Wednesday, December 18, 2013

TNF 50 and the importance of it all

When I DNF'd the Black Hills 100 I raced a 50 miler two weeks later and had the worst run of my life. I swore I wouldn't race another ultra until The North Face Endurance Challenge Championship in December.  Surprisingly, I stuck to that.  I thought for sure I would crack in September with local races, but I didn't.

I signed up for TNF because I had visited San Francisco in May of 2012 and fell in love with not only the city but what lies across the bridge.  The picture at the top of my blog is the most important picture I've ever been in because I've never felt a longing for a place like that before.

The time between July and December felt just as long as it actually is.  I would say "time flew", but I waited somewhat patiently, and every weekend I thought about how many weeks I had left.  I did a lot of speed work the front half of my training, and more longer back-to-backs the second half.  I worked hard most of the time, but I wasn't killing myself for it (except, arguably, when it came to track workouts).  The Monday before I left I found out that TNF thought I perhaps had some potential as an ultra runner, due to my previous luck in past races.  They placed me on their elite runner list and I started the most competitive 50 mile race with 99 other people in the first wave, who happen to be the best runners from around the world.

Starting a race with elite runners is a real treat.  I felt completely inadequate and undeserving standing in the dark with Rob Krar, Dakota Jones, Anna Frost, Emelie Forsberg, Max King, Rory Bosio, etc.  It's a fucking fast start.  I forgot my watch in Michigan, and was toying with the idea of not wearing one anyway, so I went without it.  I haven't done that before, and I quite liked it.  I got into a bit of a time warp which came from not keeping track of aid stations or the rise of the sun, and when I was positive I was coming up to mile 10, it was actually mile 17.  This was where I first started to eat (whoops).  Every part of this course is absolutely beautiful, and I knew that going in to the race.  There's a short out and back section before you head down to Stinson beach, and I saw (read: ran in to) Anna Frost here, which was the greatest experience of my life.  I also saw Dakota Jones and Dave Mackey, which was kind of cool because it meant I wasn't doing absolutely horrible.  I hadn't fallen apart.  …Quite yet.
Down to Stinson beach was one of my favorite parts of the race.  Once you got done with the out and back it was 1.6 miles down, and I bombed the shit out of it.  I fell twice and got a little muddy, but to be fair I had lifted my eyes to gaze at a waterfall.  At Stinson beach I picked up Jesse and I was feeling quite well at this point.  The climb back up ripped at my soul and I've never hated stairs so much.  Dipsea Trail stairs are hard after 27 miles.
There was a long downhill after the second stop at Cardiac Arrest aid station (~30 miles) and I took it for everything it was.  Hikers/onlookers told Jesse and I that we looked like we were floating.  And actually, we were.
This report is getting lengthy.  I hit a wall around mile 36.  We had an aid station at the parking lot of Muir Woods, and I loved the fact that I recognized it.  As I got a rock out of my shoe I thought about the last time I was there a year and a half ago.  Everything had changed except the marvel of it all.  After a climb it was a flat 3 mile stretch to the next aid station and as much as I wanted to punch Jesse in the face I knew he was right when he said we had to take advantage of it.  This was likely the worst shuffle in my life.
Through Tennessee Valley for the second time I thought it was never going to end.  I actually looked at Jesse and choked out "This is never going to end."  And it went:
"Yes it is."
"This is going to be a 12 hour 50.  Oh my God."
"No it's not."
"Yes it is."
"No it's not."
And it wasn't.

I ended up finishing in the top 30, and I'm okay with that.  I would've appreciated being a little smarter about the race and avoiding getting so low.  I also would have continued my speed work a couple of weeks further into my training.  10,000 feet of climbing and 10,000+ of descending treated me well.

But the thing about this race, is that it was not about the race at all.
I used TNF 50 as an excuse to get back to a part of the country that I feel like I need to be in.  Elite runners are cool, but stalking their lives and accomplishments is something I don't have the time or effort for.  They do cooler stuff than I do and at faster paces than I run.  To be grouped with them was a privilege, there is no doubt about that.  The ties I have with San Francisco aren't from reading training blogs or watching live tweets from other big ultras; they were my own that I had made a year and a half before and finally had the opportunity to touch base with and fulfill [to an extent].

My favorite part of the course was the stretch before the out and back and down to Stinson beach.  It's the part of the course where you're closest to the water for quite awhile.  The sun was cloud-covered and I did some passing here, but for the most part I was alone.  I cherished the many minutes it was just me, my lungs, my feet, the waves, the salt, the wind and strands of hair across my face.

Jesse and I had a red-eye out of SFO Sunday night, and for the greater part of Sunday we spent it across the bridge exploring more where we had been the day prior.  We stopped at the Mountain Home Inn and drank for a couple of hours, and as we (he) drove back to the airport it was a crazy kind of pain.  Driving down winding mountain roads with bridge and city lights at the end is a terrible thing to have to leave.  I couldn't tell you what we were talking about on that car ride, but I distinctly remember an ache comparable to a palm squeezing your heart when you're traveling in the exactly opposite direction that you want to be.  That you should be.  That you need to be.

To be pulled by a place to such an extent is a bizarre experience.  I didn't go to TNF to win.  I didn't go to hang another bib number or cross another finish line.  I went because the Golden Gate National Recreation Area is my favorite place in the world, and I needed an excuse to go back.  I went to rest an unsettling feeling, and what I got was pure bliss.  While gazing at the ocean atop a cliff I accepted the realization that there is nowhere else in the world I would rather be -- not even perched at the top of a 14er.  The euphoria from spending 50 miles and a few days there equates with the contending vacuity that settled in my heart the night we left and has since burrowed itself deep inside.  And I have a great fear that it will not leave.


And with all of that being said, I owe much of the experience to my cousin Carley and her husband Mike, who without them this would have never have been possible.  They let us stay at their apartment in San Francisco for the entire weekend, even though they wouldn't be there.  Words and gestures could not possible express enough gratitude to the two of them.


And now, for the obligatory pictures.

[View from Twin Peaks]

[Race grounds across the water]

[This is Tino.  Carley and Mike's cat that we got to hang out with over the weekend.]

[I ripped the mirror off of the rental car backing out of a typical SF garage.]


[I got to race on all of that…!]

[To be fair, photo credit: Jesse Scott]

That's me, with my best friend and love, in my favorite place in the world.  Those are perfect footsteps. That's a perfect life.

To run in such a fashion is a well-worked for treat.  To want to run to fulfill such a passion is something much bigger.


No comments

Post a Comment