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  • The North Face Endurance Challenge 50K 2016 Write Up

    Posted on December 27th, 2016 Michele Sun No comments

    This is my third time doing TNF50, and I am running it after two back to back marathons and crossing a big body of water 🙂

    North Face 50 was my very first 50K race, and the course and stunning view have kept me coming back. However the most important reason that I love TNF50 so much  is the camaraderie! I love to wrap up an year of training and racing with running buddies who have become family over the years. We always come and share a room at the hostel, and prepare drop-bag on Friday night and cook a hearty breakfast on Sunday morning after the race. This year we had decided to upgrade our post race dinner to hotpot!  Since I had just returned from Japan and was so hooked on oden, Kiyoko had promised to cook oden for me 🙂

    Right, I just came back from Japan after finishing Kobe Marathon and Mt Fuji Marathon, flew back on Wed night, and drove up to Headlands on Friday after work to run this 50K ultra. Very poor race calendar planning, or shall I say just purely compulsive of me! I had signed up TNF50 back in Feb, and registered Kobe and Mt Fuji in April when I found out that I didn’t get into Berlin. I intended to run that two marathons on back to back weekends in Japan, but I completely forgot that I had North Face on the first weekend of Dec. That intensive traveling plus jet-lag did stress me out and I had very little sleep during my trip, and proper taper and recovery were just not happening. But I looked at these two marathons as my last long runs before TNF50, mentally it made total sense to me :-p

    Friday Dec 2nd, arrived the hostel and found the bed that our gang has left for me by the window with view of the start-line; did my best to make my own bed and quickly laid out the brand new Kobe Marathon finisher towel on the bed, with my running outfit, winter Buff, GU gel, soft flask and hydration pack… etc. This routine has become very efficient this year after all the longer distance runs I have done, and again I am so grateful for all the supports GU have provided me. We goofed around with complete stupidity, trying to squeeze Marcia into the body-bag.. er I mean the North Face duffle bag. Light out around 10:00pm, and I slept so well despite the jet-lag and I didn’t even notice Michael snoring :-p

    Sat Dec. 3rd, woke up at 4:45am and went to the start line right outside of our room, because I wanted to see Ruth taking off her 50miler. I have met Ruth last year at the hostel, coincidentally just after reading her being the dark horse predicted by iRunfar. Ruth is such a sweet, friendly, and humble elite runner with incredible racing results, a native kiwi who lives and works in Taiwan now. Last year I had showed her some of my race and travel photos from Japan, and she had generously offered me a place to stay in South Island if I do race in New Zealand.

    After video taping my Striders friend Mandie taking off, I went back to the hostel and changed into my running outfit, mixed my Roctane drink, filled my choice of GU gel into the soft flask, and ate my GU Stroopwafel faithfully — this is my pre-race ritual that I can do with eyes closed now 🙂

    It was low 50’s outside, perfect and comfortable — my favorite kind of running weather. Michael made me to bring me headlamp and I was puzzled; “for the pictures” he said. Ahha.. how funny. I had a thin Kobe windbreaker on me, but knew I wouldn’t need it for too long though. After couple pictures with friends, we went off with the wave 3 runners at 7:02am. My legs felt tired and heavy at the beginning, probably from the combination of two marathons prior, and jet-lag. I don’t know how I did race after race after flying 13 hours, crazy yeh?!

    I had this weird feeling that I would PR today, but by how much I just didn’t know. I told myself “don’t go out too fast, this is your recovery run.” With the 9h:41m and 9h:47m time I had before, I would be very happy if I could get anywhere under 9h:30m. Plus, I already have races line up for Jan through April next year, taking it easy and not hurting myself today is very important. I heard Scott chatting with another runner, and was very happy to say Hi . We ran together for few miles and shared my race stories from Japan. When down hill came Scott took off “might as well enjoy the rare faster run.” Of course!! And I have no ego or problem seeing people run away from me!

    The weather was just perfect, blue sky, no rain or wind like previous years or MUC50. Some fog and ocean mist lingering, and they just made the coastal trails so pretty. I noticed the course had changed this year as I going up Old Springs and heading to Miwok; I recognized this was how we came back last year. The toughest & most difficult downhill I have ever run — because I had no legs. This year we were going out the route we would come back. The thought of my struggles on the last 6 miles from last year made me frown 🙁

    Soon came to my favorite aid-station – Tennessee Valley, and I knew Robert isn’t here today because he is racing this year. Lots of new faces at this aid-station, and I thanked them all. I made a mental note of when I got here, and when to come back — I wanted to be back by 2:30pm (cutoff 3:15pm). I was using Tennessee Valley as my bench mark for this race.

    Going up Coyote Ridge was really beautiful, I stopped to take couple pictures so I can share with friends outside of CA. Legs were feeling awake by now, breathing was no problem, my GU-every-45 mins plan working perfectly, and Altra Lone Peak was an awesome and comfortable shoes for this mixed terrains race. Feeling so happy with tons of energy when I reached Muir Beach. The memory of Pelican Inn came into my head, and thought that would be a funny story to tell all our friends again when Michael is 80! At Muir Beach A/S I grabbed some potato chips (yeh, needed the fat) and walk-n-eat my way out of that A/S.

    From Muir Beach to Cardiac is a route that I am very familiar with, not that I have run here often but I have vivid memory from the previous two races. More like traumatized! The never-ending-switch-back.. OMG! In 2014 the rain had created little river flooded the trail, and I walked all the way up while runners coming down hitting my left shoulder repeatedly. In 2015, there was drizzle and wind,  and it was so slippery and muddy; I probably was the last one walking up that hill. But this time I was passing runners, huh!! I knew that my coach probably would say “you have trained well” with pride. Past a guy with trekking poles, and he explained that he had broken his foot so he just wanted to finish and earned points toward UTMB (CCC). I wished him luck and continued my run.

    Coastal Trail was as gorgeous as I remembered and today was even more so with that amazing blue sky! I got to Cardiac A/S and stopped to refill my hydration pack. A runner came into the tent at the same time and stopped right next to me; we both did a half turn toward each other. Max!! What are the odds?! And we said Hi, and didn’t know you are running this one..etc. He told me he is going to Tokyo in Feb (finally, but I always knew he would time-qualify Tokyo Marathon no doubt); he mentioned seeing pictures of my Mt Fuji Marathon. I offered my sincere “Good luck, go Max!

    After taking a porta-potti break here, I saw the familiar all-black Mandie going into the trail where Max was heading, and followed by a chasing runner with familiar voice “Hi, Michele!” That sounded like Mike and he was supposed to be Mandie’s pacer today, so why is he chasing Mandie? LOL! Anyway, I love the Dipsea trail and to me it’s “enchanted forest“. Would not be surprised if some trees or plants started to sing or talk here. This part of course was very technical, steep, with roots and rocks, and jumping/hopping is necessary and I totally GOT this! I saw Scott stopped to pick a playlist from his phone, and then he just blast off the trail!! See I was not the only one having fun here!

    I started getting past by a steady stream of 50 milers when coming to Panoramic Trail, and I halt and made room for them to pass while I said “go ahead.” However, one runner snapped at me “I am trying my best” while he showed hesitation passing me. Ouch, he must be having a bad day. After pacing TRT50 at Tahoe, I can totally relate to how runner feels when it’s just not his/her day. I offered my “good job man, you are doing well.” And he patted my hydration pack saying “you are awesome.” I totally understand!!

    I was surprised how energetic I felt when coming into Old Inn A/S, especially didn’t feel like I had been running for 20 miles already; I even felt better than mile 20 at Kobe Marathon. Thinking “Wow, Dean Karnazes was absolutely right!” Our body does figure out itself and knows how to run races back to back! I grabbed some potatoes chips again and walked out the A/S quickly. The thought of only 12 miles left somehow switched my brain on, and my focus shifted from admiring the scenery to watching my speed and form, and simply wanted to run a good race. For the next 3 miles I past some runners that I had seen earlier this morning since the start, and it went by like a blur that I found myself back to the A/S by Pelican Inn again :-p

    Leaving Muir Beach my head started doing Math, and everyone knew I sucked at Math. I was thinking what my finish time would be? Possible to continue running at this speed? Remember how slow and painful I was at the last 6 miles after Tennessee Valley last year? I was wobbling while my quads were burning…

    Ahead of me was steep climb and I took my time doing it. I pushed and power-hiked passing someone, and he said “you look very stubborn, and please take that as a compliment.” Aha.. trail runner with sense of humor, I like that! The view was breathtaking or I was just out of breath? Got to Fox Trail and I was able to regain some of my speed and ran to the Tennessee Valley A/S. Garmin said “2:05” WOW!! 25 mins faster than what I had aimed for this morning.

    So, mathematically, if I WALK all the way to the finish, I would still PR. But who wants a half-ass PR, right? Now I am very curious what my time would be. What am I capable of?!

    I made a left turn and charged up the first big climb after leaving Tennessee Valley, and told myself “today is the day! PR Day!” I hiked up the next two miles strongly, and at the same time watched my footing and focused on not to trip or fall. Saw a volunteer (very familiar face, a Striders maybe) monitoring course at the top of the hill making sure no one went off the course, so I gave him a huge smile and said “thank you for being here today.” He seemed surprised and replied “I love being out here” with a very warm smile back! The hills, sky, cloud and Golden Gate Bridge out there, it’s truly amazing, isn’t it?! 

    At the ALT A/S which was the last A/S, I thanked the volunteers without stopping. I was doing well, feeling good, looking great, and I was determined to finish this race strong. The next three descending rocky miles was very runable to me, sort of like Mission Peak on the Ohlone College side, and I ran FAST!!! I saw people wobbling, walking, and with torment on their faces — all things that I had experienced last year. I stopped for a runner who tripped and fell, and he said “I am Ok!” which also sounded all too familiar. I kept running and passing people, and the last mile felt like I was sprinting at the last portion of Kobe Marathon course just without the banners in Japanese characters.

    I crossed Bunker Road and heard car honking with “Go Michele!” Wow, GU-mobile!! I pumped my right feast into the air and shouted back “PR!! I am going for PR!” without stopping. Right before Simmons Road I heard another loud honking with energy, and Max rolled down his window saying something that I didn’t quite catch as I just kept going. No Stopping!! Nothing is standing between me and my PR now.

    I kept sprinting and the crowds split and made room for me “you are literally only a quarter mile left.” I got puzzled “where are my friends?” “why are they not here with cowbell and camera?” I must have run the fastest hundred meters here, and confused why there was no glow stick or light leading to the finish line. I crossed the finish line with head tilting back and laughing out out, totally crazy . Hahaha…!! OMG!! This is how finishing in daylight feels like! There is no f*cking heat lamp and fire pit around. I have finished TNF50 in day light!!!

    The last two North Face 50 I had done, I had come in very close to the cutoff, with friends waiting at the turn of Simmons Road reminding me that “you have about 10 mins to the cutoff“. And they would run and pace/push me to the finish. But this time, I came in just past 3:30pm and PR by 1hr:20min!!! I couldn’t believe that not only I had PR, but I PR huge!!! That’s pretty amazing! Pretty awesome! And I was just so so happy! What an amazing race!

    p.s. Ruth took third at the 2016 The North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Mile Championships, great interview here.

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