Realistic Expectations

One year ago at the 2014 North Face Endurance Challenge, I was gearing up for my first ever ultramarathon.  It was about 6am and I was on a shuttle headed towards the start of the race.  Sitting on the back of a yellow school bus in the dark, I looked at the adjacent hillside to see a line of a few hundred headlamps cutting through the horizon as the hills seemed to blend straight into the darkness.  It was at that moment as I stared out of that yellow bus in awe at the train of lights, I decided I had to be one of them.  Although I had not even started my first ultramarathon yet, I made a goal to myself that one year from that day, I would be one of those lights.

One year later, I’m waking up at 2:45 for a 3:45 departure with Ryan Ghelfi, (read his race report here) to ensure a parking spot and plenty of time to check our gear bags before the start of the 2015 North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Mile Championships.  The weather this morning could not be any better.  No rain, little wind, 45 degrees at the start; a complete 180 from the previous year.

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2015 North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Mile Start. Photo from Competitor.com

The gun goes off at promptly 5AM sharp, and 28 seconds into the race, I’m already showing my inexperience to the world.  No more than a few steps into the race and I bounce my water bottle out of my front pocket and onto the road in front of 500 stampeding runners vying for a spot at the front of the pack.

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Pick up the bottle, don’t get trampled, run like hell.  100 meters completed, only 80,367 more to go.

I made a very conscious effort today to go out very relaxed and controlled, as my training for this race really didn’t really begin until seven weeks ago.  Knowing I didn’t have the most training miles under my belt, the last thing I needed was to get sucked into a hot early pace only to be left for dead going up the Dipsea trail, crying at the never ending set of stairs that remained in front of me.  Thankfully this would not be the case, as I only felt better as the day went on.

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All smiles at the top of the first climb about four miles in

The conservative start put myself into about 50th place through the Tennessee Valley aid station at mile 8.  It seemed like I was passing someone nearly every mile from then to Stinson Beach at mile 28.

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Few miles before the descent to Stinson Beach.  Thanks Nate Dunn for the awesome photo!

Coming out of Stinson and through Muir Woods was definitely the toughest part of the day for me.  I had caught up to the lead lady, Megan Kimmel, right before going into Muir Woods, and I was having the most difficult time keeping up with her on the technical descent of miles 31 and 32.  Coming out of Muir Woods she left me in the dust, and I just had to keep reminding myself that at this mile during UROC, I was limping and contemplating dropping out.  The only factor holding me back was my fitness, not injury, which kept my spirits up and motivated me to really hammer the last 10 miles to the finish.

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The final 10 miles were a bit of a blur as I just put my head down and gave it all I had.  I crossed the finish line 21st male and 22 overall in 7 hours 14 minutes and I couldn’t have been happier.  The time was over an hour faster than my previous best over 50 miles.  I felt as if this was one of those performances where, given my training and current fitness, I nailed the day and I could not have gone any faster.  Not much else more satisfying than that.

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I want to give a huge thanks to North Face for putting on yet another spectacular 50 mile championships, and all the volunteers who were out on course all day to ensure our safety and well being.  A tip of the hat to my sponsors, Rogue Valley Runners, Balega Socks, and Revant Optics, for helping me pursue this strange passion for ultra running.

For those interested, here’s the Strava data for the race.  Also, the training section of my blog is all up (nearly) which shows all my runs and workouts for the weeks leading up to this race.  I will try to update this section weekly so those who are curious can see what I’ve been up to.

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