Thursday, December 11, 2008

The North Face Endurance Challenge 50k (+)

Saturday, December 6th I had the pleasure of toeing the line at the North Face Endurance Challenge 50k being held up in the Marin Headlands area (this race turned out to be a 50k+, as they told us at the start line that the distance was somewhere between 33-34 miles, not the standard 31...ahh well, at least they didn't charge us extra for the bonus miles!!!). Actually, there were four distances available to runners - 50 miles, 50k, 1/2 marathon, and 10k. The 50 mile race was billed as the "championship," the final race in a series of events held across the country throughout the year. The top male and female finishers would take home $10,000 - the biggest payday in ultrarunning! As such, there were some fast folks lining up for the chance to get paid.

The start was near Rodeo Beach (actually, the start was from Fort Barry), and the 50k course took runners through Tennessee Valley, Muir Beach, and out to Pantoll before turning around and heading back on various trails, including a section of the Dipsea Trail. The views were gorgeous as the day was clear and sunny, though a bit windy in some areas. Cool temperatures made for ideal running conditions, and The North Face did a good job of marking the course and stocking the aid stations with supplies and volunteers.

I started out fairly conservatively, which was not typical of most of my races. About the nine mile mark we started on a long climb gaining about 1,500 feet over four miles. Up till then I was trading places with three friends running together, and just before the climb they passed me. I decided it was a good time to push my uphill pace a bit and attached myself to the back of their "train." They set a comfortable pace and before I knew it we were at the top, at the Pantoll aid station. A little bit before the top, though, I came up on a friend from the Santa Cruz Track Club, Diane Delucchi, who was looking strong. I found out later that she was having a tough time early on, but I would have never known from seeing her steady pace going up that hill. We exchanged cheers for one another – it’s always nice to get a little motivational bump from a friend on the trail.

Speaking of friends, I saw Carol Cuminale at a couple of the aid stations, and she always had a cheer for me as I came through. She was going to be pacing Diane later in her 50 mile quest, and was out meeting her at some aid stations to make sure she had what she needed in the early goings.

Just before arriving at the Pantoll aid station I was running alongside another guy and we started chatting. At one point he took a look at me and asked my age, which I was more than happy to share. He indicated we were in the same age group (40-49), and that he believed there was only one other person in our age group ahead of us. I was somewhat surprised at this, and figured he was being a bit optimistic. As we entered the aid station, I saw him veer off to the drop bag area, while I continued to the tables to get my water bottle filled and grab some food. I was back out on the trail within about a minute.

The next section was a blast, as we lost most of the elevation we had just gained (ain't it always like that?!?) running through the Steep Ravine section, next to a beautiful creek. This was a very technical section of trail, and you really had to pay attention here or you were bound to take a tumble and risk losing some teeth, or skin, or something! Before long, the trail headed back up, then down, then up, then down...there really wasn't much in the way of flat spots on this run - the overall elevation gain for the 50k was about 6,900'.

Winding around here and there, we eventually ended up back in Muir Beach and started a long, steep, grueling climb. This one kicked me in the stomach, so-to-speak. As I got to the top, I had a stitch under my ribcage that pestered me for a little while until it finally went away. I was getting a bit tired (imagine that). From here on out, I ran (if you can really call it that) the downs and what little flats there were, and walked as fast as I could muster on the ups. I passed a few people, and was passed by a few people, but managed to keep up steady forward progress. Hitting the last aid station, the final couple miles (except for the last half mile) were down hill. Though my stomach was a little sloshy, I ran as best my legs would let me, and sprinted the final 800. I crossed the finish line in 6:09, which I was quite pleased with, and immediately looked for a seat.

The North Face had a little "expo" at the finish area, with a nice spread of food. I spent some time chatting with people and sharing stories of the day before my appetite kicked in. After shoveling some food down, I wandered over to check the results, mainly to see who won the big prize in the 50 miler. To my utter amazement I finished in 19th place overall, and 2nd in my age division! I couldn't believe it. Now, I'm a decent runner, not really speedy, but I do posses pretty good endurance, determination and motivation - but 2nd?!? Then I realized why - most of the folks I would typically run against in my age division were in the 50 miler (and another 50k race being held in Woodside), so that left a little softer field. At any rate, I'll take a 2nd place finish any way I can get it, and am not only happy with it, but proud, too. I also got some extra stuff for the age division placement - thanks North Face!

As always, the ultra community was fun and supportive throughout the day. It was great to see all the spectators out along the course cheering the runners on. The North Face did a great job with this event, and if anyone is looking for a fun entry into trail running, or ultrarunning, this could be a good opportunity to give it a go. From what I understand, they will be having the championship event here again in 2009 around the same time. I think I may just have to run it again. Who knows, maybe I can improve my...time? ;-)

2008 Quad Dipsea

I first started trail running around 11 years ago, and my first trail race was The Dipsea Race. While training for it, I heard about the Double Dipsea and Quad Dipsea races. After running the Dipsea the first time I thought, man, I just don't know about running that beast two, much less four times! But it stuck in my head.

Last year, when I decided I wanted to run an ultra, I remembered the Quad Dipsea and thought to myself that I would really like to give it a try someday. Well, this year I vowed to make that happen. I even emailed the race director early this year to inquire about when race registration would open so I would make sure I wouldn't miss it. I wanted in! And I got in. It wouldn't surprise me if I was one of the first to register, as I hit as soon as I got the notification from the RD that registration was open.

Gettin my stuff ready.

Hangin with Will Gotthardt before the start.

Race day dawned clear and unseasonably warm. As we gathered around the starting area in Mill Valley I ran into some friends and had a chance to chat. I ran into Kate Morejohn and her daughter Keturah (who just got engaged, congrats Keturah!), and her son Justin. If I remember correctly, this was Justin's first ultra, and he rocked it, finishing in under 5 hours!!! There are some running genes in that family. Justin's wife Sara was there rooting on her husband and dad-to-be, as Sara was about ready to give birth to their first child. In fact, her due date was the day of the race so all were ready to bail if necessary. Fortunately, their son held off a few days to make his grand entrance. Kate's husband, I recently found out, shot a few videos of the race and those have been posted on the Quad Dipsea website. Check em out if you get a chance.

Of course, Carol Cuminale was there. We were chatting as the starting horn sounded, and soon enough we were on our the first set of stairs. The Dipsea Trail is notorious for its' stairs. 671 start the trail off on the Mill Valley side (no, I didn't count them, but someone did at some point). Up, up and away we went. After the stairs, the climbing doesn't end. You keep going up. But at some point you begin to go down - into Muir Woods. Only to go back up. Then down again. Finally ending up at Stinson Beach. At which point you turn around and head back to whence you came.

Carole Cuminale, my friend and ultra mentor. She is also taking me under her race directing wing, as I am going to help her with the Nisene Marks Marathon and Half Marathon this next June.

While everyone seems to mention the Mill Valley sides' stairs, and have counted them, in my opinion the Stinson Beach side is tougher going back up, and there just has to be more stairs. No doubt, it's tough going all along this course. The Dipsea Trail is 7.1 miles one way, so the Quad covers 28.4 miles and has over 9,200' of climbing. Which means 9,200' of quad busting descent. I think the name refers to this fact as much as the number of times one must traverse the course.

As is typical for me, I started out too fast, doing the first half in just over 2.5 hours. Towards the latter half of the third leg my stomach soured, and I slowed considerably. The final climb out of Stinson was very tough, and along the way I figured out my problem - too much sugary stuff and not enough plain water. GU's and sweet energy drink made my stomach feel bad, and I really had a craving for plain water, but with only one bottle, and it filled with the energy drink, I would have to wait until the aid station to remedy the situation.

I finally reached the aid station and chugged some water as I took a seat for a break. A very helpful volunteer filled my bottle and checked that I was ok. After a few minutes I felt much better and hit the trail, ready to finish. Amazing what a little water can do!

I was able to run most of the way to the finish, only slowing at a couple uphill sections and taking my time on the stairs going down into Mill Valley. I didn't want to do a header and tumble at that point, as my quads were feeling the burn by that point. I managed to finish in 5:51, coming in just shy of my expected target of 6 hours. My wife was volunteering at the finish line so it was nice to get a hug and a smile from her after I crossed the line. She was still "on the job" so I hung out, grabbed something to eat, and cheered in runners as they finished and chatted with some friends. I met another ultra blogger, Rick Gaston, who came up to me and introduced himself. I have seen him at a couple events, and have read his blog for a little while now. He is a pretty speedy guy, and really nice. The ultra community is just chock full 'o nice people - it's one of the things I really like about going to races.

Fin, finally! Now get me a chair.

Well, another challenge I've stuck in my craw for the future is to run all three in a calendar year. The hardest one to get into is The Dipsea Race, which fills most of the race positions through a lottery. Though if you write a good enough sob story, you may be "let in," from what I understand. I'll have to check into that.

This is a beautiful trail, and The Dipsea Race is the oldest trail race in the country - first run in 1905! While the Quad doesn't have quite the same history, it began in 1983, some history was made this year. The longstanding course record, set in 1992 by Carl Anderson, was broken this year by a young guy named Erik Skaggs, who finished in 3:52:16, beating Carl's record by about 13 seconds. Quite a day.