Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Race Report For The 2010 North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Mile Championships San Francisco

At the start line I was more confident on my signature race strategy than normal, “come from behind” and “don’t be a first half hero”.  The other piece of advice from Mike Wasson, the guy who introduced me to the race a couple years back, “stay aerobic” would repeat through my mind the whole race. 
Dean started the race and we were off.  I let the horde of lead pack guys rush off and run there pace while I kept to my private world for pretty much all but 10 miles of the race.  The only time I ran with anyone longer than just passing them was between the Bootjack aid station at 18.9 and McKennan Gulch aid station at 23.6.  I couldn’t even tell you the names of the three guys I ran with as I honestly could/can only recognize five Ultra runners in the world: Anton Krupicka, Geoff Roes, Dakota Jones, Dean Karnazes and Killian Jornet.  So my 50, or better yet, 52 mile odyssey was solo, which I sort of liked.  Passing is powerful, hanging on, not so much and being passed, out-right dangerous.     
At the 30 mile point I now know from a few race reports that I was in 5th and 3 minutes behind Geoff and Dakota who were leading and only two minutes behind Heras (the winner).  I felt pretty damn good and was hungry to find more people to pass.  It was certainly annoying and emotionally draining to pass 50K runners on the course and not know if they were running the 50 mile or the 50K,  challenging, but part of the game and reality. 
At somewhere around 33 to 35 miles I hit my first “uh oh” moment.  Running down the paved road, Muir Woods Road I believe, I realized my quads were not happy with pavement but more so, down-hill.  I pushed on and was happy, at first, to find things flattening out after 37.3 miles at the Old Inn aid station.  At this point my footwear of choice, Newton Distancia, failed.  I couldn’t get any traction on the muddy single track.  The Distancias are designed for road running honestly (Newton makes trail shoes, by the way).  I tried running off the trail on the grass, then back on the mud and things were not going well for pace or exertion on this few mile stretch where really I wanted to stretch out and display some of my 4th place catching marathon speed.
 What followed this flat muddy stretch was borderline disastrous.  The steep fire road hills of the Costal, Coyote to Miwok trail stretch between the Muir Beach aid station at mile 40 and Tennessee Valley aid station at mile 45 obliterated my legs, my energy and all my confidence as a runner.  I had to walk a good portion of this horrible, horrible hill.  This was only the second time I have ever been forced to walk in a race, or tried to walk.  Yes, I was running out of steam, but it didn’t matter, my shoes didn’t have traction.  Not only could I not run, I couldn’t stand up and walk.  I fell about four times, was totally off the side of the fire road roaming in the weeds and overall just flailing. 
After the race I read on Dave Mackey’s blog (3rd place) that he ran this stretch and furthermore this is where Heras passed him and then Geoff with “his super traction shoes”.  To say the least, these few miles sealed my fate in not moving up in place (thankfully no one was on my tail) and needless to say, I was zonked after the mud scramble.  Things got ugly, the 20oz hand water bottle (like everyone else had) wasn’t enough, I was dreaming of water, licking my salty lips and sweat like it was honey.  I also was failing nutrition wise. One GU as prescribed by my hero Anton, wasn’t cutting it for me at all at this point; I sucked my last GUs down and had nothing left. 
Once finally at the Alta aid station with 3 to go, I broke my water and GU gel regiment and drank both water and whatever funky cool-aid mix they had along with grabbing GU “Chomps”.  Not only had I never even tried GU Chomps, I hadn’t even heard of them.  Chomps were like caviar to a movie star for me, I couldn’t get enough, two huge packs in less than 3 miles.  I chewed the Chomps up and kept the delicious morsels in my gums to savor and literally moaned in enjoyment.  So yeah, it was an experience those last 10 miles. 
The GU Chomp indulgence downhill run (with a little up that felt like a lot) with my pacer John Garvie, was quiet and long, but finally ended with the surreal finish line carnival like festival.  I wandered around feeling drunk, ate great food, got massaged, met some of the best Ultra runners in the world and let the satisfaction of a 5th place and 7:06:40 at TNF 50 mile sink in a bit.

Much was learned, but more exciting, new goals and plans are being created!     
Pre-Race article from Running Times
Here is the Running Times Article with a little interview near the bottom from me (I was out of it at the time…)
Results From Ultra Signup (has great links to finisher’s pervious performances), click on 2010 results.


  1. Nice race report Jason. Well thought out and detailed. Your ultra strategy of not going aerobic is so smart. I like Clif gels or Gu, fruit, and a half PBJ mi way through a 50 treats my energy levels just right, but I craved oranges in TNF 50 this year. Nice result and good luck in future ultras.

  2. Dave,

    As nutrition certainly seemed to be lacking, I think I'll take your approach next time and have some fruit and/or something like a PBJ sandwich at the mid point. Where are you skiing in your little profile pic???