly all of the same trails, just hitting them in a different direction or order. This one felt harder than 2009, but that could be because I was feeling worse! Either way, it's a very challenging course, but who wants it to be easy?
North Face 2011 is in the books and so is my 2011 season. It was an up-and-down year of training and racing, but I'll have more to say about that in my annual review in a few weeks!
As always, thanks for all the love and support while I continue these crazy adventures.
Time = 9:17:39
Pace = 11:10/mile