Tuesday, December 7, 2010

2010 North Face Endurance Challenge Race Report

Going into my first ultra, and first real race over 6.2 miles, I really had no idea what to expect.  When I signed up for The North Face Endurance Challenge in the first week of September, I was in the middle of my senior year of cross country and I wondered if I would be able to have the training necessary to do well in a 50 mile race.  Up to that point, I was in the middle of my ninth week of 100+ miles, doing interval workouts such as 3 x 2 miles at sub 10:10 for each.  I knew that the next two months would include faster and shorter interval workouts to begin the final tune-up for nationals on November 20th.  It would only be two weeks after my final collegiate race before I would toe the line at what was being called "the world’s most competitive trail 50 miler."  With all of that on my mind, my final words in my blog announcing that I had registered for the ultra (Sept. 2) read, "first its time to run fast for 5 miles!"

From September until the end of cross country season, training wasn't lacking.  I continued to log 100+ mile weeks, topping out at 128 in the middle of October, the month that produced my two fastest 8k times ever, 24:42 and 24:47.  As the season came to a close and I began my small taper, I was still above 100 miles the week of Nationals; I ended my year shoeless, in 46th place, standing on the stage with a fourth place team trophy for the second year in a row.  After a few days of tantalized sulking, my attention was directed to TNF EC that was weighing in the back of my mind for a long time.

I didn't know what to do for the two weeks between nationals and the ultra, so I did what I like doing most, which is to simply log miles.  Back in May, I ran my longest run up to before the race, 40 miles that took over 10 leisurely hours with two of my good friends.  It was by no means hard-pressed, but the time on my feet was a valuable experience.  Another stint of long running was in early July, when I did back to back marathons in about a 20 hour span.  This was done in the Jefferson National Forest with Eric Grossman and the pace was very similar to the pace I ended up running in the 50, plus I was able to soak up information from a more experienced ultra runner.  The week after nationals, I did a 4hr+ run.

So, I at least knew I could run 50 miles.  Plus, I kept telling myself, "I have to be the fastest person in this race, right?"  I might not of had the most natural leg speed of the competitors (ex. Uli Stiedl). I am certain with an entire four years of college 8k and 5k training, mine was the most developed going into the race.  All of this talk about training and the proper way to train for an ultra is being played out over on Geoff Roes' recent blog.  Although I will side more with Geoff and Tony in the debate, ultra running is such a new idea and proper training is still being experimented with by the current elite ultra runners.  I ran 24:42 in an 8k off of doing 120 mile weeks, yet my friend Keegan ran 24:37 by doing 60-65 mile weeks.  Although that example is at a much shorter distance, it is case and point that every runner can get to the end by different means.  For my future training in ultra-running, I will do what makes me most happy, which is to log a lot of miles and probably very little speed workouts.  Plus, confidence and mental fortitude is sure to play a bigger role in ultra racing compared to others.

Onto the actual race now.....

Standing on the start line, I browsed around the competitors that were up front; seeing runners that I have only read about made me realize how awesome ultra running is, that I was able to compete with the top guys in the sport, in my first ultra ever.  It was a very surreal experience there.

The start was semi-casual on a paved road until we turned left up the Rodeo Valley Trail.  There seemed to be about 30 guys in that front pack and I was just sitting around 10th place getting a feel for what kind of pace we would be starting at.  I didn't stop at the first aid station at mile 5.8 because no one else did.  I figured they would not.  I had enough water to get me to the next one anyways.

Going up the Miwok Trail, I glanced back and saw the line of bobbing headlamps that followed behind me.  It was just one of the beautiful images I was able to see throughout the day.  Prancing down the hill before the horse stables and into the Tennessee Valley aid station at mile 8.9 I was still in that front pack.  My time there was 1:05:33, that is 7:22 per mile.  My crew, my family, was there and my brother handed me a full bottle as I tossed him my empty one.  After that, the group of 30+ guys seemed to thin a little.

Going down into Muir Beach, I was running beside Geoff Roes and Dakota Jones, a 19-year-old at the time (turned 20 the day after).  These guys were for sure contenders.  I once again skipped filling my bottle there.  After Muir Beach, the biggest single climb of the day (but not the steepest) was to come.  The few guys what were up on us soon came back and it was line of 7 or 8 guys in the lead going up the Coastal Trail.

This is where one of my only misfortunes happened during the race.  I had to use the bathroom since about mile 10 and I knew I had to stop and go.  This is just one of the things that could happen in long race.  Going past the Pantoll Ranger Station I ran into the bathroom, did my business, and started back up.  I lost anywhere from three to four minutes for that break and was no longer with the leaders.  I never saw them again either.  I would have liked to see what would of happened if I was able to stay with the leaders.  I could have at least stayed with them longer than the 18 miles that I did.   

I exchanged gels and water at the Bootjack aid station and settled behind a runner with a blue shirt who I ended talking with after the race; his name is Jason Schlarb, from Boulder and that was also his first ultra, after being mainly a road racer and I think he said he has run some marathons.  We quickly caught up to Erick Skaggs and Chris Lundstrom and followed them into the McKennon Gulch turn around.  Approaching the station, we passed the lead pack of about seven runners coming the opposite direction, including Dave Mackey, Geoff, Dakota, Miquel Heras (the eventual winner), the guys I should have been with.  This aid station was mile 23.6 and I came through at 3:01:39, about 7:42 pace.

Jason and I passed Skaggs and Lundstrom and continued back the way we came until turning right to go down the Matt Davis trail into Stinson Beach.  This was a fairly technical section and we were killing the downhills.  Going into the aid station at Stinson Beach, we had passed one runner from the lead pack.  I refilled my bottle and took off.  Mile 28.3 at 3:40:17.

This next section proved to be my low moment.  Jason began to leave me going up toward Bootjack for the second time and I had nothing to respond, he ended up getting 5th place.  I walked for the first time in the race....

Although no one passed me going up the Steep Ravine Trail, I knew I was certainly not getting closer to anyone either.  After leaving Bootjack at mile 31.7, I was treated with being able to run with runners from the 50k.  This was not so good though.  I sometimes fell into the temptation of walking when they did and even though I was not getting passed by them, I was still not able to get out of the funk that I was in.  I think I was still in 8th place coming into the Old Inn aid station at 37.3 and I resolved to eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and a chocolate muffin.  It was not immediate, but it helped.

Shortly after that, Lundstrom and Zach Miller, who finished fifth at this years Western States 100, passed me.  Once again, I was not able to respond to either of them.  I began to think I was never going to be able to pull it together.  I had been running/walking no faster then 10:30 pace for almost 12 miles.  Coming into Muir Beach aid station for the second time at mile 40.6, my overall time was 5:53:37, making my overall pace 8:43.

The hill right after Muir Beach was treacherous.  It was so muddy that I decided walking was faster then running and power-hiked as fast as I could up the entire thing.  A lady told me I was in 10th place and that sounded about accurate.  At the top of the hill that I walked, I slowly began to get out of my low funk that slowed me for a long time.

At this point in the race, it was all be on fire trails to the finish.  Going down into the Tennessee Valley aid station for the second time, I realized I wasn't as far back on everyone as I thought I was.  I saw a Solomon runner ahead in his all white race kit and was gaining on him, it Thomas Lorblanchet. I passed him going into the aid station and at mile 45.4 I was at 6:33:07.

The hard decent down to Tennessee Valley took a quick toll on my legs and Thomas passed me going up the next hill.  We stayed fairly close for the next couple miles but he ended up leaving me for good and finished 8th place.  Even though he left me, I was still running fairly strong.  I wanted to make my last five miles good so I pushed a little.  Coming into the Alta aid station at mile 48.5, I was at 7:00:36.  I knew I only had 2.7 miles left (the real distance of the course was not 50 miles but 51.2 according to the race guide) and they were all downhill.

As I was running down the Rodeo Valley and Coastal trails, I was looking forward to see if I saw anyone that I could possibly pass.  I saw a guy in a white shirt and debated whether he was in the 50 mile or was finishing another race.  Regardless, I was gaining on him. Even though he was probably 2 minutes down the hill, I decided to go after him and when I go closer I realized it was Zach Miller, who passed me some 13 miles ago.  Once we got onto the road to the finish I was able to pass him with relative ease and push hard as I finished at 7 hr. 17 min. 47 sec. and was officially 9th place.

The last 2.7 miles coming downhill from Alta was 17:11 which is 6:22 pace.  My overall pace for the 51.2 miles was 8:33 per mile.


So, that was my long-winded race report.  Now I suppose I'll say what it all means.

First, I had a blast.  Through it all, the lows and highs.  Since I was expecting new feelings physically and new thoughts mentally, I had no expectations as to what place I would get and I projected myself at 7 hours flat when I registered.  Since I didn't know the course was two miles longer than last year, that was a fairly accurate guess.  For my first 50 mile race, I am happy with it but I know I can improve a good bit.

One thing that I was most worried about coming into the race were logistical things such as calorie and water intake.  I seemed to manage it well though.  I carried a 20 oz. water bottle with me the entire time.  There was only one section where I was dry for about 10 minutes.  The rest of the time I was able to get a refill or a new bottle by the time I drank it all.  I only took 5 GU packs but I ate a ton of PowerBar Gel Chews and GU Chomps.  The GU Chomps were what helped me the most it seemed.  I also took 3 or 4 S!Caps when I felt like I needed it.  I wore a bike shirt with three pockets in the back to carry most of it.  To improve on all of this, I probably should have took more gels in the beginning and maybe that would have lessened the low moment for me.

As far as the bathroom break at mile 18, I really don't know what to do about that, but it was certainly a influential moment for my race.  I really would of liked to see how far I could have gone with the leaders.  But, who knows, maybe I would of just fell back even harder.

My crew was great.  They are just as new at this as I was and the all day adventure Friday before the race proved to help out on directional logistics for them.  My brother, his girlfriend, my mom and dad, and my sister and her husband were my excellent crew.  Also, everyone back home that contacted me after the race someway or another were very supportive.

I had a great time after the race and met a lot of people.  I talked a good bit with Dakota Jones and learned how he got into ultra running and onto Team Montrail.  Meeting people like Hal Koerner, Geoff Roes, Chris Lundstrom, and Zach Miller were all great.  They were all so supportive and friendly.  That is one thing that has always lured me toward ultra running.  The scene, yet competitive, is always humble and generous and overall in a happy state.  It was also cool meeting Bryon Powell of irunfar.com.  He did an awesome job with interviewing people and the race preview.  I feel honored just to get a mention in that article.  Once again, a great guy.

From here, I don't know exactly where to go.  I am sure I want to keep running ultras.  That was never a question.  Now, I just need to figure out what I want to do for the spring as far as racing goes.  I still have not ruled out the possibility of racing a couple track meets.  It would be nice to actually break 15 since I am only .21 seconds away.  I could get a good 10k in as well.  Through it all, my mileage will be high enough to where I could be in good ultra shape.

For the immediate time being, I am taking it a lot easier than I am used to.  I ran three miles the day after the race and four the day after that.  It looked as if I could hardly walk the night after the race, but I was able to run the next day so I am not that bad off.  The main reason I ran the days after is because I think it helps recovery for me.  I felt better after each of the runs than I did before.  Plus, I am in the middle of about 370 days since my last day off and I take some pride in that streak.

Sorry for the ultra-lengthy write-up.  I can get carried away when talking about such a good time.  I might get some pictures up as soon as I find them.  For more coverage check out irunfar.com. 



  1. Nice report, congrats on an incredibly solid first Ultra! Very impressive.

  2. Great race report Mike and congrats again.

  3. ha...I commented with my blog name and was like DAMN! i just released my blog to the public & freaked out (especially bc you're cool now)...then i realized my blog is private...wouldnt want anyone to know you know a girl who sometimes run 130 miles a week and isn't an ultra runner...that was a close call ;)

  4. Congratulations on a great race. Really impressive seeing how well you ran off of XC training. Certainly the high mileage was a help, but will be interesting to see how things go for you next time with a string of long runs put together. Lots of time though.

    Good luck...whether your next goal is a sub 15 5km or sub 15 100 miler.

    Keep the streak going!

  5. thanks for sharing, it was interesting to read a XC runners perspective on running 50 miles. good work out there! FWIW - I doubt you'll ever make it 50 miles without losing time to the toilet

  6. Nice write-up and furthermore, nice race. We certainly were screaming down to the beach before steep ravine!

    Agree on the great debate over how to train. It really just depends on the body, some respond to aerobic threshold work, some to quantitiy of aerobic and others speed/anarobic (J. Daniels work).

    All but a week and a half (with the exception of weekly long runs on trails) of my training this fall leading up to TNF 50 was marathon specific, with mileage around 80 something. I had 3 weeks of 100-102 miles.

    Granted, I'm sure that having fun running the mtn trails like Anton, I can perform better in the ultra scene.

    P.S. I pooed during the race too (in the dark next to the trail). Funny.