Every once in a while, we all have that perfect day. Saturday at The North Face Endurance Challenge SF 50k was one of those days.
I did my last 50k in 2011, two in back to back months. Between then and now, the only long distance race I had done was the Eugene Marathon last year. But over the summer I decided I wanted to train for another big race. I enjoyed Eugene, but I wasn’t feeling up to logging so many miles on road, so I set my sights on TNF SF 50k.
TNFSF was my first 50k back in 2010 and it took me around 7.5 hours to complete the course. The overwhelming joy and exhausting I felt at the finish line to this day is still my favorite race finish. This time around, I planned to do all my long runs on the course in the Headlands since I now live in San Francisco and am a mere 20 minutes from the trails. My only worry was logging so many miles by myself, this would be my first long distance race that I trained for on my own. I found a few people to run short miles with, particularly with the San Francisco Running Company fun run on Saturday mornings. They are a great group and great company for a few miles before I branched off on my own for longer distances.
The night before the race, we all got an email that the course had been changed. Because of the rain all week, and a bridge washed out by Mt Tam, they would be re-routing the course. My heart sank a little bit since I was mentally prepared for the existing course, but when I saw the new map, all I felt was relief. My goal for the race was to run 6:15-6:30, beating my 2010 race by an hour. The course revisions added a loop up Bobcat and down Rodeo Valley before heading up Miwok to the normal course. The other change was that at Pantoll, atop of Cardiac, we would turn around and head back down To Heather Cut off rather then loop through the woods of Mt Tam. This meant the 100 stair I was lightly dreading were no longer on the course. Once I saw the revisions, I was confident I could meet my goal.
Race morning came quickly, and I ate my usual granola bar/peanut butter/banana pre-race combo as we headed out the door for the quick drive to the start line. The start line was well organized, easy to drop bags and plenty of ports potties for everyone. There was a wave start, but each wave was only a minute or two apart. This didn’t matter too much since the start is on an old road and there is plenty of room. I started at the back of wave 2 instead of my assigned wave 4 since I new the people around me would be more inclined to run first hill (~800′) rather than walk. By the time we climbed and came down the first hill, and I rounded the corner to head up Miwok around mi 7, I was averaging about 9:40/mi, way faster than planned, but I felt good. I saw Charlie and Camus right at the start of Miwok which was amazing, they popped up all over the course to cheer me on, even in places I least expected.
The climb up Miwok and down Old Springs was uneventful, I kept cruising along feeling good. Coastal trail is one of my favorite trails around, so I was looking forward to this part of the course. It was about as muddy and sloppy as I was expecting, and I was glad I had my new Peregrines on. This was the part of the course I wish I had my camera for, but I have the analog memories, and I would have added a lot of time taking pictures, it was that beautiful!
After the mud on Coastal, we dropped down into Muir beach onto a half mile of road before taking the side trail towards Heather Cutoff. This was the other section of the course I anticipated a lot of mud. Since the course change was an out and back for the 50k and 50mi, I knew I would see the top contender scoring down as I headed up
towards Cardiac. Heather Cutoff was a river. It says wonderfully muddy, and I knew the downhill would be sweet. I passed many people walking here, a bit intimidated by the slipping, but I had run this hill a few times before, and I knew it was runable grade and my shoes could handle the mud. It was awesome seeing all the elite runners coming towards me on my 3mi grind to the aid station. I saw a few other Oiselle Teammates and happily cheered and high fives which lifted my spirits. Charlie and Camus were waiting for me on the top of the Cutoff which was a very welcome surprise that kept me smiling for miles.
It was around the top of the cutoff that I realized I could make it under 6 hours – my goal I kept to myself and didn’t tell anyone since I thought it would be a reach for me. Even thinking about going under 6 was making me tear up, so I set my sights on pushing the rest of the uphill. Early in the race, I started repeating this mantra, which really helped me throughout the race:
These are YOUR mountains to conquer, you are STRONG
The downhill back from Cardiac was my favorite part of the course. I got to cheer people still coming up the hill and I got to slosh through all the super fun mud and puddles all the way down Heather Cutoff. I felt a bit rejuvenated after this section, and I knew I had a steep climb and equally steep decent back into Tennessee Valley. Luckily I saw Charlie and Camus for what I thought was going to be the last time which gave me an extra boost on the climb. The ascent and decent had beautiful views and before I knew it I was making my way up Marincello, the last climb on the course, and I climb I knew well from training. As I started the final descent, a mere 2.5mi from the finish, I heard someone calling my name and to my surprise, there were Charlie and Camus AGAIN! They were the best cheering team I could have ever asked for.
The downhill was nice on my muscles as I let gravity carry me down, encouraged by the fresh legs of the marathon relay people around me. As soon as I hit the flat and saw that final tiny climb, I could hear the crows at the finish. I looked down at my watch – 5:55. It was at this point I started tearing up a bit, for I knew I would be under the 6 hour mark, a goal that seemed unimaginable a few weeks earlier. Two minutes later I was crossing the finish line, exhausted, with Charlie and Camus there to great me. I truly gave this race everything I had. I ran with my heart and soul and it really paid off in the end.
I also realized during this race the importance of logging all those training miles by myself. I was weary of so much trail running by myself, fearing the mental challenge of the climbs by myself. But running so many of the climbs alone gave me a great deal of metal strength when race day came around. I knew I could do it without relying on a training partner to push me. I had full confidence in my own body, something I might not have had if I had logged all my long miles with a partner. Moving forward, setting my sights on other races, I will definitely continue to log miles on my own, to strengthen my mind, push myself to new limits, and most of all, to conquer new mountains.