The North Face 50 miler
September 28th, 2013
*with an intro!!
I'm not really sure how to even start this race report, since I have not written one since 2011. The last time I wrote; I was newly married, only had one child, and was in great shape although I had dealt with injuries. Let's bridge the last few years. I have a beautiful 2 year old daughter now to add to my handsome 15 year old son, I have been married over 3 years, and I am trying to get myself back into shape. The trying to get myself back into shape has been occurring since 2011. I have never stopped running, but definitely put it on the back burner as I had a little one to take care of, and my free time has dwindled.
I entered 2013 with a plan on getting back into shape and running another 100 miler by the end of the year. I was coming out of another small injury and a winter that found me with various colds and flu bugs. I never used to get sick, but I hadn't been tested in a long time by the germs that the little ones bring in that can totally wipe you out. I began the year by changing my diet and beginning to slowly ramp up some miles. In February I was running Red Top Rumble and the Yeti Ultra Beer Mile, two easy races just to get my competitive juices flowing again. I had Mississippi 50 miler in March, Chattooga 50k in May, Snakebite 50k in September, TNF 50 miler in September, and finally Pinhoti 100 in November. January and February went as expected, In March I injured my foot on a 24 mile run right before MS 50, guess what? I also got sick on race day, so it turned into the MS 25K. Two weeks later I'm back at it, I had an 11th overall showing at Chattooga50k which was my return to Ultra Running, finally!
The summer was heavy mileage.....good. I took a trip to Costa Rica, which was great, but....yup, 1/2 inch piece of glass in the bed of my foot was one of my souvenirs. I lost another couple of weeks of training. Shortly after I was back at it. Snakebite 50k netted me another 11th place overall finish in extremely hot and humid conditions. I recovered quickly and set my sites on TNF 50 miler. The week before I managed a 5th overall at The Warrior Dash 5k, was my second of three races in September.
Finally, race weekend! TNF 50 miler, mentally, was the focus of my year. I have run Pine Mountain 40 miler here a couple of times(see previous race report), and I have been at TNF 50 miler before. Every time I run here I leave defeated in some way or another. In the peak of my training I finished my first PM40 miler with a poor time, the following year my time was even slower and I finished injured. The first time at TNF 50m was two months after my daughter was born. 17 miles in I realized I should be at home and not at the race so I ran into the aid station and quit. Needless to say, FDR State Park is not my favorite place to run! My running demons live there. This time I had family and friends down, and I was at least determined to have a good time and stick to my plan.
4 A.M. I was pulling in to the familiar parking lot to catch the shuttle to the start line. The start is at 5 A.M. which in turn lends itself to a couple of hours of headlamp running on technical trails. I spent my pre-race time talking to Brandi Garcia and Deano Montreuil, who both ended up killing it. A few minutes to 5, Dean Karnazes did his standard North Face pre-run talk and we were off into the dark. I usually take off to get in front, but I knew this year I was taking it easy so I just blended right in to the pack. Of course 200 yards in I was at a complete stop as the bottleneck of runners tried to enter the woods. The first mile or so is mostly downhill and fairly easy. We all took turns passing and being passed as the group started to get into their respective spots. Shortly after the first mile you hit a series of stream crossings and technical single track that is tougher to pass on. The next 45 minutes was fairly uneventful. Rocky, root filled , meandering single track which I knew like the back of my hand. I kept a conservative pace. I knew that; 1) I couldn't afford an injury this close to a 100, and 2) I couldn't push too hard this close to a 100 in my current shape. Two years ago would have been a different story. I love running in to the first aid station. You emerge from the quiet dark trails where the only sounds were crushing gravel and heavy breath and Boom! A flash goes off in your face as your picture is taken and you are surrounded by cheering people, police lights from traffic control, and tons of questions from aid station volunteers. This is all before you are guided right back into your quiet little dark trail world. I love it.
By the end of the next 6.1 miles I find myself looking forward to the light. The best view in the park is missed by running this next section in the dark. You get it on the way back, but its not the same. Of course on the way back your not the same either. I enjoyed running with some people I had just met during this section, we kept together for about 30 minutes and had some laughs, then I ceded the trail for them to take off. Finally, a little over 11 miles in the second aid station came in to view, and so did the trails with the daybreak. Oddly enough, I knew once I passed the next aid station at 16.7 miles(Mollyhugger)
, that it was all down hill from there. That was my one and only obstacle mentally. Physically I knew 50 miles was always a possibility for me, but never underestimate the mental portion of Ultra Running, which in my opinion is more than 50% of it. I like this section of the trail, neat rock formations and a few stream crossings, so I just kept plugging along until Mollyhugger Aid Station.
Like I said, after Mollyhugger Aid station the race was mentally over for me. I just had to keep moving and I would finish. The next 19 miles went along pretty well, the only thing that I noticed that was strange was my appetite. For me its unusual, but I was ravenous, all day! Every single aid station I went to I ate 4 or 5 items and drank 4-5 cups of varying fluids before thanking the volunteers, filling my bottle, and leaving. I looked at my Garmin after the race and had 58 minutes of stoppage time! That is unreal for me. I usually pride myself for not spending much time at the aid stations. The section of trail from Mollyhugger to the TV tower takes you through a lot of tornado and fire damaged parts of the park. It had been a couple of years since I ran here so large portions of the trails were unrecognizable. There was a new section in the race this year that took you out to a horse farm. It was more horse and jeep trails than single track. I'm still not sure if I liked it or not. Definitely easier, but I'm a scenery junkie, and I think single track trails give you the best scenery. The final mile into the horse farm aid station was in an open field at the hottest part of the day, blah!
From here to the TV tower is the best part of the course, beginning with gentle rolling pine straw bedded trails and turning into numerous creek crossings with 3 named waterfalls. This is a very beautiful section which allows you to cool off before hitting more open tornado ravaged parts of the park again. As I hit the open areas I was singing along to my iPod, I know some people don't like them on trail races, but they keep me sane from time to time.
At mile 35.5 my neighbor Nicole joined me for the final 14.5 miles. She is a new trail runner who hasn't done much distance, but is a good triathlete, and I was looking forward to the company. The change in the course made it possible for me to have a pacer. The old course would have required a pacer for the last 23+ miles which my family and friends that were with me weren't up for. This is really the first true pacer I have ever used in my life. People have joined me from time to time before, just never paces me....there is a difference.
We took off at a good pace and made short work to the 40 mile aid station. We were back on rocky trails, which I was used to by now. After a few miles we were backtracking the first part of the course, and I knew what to expect. I chatted with Brad Ballard for a minute and was off to Mollyhugger for the second time. This stretch was almost entirely in the open, technical, and hot....I had two of my fastest miles of the day heading through this section. Probably because I wanted to get out of the heat.
Through Mollyhugger with 8 miles left. 5.4 miles to the next aid station. I was able to share some of the pretty views with Nicole and relive some of the early morning running I had done on the way out. The only point on the entire run where I almost lost my mental point of view occurred about .33 of a mile from the 47.6 mile aid station. I was starting to hurt and the mileage on my Garmin had this section as long. For about 25 seconds I bitched that I just wanted to get out of the woods. The aid station came into view and I knew it was just a short 2.6 to the end.
We retraced some of the pretty creek crossings and headed uphill to the finish. It seemed like it took forever to hit the field, and according to my Garmin the course was like 50.7. Its no problem, but I started my sort of kick tot he finish too early and ended up walking the last major hill to the finish. Finally the field came into sight where we sprinted around the field and finished. 12:11.....my slowest 50 miler to date....by a lot. Needless to say I still considered it a victory over FDR State park. I don't know where I finished, nor do I really care.....it was somewhere in the top 1/3.
All in all....North Face puts on a hell of a race. Yes, it is expensive, but is extremely well marked with tons of great volunteers. You also get a lot of your entry fees back via a great schwag bag. The biggest touch? Greeting every runner and pacer with a North Face water bottle filled with ice cold water at the finish. What a simple gesture that has left a lasting impression.
Up next? PINHOTI! And guess what? I'm currently sick with my daughters' cold and have just recovered from some overuse knee thing after this race. I will probably only have 100 miles total between TNF 50m and Pinhoti 100.....well, I guess I'm going for the well rested approach!