North Face 50K Training · Race Reports · Training

North Face 50K Race Report

Race: North Face Endurance Challenge 50K
Finish Time: 7 hours 12 mins which was in line with what I expected. Slightly better than middle of the pack for females.
Mileage: 32.9 miles (almost 2 miles longer than expected!)
Elevation Gain: 6,591 ft (consisting of 6 large hills, each with roughly 1,000 ft of elevation gain)
Fastest Mile: 7:20 (thanks Marincello downhill!)
Slowest Mile: 22:03 (Coastal Trail uphill slogfest)
Avg Heart Rate: 164 bpm (I tried to keep it in the 150s, but crept up on some of the monster climbs)
Start Time: 7:00am
Date: Saturday, November 18th, 2017 (I love Saturday races!!)
Weather: 45 in the morning, 60 and sunny mid-day. Absolutely the most clear day we’ve ever had in the Bay. It was crisp, clear, sunny and absolutely STUNNING.
Gear: Nathan VaporHowe hydration pack, Lululemon pants with side pockets, Coola sunscreen, Larbar, GU Energy Chews, Roka sunglasses, Hoka One One trail shoes, GGTC trail running shirt, GGTC hat.
Nutrition: I ate and drank everything I carried, but also had pretzels and Skratch Labs hydration drink. I ate something every 30-45 mins as planned. The race packet very clearly indicated which items were vegan (thanks North Face organizers!!)
Highlight: Seeing so many familiar faces — athletes, spectators, volunteers! Local races are the best!!
Lowlight: Mile 20 crossing an ankle-deep river, then immediately trying to climb up a muddy hill with zero traction, and then grabbing on to the branch to help myself up that was full of thorns.
Do it again?: YES!! I love the trail running community and the training. Everyone was so friendly, conversational, and laid back. I had so much fun out there. What a great, supportive group of people. I’ll definitely do another 50K. I’m on the wait list for this one.

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Race Summary

Whenever I attempt a new race distance, or new sport, I try to sign up for the hardest one I can. For cycling, that meant Levi’s GranFondo. For my first Half Ironman that meant Wildflower Long Course. For my first Ironman that meant Ironman Lake Tahoe. And for my first 50K it meant North Face. I embrace the extra challenge, and I know that the best way to grow, to be fulfilled, and to be my best self, is to step outside of my comfort zone.

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Pre-Race: Flash Mob Stretching

  • Up at 5:00am for herbal tea, banana & peanut butter, and some water
  • Mark drove Steph, Aurelien and I 20 mins to Marin City to the start line
  • Compared to triathlon, running races are SO low maintenance! You just show up and go!!
  • Coach Nate Helming led a small group of us in a pre-race warm-up. And then a few more people joined, then a few more, and pretty soon we had a massive circle. Flash mob stretching?!
  • Staying warm with puffy coats, hats and gloves. The temp was ~45 degrees.

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Race: Perseverance, Pacing and Positivity

Like most running races, the start was congested and slow as athletes funneled their way up the narrow trails. Steph and I started running with each other, and took a very conservative power-hiking approach to the first hill. We kept a conversational pace and admired the scenery around us.

We climbed +1,000 ft to the top and were rewarded with the most glorious and fast descent down Marincello. Wooooo weeeeeeeeee!! At the bottom of the hill is where I got my first burst of energy through the form of massive hugs from my niece, twin nephews, brother, sister-in-law, and a kiss from Mark.

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We continued up a very steep hill which seemed to go on forever. At this point I was just trying to keep an easy pace and not let other athletes dictate my pace. I kept reminding myself: nobody ever said “I wish I had gone out faster” at the end of the race. I mean, unless you’re planning to win the darn thing.

Luckily, I was a participant in Golden Gate Triathlon Club’s trail running program, and we were out on the race course previewing different sections every single weekend. Having course knowledge was super helpful.

The whole northern loop section in Muir Woods is a bit of a blur to be honest. I was concentrating so hard on not falling flat on my face. This is where the trails got very technical — roots, stairs, steep sections, slippery rocks, and narrow paths. There were a few gazelles that flew by me and I just stared in awe. HOW DID THEY DO THAT!? I tripped at least 10 times, and unbelievably surprised I caught myself each time. There was one part of the trail that was steep and slippery so I paused for a second. A guy behind me ran past and shouted “BE BRAVE!” So I went for it. It was helpful to get a little kick in the butt and to gain some confidence on the trails.

The other athletes were so incredibly friendly. I regularly heard “is it OK if I pass?”, or “coming up behind you on your left, thank you“. Such kindness! There were a few other people who hiked with me and asked how I was doing, asked about Ironman training, and random topics. It really helped distract my mind out there. I also had to remind myself to look out at the views. Even though we train out there every weekend, the sky was SO CLEAR you could see for miles and miles. It was breathtaking. We are so lucky to live here. ❤

I finally made it to mile 21 which was the next major energy boost. It was the Muir Beach aid station and it was full of my triathlon club friends in costume cheering and handing out supplies. I stopped to give hugs and take photos. It put a huge smile on my face, and boosted my spirits. GGTC rocks, period.

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Only 2 more big climbs to go and then I’m home! The second to last climb was pretty brutal. It was way too steep to run, so I power hiked, re-applied sunscreen, and stared at the tourists on the Blazing Saddles tandem bicycle going downhill. Haha did anyone else see that? At this point, my co-worker Aurelien was just behind me and took a photo. He and I were leapfrogging the whole time. It was awesome to have him out there. We sit next to each other in the office, too.

On the final climb up Marincello I implemented a 1/2 run, 1/2 walk strategy. Everyone around me was walking but I was determined to ‘leave it all out there‘ so-to-speak. I reached the top and was SO happy to see that my watch said we only had only 4 miles left to get to 31 miles. Woohoo!! Except that when I went through the aid station, the volunteer said “only 6 miles to go!” And my heart sank. WHAT!? Those extra 2 miles are a big deal mentally. I didn’t know if he had accurate info, so I just kept running and tried not to think about it.

I made it to the Golden Gate Bridge and was so happy to see volunteers out there with cowbells. Thanks you guys! It really helped keep the tourists to one side of the walkway, and athletes on the other side. And then, I saw my very first run coach, Joe Whelan, and he ran the next mile with me across the bridge. SO AWESOME! Joe has a tradition of running his athletes in to the finish line, and I miss those days. I was feeling surprisingly strong, and running sub-10 minute miles with a big smile. It didn’t feel like I had just run 31 miles at all.

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THERE’S THE FINISH! I see it!! The smile was getting bigger and bigger as I realized that I was almost done. I threw my hands in the air, waved to Mark and crossed the line 7 hours and 12 mins after starting that morning.

The race was an adventure and a lesson in perseverance, pacing and positivity. There is no way I would’ve finished if I had a terrible attitude, or if I went out too fast, or if I didn’t eat enough, or if I gave up trying. This is a lesson not just for race day, but for life. If you have a big goal, you can’t just wing it and hope for the best. You have to put in the work, approach it with a positive attitude, and pace yourself throughout the journey.

I plan to do a lot more trail running in the future, especially now that I’m the GGTC Run Director for 2018. I love getting out in nature, and I especially value the kindness of other trail runners in the community.

Thanks for reading, everyone!

-Carolyn

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