Thursday, December 8, 2011

Race Report for the December 3, 2011 North Face 50 Mile Championships, San Francisco

Copyright Brett Rivers 2011


A Jamaican Bobsled Dream

Click here for Bryon Powell's world class race coverage on

After 2 weeks back home from Iraq I decided to run the TNF championships again.  A lot has changed since I ran this, my d├ębut to ultra running, race last year.  Last year I had a solid base of marathon training with about 3 weeks of specific training for hilly ultra racing before race day.  This year I came to TNF championships with a training base of running while deployed in the Iraqi desert.  My training had the mileage and enough leg turnover, but 100% of my climbing and descending (a measly max of -3% grade) training came from running on a treadmill. 
Might as well break up this long race report with some pictures from our trip to Telluride! (Bear Creek)

The hamstrings and quads were facing a bit of a “Jamaican Bobsled” dream in showing up to a climbing and descending ultra like the TNF Championships after training exclusively in the pancake flat desert.  I believed in the dream and gave my all. 

I had the proverbial pre-race challenges in the 2 weeks leading up to the race.  Felix, my son, was sick and not sleeping well, I had a fever/flu for about a day, 9 hour time change which all equated to horrible sleep.  But again, everyone seems to have “challenges” the few weeks before the race. 

I was feeling good on race day.  My massage therapist, Marcus Allen, did some great work over 3 sessions when I got home, working out some kinks in my right leg and hip.  When the gun went off, I was ready to execute my race strategy.  My race strategy, again, was to run as even and under control as possible through at least mile 30, then give everything I have left to finish strong.   My even paced strategy is bizarrely one that literally no one in the top 70 felt would be a good idea.  Looking at the results, there were only 5 guys in the top 50 (that finished) that was behind me at 8.9 miles…. and I was running splits faster than the average pace of Mike Wolfe’ winning time!  It just really surprises me that in such a long race so many (everyone?) chooses to run the first 10-25 miles so fast.  So yeah, again this year I pretty much had a peaceful first half of the race running well behind pretty much everyone, which I don’t mind at all. 
Felix's 1st Skiing Descent... on my back!

Countless times during the race I mentally paused from the race and enjoyed the scenery, smiled and even verbally wowed the beauty of Marin county and the trails I traveled.  After training in Iraq, I can say I have never enjoyed the beauty of trail running as much as I was that Saturday.  Things were clicking, I was feeling great passing runners, chatting with them for a bit, hitting my 1st Endurance EFS liquid shots every 30 minutes, downing my 20oz water about every hour.  The weather was great, nice and cool, especially after enduring 100-127F for so many days, windy at times and clear as can be. 

After being in around 60th place an hour in, but on faster than course record pace, I let the natural separation between “pretenders and contenders,” as my college coach used to say, take place and by the half point I was no further  back than 20th place.   On the climb up to the out and back and the half point, it was exciting to see and pass such amazing athletes like Hal Kroener (22nd) and Karl Meltzer (13th). 
I believe I was running just in front of Ian Sharman (11th at the finish) and Mike Foote (9th) around the half point.  In the brief interactions with Mike and Ian, I could tell that they were great guys.  Mike I spent a little more time with and can say that he is genuinely humble and plain cool, I hope to run into him in the future.    

Last year I ran down the long decent before Steep Ravine far to aggressively not wanting Mike Owen to pass me and I paid for it later in the race.  This year, with nearly NO down hill training, I was extra careful to take it easy on this stretch and with that Ian passed me before I passed him on the climb out.  I passed Tsuyoshi(6th) and Jason Wolfe (8th) somewhere  around mile 28-35.  All things were going as planned and with 20 to go I was in about 8th or so with the leaders maybe 9-11 minutes out. 

From the gun to mile 42 I held a relatively constant and even up hill and downhill pace and subsequent effort.  My goals for the race were to place in the top 5, top 3 being ultimate goal and to break 7hrs (all though the course was 1.8 miles shorter this year). 

I met up with Dave Mackey at around mile 39.  I didn’t realize it at the time, but Dave would be my saving grace to not completely falling apart at mile 43.  A few miles after meeting Dave, maybe at mile 40 or so, I passed Mike Wardian (18th) and was in 6th place cruising the flats approaching, at the time, 5th place Timothy Olson who was around 2-3 minutes ahead.  I told Dave, “I want to be top 5”.  Dave assured me that if I kept pace there would be a great shot at catching Timothy and Geoff Roes, who was just in front of Timothy and if things went real well, making that coveted top 3 (10 minutes ahead of me).
Bridal Veil Falls 

 I could see Timothy at mile 43 and Geoff shortly after that, but then the climbing wheels literally fell off.  The Jamaican slipped on the ice and crawled down the course.  I truly didn’t see it coming and all of a sudden I couldn’t run up the hills.  Dave was awesome and kept encouraging me asking me if I needed to take some gel or water or whatever.  Dave told me to keep up my cadence, told me I was getting it done, to keep running.  I was so done climbing like I have never been before in a run or race.  I power hiked, I shuffle ran, I walked hunched, up right, it didn’t matter I was loosing huge time.  At around mile 43 I had 9-10 minutes on Mike Foote (9th) and Jason Wolfe (8th), 3 minutes on Tsuyoshi (6th) and Jezz Bragg (7th), but I lost it all in about 4 miles. 
Me, Jacob and Joe Uhan

Dave had to turn around and join his family at around mile 47 just before the end of the last climb.  Had Dave not been there I am pretty sure I would have lost at least 5 more minutes.  I thank you Dave for saving my top ten finish.  I owe you.

 The last 2.5 miles were down hill and while Jason Wolfe and Mike Foote increased there lead by maybe 20 seconds (30 without a missed turn by those two), I painfully held pace on shot legs finishing 10th at 6:53:43.  I nearly passed out at the finish and certainly noticed that I was having a bit more trouble moving around than my competitors. 

Here are results.  

It was great chatting with all the amazing athletes and especially my friend Jacob Rydman who had a great race finishing 15th overall.  This year’s race had an amazing field that surpassed last year’s in my opinion.  There were around 30 sponsored “professional” level runners at the starting line.  I have never run with so many amazing athletes, it was a great privilege.     
The Schlarb Family in the Gondola 
I would love to have hung out longer, but I had a flight back at 4:45pm so that the following morning Maggie, Felix and I could head out to Telluride Colorado for an awesome vacation together. 

Yes, it was and is frustrating to loose over 10 minutes and 4 places all in about 4 miles of the last 7 of a 50 mile race, but even more frustrating was that I am confident that with just a little more “real” hill work, like a week more, I would have kept pace over those critical 4 miles and landed a 4th place finish.   But regardless, I had an awesome time racing on the beautiful trails of Marin County with spectacular international competition.  I am so glad to be home.                 


  1. you inspire me bro. just what you went through being away from loved ones in Iraq, enduring 100+ heat, having to run on the t-mill each day. just shows what kind of guy you are, thankful to know you. you kicked butt in the headlands, again, congrats.

  2. Thanks Jacob! I certainly learned a lot on the deployment and it built some "character" on a lot of levels too. LIkewise on your performance at TNF, looking forward to racing around the states with you over the years.

  3. Stoked you are home. Stoked I will get to run with you soon. Stoked you are back with your family. Stoked you ran this race so well after such a long time in such unspecific race conditions. Stoked you connected with D-Macktruck on the trail. Well done.

  4. NICE run Jason. Scary what will happen when you get acclimated to civvy life again and hit the peaks a few times a week. Your training drive and creativity in Iraq paid huge at TNF and you ran well. Thank you for having me along and giving me a taste of the action live.
    Hey GZ!

  5. Certainly a lot of stoked "ness" GZ! I'm stoked too. How about some speedwork Thursday morning(s)?

    Dave, thanks again. You saved me out there from really falling apart. See ya soon.

  6. Not this Thursday but would be game for such outings in the close of this year. Or even a Green jaunt.

  7. Jason, as someone who has done a couple of different tugs in the desert for the Army, your performance is beyond impressive. All I was doing was chilling at NPS during my trainup so I was stunned to see how you could get that kind of a train-up done while deployed.

    Really impressive stuff. My Army pride is only hurt a little being beaten by an Air Force guy :-) you've got loads of talent, keep kicking ass.

  8. It looks amazing to run under the snow but I have to admit that It is something that you would want first a pph free demo