Monday, December 6, 2010

North Face Endurance Challenge (My 1st Marathon)

I completed my first marathon yesterday. It was incredibly tough, and incredibly awesome.

Some back story: The goal event of my running group, Reno Running and Fitness was the California International Marathon. It was on Sunday, 12/5/10. My (then) current employer wouldn't allow time off to be taken during Nov & Dec, so I couldn't run that race. Well, that situation became a non-issue (aka I  was let go), but by then CIM was full, and there were no bibs available via Craigslist, etc. I searched for Northern NV & CA events, and saw the North Face Endurance Challenge Marathon. After much debate, soul searching, and previous training assessment, I decided to take the plunge and register.

(Warning, there may be F-Bombs ahead. Wait, no "may be" about it.)

The night before the race was actually quite placid. There were some jitters, of course, but I think the prerequisites were met:
Good Training Plan? Check.
Hill training? Check.
Trail running? Check.
Nearly already run that distance? Check.
Nutrition & Hydration? Check and Check.
Melatonin? Check. Zzzzzz.....

I was ready. Except... The front desk clerk was so insistent that I set a wake up call, that I didn't set any secondary alarms. I set the call for 5:45a(I even watched her write it on the register) so that I'd have plenty of time to be at the shuttle departure at 7a, with a scheduled departure time of 7:30. There was no call, and luckily I spontaneously awoke at 6:55a. I'd prepped all my gear the night before, and the shuttle departure spot was 3mi away, so getting there by 7:25a was no problem. Because I was leaving a 1/2 hour later than expected, the continental breakfast setup was in place, and I grabbed a banana and a scathingly hot cup of coffee. I got to  the shuttle lot without incident. What followed was a rather sedate bus ride to the Marin Headlands. We arrived at 8a, or a little before, so there wasn't much to do except huddle around the portable heaters (it was cold & rainy), and wait for 9a to arrive. I took advantage of the time and ate a super-cookie. About 8:50a I did some stretching and last minute gear checks. 90 seconds before the start, we assembled at the line, and I noticed my Garmin had not been able to get a satellite fix. Oh well, too late to worry about it know. If I couldn't set a pace by feel at this point in the game, I was doing it wrong.

9a - and we're off!

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The first five miles or so was uphill, on a nice wide fire road. It was rolling terrain, so it wasn't unmanageable. I quickly got in step with another runner, named Stephen. He liked my pace, and said he'd run with me. That was great - I didn't know anybody, so it was great to find a running buddy so quickly.

Even with the overcast skies, and the rain, the beauty of the headlands were all around.

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It was amongst vistas such as these that we ascended the first five miles. This was a really good pace, and since my garmin was only keeping time, we figured our pace to be around 11:20 or so. Which was felt good, even uphill.

We'd passed several runners going up the hills, and a few were catching up to us as we descended.

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This guy here was an interesting character. He was all bundled up with a face mask and everything. We chatted for a minute and I found out he was running his first marathon too. He remarked "I figure Go Big or Go Home!" I agreed and wished him a good run.

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We ran for quite a bit with a nice lady who was originally from South Africa. I regret neglecting to formally make introductions. She referred to "Go Big or Go Home Guy as a 'Ninja Turtle'. That was funny. She told us about Comrades, and wanting to run it some day, and I told her about Floyd's inspiring story about his running Comrades. I was really surprised when Stephen kept commenting on my pace, and how he appreciated us running together. It turns out he has several marathons under his belt, and likes to run ultras. He couldn't get into today's 50k, so he was running the marathon. Let me tell you, I am glad he did. his energy and enthusiasm, and just general kindness and support was awesome, and made for a great start to this race.

Another hill was on the way, so we left her to walk, and we made another ascent. Then we hit our first real stretch of single track. This was highly technical, and the mud made it quite difficult. Stephen quickly sauntered down the hill making it look easy. I took a more cautious approach.

Here Stephen makes his way onto the trail to Muir Beach:
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This was an extremely difficult stretch, and parts of it reminded me of the stretch of the Western States trail we ran earlier in the year, only cold and muddy instead of hot and rocky. This was the first time doubt had set in. It was only fleeting - I still knew I'd finish, because there was no way in hell I wasn't.

Here it was starting to get really beautiful, and really tricky:

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If you look at the far ridge, you can see runners on the trail (the little dots...). That sight gave me some doubts... It looked so far away:

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Looking back after another ascent, with runners in the distance:

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Another look back at where I'd been. Wow, did I really go all that way? I must have:

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Stephen gives me a Hang Loose from higher up the trail while I take a breather:

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The descent to Muir Beach and aid station 3 was pretty bad. It was like walking on greased pig shit, it was so muddy. As we descended, we saw 50 milers on their way back up, and they were so nice telling us all about how after we descended PigShitHill, how awesome it will be when we have to go back up it like they were doing. Thanks Guys! Actually it was cool and we told them all how great a job they were doing and such. There was also hay all over the trail, in what I imagine was an attempt to make the trail less slick, but it didn't work. See, the mud stuck to your shoes, and then the hay stuck to the mud, and then the mud stuck to the hay. Lather, rinse, repeat. And after a few hundred feet it looked like you were wearing fuzzy bear slippers or something...

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Muir Beach. I want to go to there:

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But, the trail veered off, and to the aid station, where we stopped for water and a Gel. We then went onto a dirt road, then a real road, then more single track. As we were running along the road, who did I see on her way back from the turnaround, but none other than Jenn Shelton! I didn't have time to get out my camera (DAMMIT) but I did shout out "Looking Strong Jenn!" Stephen asked who that was and I told him. He was duly impressed. The course then veered onto another single track ascent on the Redwood Creek trail. This involved more mud, and was made even more fun because of the runners coming the opposite way, back from the turnaround. Since they were facing me, I made an effort to read every name on every bib I could, and say something to each runner by name. That was a lot of fun, and I got many smiles in return. It also helped boost my spirits. Also boosting my spirits was hitting the turnaround, because that meant we were past the halfway point. back the other way to the aid station again we charged.

Another quick stop at the station for some salt and a GU drink refill and it was back up PigShithill. Only this time, it was like walking on flypaper. It took an amazing amount of effort to life each foot:

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Looking back down from where PSH:

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Yeah, I better not wear these back in the house:

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Almost to the top:

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Stephen had already gone on ahead, because I was definately getting slower. The steepness was incredible, as well as slogging through the mud. He'd already got me through 15 miles, and I was grateful for that. I'd told him I'd see him at the finish, and he was off. I got to the top of PigShitHill, and the trail veered from where we'd come from, and headed east. Inland a bit. I looked at what lay ahead, and dubbed this next hill "Oh, Fuck Me hill.":

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See that little divot way up at the top? that's where we were headed. Oh, well, onward and upward. i could still run the descents and flats, and there were a few here and there.

I crested Oh Fuck Me hill, and came across this sight:

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This was dubbed "You Gotta Be Fucking Kidding Me hill."

At least I was going to die in a pretty place:

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So i get to the top of YGBFKM hill, and see hill "No Fucking Way.":

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But I was used to this sadism by now, so it was more slogging to the top, and then look! A real descent:

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The finish is back down there somewhere:

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Just because it's down, does not mean it's easy. This was steep, irregular, and slick. But yes, it was pretty:

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Did I mention it was pretty?

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It was down to another aid station, and then another DAMN hill. But at least it was less than 6 miles to go:

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I was passed on this hill by several impressive athletes, many of whom were 50 milers. All had encouraging words to say.

Because of the way most of us were slogging up this hill, I nicknamed it the "Bataan Death March". But, there were some flats and downhills, so I ran those to give myself a boost. It was also around this point I started getting all emotional, but in a good way, reflecting on where I'd come from, how I'd gotten here, and everyone who helped, supported, and encouraged my along the way. I got a bit choked up but that didn't last too long; time to focus back to the task at hand. At some point I also got Justin Bieber's "Baby" stuck in my head. WTH?

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At the crest of the final hill, there was a trail that let about a hundred feet off the course to a bench. I wasn't going to sit (no matter how much I REALLY WANTED TO) but I had a feeling that there was an incredible view from there, so I ran out to it. (No one tried to stop me, telling me I was leaving the course... thanks you guys) but I was right:

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From there, it was a short jaunt to the very last aid station. We had been told it was *water only* several times, but they had a full spread of food. I grabbed a handful of M&M's, chomped 'em down, and set out running. It turns out that i was on the very same fire road we started out on, except it was a descent this time. Awesome! I opened it up, and occasionally glanced down at my now working Garmin (It had finally started tracking at like mile 9 or something). Anyway, I was looking at my pace, and I was going from 9:45, to 9:40, 9:30, then 9:20. I held it there and came upon a lady running ahead of me. I could tell by her bib that she was doing the 50 miler. I didn't say anything, but she and I traded spots for probably a good mile or so, and then her pacer came up and joined us in stride. She asked the racer "How are you feeling?" to which she responded "how do you think I feel? I hurt!" They slowed a bit to confer, but before long she was alongside me again. She asked me "Why would she even ask me that?!?" I told her "You could have fooled me. you're looking strong!" We traded spots again for a few hundred feet but she quickly turned up the juice, and I couldn't keep up. By then, I'd hit like the last 3/4's of a mile, and there was one more slight hill. I walked it, only about 150 feet or so, and then hit the gas to pound it out to the finish.

My final time was 05:57:44. My overall pace was 13:40, and my position in my category, men 40-49 was 21st out of 24, i was 92 out of 107 for men overall, and 141 out of 180 for everyone, overall.

I managed to find Stephen at the finish:

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It was nice to get some pictures of him from the front. :-) He was a big part of my accomplishment today.

26.2 miles of mud, sweat, and tears:

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Feels pretty good.

I have many people to thank - Michael always says "You do all the work, we just provide the structure and support", but if it wasn't for Him and Lynn, and Reno Running and Fitness, my wife, my kids, and everyone in the group who helped and supported me on this journey, I don't know that I'd have been here on this incredible day.

I can't wait for the other runs I have to look forward to. Am I doing this one next year? Oh, Hell Yeah.

The full set of pics, with many more is here.

The Garmin Data of the last 13 or so miles is here.

A video of some of the trails on the 50 mile course is here.