Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Race of my Life: My TNF 50 Race Report.

Six months, essentially; that's how long I have been preparing for this race.  On every run, in every preparatory race leading up to this one, all I thought about was this 50 first.  Every time I had a bad long run, or a race that didn't go as well as I thought, I questioned whether or not I was going to be ready.

Can I do this?

Did I pick a race that was too tough for my first 50?

Am I going to finish?


All these questions, as well as many more, ran through my head throughout my training this cycle.  I knew 50 miles was a long way to begin with, and 20 miles longer than I had ever run before.  I knew mentally that there were so many things that could go wrong in the first 30 miles, let alone the last 20.  I had a pretty good idea what to expect from my body for the first 50k, but I had no idea what would follow.  The only way to find out?  Go for it.


Last year, when my family and I came up here for me to run the marathon, we only arrived the day before the race.  After driving for nearly 9 hours, and then having to go downtown to packet pickup, and then having everybody (myself included) a little cranky and stressed out due to travel, it made it a very hectic weekend.  We decided to allow a little more of a buffer this time, and arrived in town on Thursday instead.  Thursday ended up being hectic and stressful from travel, but that was ok, because I knew I still had one more full day before the race.

Friday was a bit more relaxed.  We went downtown to The North Face store to do packet pickup, and then spent much of the afternoon checking out the city.  Before heading back to the hotel in Larkspur for the night, we made the obligatory stop at San Francisco Running Company, so I could get my trucker hat, and just chat with Jorge Maravilla.  Naturally, I had to try on some new shoes...and in fact, ended up buying a new pair of Hoka Rapa Nui Trails.  Would I break the number one rule of "nothing new on race day?"  Hmmmm....  I was planning on running in my Hoka Stinson Tarmacs, but with the weather calling for cold temps, and potential for rain, I wanted the option for a little more traction.  Against the advice (sorry Jorge), and my better judgement, I decided I would at least start the race in the new ones, with the option to switch out at a crew access point.

After that, we went back to the hotel and I got in a short two mile shakeout run.  It was cold, and wet, but my legs felt good.  The taper had done me some good.  I felt ready.

Some delicious P.F. Changs for dinner in the hotel room, and it was lights out for a 3 a.m. wakeup.  I actually slept pretty well, and got in a solid six hours, waking up about 30 minutes before my alarm went off.  Before I woke up anyone else, I took the quite moments to get in my pre-race....ummmm...."bowel emptying."

I ate my breakfast, with the intent to get in a solid amount of calories before the race started.  I had a blueberry bagel w/cream cheese, a banana, a gatorade, and a grabbed a lara bar to eat on the way.

We got to Fort Barry at about 4 a.m., and just beat the traffic rush.  The original intent was for the family to see me off at the starting line, then drive over to meet me at the first crew access at Tennessee Valley.  Because of the traffic and the timing, we instead decided I would take all my stuff to the start line by myself, and the crew would head straight to the aid station to make sure they were there in time.

At the start line, groups of runners were all huddled around the heaters trying to stay warm.  It was cold!  It was probably in the low 30s, but at least it wasn't raining!  The stars were out, and it was shaping up to be a great day on the trails.  At about 4:55 a.m. we were lined up at the start, and at around 5:02, the race was off.


I made it a point to start this race as conservative as possible.  I've had "issues" in the past with starting to fast, and paying for it later in the race.  I didn't want that to happen this time.  Heading up the first climb, I kept a comfortable pace.  I didn't want to look at my watch, or focus on pace; my only plan was to run sustainably.  I ran when I felt like it, and hiked when it got steeper.

It's a surreal experience to look ahead of you and behind you on the climb, and see nothing but headlamps snaking up and down the trail under the starry skies.  Sometimes you just have to take a moment, and absorb everything.  All these runners, from so many different places, here to do the same thing.  Everyone here to test their mental and physical toughness.  Such a group all moving together towards the same goal is quite a force.  To miss that aspect of an ultra, might be to miss the point all together.

We reached the top of the first climb, and hit the first downhill section of about 2 miles.  I love this section of the course.  I really wanted to just let it rip down the hill, but I restrained myself a little.  I knew I had to save some quads for later.  That doesn't mean, though, that I shuffled down it.  Looking back at my data, I was pushing around a 7:40 pace in that section, and managed to sneak by quite a bit of traffic.

I blew through the 5 Mile aid station, and pushed on down the course.  There was a brief moment of blindness when an on course photographer was letting his flash rip along the trail...I can only imagine what that picture will look like!  The second climb took us up the Miwok trail, and I remember that climb from last year, because it seemed to take forever.  Maybe it was a higher level of fitness this year, or the fact that it was dark, but that climb was much shorter than I remember.  At the top, I fell into a group of around 8 or so runners, as we began the descent into Tennessee Valley.

Another great view from the top of the Miwok climb, as you could see headlamps stringing all the way down the hill, and then in the distance, the lead pack lights heading up out of the climb.  If I'd been carrying a camera, that would have been a moment to capture.

We cruised quickly in our little pack down the hill, pulling each other along as a group, until we hit the stables and rolled into the TV aid station.  My wife was there waiting, handing me a new bottle, a couple of gels, and making sure I was eating.  So far, so good.  Nutrition was right on schedule, and so was my pace.  I grabbed another Lara bar to eat on the way out, and then took off down the road to on my way to Muir Beach.

Thats me in the Orange/Blue jacket.  Leaving Tennessee Valley aid station #1.


This has to be one of the greatest sections of the entire course.  I powered up the climb out of TV, and then jumped onto the Coastal Trail headed towards Pirates Cove.  The sun had just started coming up, and the views were incredible.  The ocean waves breaking agains the rocks below is something out of a movie scene.  This section went pretty fast, as it's very runnable.  I hit the descent into Muir Beach, and my thoughts went back to last year, and how many times I fell on my ass going down this hill due to the mud.  Not this time.  A dry downhill brought fast running.  I was glad this hill was dry, because I knew I would see it again later.

I pulled into the Muir Beach aid station, and took a minute to run through a quick system check:  feet - good, legs - good, stomach - good, mental state - good.  I knew the biggest climb was coming up, so I forced as many calories as I could handle in, but mostly sticking to simple sugars and boiled potatoes.  A quick port-a-potty stop, and I was off towards Cardiac.  Things were going well.


After a brief flat section along the road and across a field, we hit the trail heading up Cardiac.  I had been dreading this climb all day.  I would have loved to have pre-run this climb, but since I don't live there, that's not really a possibility.  I didn't really do enough research to know what to expect from this climb.  I had no idea if it was switchbacks or a straight climb, and I didn't really want to know until I got to it.  Ignorance is bliss, right?  Maybe, but in reality I figured if in my training I just assumed this was going to be an incredibly brutal climb, then I would prepare as such, and it's a win-win.

I was surprised at the relative ease of the climb.  Don't get me wrong, it wasn't easy, but it was easier than I was expecting.  The first section of the climb is all switchbacks, that were easily tackled with a run/hike.  After the switchbacks, it was just a long, continuous climb, that gave me a good chance to get more calories in.  I arrived at the Cardiac #1 aid station, feeling really good.  That being said, I was ready for some downhill!  I hit up my drop bag, refilled my bottle, grabbed some potatoes and coke, and pushed on.


Leaving Cardiac headed towards the next aid was probably the longest 5 miles of the race.  It was relatively slow moving.  After some nice downhill through the woods, you hit the single track that is all exposed, and becomes two way traffic about half-way to the aid station.  There were several people flying back towards me down the hill from McKennan Gulch, so I took my time trudging up the hill, and yielding the trail to the faster runners when necessary.

I did see something here that I didn't expect to see.  About three quarters of the way to the aid station I saw Rory Bosio coming towards me, not looking too good.  Then shortly after that, I saw Dakota Jones not looking that great either.  Come to find out, they both had the flu, but started the race anyway.  Dakota ended up pushing through with the flu, and finishing the race anyway.  Props to him, because I think that is very admirable.  It's also nice to know that sometimes even the elites have a bad day.  On a side note, I can claim I finished less than an hour behind Dakota on my first 50 (ignore the fact that he was crazy sick...we can leave that little detail out).

McKennan Gulch aid was a nice little break.  I took a couple minutes here and refilled my bottle, downed a Gu, and had some chicken broth and potatoes.  Follow that by a quick splash of coke, and I was "on the road again" (seriously, there was a very short section of road to get back to the trail, so my little lyric works).  Going back down the trail was significantly faster for the first couple of miles until we turned off to head towards Stinson Beach.

The downhill section to Stinson was awesome, semi-technical trail through the woods.  It was hard not to love this section, and just running through it put a smile on my face.  I wouldn't say my quads were tired at this point, but I could feel the constant downhill in them.  About 1/2 mile before I hit the Stinson Beach aid station I started going through a bit of a bad patch.  It wasn't nutrition related, or physical fatigue.  I think it was more of just coming off that last section with the exposure, and the cold weather was just starting to take it's toll mentally.  I kept pushing, knowing that I was going to see my crew at Stinson Beach, and as I rolled in, they were there waiting.

I spent what seemed like maybe 5 minutes at that aid station, refilling my nutrition, and just taking a moment.  I switched out my buff for my visor and sunglasses, drank some chicken broth, ate a few potatoes.  I had dropped my jacket, because I was starting to get a little warm, but then a breeze blew through the aid station, and decided to put it back on, and just loose the arm sleeves underneath.  I had my wife stick my iPod in my vest in case I wanted it later, and I walked back out on to the trail.

At Stinson Beach before I decided to put my jacket back on.

At Stinson Beach...Not sure what I was thinking here!

Leaving Stinson Beach onto the famous Dipsea Trail.

Stinson Beach aid was nuts!  There were tons of people in a very small area.  It's not anything I blame on race organization, because the location of it was just a small area, so there's really not much you can do, but man, it was busy!


I will never run the Dipsea trail race.  Period.  Those stairs, combined with the bad mental patch I was in, got me so frustrated.  It's a beautiful section, but I was not in the mood for all the stairs.  I'm pretty sure I was fueled by anger in that section, because I was hiking up the hill to Cardiac pretty quickly.  I passed several runners, and then we came out of the tree line back into the sunlight.  Something clicked right about then.  Maybe it was the sun, maybe the views, maybe just being past all those stairs, because that's when I pulled out of the bad patch and was feeling good again.  I pushed on, thankful this climb was not as long as the first Cardiac climb, and made it to the aid station.

I know I made it to the aid station in about 6:20, but not because I had been looking at my watch.  Shortly after I came in one of the aid station workers announced Rob Krar had just won the race.  I remember making some jokes with the aid station volunteers (who were awesome) about how Rob should consider going pro, as I spent a few minutes getting into my drop bag, and grabbing some more salty snacks, downing more Gu, and having another cup of chicken broth.  More downhill was next, and I was excited for it.


This was a long section on the Dipsea through Muir Woods.  The forest was something I would have imagined in the Lord of the Rings movie.  The ferns, the tall Redwoods, the streams, it was awesome.  I could have spent all day just hiking around this section and taking pictures if I wasn't in a race.

I came to a section along the trail where there were about 10 runners sitting on the side of the trail, not moving.  Apparently there were some forest service workers bringing down bridge parts, so we had wait until we passed.  I sat there with the other runners for around 5 minutes or so.  Some people might get angry that they had to stop, but I didn't care.  I was enjoying some conversation, making jokes about how this was going to prevent me from my 7 hour finish goal, and just having a good laugh.

One thing I noticed more in this race than any other I have run, is that I stayed positive almost the whole time, laughed a lot, and tried to keep a smile as much as I could.  People always say it makes a difference, and people are right.  A single laugh in a long race can carry you for miles.

More stairs, more beautiful trail, and more downhill, and I was rolling into Old Inn.  I have to admit, I was a little confused here, because I totally had it in my head that I was going back into Muir Beach.  Clearly that was not the case!  No worries though, I was enjoying every step.  Same aid station routine, and off I went to Muir Beach #2.


At this point I was running in unknown territory, mileage wise.  I don't remember much of the trail through here, just that I was amazed at how good I was feeling.  I started passing 50k runners, happy that I was still moving well.  I could not have guessed that I would be feeling this good nearly 40 miles into a tough trail race.  Sure, I was tired, but I've felt far worse than this at mile 20 of a 50k than I was feeling at that moment.

Before I knew it, I was in Muir Beach #2.  Gu, bottle, and go.  I knew I had a tough climb ahead.


The climb out of Muir Beach is tough.  It's steep, and instead of the turning off onto the coastal trail, it's a left turn and keep climbing!  Luckily, I was familiar with the climb from last year, so I just put my head down, and hiked it out.  At the top, it was some rolling downhill, back into Tennessee Valley for the final crew access at the aid station.

I came into the aid station, still running (or something resembling it at that point), and found my wife waiting.  A quick bottle change, and as she was asking the typical crew questions (how do you feel?  have you been eating?  what do you need) I just remember smiling, giving her a kiss and saying "see you at the finish."

I knew I had one more long climb up Marincello Trail, but I didn't care.  I knew I was going to finish feeling good.  There wasn't a thing that was going to get me down at this point.  Fort Barry here I come!


I hiked up most of Marincello, with my hiking legs still feeling good.  I was chatting with other runners, and dodging mountain bikers coming down the trail.  I knew Alta aid station was at the top of the climb.  Instead of stopping for anything, I called out my number as I ran through and started the downhill section.

I definitely didn't run this section at the pace I did that morning, but I was still running it at a pace respectable for a 50 mile mid-packer.  At the bottom, I hit the flat trail, and then the turn across the footbridge back to the road going to the finish at Fort Barry.

A short climb was left, and near the top, there was someone standing at the top who said "You've got it in you, RUN to that line."  He was right.  And so I ran.  I rounded the corner, could see the finish, and here the music.  The cowbells were ringing as people were yelling "Runner!"  I felt like that was the fastest I'd run all day.

A turn on to the grassy field, and there it was; the finish line.  I'd done it.  I crossed that line feeling better than I had felt after any race before.  The adrenaline was flowing, and for that brief moment, all the pain was gone.  It never ceases to amaze me the support from random people you get when you cross that line, or even along the course.  The ultra community really is a family.  It doesn't matter if you are front of the pack or back of the pack, everyone is welcomed.

Coming across the line.  Race Done

And so I was done.  I finished my first 50 miler.  And though it was the end of that race, it's only just the beginning.


Post race picture with Salomon International Team members (from L to R):  Greg Vollet (team manager and awesome runner), Anna Frost (she's an awesome person and great runner), Killian Jornet (no intro necessary), and me.

First of all, I know I personally like to see in race reports what people used for gear, nutrition, etc.  It gives me ideas to what I can use for myself in the future, so here's my details:

- Tech shirt (from Bootlegger 50k) under my Team RWB singlet.
- TNF arm sleeves (dropped them at Stinson Beach)
- Gloves (dropped them at TV #1)
- Buff until Stinson, then visor
- TNF Stormy Trail Jacket (wore the whole time)
- Pearl Izumi 3/4 Ultra Tights
- Injinji 2.0 socks, with dress sock liners over them
- Hoka One One Rapa Nui Trail shoes (for my first time wearing them, they worked out awesome and I kept them on the whole time)
- Ultimate Direction AK Race Vest (only used it to carry nutrition in the bottle pouches)
- Nathan Handheld
- Black Diamond Icon headlamp (200 lumens does the body good)
- iPod shuffle (carried it from halfway, but never used it)


My nutrition was spot on for this race.  I had steady energy all day, and never felt hungry or bonky.  Between aid stations I consumed at least one Gu Roctane (100 calories), and 1 bottle of Tailwind (mixed to ~150 calories per bottle).  Sometimes I would take an extra Gu on climbs, and at the aid stations I took in chicken broth, potatoes, and coke.  At Stinson Beach, I also drank a small can of Red Bull.  I probably averaged between 240-300 calories an hour.  It worked out perfectly, and my stomach never went south.  I also took 5 Master Amino Acid Pattern pills at each aid station, and I took 8 pills before the start.

Pre-race I consumed probably 600-700 calories of a bagel w/ cream cheese, banana, gatorade, a cherry pie Lara bar, and a red bull.

Training Notes:

I ran pretty conservatively early on, and just carried a comfortable pace all day.  Could I have run harder?  Yes.  I did finish with some left in the tank; however, I would rather do that than have to slog the last 10-15 miles because I went too hard too early.

That being said, my biggest weakness is running the hills.  I'm pretty solid at hiking, but I think in training I need to spend time doing more hill repeats.  That, and speed work.  I've never really done speed work or hill specific stuff, I just kind of ran what the trail gave me.  Next race I'll do more fast running and strength work to get better.

My biggest strength has got to be the downhills.  Even though I could use a little more "quad seasoning" before a race with that much descent, my quads held up pretty well.  I was still running downhills at a decent clip late in the race, and early in the race, that's where I did the majority of my passing.

Crew Notes:

My freakin' wife is amazing.  Her job out there is clearly harder than mine.  She managed to deal with crewing on top of the stress of a 5 year old and a 13 year old spending 10 1/2 hours out in the cold all day.  I literally, could not do this with out her.  I know she had a long, rough day, but never once did she let me know that.  She is way tougher than I am, and there is no doubt about that.

I did type out some "crew instructions" for her to have for the race, but she never had any question as to what to do for me at the aid stations.  She is a one person crew expert.  When I crossed the finish, I think she had a bigger smile than I did.  The mental, physical, and emotional support that she provides in these endeavors, both training and racing, is unparalleled.  Knowing that I have someone that truly supports me on these crazy adventures is worth more than words can describe.

Erin, I love you, and thank you for going on this journey with me.  Without you, I couldn't do it.  


  1. Congratulations on the first 50! Great report and thanks for the gear and nutrition info.

    Recover well!