The Northface Endurance Challenge 50M (DNF) – 2010

December 4, 2010

Since I was already in the Bay Area for Thanksgiving, I opted to not drive back and just stay an extra week until my race the following weekend.  The weather did not seem particularly promising (rained all week), and I was not sure that I was fully recovered from the Santa Monica Mountains 50K a few weeks prior.

Still, this was the opportunity to continue my streak dating back from December of last year where I had completed at least a marathon a month (mostly ultras though).

One change from last year was that they would not allow us to park at the location… all competitors would have to be shuttled in from either downtown San Francisco or Marin City.  Even worse, the latest leaving bus from San Francisco (my best option) was 3:15am!!

So, I got up at 1:45am and left around 2:25am (should I have stayed up?) and I drove to the location in the city (some high school), and no one had any idea what was going on or where we were supposed to park (and it’s early!).

While waiting for the bus, I ran into Stacy Embretson (formerly ran with AREC) who was attempting her first 50 miler.

The retarded school bus ride.

  The retarded school bus ride.

The bus was off a little late (waiting for people), which was annoying, because none of us wanted to get up that early, and then deposited us at the start over an hour before the start of the race.  There wasn’t anything to do except try and keep warm.  I had already picked up my bib and giveaways at the TNF store the day before.  And it was COOOOOLD out.  So cold.  I had my sleeves, my gloves, and my Buff.

I spent a little time reviewing the course map, because there was a little change, specifically that we could not have an aid station at Pantoll, so they had us run by Pantoll, do an additional 3/4 mile stretch to another location.  In other words, they were adding 1.5 miles to the course.

I finally sat down somewhere and tried to close my eyes for a bit.

At 5am, we were off, heading to the first big climb of the day, a 5.8 mile “loop.” (Loop is in quotes because we didn’t loop back to the start.)  I like this section only for seeing bobbing headlamps above and behind me before the sun comes out.  I got through this first loop in 73:33 (about 14:00/mile).

The next section heads over to Tennessee Valley Station and along the coast.  The trail was muddy, but didn’t compare to how awful it was for Miwok 2009.  I don’t mind running in mud as long as there are some other options.  I did this 5K section in 42:04 (still about 14 minute miles).

Out of Tennessee Valley station, we got onto the Pacific Coast Trail.  It was beautiful, but a bit foggy.  And something that contributed to my slowness was going down the wooden “staircase” towards the end.  Every step was soaking wet and slippery wood.  This was about 4.5 miles in 57:56 (a little faster than before, but mostly downhill) to get to Muir Beach.

From Muir Beach, we cross Highway 1, and begin heading up the steep hill to Pantoll (and Bootjack).  The trail consists of probably 50 switchbacks and it was all mud, and because it is single-track, you can’t really avoid the mud.

At the same time, I am starting to encounter 50K runners, who started at 7:00am, but did not do the 5.8 mile loop… so they have made up about 40 minutes of lag time in 3 hours (not unreasonable to do 10 minute miles for the first half marathon).  As a rule, though, as the slower runner, I am obligated to let them pass… but this means that I have to come to a full stop and then start up again.  Probably 85 people pass me in this section.  It’s really very annoying and wrecks my progress.  At least before we get to the top, it’s not all single-track… but now I have this annoying 3/4 mile extra bit to do to get to the Bootjack Aid Station.  Too bad it’s rolling hills and full of roots.  This 5.5 miles has taken me 1:42 (about 17:00/mile).

Now I am heading over to the Coastal Trail.  I like this part, except for the fact that it is muddy and cold, and now I have people passing me in both directions (50Kers heading out AND back, along with the 50Mers).  At least, I am heading towards the turnaround (technically not halfway) at Mile 23.6.  I am still moving at a snail’s pace, about 17 minutes per mile.

Now I reverse course and head back to the same aid station as before – ie. Bootjack, including the fun 3/4 mile rooty loop.  I am losing even more time here and slowing to an 19:00/mile pace.

Now the trail descends down the Matt Davis Trail to Stinson Beach.  This is where I think I can make up some time, but it is even rootier and muddier here.  When I get to the aid station, I don’t spend a lot of time there because I am concerned about the cutoffs… particularly, there is a hard cutoff of 10 hours and 11 minutes at Mile 37.3 (about 5.6 miles away).

I have just over 90 minutes to complete this section, but I have not had many sections (except at the beginning when no one was passing me) that were 15:00/mile or less.

I remember from last year that this section has a number of stone steps (and other uphill) to ascend, drops down on the Panoramic Highway for a half mile or so (pavement running is faster), and then curves around on several flat and downhill single-track sections.  I am hightailing it through the uphill parts (as best I can, because I want to be able to run the downhill sections hard).

When I get to the top of the hill (about a half-mile before the Panoramic Highway) I run all out (the kind of running that I NEVER do in any ultra, particularly 16 miles from the end), and then sprint down the Panoramic Highway.  Based upon trail mileage signs I encounter, I am doing 8 or 9 minute miles here!  I get into the aid station in 10:18… seven minutes BEHIND the cutoff.  Dang!

I spent a little time arguing with the volunteer, because I think that I can still finish under the overall time limit… the problem is that my car is not at the end, and if it takes longer, then I am screwed.

The gist of my argument is that last year, the cutoff was at 35.8 miles and was 10:04.  This year, it is a mile-and-a-half further away, but the cutoff is only extended by 7 minutes.  I am pretty much sure that there is no soul on earth who can cover 1.5 miles in 7 minutes… on trails… after running 35 miles.  That, my friends, is ridiculous!

I am forced to take a DNF (and in ultras, and I may have said this before, it is like you never even showed up to run) and take a ride back to the start.  I talk a little further with the RD (and e-mail extensively after the fact) and the best information I can get is that the Ranger told them the race has to end by a certain time.  He can’t explain why they couldn’t cut the 5.8 mile loop somewhere or why the park is so adamant about 10 minutes.  It was pretty frustrating.

So now I am stuck waiting for a bus ride back to my car.  I spot someone with a Blue Canyon Trail Race (BCTR) beanie and strike up a conversation.  Actually, it’s the girlfriend of someone that I know – Jake Sanders, who I met at previous BCTRs.  He did the 50K and so had a better day.

I run into Jake post-DNF

I run into Jake post-DNF

We ended up riding together on the bus and I give him and his girlfriend, Gina, a ride to Fisherman’s Wharf.

While my streak is technically ended, I decide that my streak is really that I’ve done AT LEAST 26.2 miles in a race every month for 13 months.  That’s still a big accomplishment.


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