This past weekend, I ran the longest, hardest, most scenic race of my life. It’s true, I’m now an ultra-runner. 😉 How do you sum up a physical and emotional experience into words? I have no idea how to even begin to share this 50k adventure so I guess I’ll just give you the play-by-play. It’s going to be a long one guys, so settle in. Grab a cup of coffee or a glass of wine and let’s go…
The day before the race, I hung out with my San Diego friends, ate all the carbs, and then walked 20,000+ steps around San Francisco with Brittany (thanks, fitbit!). I went to bed around 8:30 in our cozy little airbnb after some insanely delicious pizza from the Italian spot around the corner. My race traditions die hard.
I woke up at 4 a.m. the next morning and did my usual race morning stuff before hopping on the shuttle. As we drove across the bridge to the Marin Headlands, we could see the people running the 50 miler like a line of ants with their headlamps on. I pictured my friend Nick out there, and that’s when it all started to sink in. I was about to run 31+ miles.
As soon as I stepped off the bus, I ran into my whole group of friends. The comfort of familiar faces was nice after a solo shuttle ride with my thoughts. The vibe before the gun went off was super relaxed and everyone was just hanging out, staying warm around fire pits. The laid back atmosphere was one of my favorite aspects of this race.
I checked my purse with all my belongings (yes, my purse – I didn’t have any other bag #newbie) and before I knew it, we were lining up. The excitement was oozing out of all of us – you could practically feel it in the air. And just like that, we were off and running.
I knew I wanted to take it really easy right out the gate since I had a lot of miles ahead of me. We definitely started a little faster than I’d anticipated but I went with it. After about a mile, we hit our first incline and I started to let people pass me. I never did master those uphills in my training – although I really wish I did.
The long uphill eventually paid off and I was able to fly downhill. I felt like my feet barely touched the ground and I was just letting gravity do the work. I never let a single person pass me on the way down and instead, I did all the passing. I passed by my friends but I knew I’d see them at the next hill. After that first downhill, I thought it might be possible to make up for my slow climbing if I could take advantage of the downhills like I just did. Unfortunately, that was not the case.
I was feeling great for awhile and then we hit our second huge incline. I ran into Lauren who steadily passed me up with those strong glutes of hers. She was crushing it and I could tell she was having a great day. I saw my friend Eugene peeing off to the side and then he passed me, as well. I could only hope I’d see them again – but you just never know in a race that long.
The second downhill wasn’t as easy as the first. I couldn’t fly down quite as easily because it was a steeper decline and the ground was rocky. I put the brakes on which made for a less than comfortable cruise downhill and a much slower descent than the previous one.
I ran into my friend Jessie at the next aid station and we hugged. It was nice to see a familiar face again. We took off together for what was a really fun part of the race. We hit some switchbacks and ran like ants in a line, back and forth. I enjoyed this because it was a moderate incline and actually runnable. I noticed Jenna and Kat had caught up as well so I could see them at every turn.
Once the path widened and we could move around a bit, Jenna, Kat and Jessie all took off up ahead as the uphill got steep again. I was struggling. I met some 50 milers out there who totally inspired me, so I kept on keeping on.
We eventually hit Muir Woods which was hands down the most incredible part of the entire race. The coastal views earlier in the race are nothing to balk at – but there is something magical about running through those woods. They brought back memories of the movie Ferngully from my childhood. I was running alone at this point but I wished I could share in the excitement with someone.
I didn’t run too quickly through the woods because I was nervous about tripping over tree roots and rocks. There were parts of the trail where you had to duck under tree branches, hop over a stream, and run over a bridge. It was INCREDIBLE. It felt like playtime. I was tempted to take my phone out of my pack to snap a few pictures but I decided against it. I don’t like to use my phone during races and I chose to lock it all up in my memory instead.
By the time I got out of Muir Woods it was close to the 20 mile mark and I was tired. The distance and the inclines were starting to wear on me. I genuinely contemplated calling it a day at the next aid station. I grabbed some food, sat down (bad idea), stretched and thought it might be a good time to be done. My back was killing me from our terrible mattress and everything was starting to ache. I started to rationalize quitting with thoughts like, “I already saw the whole course since now we’re just heading back to where we started” and “20+ miles is still a GREAT run.” I had plenty of excuses.
Then, out of nowhere, Ashleigh and Eugene ran up to the aid station where I was hanging out on the curb. This was completely bizarre because I knew for a fact they were ahead of me. They started in the first wave and I hadn’t passed them. It turned out, they got lost and ran off course for about 3 miles. It was like a race day miracle for me because there was no way I was about to quit when I had them right there, ready to run.
I strapped my Camelbak back on and followed them onward … and upward.
We held a good pace on the flats and then, of course, hit some more uphill. I bid farewell and took my time getting up. I continued to run into them every few miles. After every downhill or flat, I’d catch them and we’d head off together again.
When I was running, I was doing well and felt surprisingly strong. When I was climbing, I was just barely getting by. It felt like a miracle every time I finished ascending.
At the marathon mark, there was another aid station. I took my sweet time at this one eating Skittles and Pringles. Again, I contemplated calling it a day because a marathon is totally sufficient – right? Plus, I was already dreading that final ascension. I knew it was going to be killer. It was a little over 5 hours at that point and I felt pretty satisfied. But there my friends stood with no intentions of stopping, so of course, I kept on.
We played leap frog the rest of the way. On the inclines, I met a lot of awesome people. I chatted with some bad ass 50 milers, someone whose mom was running a 50k with them, locals, foreigners, and even someone who’d done a 100 miler. The people were so incredibly cool and they are what make the ultra community so damn amazing.
Although I contemplated quitting on multiple occasions, every mile after 26.2 felt like a breeze. I know that sounds incredibly bizarre and you’d expect the miles after the marathon to be the hardest, but it was quite the opposite for me. Once I got the marathon distance out of the way, I knew it was only 5-6 miles to the finish. That’s a piece of cake.
At that point, I knew for certain I was going to finish so all that mattered was getting there. I didn’t want to stop anymore – it was go time. If only I could’ve mustered that energy earlier in the game, I would’ve finished much sooner. All that dilly dallying at aid stations and time spent almost quitting added on a lot of time for me. But hey, maybe those aid station breaks were essential in the long run? I won’t ever know and I can’t have any regrets. I only would’ve regretted a DNF.
The final little road to the finish line is slightly uphill. Normally, any amount of incline at the end of a race feels like a mountain, but for some reason, this one was barely noticeable. I ran with all my heart to get to the end and along the way, I saw Brittany on the side of the road cheering me on. That made me giddy and I kicked it into high gear for the final 400 meters or so. I couldn’t wait to hug her.
It was so nice to reconvene with Brittany and all my friends who had amazing races. Lauren had suffered from a foot injury and had to take a ton of time off running and still managed to finish under 6 hours! Jenna, Kat and Jessie all finished just shortly after the 6 hour mark and had the most incredible experiences. Everyone was high on endorphins. I watched as Eugene and Ashleigh ran in together after what ended up being a 55k for them. They looked strong as ever considering their extra miles. We hung out in the grass drinking beer, hugging and laughing until we saw the rest of our friends finish. Nick crushed the 50 miler (my hero) and Lauryn came cruising in smooth as can be and emotional about her accomplishment.
The North Face Endurance Challenge is something I will rave about for years. It’s basically a gathering of some of the COOLEST people on the planet in one of the most beautiful places in the world. I would do it again in a heartbeat. If you’re even considering it – just do it.
Upon reflecting, I’ve learned that to excel at a road marathon, you need endurance, speed and mental strength. I feel like I’ve fine tuned all of those over the years, which would explain why I love marathons so much. But trail ultras take physical strength, stamina and a whole lot of heart. My stamina and heart are what got me through this race but my lack of physical strength really held me back. This race showed me where my weaknesses lie and what areas I need to work on but it also showed me I can run 32+ miles! That’s pretty cool.
This experience also taught me that trail runners and the ultra community are f*cking unbelievable. They’re my people. I am so insanely grateful for the journey to the 50k, the adventure itself and all the humans I’ve connected with along the way. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
Thanks for reading this novel of a race recap! Love you guys.
p.s. I’d like to give a special thank you to my girlfriend who deals with my 9pm bedtime on Friday nights along with my 5 am weekend wake-up calls and my voracious appetite during training. You’re the best!
And another special thank you to Sheri who told me I could do it and talked me into not dropping down in distance. Thanks for believing in me even when I don’t believe in myself!