Thursday, December 22, 2016

North Face 50 Mile Championships

A couple weeks ago I raced the TNF 50 Mile Chapionships in San Fran.  I ran this race back in 2011 coming off a fire season and being layed up with a heavy dose of stitches in the bottom of my foot from the last jump of the season so I was pretty excited to get back to this race again.  While living in Redding, CA and Arcata, CA in 2010-2012 I cut my teeth in the trail running and ultra running realm.  With being so far away from any skiing which was my previous passion, running became my outlet and set forth my path for the years to come.  North Face was the race I was most excited about this season and really had my main focus training throughout the summer.

I had a super solid training block the 5 weeks leading up to TNF.  After doing a lot of training focused on big climbing for Pikes Peak and Flagstaff, John had me building the leg speed back up doing a lot of flatter and rolling hill tempo work.  It was really nice to get the legs turning over and I was really suprised with the strength and endurance that we had built up over the summer.  With some solid race simulation runs a few weeks out from the race I was definitley feeling stronger than I ever have before and confident I could run hard for 50 Miles.

A week or so out it was looking like the weather was going to be perfect, 60 and sunny.  I wasn't really paying any attention to who was going to be running or the writeups for the race cause i knew that there were going to be lots of fast guys there, and that's pretty much all I needed to know.  I was just happy to have made it through an entire season with pretty much no injuries and lots of really fun hard training and a fair amount of racing.  I traveled out to San Francisco solo, was staying with my friend Ted who I ran with in highschool and is a fellow ultrarunner himself.  Was excited to have Ted crewing for me and to be able to catch up.  Arriving in a big city is always of a shock to me, like i've traveled to a different country, I'm just not used to really big cities and as awestruck as I am by them when I arrive, I'm usually ready to escape them after several hours.  I got what I needed to in the city and settled in for the night excited to get back out in the Headlands the next day.

2:30 was pretty dang early for a wake up, luckily I was still on colorado time so it was more like 3:30.  Got an uber to the shuttle, shuttle to the start, and way overestimated my time so ended up sitting around a fire at the start line for an hour which was actually kind of fun way to start the day.  Getting close to start time I got the legs loosened up and started to get stripped down just to realize that my ID had gone missing and got me a bit panicked 10 minutes before the start thinking about how I was going to fly home the next day without my drivers license or any form of ID (Luckily ID is overrated at the airport to my suprise and all the really need is a credit card and a costco card to get through security...good lesson learned.) Was good to meet James Walsh at the start who lives right by me in Colorado and who I had been trying to link up with runs for several weeks but not suprisingly weren't able to find a time cause we both have toddlers at home and full time jobs/ families.  Lined up next to the familiar faces of Dan Kraft and Alex Nichols both runners that I really respect and admire.    We started off into the dark and only about 1/2 Mile into the race runners began yelling up ahead "Medical", it appeared there was a runner that had gone down.  Mike Wolf was stopped helping out Miguel Heras who had run into a post full speed and was down on the ground doubled over.  I stopped to see what kind of injuries if any he had sustained and after 30 seconds of being doubled over in considerable pain Miguel hopped up and took off running towards the front of the pack again.  The first climb is a really gradual fire road that heads to the top of mountain overlooking Mill Valley. From the top looking down to the start is really cool seeing all the headlamps coming up the road which looked like it was a pretty solid mile and a half of continuous headlamps.  It reminds me of watching the Christmas parades that they have at ski resorts where they ski down the main run leading to the base of the moutain carrying lights.    Coming down into Tenessee Valley Aid at Mile 10 is really motivating.  There are a ton of lights illuminating everything and tons of people cheering all the runners through which is a pretty grand feeling that I'm not used to in most ultras.  Came through running around 7 min/mi average and feeling really smooth and easy.  The climb out from Tenessee was still well in the dark and reaching the top of the climb you start to get glimpses of the ocean and coast as dawn begins.  This is always one of my favorite parts of the race where you really have the ability to take everything in and appreciate what a cool experience it is.

As the day grew more light I was really feeling like I was in a good groove and just feeling incredibly smooth, strong, and in control.  Nearing the start of the big middle climb headed up to Cardiac aid station I ran across the road and some volunteers guided me around a fence after which I headed over a bridge down a dirt road.  After about 45 seconds I felt like something wasn't right and flipped around to make sure I hadn't taken a wrong turn.  I started heading back to the bridge and another runner came over the bridge heading towards me so I flipped back around thinking that I must not have taken a wrong turn.  After a couple of minutes heading down the road we came to the driveway of a property and I knew that we had definitely taken a wrong turn.  We both headed back down the road a saw where the course had taken a sharp right and headed through a field.  It's always a huge blow taking a wrong turn in a race, I had lost about 5 min and immediately the mind starts going into a bit of a panic mode.  In most 50 miles 5 minutes is nothing in a race but at North Face it can be the difference between 5 places or more.  I started heading up the climb up to cardiac which switchbacks up the hillside and I looked up and could see the runners who I was next to way up the hill.  I started to push my pace to regain some ground but kept telling myself to chill out and just get back on the original plan and not to panic.
  After getting a little ways up the climb I could see a group of Dan Kraft, James Walsh, and Scott Spillman about 2 minutes ahead and slowly pushed to catch their group. I talked to James and Dan a bit before the race but was looking forward to catching up to them and new that it would give me a good motivation boost.  It took me a little past the McKenna Gulch aid station to real them in, prob about 8 miles or so and in the process saw Zach, Hayden, and Sage blowing past us on the out and back section of the trail and it was really cool to see how hard they were crushing it.  After finally tying into the back of the group and catching up for a quick sec with James I new we were coming into the steep switchbacky downhill section leading down to Stinson Beach and really preferred to be running it without having anyone in front of me to look out for so I hopped ahead of the pack and started letting the legs rolls downhill.     This downhill section to Stinson beach is really a fun descent, you head into the lush coastal forest with lots of switchbacks and stairs and is really run to just weave your way down through towards the beach at Stinson.  My first 50k I ever ran was on these trails at the Steep Ravine 50k so it really brings back a lot of great memories.  Coming down into Stinson Beach I was feeling really strong and smooth and was excited to see Ted at the first spot that he would be crewing me at.  Coming into the aid station there was a solid group of people gathered and cheering.  I stopped and restocked on gels from Ted and grabbed a 20oz soft flask of flattened coke that has been my go to during traning runs leading up to the race and headed out on the long climb up the Dipsea trail.

 Legs still felt like they were running and climbing well and I was still really stoked on just being out and racing.  The trail heads back into the lush forest and starts some pretty steep stair steppy climbing.  I was hiking pretty much all the stairs to conserve the legs for the rest of the climbing ahead.  I couldn't really see anyone ahead or behind me at this point but the line of sight was pretty short and I knew that others weren't too far behind.  Pulling out of the forest and towards the cardiac aid station Brian Powell and a pack of spectators were lining the trail with other spectators that had a really strong cheering section going.  High fives were given and it got the stoke meter going a bit more.  Getting to Cardiac I had caught up to Brian Condon who I had been running with for quite a bit in the dark at the beginning of the race.  We began the descent out of Cardiac back into the woods.  Really amazing section coming downhill through the redwood forest Brian was pushing the pace pretty good and it was a fun challenging section running with him.  When we came out of the descent and started climbing again I pulled past Brian and not after too long caught up to Paddy O'leary who I pulled past but kept close on my heels.  Not too long after that Eric Sorenson came surging up from behind both of us and pulled ahead running a really strong pace on the climb.  This section between Cardiac and Old Inn aid station was a bit longer time wise than I had anticipated, and i ran out of water and fell a bit behind on water so started to have a bit of a crash and lose my legs coming into the Old Inn aid station.  Paddy and Brian passed me but not after too long I came up on another runner and realize that it was Sage Canaday who I knew must have run into some problems and fell off the front of the pack.  We all came into the aid station not too far apart and I downed some coke and topped of my water in hopes to bring my energy back up.  As we headed out of the aid station I just tried to keep the legs moving as best I could and hoped the energy came back before the big climb back up the coastal trail.  I kept Paddy and Brian in sight and Sage was still close on my tail coming into the big climb.  My legs were pretty smoked on the climb, Sage charged by me and I made a pretty feeble attempt to hang on to him to get in a groove and start grinding up the hill but the legs just didn't have it in them.  After run hiking the best I could to the top I hit the road as hard as I could down into Tenessee Valley.  At this point it was and usually always is pretty hard for me to run smoothe on the downhill but I tried to keep the legs turning over as best I could, was feeling pretty hammered at this point and was excited to see Ted and Tenessee Valley with another flask of coke to hopefully carry me through to the finish.

The last climb to the Alta aid station on fresh legs is a very mellow climb but at mile 44 feels like it is never ending.  I had lost contact with Brian, Paddy, and Sage and was just trying to key off some of the 50k runners to try and keep the legs running.  My quads were shot and was only able to muster short stents of switching between running and walking.  As much as this part of the race is pretty brutal and the fun seems to fade away I always try and remind myself that this is what you are out here for, the part where it hurts, the point where you can't really bring yourself to in training, I think this is really where you can learn a lot about yourself and learn ways to help push through that discomfort and understand what your body's limits are.  That being said hitting the Alta aid station was a relief, all that was left was a 3 mile descent (for the most part) to the finish.  I knew I could potentially pick up a place or 2 if I could push the finish and that there was probably someone on my heels thing the same thing so I really gave the downhill all that the legs could handle and mustered up a 5:35 mile on the descent.  When it came out on the flat the last mile to the finish hits the road and then has a slight uphill to the finish line.  The legs were done, they didn't want to be running anymore, I always wish I can see myself from the outside perspective at this point, broken, muttering self motivation to myself to keep pushing, unaware of anything around my but the ground in front of me, I always kind of laugh when I think about it.  Coming to the finishing stretch the street was lined with spectators and you could feel the energy from the finish area.  I gave a final push to the finish and ended up coming across the finish line in 6:43:44 in 11th place overall.  Going into the race my goal was to run 6:40 so it felt really good coming in pretty close to my plan and finish 11th in such a stacked field of amazing runners.

It felt good to be done, and it's always fun to catch up with people I haven't seen in a while and hear how their race went at the finish and just enjoy the energy at excitement surrounding the finish area.  It was really a perfect day to race and spend in the bay area.  It was really great having my friend Ted crew for me and to be able to share the experience with me.  After pizza, beer, a nap, and a fun night on the town it was good to get back to Colorado.  A successful 2016 in the books, excited for what 2017 will bring!


  1. Your a machine Jim! What a wonderfully written description of your race! I felt as if I was there watching you. Keep up the great work! Writing and racing. So proud of you for so many reasons.

  2. 5:35 on one of the last downhill miles - animal!! (And thanks for all the shout-outs!)