Saturday, December 20, 2008

Northface 50-mile Race Report.

My fortune cookie today said, "You have a charming way with words. Send an email to a friend". Right... Well I don't know about charming but I certainly have a lot of words. A little late but here is my race report for the Northface 50-mile race.

Initial Thoughts
Official Results
Event Website
My Photos
Northface's Photos
Northface's Own Race Recap
Matt Carpenter and Kami Semick talk about their performances. Refreshing to read about the battles up front. Kami Semick would actually trip and fall on the trail, twisting and ankle and banging her knee. She gets up only to fall back down again, the leg unable to support her. What she did afterwards was just plain awesome. I love how tough runners are in this sport.

The Venue
The San Francisco Northface Endurance event takes place across the Golden Gate Bridge in Marin County, in the Marin Headlands. This is the race site for many races which includes: PCTR's Headlands Hundred and it's 50-mile option, the Miwok 100k and the Headlands 50k. A beautiful place to run and my training grounds. Most of the course I already knew which was a great advantage. I knew where to push, where to rest. I knew where the good downhills were and where the long climbs waited. However there was one area where I wasn't as familiar with, the trails around Mt. Tam. The inclusion of these specific trails was what made it the most beautiful 50-mile course I've ever run. It was a good balance between beauty and difficulty. On the southern part of the Marin Headlands, where we started, the trails are exposed, dry and gravelly. The lack of tall trees offered great views all around. As we traveled north we found ourselves on tree covered trails, single track covered with dried leaves (cushy) and in the case of the Steep Ravine trail, we traveled down a path that was fern lined with water from a small waterfall flowing next to us. I was particularly impressed that they were able to pack 10,700 feet of elevation gain, same for the total loss while keepi. This is more elevation gain than the Miwok 100k (62-miles) or the 50-mile option of the Headlands Hundred.

My Race
My race started off very well. At 5am it was still dark and everyone had their headlamps on. It was also cold and flat at the start. The lead pack charged ahead and crowd behind was also moving fast. I was charing hard too, running to get ahead of the mid pack on the road before we hit the single track. I pulled back the effort as soon as we hit the first climb. It was a fire road, quite runnable, not too high but a slow steady climb for almost a couple of miles. I kept an eye on my heart rate monitor and pushed and pulled my way up the hill. The lead pack was already out of sight and I was still getting passed. I got passed a lot which made me worry that many were getting sucked into a faster start by adrenaline, the flat start and cool temps. At the top of the climb I looked back and saw nothing but headlamps snaking their way up the hill in the darkness. It was an amazing sight, like cars driving up a mountain road.

Things were going well but my speed hit it's ceiling around the 13th mile, about where the Muir beach aid station was. It was staffed by Jess and our friends from the tri-club and it was great to see them even though it was brief. I was moving well but couldn't push any faster. I was okay with it though, I figured as much since I raced hard the weekend before. I was just surprised I felt it so early. Nothing else to do but to keep pushing and if all I could muster was "good" instead of "great", I endeavored to keep going with "good" for the rest of the race. However by mile 22 at the start of our biggest climb of the day and up to the turnaround at mile 26 I was totally tanking. I went from "good" to "not so good" to "dragging my butt". I felt done and I was ready for a slugfest for the rest of the race. I had no energy and the legs felt flat. All this would change at the turnaround.

Three things happened. First at the turnaround I saw a couple of friends who were just ahead of me that I wanted to catch up to, second I started to believe that I could break 9 hrs. and lastly I switched to half water half Accelerade. I like Accelerade but the stuff was overwhelming my taste buds and my stomach. I was also taking too much. It was too sweet and I was putting in too many calories when combined with an energy gel. I felt much better with the stuff watered down. From that point on it was a totally different race. Something unlocked deep down and things started to move. Not only did I start running hard again, I was moving faster and felt better than I did earlier in the race. Soon I passed my friends and found other people to chase. The drive to come in under 9 hrs. made me push hard. That last half felt good and the last ten miles was just amazing. I felt strong and fast. Felt so good.

In the end I missed coming in under 9 hours. I knew at mile 40 while I was struggling up Diaz Ridge. This piece of trail was a thing of beauty. It just went up and up and up, false peaked and up and up again. It was short but steep. The goal for sub-9 pretty much ended there but it didn't affect my motivation. I was feeling too good. I met up with pals Samantha and Jenny at the mile 41 aid station, they were running the 50k, and was feeling so good I broke my rule of fast aid station stops by talking and giving the ladies hugs. Volunteer Marissa Walker had to shush me out of there. Thanks Marissa! From there I kept on charging to the finish.

Post Race
I came across the line with the announcer stating my name and city. Friends were on hand, smiles and pictures all around. It was a good, good finish. There were more pictures, lots of talking before I hurried off to change. The elites were already there lounging in the grass and around tables, undoubtedly sharing stories about their day. I was star struck, just a little. The food was good, there was an awards ceremony and everything. Dean Karnazes was there and I wanted to get a picture with him for J~Mom who I knew was a big fan. However I didn't want to put down my two plates of food to go chasing after him. What? I was really hungry! I figured I would have time later in the day but I kept running in and out of the food tent. The cookies were good. I'm sure it was because of the 50-miles:)

Final Thoughts
The San Francisco race was great and I would do it again. Amazing course, loved every mile. It's a lot of race for your money. You get your money's worth on the schwag alone and the nice heavy medal. The big negative thing that I saw about this race was the trash. Lots of energy gel packets on the trail. The most trash I've seen in a trail race. More trash than all the trails races I've done this year combined. I'm sure it got picked up when they swept the course but it shouldn't even be there. It was disturbing. Other than that it was a great event. I felt the organization worked hard to make it a fun and rewarding event for everyone.

A good last race to finish off the year.

The after race glow. Photo courtesy of Jessica Fewless.


  1. Rick - what a great way to end your 2008 season, which was stellar. I'm looking forward to catching up with you several times next ready to pace...any interest in heading to Badwater ?

  2. What a great race, Rick! And way to go hugging the ladies at the aid stations! :) Seriously, congratulations on your fantastic season. It will be one to remember and something to build on in the coming years. Way to go!

    That is too bad about all the trash runners were leaving on the trails. Hopefully the offenders will learn. I once ran at a trail race where if they caught you littering, you were DQ'ed.

    Have a Merry Christmas and a wonderful holiday season!

  3. Rick,
    Sounds like a fantastic race and what a great job pushing yourself until you felt better. That's tough to do! Have an awesome 2009 and I hope to see you down the road sometime! Peace!

  4. It's that fabulous picture again! Great report and congrats on such a great year. You've been an inspiration to me and probably a whole bunch of other people. Enjoy your off season... do a whole bunch of wine tasting and eat some chocolate!

  5. WHOA!! That is a fantastic picture!! I am going to mark this as a someday race! :>) Great job and great year!!

  6. Great race recap Rick. Hope you are enjoying yourself and getting a little well deserved rest. See you out on the trails next year!

  7. Believe it -- you're charming! ;)

  8. Great job, Rick....great way to close out the year. See you at Rocky.

  9. Great job...the most entertaining thing about this posting is the inquiry of your Badwater Pacing interest.

  10. Sounds like a great race, Rick! Great way to end the year.