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Northface 50 Miles Redemption

December 8, 2011

Part I can be found here.

“Redefine your limits”

Last year, Northface was my first attempt into this crazy world of “ultra running”. My first 5-0 miler. Little did I know, a year later, I would come back to this exact place and try the course again. I wanted revenge on the course that sucked almost 13 hours of my life away. Redemption at something I should have and could have conquered last year. It’s not like I didn’t finish the race, I ran the last part of the race in misery, slugging my legs through the mud counting the miles until I was done and I vowed to never ever come back again. I guess it was really a ego thing going into this race, wanting to prove to myself that I was as tough as I make myself sound in my head. If I could run 30 miles on tough terrain for 3 consecutive days, Northface has nothing on me…

Truth be told, I was scared shitless going into this race.


I kept reading last year’s race recap the week leading up to this race, asking myself why the hell I was doing this again. Needless to say, I was very hesitant to sign up for this race, but I knew I had to do it again and I wanted to be there to see my friends finish their first 50 miler and 50K’s that weekend. The days leading up to this race, I started to get a cold, the snuffles and sore throat. After the disaster aka Montana de Oro, I was convinced I was going to drop to the 50K distance. However, even with a cold and last year’s experience looming over my head, I didn’t have it in me to drop to the 50K and “wimp out”. I somehow told myself that I could tough it out and was determined to run come race day.

Great swag, as usual

The Race

Miles 1-18

Race morning started off just like last year, 2:30AM wake-up and we were at the shuttles by 4AM. The race started at 5AM in the Marin Headleads in San Francisco. It was a chilly morning, but the weather this year was supposed to be nice and cool with zero rain in the forecast. A total improvement from last year’s balmy, cold and rainy weather. The race started and I must have lined myself up close to the very front. We all had our headlamps on as we took off on a paved road for the first mile. We climbed up the switchbacks in the dark, listening to each others feet hitting the ground and the beeping of watches going off every mile. Just like last year, I loved seeing a flood of headlamps behind me as we were climbing.

It was an incredible sight to see that many dedicated runners on this tough course. I blazed through the first 9 miles at 1:30:49 even though I wasn’t feeling very good and could feel my energy waning. My throat was very sore from breathing through my mouth and my nose was so stuffed up. I contemplated dropping out at the first real aid station at Tennessee Valley, but convinced myself to suck it up and at least go to the 50K mark before dropping out. I slowed down significantly and focused on getting to the next aid at Muir Beach. We climbed 400 ft over the next half mile and before hitting Pirates Cove. I remember standing there last year in total awe staring out into the ocean.

This was a beautiful single track winding high above the Pacific Ocean. There was a killer downhill getting into Muir Beach. Last year I thought to myself that it would really suck if we had to climb back up this exact hill. 30 miles later, we were coming back up the hill in the opposite direction. Note: always study the course map. I knew better this year and prepped myself mentally for the latter half of the race. You know how they say the race starts at Mile 20 in a marathon? Well, in this case, it was from Mile 28-50 when the “real race” started. It was at Muir Beach did my two friends, Jack and Marshall, catch up to me. They looked great and I was still feeling pretty crappy. We hit the paved road for a little bit, “man sandwiched” between 4 boys, before getting into the Redwood Creek Trail to the next aid, Cardiac. This section of the course has a number of turns at the start, but ultimately we enjoyed simultaneous views of San Francisco Bay, and Pacific while running along the edge of Muir Woods.

Mile 18-28

I finally reached Cardiac where we completed 1,500 feet of ascent from the last aid station. I drank a couple cups of Mountain Dew, ate my GU and took off. My strategy this time around was to not mull around at the aid station. I wanted to be as quick and efficient getting in and out of the aid so I relied on eating foods that could be easily digested. I stuck mainly to water, Mountain Dew (best thing ever), salt pills, gels and GU chomps. Though I came through each aid station looking very “salty”, so I probably could have taken in more electrolytes. I rarely ate any “real food”, besides a piece of orange or banana. For some reason, this year none of the food appealed to me. I wanted to eat things that were calorie dense and would give me enough energy without weighing me down. For the first time at Cardiac, I started to feel okay. I felt so welcomed by the volunteers cheering us on and making sure we had enough water in our Camelbaks to last us to the next aid. I loved how much pride they took in manning their aid station. I also bumped into a friend at Cardiac who was bouncing around the aid stations taking pictures for us. This gave me the energy boost I needed to conquer Mt. Tam which was coming up.

Last year, Mt. Tam was the death of me. I hadn’t eating anything all day and the climb up to the top was brutal. I couldn’t believe how much easier it felt this time around. The climb wasn’t even as steep as I remembered and it went by so much faster. The only bad part about the trail was the very narrow single track. I found myself stuck behind a group of runners. At first, I used them to force myself to jog the uphills instead of slowing down to a walk, but after a while, the head person would start walking every uphill. I finally decided to pass up the group and run on my own. I was able to pass a couple people on the uphill, but the runners flying down the other direction made it hard to continually run as we had to step off the trail to allow them to go by. When I started to see familiar faces coming down the trail, I knew I wasn’t too far from the aid station where we would turn around and enjoy the downhill to Stintson Beach. I finally reached the top at Mile 22.8, fueled up and prepared myself for a long downhill ride to the beach. I was actually looking forward to this part because I knew I would be able to make up a lot of time on the downhills and I was feeling better energy/mood wise. We descended 1,900 feet, weaving in and out of the forest to Stintson beach. It was a screaming downhill with lots of hairpin turns, but I was able to pass a lot of runners who were having a hard time with the steepness of the hill.

Mile 28-51.2

There was a big group at Stintson Beach because this is the first time a pacer could jump in. I didn’t feel like dropping out anymore and knew I had less than a marathon to go. Suck it up and get on with it. It also helped that I had a friend waiting for me, ready to jump in and pace me to the finish. I quickly grabbed some Mountain Dew, filled up my Camelbak (I always told the volunteers to fill my Camelbak up to 60% since I knew I wasn’t going to go through a whole 2 liter pack in between the aid stations. This also eliminates having the volunteer guess how much she should fill), took off my long sleeve and hat and continued on with Thomas in tow. It was getting fairly warm out, but I kept the arm warmers in case I was going to be out there until night fell.

Looking like I am about to puke on everyone. Trail running is such a glamorous sport

We hiked/slowly jogged up the classic Dipsea Trail through the moors back to the Cardiac aid station. The miles flew by even though we weren’t going very fast. It was nice to talk to someone and catch up since I hadn’t seen Thomas since Wonderland. Unfortunately, due to the new routing this year, we didn’t climb up the infamous 10 ft ladder like last year.

Instead, we ran through trees and up a long section of the famous Dipsea Trail steps. Yup, the stairs again. I was mentally prepared for a hellish ride on the steps. I knew from last year, the stairs are no joke on this course. They are a relentless set of stairs that keeps on climbing further and further up the trail with no break.

Dipsea #nobueno

We reached Cardiac at Mile 32 and flew down a winding descent followed by a challenging climb before rejoining the Dipsea Trail. Somewhere in between the Cardiac aid station and the next aid, I ran into my friend Matt, who was way ahead of me from the start. It was a nice surprise to see him, although I could tell he wasn’t feeling well. I told him to hook onto us and use us to pull him through the wall he was fighting. This was also the longest stretch in between aid stations and I didn’t realize it would be 6 miles until the next aid. I was so positive after the climb, the aid station would be right on the road, but we kept going on the trail and climbing more and more stairs. By the time I hit the aid station at Old Inn, I was fading fast. We were at Mile 39 and I knew I was on the brink of bonking really hard. Matt pulled ahead and even though we were on the flattest part of the trail, there was nothing left in me. I shuffled along behind Thomas constantly having to stop and just stand still. I was so mad at myself for not running this flat and very runnable section of the course. However, I knew this was a phase that would pass. I just didn’t know how long it would take before I would feel better again. Thomas gave me a little piece of a Honey Stinger cookie even though I didn’t want to eat or drink anything. I reluctantly swallowed the piece and started jogging a little. The faster I get to the aid station, the sooner I can have my Mountain Dew. Sadly enough, soda was a very motivating factor for me throughout the race. I finally reached Muir Beach where we visited earlier on in the day at Mile 42.6. I took some more salt, ate some chomps, drank my Mountain Dew and happily went on my way. We gradually made our way up the hill that we came screeching down earlier, taking in the views of the Golden Gate Bridge through the mountain peaks before descending down Fox Trail.

By this time, my quads were pretty shot and any attempt at downhill running was futile. I ran very carefully down the hills as every pounding step brought a sharp pain to both my quads. I was yo-yoing between a couple girls during this last stretch, catching up to them on the downhills and getting passed on the uphills.

We reached the second to last aid station at Tennessee where I saw Matt again just as he was about to leave. I had 5 more miles to go until the finish with a 2 mile uphill ascent of almost 700 ft. It was brutal to be climbing so late in the course, but I was expecting this last climb. I ran what I could and hiked the rest. Thomas wanted to get me running a little on the uphills just to break up our movement of constantly hiking. As much as I didn’t want to move any faster, attempting to jog a little up the hill did feel better even if it was only for a few seconds. We saw views of Sausilito and the boats docked in the harbor. At the final aid station, Alta, I knew I had made it. The race was practically over for me. It would be a 3 mile downhill to the finish and I was ready to put this race in the bag. We picked up the speed on the downhills and cruised even though my quads were jelly. It was so nice to run this section in daylight. There was even a photographer out there snapping pics the final stretch! Last year, this last part felt so long because we were running with one headlamp when it was already pitch black. Soon enough, we reached the bottom of the hill and started running on the grassy trail which we had run on 10 hours ago. The finish line was so close and I was frantically looking at my watch wondering if I could possibly break 11 hours. Once my feet hit the paved road, I started to pick up speed. My legs didn’t feel like it had 50 miles on them. As the finish line drew nearer and the sounds of the announcer and people cheering became louder, I gave it all I had and surged through the finish in 10:50:27. I couldn’t believe not only had I beat last year’s time by almost 2 hours, but I had come in under 11 hours and felt great. Crossing the finish line felt just as sweet as finishing my first 50 last year. It really is amazing what your body can do once you set your mind to it.

However, I shortly collapsed after this picture was taken

I really couldn’t have asked for a better race. I wanted to drop out at Mile 10, then Mile 30, but kept at it determined to not let my nerves get the best of me. I had to stop making excuses for myself if I wanted to finish. At times, it was really hard for me to dig myself out of the slump, but knowing that I will feel better eventually gave me hope to fight the wall and continue. I am really glad I came back this year to redeem myself. I came and gave it everything I had left in me and I left knowing I ran the best that I could.

The group at the finish. We each fought our own battles and won. So proud.

Overall stats:

4/12 in age group

27/80 in females

10,059 elevation gain

51.2 miles

These were consumed shortly after.

Here’s a great video of the front runners on this beautiful, yet challenging course

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Brennan permalink
    December 9, 2011 4:44 am

    Great job Andee! Now go easy on that Achilles heel!

  2. December 11, 2011 10:57 am

    Reblogged this on GoHikeWorld.

  3. Thomas permalink
    December 16, 2011 4:36 pm

    Nice report (and race)!
    And you did run uphill again near the finish…

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