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  • The North Face 50K 2014 Write-up

    Posted on December 5th, 2014 Michele Sun No comments

    The NFEC50 Finisher Badge

    Sat Dec.6th, I stepped into the cold and wet at 6:45am, and by 4:45pm I became an ultra-runner in the cold and wet! What an exciting moment and accomplishment as a runner, and even more so as a first year cancer patient.

    It all started in Dec of last year, when I volunteered at The North Face Endurance Challenge 50Ml/50K with BayTrailrunners! It’s the first day that I set foot outside for something I considered fun, and I was out there by myself. I didn’t tell my friends where I was going because I was afraid that they would stop me. And my goal for that day  was to support Marcia and Michael by carrying their bag and overdosing them with coke (Marcia) and club soda (Michael).  All three doctors I was seeing at that time had just cleared me for easy walking, and standing in the cold for long hours most likely wasn’t gonna be approved. That day I had the first hand experience of being in a tough and epic ultra trail race, and came face to face with elite runners and handed them water at the aid-station at Tennessee Valley. It was sheer joy and uber exciting talking to Kilian!!!


    This year truly has been an awesome year in terms of “checking off” items from my bucket list, and I am so grateful that all the good and exciting things have made this year a pretty good new life. First I ran Chicago Marathon on the “birthday” of my second life, then my lifelong dream race — New York City Marathon in Nov. I didn’t really taper or recovery between the two races, and just continued to cruise the season with another 20ml long run and the TNF50 came.  I was definitely under-trained for North Face but I wanted it to be now, so there would be no regret. Who knows if I would ever get the chance to start a new training all over again?  I have never run such distance at trail runs or races before, and the most I have ever done were half marathons. I knew I would be slow, would be running for a very long time, and I would be suffering, but “if I am going to run one ultra this life, it will be North Face.” It’s all about the “epic” degree :-p

    Friday night I drove up to Sausalito with Michael after picking up a simple dinner and couple gallons of water, and it was raining hard. Two days ago I had already packed my running cloth & gears, and have mentally prepped myself for the upcoming cold, wet and windy race; hey New York had been cold and windy, have no fear!!! But  little did I know that it’s going to be so slippery and muddy. My heart was singing with excitement as we were crossing the Golden Gate Bridge, and soon we arrived the hostel where our own TNF50 gang would be staying this weekend, Michael, Marcia, Vinh, Kiyoko, Joseph, Jesi…etc. This place was packed with runners from everywhere!! We quickly unpacked our stuffs and laid out what’s needed for the next day, and around 10:00pm almost every runners were in bed already. Joseph was on the upper bunker above me, and I was planning to wake up the same time as him to send him off for his 50ml race. The room was awkwardly quiet with 20 people in it, and surprisingly I slept very well that night and ears plugs were not even needed.


    Crossing Golden Gate Bridge on Fri evening

    Not sure when did Joseph get up, but I did hear someone carefully getting out of bed and going through bag or something. I heard gun went off during my sleep and wondered why  North Face “practiced” the race start in the middle of the night. LOL, silly me!! Anyway, so I missed the 5:00am start of 50miler. I woke up at 6:00 and efficiently put on my shirt, capri, arm sleeves, a light and water resistant windbreaker, gloves, and went down stairs to meet with Michael and had a quick breakfast. I mixed my GU Roctane Brew that’s specifically formulated  for endurance event like today. Michael told me to hurry up, so we could meet with everyone and take group photos.

    At race start

    At the start area, I easily spotted Chris Blagg whom I had met last year at Tennessee Valley, and I considered this a good karma in the same race with him. Chad, Vinh and Kiyoko were here for race supports, and they were like paparazzi shooting celebrities this morning! After our glamour shots were taken, we were off to run our North Face 50K at 7:00am!! It’s cold, foggy and wet, but I didn’t mind it at all; the only thing I felt was energy from excitement and accumulated strength from my running buddies!!! Due to the heavy rain this week, the course got changed the last minute and we started going out for a 5mile “extra loop” via Bobcat Trail first. As I looked back the trail that I came up from, it’s foggy, misty, beautiful and as mysterious as Middle-earth. I chatted with Marcia and Michael gingerly, and so glad that we were in this together. I had mentioned couple times over the prior weeks that “I don’t think I can make it,” or “I am going to cry at mile 26″…etc. They both assured me that “You can do this, Michele!! Trust yourself!” At the exit of this “extra loop” came upon the first aid-station, but I didn’t stop and just kept going toward Tennessee Valley via Miwok Trail and Old Springs Trail. When I saw the Miwok Trail sign the thought of running 100K popped into my head, Thanks, but No Thanks!!


    Running toward Tennessee Valley brought back some funny memory! Last year I spent 11 hours at Tennessee Valley AS, and I got yelled at by a woman complaining our cheering and cowbell were too loud. I ran through the horse stable and wondered if I would see more grumpy women today? First person I saw, and thank goodness, was Robert with BayTrailrunners and it’s so good that he and his team of volunteers are here again. I grabbed a small piece of PBJ sandwich and two small potatoes — interesting tiny potatoes — they are canned. Chad, Vinh and Kiyoko were all here cheering for runners, and Marcia and Michael had been waiting for me. There was a shuttle bus taking spectators to other AS, and I joked that “don’t leave without me!”


    From Tennessee Valley we exit to the left and ran on fire road for a while, which wasn’t enjoyable but glad that it wasn’t too long till we hit Coastal Trail. The big hills were challenging and I walked up to those hills, and then came those evil stairs that I proceed with extra caution. If I slip I would end up in Pacific Ocean!!  What came unexpectedly was seeing elite 50milers. They were walking up the big hills with hands on the quads while I carefully going down; I could take pictures but I was afraid that would be rude since they were all focusing on their runs. I saw DBo, Alex Varner, Rob Krar, Chris Vargo, Michel Lanne… gees, you can’t imagine how dumbfounded I was. Completely starstruck when Jorge Maravilla ran past and flashed his megawatts smile at me!! Then spotted Timothy Olson his face and legs were covered with mud. At one right turn I almost rubbed shoulder with Greg Vollet, Quelle surprise!!! Finally ended the single file steep down hill and approaching Muir Beach. Before Muir Beach AS came up, I heard someone calling out “Michele! Michele!!” I couldn’t see his face from distance, plus he was holding his iPhone and taking pictures as I cruising in. When getting closer I could identify the voice and it’s Mike Kreaden my trail running mentor, and saw Dennis sitting in a lawn chair there as well. So very nice to “represent” Stevens Creek Striders at TNF50 today 🙂


    Timothy Olsen

    At this AS I ate two pcs of PBJ sandwich, drank some coke, and more of those tiny potatoes, then left Muir Beach and THE Pelican Inn (insid joke). After crossing Highway 1 I came to the trail-head of Redwood Creek Trail, and it’s a familiar trail because I just came with Marcia for a training run couple weeks ago, but at the same time quite different because it’s all muddy and slippery now. The next 5 miles was the toughest part of this race for me — it’s a long, ascent, switchbacks, and the worst part was it’s muddy while runners were coming down fast and I was going up. This was the course change — instead of going into Muir Woods and Dip Sea, runners turned back after they reach Cardiac, so a challenging switch backs turned into my nightmare. I constantly had to step aside for runners to pass as courtesy, but there were just too many of them. After runners bumped into my left shoulder so many times, I ended up spinning and falling. A guy with muddy legs helped me to stand up, and I had to get going right away without blocking the trail that forgot to properly thank him. I saw Joseph coming with a pack of strong and speedy runners and was happy for that two seconds “good job, Joe!” I continued fighting through the single file track while avoiding frontal collision. Inevitably I stepped into one deep puddle and my left knee went in first, then fell hard into the puddle.


    Frustrated, irritated and angry!!! I really didn’t enjoy the run any more, and whoever saw me between mile 16 and Cardiac that day I apologize for not smiling back at you or saying “good job” back to you. When Marcia ran past me saying “you can do this girl, I will see you at….” I couldn’t even response because I was just very pissed!! Not about the 1500 feet of ascent, but about people bumping into me and it hurt!!

    Finally the trail opened wider, and I could see lots of people, ranger truck, tents..etc, at the top of the hill. Mile 18, Cardiac aid station, and I made it without performing ballet split out there. Many runners were resting at this AS, and I saw Michael sitting in a chair rubbing his knee. I felt cold, so first thing was to drink some hot vegi broth, then had some coke and one small piece of PBJ sandwich. Michael asked me “are you sure you can make it back?” after telling me he was tired. I could see how easily this aid station can be THE DNF station for runners — it has tons of food, chairs to sit and there was that truck there hinting that you can get a ride. But, there was never a moment in that day that “I am not gonna make it” has ever occurred to me, not even when I fell into the muddy puddle. I nodded my head and told Michael “let’s go, I am ready to go back.” I know I had to run through those muddy puddle again, and they would be slippery and wet and I probably would fall couple more times, but I was determined to continue and finish.


    Going back actually was easier because I started running through the puddle instead of avoiding them, and let the water washing some of the mud off my shoes. I stopped worrying about tripping or falling, and weird that I didn’t fall at all going down the long switch backs. After I crossed the open field and wooden bridge, Michael found water to wash off mud of our legs and shoes. I felt 2lbs lighter without those accumulated mud! Muir Beach aid station came and a volunteer acclaimed “wow, you two look so clean.” Used the porta potti, drank coke, tiny potatoes.. picked up my feet and started running again. And I must say that I am so happy that I had no GI issue that day, and my GU Brew and Salted Watermelon Gel have faithfully kept me going. When going up the big Costal Trail hills, I told myself just keep going in steady pace and “if Rob Krar had to walk it, then you walk it.” I also recognized that I had been here before, two years ago I was running a race here after CIM with someone so close to me at that time, and I was taking photos and shooting video of him flying down this hill. I even remembered which exact spot I was standing that day….


    After coming down to the bottom of Fox Trail, that boring pavement came again and I knew we were getting close to Tennessee Valley AS and hot soup would be waiting. So close, yet so far!! Because that’s what I had told runners hundred times last year “one more big hill and you are almost done.” I must say that I was quite surprised and impressed that I had come this far, seeing Tennessee Valley again, and knowing I had about 6 miles left. I had no idea how long I had been running since this morning, but Michael was worried that we might miss the 10 hour cutoff. So after we climbed the last big hill and at the Alta aid station he took off. Michael ditched me at the last aid station, LOL!!

    But I didn’t mind at all, after all this is also his race and I really shouldn’t and can’t hold him back any longer. Before he left, Michael told me with very positive tone “from here it’s a 5K and I am sure you can run a 5K race.” I saw Michael running ahead of me and soon his back disappeared in dusk, and I just kept shuffling my legs and thinking “5k, at 12min pace you can do a 5K, right?” I felt a sudden rush of energy when seeing volunteers or course marshal at the last fork before crossing that footbridge. What I didn’t know was I would be running on the street!! My body was cold, my feet hurt, my tummy bloated with PBJ and coke,  my shoes heavy, and I was running on street where there were CARS!! I even had to ask a cop “where do I go now?

    I crossed the road and saw Vinh with his blue UTMJ Buff, jogging in place and waiting for me to come in, and tears immediately formed in my eyes when he said “600 yards from here.” Not that I knew how far 600 yards was, but hearing his voice at this moment was just comforting!!  Saw two people standing in the middle of the road with camera and cowbell, and I was so out that I thought “you stupid people, why standing in the middle of the road while I am running.” That two “stupid people” were Chad and Kiyoko, duh!! Then Michael showed up from no where — he had come back for me after he finished his race!! Michael and Vinh running next to me, side by side, and for no reason I started laughing, and I am sure I was running very very slow but I felt really really great!!


    Vinh pointed at two white North Face flags in the trees and told me “through that, that’s finish, it’s all yours now!” I sprinted, or thought I did, and ran across the finish line. My first 50K!!! My first Ultra!!



    That evening I had to walk down stairs backward and I was limping like a penguin; I told everyone that “that’s it, this is my first and last ultra race. I am done with this ultra thingy! ” Joseph said “that’s what you say now, wait till tomorrow morning,”  and I laughed about that comment. No way, this hurts too much and it’s not even fun!! I couldn’t even put on my pants and compression sleeves (for recovery) after shower, and thank goodness that Kiyoko is here to help!! And the things people  do for an ugly buckle?  you guys are crazy!! Next morning I made some coffee and cooked pancakes for Joseph and myself; we chatted about how strong he was during the race and how much I hated people bumping into my left shoulder..etc. Then I asked that ultimate question “so, what’s next?


    p.s. something I read two days prior TNF50, but I found it most suitable for my experience —

    “I have walked that long road (to freedom). I have tried not to falter; I have made missteps along the way. But I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb. I have taken a moment here to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back on the distance I have come. But I can only rest for a moment, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not ended”– Nelson Mandela



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