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Northface Endurance Championships 50 Mile Race

December 6, 2010

Forewarning: this post is long, crass, uncensored, raw, sarcastic and probably the longest post I’ve written to date. So pull up a chair, grab some vodka (you will need it after reading this) and follow along for the ride.

“Welcome to the 50 Mile club”

I don’t think I could ever forget those words as I crossed the finish line of the Northface 50 Mile race this past weekend. It’s really hard to put into words how I felt during my overall experience, as I was borderline delirious during the last half of the race (more on that later). All I know is, despite how much pain I was in during and after the race, it was so worth it.

The race was situated in the beautiful Marin Headlands-Fort Barry near Sausalito, San Francisco. Going into the race, I felt pretty prepared. I trained hard, I put in my time and gave up many wild and crazy Friday nights, but I also knew that this was a very very tough course. Everyone around me looked so ready and “hardcore”. It was a totally different group of people than standing in your corral for a marathon. I’m pretty confidant everyone that started the 50 mile race had put in time and energy into training for this endurance event. You don’t just wake up race day and sign up for this 50. I was with a group of people that were just as crazy as me and no one questioned why I signed up for this event, let alone why I decided to make this my first 50 mile race. One way or the other, we were going to finish  50 miles together.

Saturday morning/Friday night started with a 2AM wake-up call. The race started at 5, but we had to get shuttled to the start which left at 3:45. Needless to say, it was lights out at 7 the night before (totally early bird dinner special status). Since the race started in the dark, we were required to wear headlamps (which I received plenty of for my birthday, thank you). Casual trail start, no Star Spangled Banner, no speech from the mayor, no frills. Dean Karnanzas was there to count us down and we were off!

I will never forget the first couple of miles up Bobcat Trail when I would look back as we climbed up the mountain and see a flood of headlamps winding up the switchbacks. It was incredible. I was feeling great and I had the hugest grin on my face. The terrain was pretty well paved and for the most part, it was on a fireroad so there was no problem passing people. It wasn’t congested at all and many times there wasn’t anyone next to you, in front of you, or in back of you (no, I did not get lost this time). I passed through the first aid station fairly quickly. I pretty much breezed right by it, drank a couple cups of Nuun electrolyte and made my way. It was too early for me to start taking in fuel as I had a pretty filling breakfast. The climbing wasn’t so bad, I didn’t stop to walk until Mile 7 where I would alternate between walking and running uphill. Took a couple pictures while walking uphill and proceeded on.

attempting a thumbs up sign

The first 10 miles flew by really fast, they had a timing chip at the first drop bag station around Mile 9 and I was ahead of schedule. I messed up the whole drop bag situation and got really confused which miles I had dropped bags off since some aid stations were used twice as we headed out and came back. After a 400 ft ascent over a half mile, we were at the top of Coastal Trail. Here was one of my favorite parts of the run down Pirate’s Cove. It was breathtaking…

I knew around Mile 13-25 was going to be all uphill climbing. This was the highest elevation in the race and I mentally prepared myself as we started the uphill climb. By the way, there was no way you could get lost on this course. It was SO well marked with tons of volunteers to guide you the right way if there was a split in the course. There was also a 50K and marathon that was going on, but most of the people I saw were running the 50 miler. The volunteers were awesome. They provided so much support at the aid stations and when they saw you come in from 100 ft away, everyone would cheer for you and your pacer.

Mt. Tam

Mt. Tam deserves it’s own little section because that part of the race wiped me out like I have never experienced before. This was the hardest and longest uphill climb ever. It also probably didn’t help that I had no fuel in me besides the Nuun drink and Sport Beans. Eating real food never crossed my mind until I was completely wasted and zapped of energy (Mile 31). The climb was brutal (1,500 ft ascent) because it was rainy and cold, the hill was single track on the side of the mountain and super slippery from the mud. It was an out and back so while you were climbing up, runners were going down. One little misstep and you could easily slip off the side of the mountain (kidding, well sorta). I was on the verge of tears this part of the race because it felt so hard and the turn around was no where in sight. I just wanted to make it to Mile 28 where I would see my crew and pacer (Meg & Matt) waiting for me. After what felt like forever, I finally got to the top of mountain. All I could see were views of the San Francisco Bay and Pacific Ocean and we were situated above all the trees. By then my Garmin had died so I had no idea what time it was. I was suppose to be at Mile 28 by 10AM, giving me  5 hours from the start. I got to the aid station which was Mile 24 and the volunteer said it was almost 10. I started stressing that I was going to be late again (flashback PCTR 50K), so skipped eating (biggest mistake of the race) and started the steep descend (1,900 ft) down to Stintson Beach. This point of the race I hit the wall, hard. Every step was hurting, even going downhill. I’m pretty good at downhill running, but my feet were so torn up and it didn’t help that we had SO many stairs to climb down. Wtf stairs?! It also didn’t help that this descent was a gnarly, root-covered trail. I saw my friend Meg a mile away from Stintson (she ran up to try to meet me) and the only thing I could muster enough energy to say to her was that I needed all the painkillers I could get my fat swollen hands on at the aid station. Vicodin, Tylenol, IBU, anything! We finally made it to Stintson where a big crowd was waiting since this was the first place a pacer could jump in. This was around Mile 28 and probably the place most people dropped out. I fueled up on some almonds, jerky and sports drink from my drop bag and trudged on with pacer Matt in tow.

Meg decided to run with us for a little bit before turning back around and meeting us at the finish. Side note: I should have eaten something more substantial at Stintson because I felt like shit the next couple of miles to the next aid station. Not to mention we were back climbing again! and stairs! I think I took home the award for the happiest person during this stretch. We ran up the classic Dipsea trail through the moors and then entered the trees and the challenging Steep Ravine Trail. This was the part where I started to see things. I swore I saw someone drop their timing chip and Meg even went back to look for it, but turns out I was just looking at the timing chip on my shoe. Fact: Ultra-running makes you crazy. These next few miles were really slow (um, like 20 min/mile slow) because 1. I felt like shit (as I mentioned before from lack of nutrition)  2. stairs 3. this was around mile 28-31. Poor Matt, this was only 3 miles in for him and we were going at a fast pace of 20 min/miles. Oh yeah, did I mention we had to climb a ladder?! Looks cool, probably would have been cool to climb if I was going on a nice leisurely hike, but mind you, this was around Mile 30 when we had to get on our hands and climb up this ladder. Looks like I’m having fun. Pictures can be deceiving, my friends.

Finally made it out of the forest, which by the way, really minds me of the movie Pan’s Labrynth or something out of Alice in Wonderland. Trippy.

We hit Bootjack aid station and I finally decided to eat something. Started with 1/4 PB&J sammie and slowly starting eating another..and another..grabbing handfuls of pretzels, boiled potatoes dipped in salt (ew), saltines, bananas in between bites and washing it all down with some nice salty Nuun drink. I was ravenous. Since it was around lunchtime anyways (12:30), I decided to rest at this stop for a bit and fuel up for the last 20 miles of the race. I think the volunteers were a little shocked by how much I was eating as I stood there for a good 5 minutes just stuffing my face with anything I could get my grubby hands on.

Lesson of the day: Carbs=happiness. Belly full and happy, Matt and I went on our way for 5.6 miles until the next aid station. Bumped into Jimmy Dean from the Coyotes who gave us good advice on taking the steep downhill easy because we still had a long way to go. By now, I was just counting down the miles to the next aid station. Aid station=PB&J sandwiches. And I was all for the PB&J. We had a pretty steep descent followed by another challenging climb. We rejoined the Dipsea Trail for a short bit before getting into the next aid station. I can’t comment on what I was thinking at this time as everything felt numb. My hands and feet were so swollen that I couldn’t even feel them anymore. I’m pretty sure at that point, my body was so swollen I wouldn’t have even been able to fit in my “after-thanksgiving feast” pants 😦 Honestly, I don’t really remember much during this part. I concentrated on the trail in front of me and kept up with Matt, who was obviously going slow for me. Having a pacer was really nice because it forced me to run to keep up. He would run a few hundred feet in front of me and stop to wait. Run, wait, run, wait. Ask him how that duty felt as a pacer. Sometimes I put on my headphones when I felt like I was fading away. Lady Gaga did the trick. I focused on my feet, the trails and the music. Since Matt knew I was in my “zone”, he left me to be and pulled me along, signaling to me each time we hit another mile.

Honestly, you would think once you hit 40 miles, the last 11 would be a breeze, right? Wrong. The miles were so so long because of all the climbing. Mind you, we weren’t doing any 7 minute splits here. We finally hit Mile 40 where my friend Julie was helping at the aid station we passed by early on in the race. “Santa Monica has nothing on these trails, huh?” she said. Nope. We exited the aid station and began the most exciting part of the race. Let me just say it was pretty much a 5 mile uphill climb on the Coastal Trail. I say that sarcastically because the entire time I was just thinking “are you f-ing serious?”. Sorry, I realized this post is more profane than my other race reports, but that was honestly how I felt. 50 miles is not a happy stroll in the park. It works you to your core, your max and makes you go beyond limits you thought you never had. I was going back and forth with this girl who looked like she was in my age group for the past couple of miles. She would pass me on the uphill walking and I would pass her going downhill. I kept looking back and saw her coming up behind me. We dubbed her “yellow shorts”. Matt joked that since there were so few people in our age group, we would be competing for the 1st place title, hah. I pretty much walked, cursed, and ate my jelly beans this entire hike up. Boy, I was not a happy camper because earlier on in the day (like 10 hours before) I actually ran down this steep hill and thought to myself “wow, it would suck ass if we had to climb up this hill”. Karma sucks.

Anyways, Mile 45 we finally reached the next aid station. It was getting dark and I had dropped off my headlamp at Stintson beach because I did not anticipate finishing after sundown. Lo and behold, we were required to have headlamps in order to continue the race. Matt still had his and gave his to me. We weaseled our way out of the aid station without a headlamp for Matt and began the last 6 miles of the race. We had 3 miles to the next station and just when we thought the climbing was over, we gradually ascended almost 700 feet over 2 miles. Yeah, not fun. It was dark by the time we got to the very last aid station at Mile 48 and by then it was all downhill to the finish. We ran down what I ran up when we first started the race. It was so tranquil running in the dark, listening to our breaths and feet pattering on the ground beneath us. We ran into some people who were struggling with the downhill. This was my time to make up for all that lost time going uphill. I may be slow on the uphills, but I can pound the downhills like no other. I was ready to get out of this mountain and finish what I started. We ended up passing “yellow shorts” because her quads were blowing out and I told myself that I would not let her pass me anymore. We finally hit the road 1/2 mile from the finish and ran into Meg who was worried that we wouldn’t be able to finish because one of us didn’t have a headlamp. I heard faint voices from afar and I knew the finish line was close. Started to pick up my pace and finish strong with my two biggest supporters right behind me. It was unreal crossing the finish line. I had no emotions as I tried to process what had just happened. I couldn’t think of a better way to finish 50 miles with my friends right there to celebrate with me. Did I really just run 50.7 miles in the mountains for over 12 hours? Yup, and now I can say 50.7 is the new 26.2.

check out them sexy legs

14 Comments leave one →
  1. December 9, 2010 11:57 am

    Awesome read Andee. So proud of what you accomplished out there. Can’t believe you went that long w/o eating and still ended up finishing. Oh well…lesson learned!

    Good job again!

  2. December 9, 2010 12:28 pm

    Loved reading this! Didn’t even need a drink. So impressed and proud of you! : )

  3. Torrie permalink
    December 9, 2010 12:46 pm

    That’s amazing. YOU’RE amazing! Loved reading this. Can’t wait till I have a 50 miler story of my own. (Someday!)

    However, my first thought at the end was “I hope she writes a post about her recovery!” 🙂

    • December 10, 2010 9:24 am

      Torrie-Thank you. Recovery is an unusual subject for me as I don’t recover like most people. I can’t stand the 4 letter word “REST” so I’m pretty much back running trails this week. I did take Sunday off from everything, was going to do yoga, but couldn’t move. Epsom salt, ice, Tylenol has helped immensely during this recovery period. I’m taking all my runs easy and working out a lot at the gym to keep fitness up. Stretching, foam rolling and wearing flats all week has also helped. Can’t wait to read about your first 50!

  4. Rhea permalink
    December 9, 2010 1:21 pm

    Holy Cow! That is one TOUGH race. Congrats for gutting it out.

  5. Stephanie permalink
    December 9, 2010 2:03 pm

    that was sooo good. WRITE A BOOK 🙂

    Yeah, I wish I were as determined as you about running..

  6. December 11, 2010 6:49 am

    Wow Andee! You are hardcore. The best part of reading this was you cursing the distance and the course and now reading you tweet about even tougher races. You rock! I can definitely relate to this with my Red Rock experience. Great job and keep up that crazy spirit of yours.

  7. December 11, 2010 9:02 am

    You never cease to amaze me, AT.
    I may never be a crazy runner, but you’ve made me a crazy runner reader!
    You’re amazing girl, just the way you are!

  8. Derrick permalink
    December 12, 2010 6:33 pm

    Congrats Andee! You did sooo awesome and your race report is so inspiring. One of my goals is to complete a 50M in 2011. I love that even though you hit your low – you were able to bounce back and persevere. I can’t even imagine having that ridiculous 5 mi climb at 40. I would’ve broke down in tears for sure. I see you’re already scoping out your next 50M!!! Good luck!

  9. December 13, 2010 4:56 pm

    Great post! Accomplished is probably an understatement but I bet you are proud. Thanks for the pics of the course… I probably woulda been the one to fall off the mountain!

  10. Trace Bee permalink
    December 18, 2010 10:27 am

    Wow, great read (didn’t need vodka but I had an urge to eat PB&J) and lovely photo of you finishing. Very impressive!!!

  11. December 20, 2010 6:05 pm

    uh. . .WOW. . . i can’t imagine running 10 miles. . .let alone a marathon or 50?!@?!

  12. January 4, 2011 8:50 am

    Awesome read Andrea! I couldn’t pull myself away from it at work. Congrats on an outstanding accomplishment that very few people will ever experience in life. The profanity just made me feel more of your experience during the read. Miss you lots! WAY TO GO!!

  13. January 8, 2011 10:32 am

    I saved this post to read when I could read it thoroughly! Congratulations on your major accomplishment! I really cannot even imagine this kind of race. I just did my first trail race today, and it killed me. 50 miles?!? Lady, you are an inspiration!

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