Sunday, March 14, 2010

"Ultrarunning: year in review" review

Recently the March issue of Ultrarunner landed in my mailbox. It might be the most anticipated issue of the year as it has the "year in review" section in it.

Here's my review of the review:

Ultrarunner of the year MEN:
No question, Geoff deserves the UoY award. In almost any other year Karl's record would have given him the UoY title, but Geoff's breaking (crushing) of several CRs at big-time races - and his head-to-head win against Karl at Wasatch - clearly give him the nod.

Ultrarunner of the year WOMEN:
Anything but a unanimous vote for Kami would have been a big surprise.
Caitlin Smith had more wins, and she might challenge Kami this year for the title, but Kami's 6 wins were all at big-time races, and she beat Caitlin head to head at Miwok.

Ultrarunner of the year voting: A

Performance of the year MEN:
While one could argue with the order of the top 5 performances on the list, overall I pretty much agree with the choice of the voters.
It is interesting to note, though, that Anton Krupicka got a FIRST place vote for breaking my CR at White River by 30 some seconds while I didn't a single vote when I set the record in 2004 (Ultrarunning March 2005).

Performance of the year WOMEN:
Again, Kami's IAU 100k win was clearly the PoY. I have no idea why 2 voters voted for Kami's 50k win. The 100k has a much stronger field than the 50k, and a 3:30h 50k on the road is not that impressive. 2:57h marathon + 5 miles.

Performance of the year voting: B+
Performance of the year voting 2004: C-

Most competitive fields:
I guess there is no good, objective way to determine the competitiveness of races. UR's way of determining it has the advantage of not depending directly on people's votes. The pitfall with that method is that very strong runners who don't run several ultras a year and foreigners will not contribute points to the competitiveness score for that race. So at TNF 50 myself (1st), Chris Lundstrom (2:17 marathoner, 3rd), Kaburagi (Japan, 4th) as well as the French guy who was 2nd at the Tour du Mont Blanc (dropped out) did not add any points. Had Matt Carpenter been there, as was his plan, he, too, would not have added any points.

JFK 50 had the fastest field in the history of the event (average of the top runners on the men's side), but didn't make the top 10.

Competitive field analysis: B

Significant course records:
Judging the significance of a course record solely by the number of years the event has been around is not all that useful in my opinion. Sure, the older the race the more runners have raced it (generally). And some of the most prestigous races are also some of the oldest.
(not graded)

100mile - 100k - 50mile - 50k:
Top 100 lists: Sort of interesting, though times are hard / impossible to compare.
(And the TNF 50 San Francisco results are missing for the women.)

Top graded performances: What the $&@#??? Who came up with the grading algorithm? They were either high on something or simply rolled the dice. Examples:
100M: Geoff's Wasatch (performance of the year) is graded as the 3rd best 100 mile performance.
50M: Geoff's Mtn Masochist CR, my TNF San Fr. CR and Antons White River CR are graded as the nuber 14, 15 and 19, respectively, 50 mile performances. Yet 7 of the top 12 performances are from the JFK 50 (a race that's - wrongly - not rated among the 10 most competitive ones).
50k: If a 3:06:49 at Caumsett gives you a rating of .6030 and a 2:56:36 gives you a .570, does that mean that Keith Pierce's rating of .536 (at El Scorcho) is worth about a 2:46 at Caumsett?

Grading of performances: F

I appreciate the thoughts of others on the "year in review"!

Monday, December 28, 2009

The 2007 Northface SF 50 miler report

As requested by a reader of my blog, here's the race report of The Northface Endurance Challenge 50 miler, San Francisco, Dec 1st 2007. 95% of this the original report, with a few minor additions in [....]:

This report actually needs to start WAY before the actual race. Sometime last spring my wife Trisha and I read about this event online and pretty much on the spot Trisha decided that this would be my 3rd focus race of the year. The other two were the Boston Marathon (12th place) and the IAAF world track & field championships in Osaka in August (37th in the Marathon, competing for Germany).
I more or less kicked off my training for the San Francisco 50 miler by running the Seattle edition of the Northface Endurance Challenge 50 miler on October 6th. I had done one long run (3:46h) about 2 weeks earlier, and no run over 3:30h all year before then. The Seattle course was quite brutal, with about 13,000 ft of elevation gain and 13000 ft of descent. I consider myself somewhat lucky that Phil Kochik didn't have his best day either, or I might not have won that day.
My key runs to get ready for San Francisco after the Seattle race were a marathon in 2:47, 3 long (4 - 5 hours at goal race intensity) runs at Cougar Mountain, and 3 XC races against open and collegiate runners. In addition, I flew to San Francisco 2 1/2 weeks before the race and ran almost the entire course over a 3 day span, which would turn out to be exceedingly valuable on race day for route finding.
Several of my running friends at the Seattle Running Company asked me about the competition for the San Francisco race, months before the race. I told them: "I don't know who will actually be there, but if I'm in good shape and have no major "issues" during the race, the only US ultra runner who can beat me on this course is Matt Carpenter. [In 2009 I didn't make that statement, knowing that there are now a handful of runners who can run with me on a good day.] I don't know if anyone from overseas will come for this race. Of course, 50 miles is a long way, and a lot can happen. If I do have "issues" there are quite a few runners who can beat me."

I decided to book a private room at the Marin Headlands youth hostel, which is across the road from the start of the race. That way I could get ready for the race and be inside until a few minutes before the start in case of bad weather. It turned out to be as perfect a day for running a 50 miler as you can get in San Francisco in December. Temperatures were in the mid 30ies at the start, and the mid 50ies by noon, with plenty of sunshine.

The race started out more or less as expected, with a group of 6 or 7 of us together, including the eventual women's winner Liz Hawker from England. The first 10k loop was a climb up Bobcat trail and a descent down the Rodeo Valley trail. This was followed by a climb up the Miwok trail and a descent to the Tennessee Valley parking lot (mile 9). This descent was the first somewhat technical stretch of the course, and having a headlamp and a flashlight definitely helped. Unfortunately I got a little rock in my shoe despite wearing trail gaiters. So at the aid station I had to take the gaiter off, empty my shoe and get the shoe back on (I didn't put on the gaiter again).
Trisha told me that about 20 runners had come by at Tennessee Valley about 40 minutes after the start. They went left at the junction where you go right (up the Bobcat trail) the first time and left (on Rodeo Valley trail to the Miwok trail) the second time through. This part of the course was well marked and a lot of people must have blindly followed the first person to go wrong.
After that stop at the TV aid station I took the next half mile to catch back up with the rest of the lead group. Nothing noteworthy happened on the section between TV aid station and Muir Beach, except that after Muir Beach it was light enough to turn the headlamps off.
The next interesting part came about a mile after the Muir Beach aid station. We had to make a sharp left turn off the Redwood Creek trail to the Heather Cutoff. There were ribbons also straight along the Redwood Creek trail. However, those were for runners coming from the other direction way later in the race, at mile 38. Some people in my group wanted to go straigth, but I convinced them that we need to turn right. I do know for a fact that at least 2 others went straight on the Redwood Creek trail and then up the Deer Park or Dipsea trail to reconnect with the actual course about 3/4 miles before the Pantoll aid station. I think it's about the same distance as the actual course, and obviously the same elevation gain... [In 2008 and 2009 the course was very well marked. I know some runners still went the wrong way those years, but that was mostly due to their no paying attention.]
The climb to Pantoll is the first major climb of the race, with an elevation gain of 1500ft. We started out as a group of 6, but I'm not sure who the 6 people were. By the time we got to the top it was Matt, myself and one other guy in the lead, followed by William Emerson a little back, and 2 more guys even further back. Coming into the Pantoll aid station I met my crew, exchanged my bottle, grabbed a muffin and headed out. Matt and the other guy went for what I thought was their drop bags and I expected them to catch up with me on the descent to Stinson Beach. However, only Matt caught up with me just after the Stinson Beach aid station. He said the other guy was still looking for his drop bag as the bags were still in the truck when we arrived at Pantoll.
Coming off the trail into Stinson Beach you pop out on Hwy 1 and you have to turn right after about 50m, onto the road just past the fire station. The Matt Davis trailhead is about 150m up that road. There were no course markings telling us to go right at the fire station, and no volunteers either. I made sure Matt saw me make the turn (he was still 50 m behind me at that point) and we started to head up the longest climb of the course, the Matt Davis trail. I also know for a fact that at least one person didn't make this turn and headed down the highway through Stinson Beach.
The Matt Davis trail is pretty steep at the beginning, with lots of stairs. Matt pretty much kept the pace he was on to catch up to me and soon pulled away from me. I decided it's too soon to race, with more than half the distance left, so I picked up the pace slightly, but not enough to stay with him. I continued to see him ahead of me for a few minutes, then he disappeared. "May be we should rename the trail to Matt Carpenter trail", I thought. My thought before the race was that this trail is probably where the contenders separate themselves from the wanna-bees. I just thought we'd be a larger group at this point and that I wouldn't be one of those being dropped. Anyway, closer to the top the area becomes more open, and I saw that Matt was may be only 40 seconds ahead. On the next section, the Coastal trail, the distance between Matt and I stayed somewhere between 20 - 30 seconds. Matt took a pit stop right before the McKennan aid station at the turn-around (mile 26) and we were back together for the next several miles. First we ran into William, now in third and about 6 minutes behind. After a few more guys it was Liz Hawker, may be 12 - 15 minutes behind. Liz and I narrowly avoided a collision on the narrow trail. However, I don't think she saw that Matt was right behind me and the next thing I saw was Matt climbing back up to the trail. "She ran me right off the trail!" After he assured me he's OK I said something like "Man, she's not far back!" "Uli, we're getting old", was his reply. A few minutes later I heard a short scream and when I turned around I saw Matt getting back onto the trail. "Now you are running yourself of the trail!" "Yeah, I was daydreaming." The rest of the way back to the Pantoll aid station was uneventful.
We soon were on the most spectacular part of the course, the Bootleg trail in Muir woods. The next few miles were the only part of the course I didn't run earlier as it was changed shortly before the race. We descended 1300 ft on technical trail before climbing back up to the Panoramic highway via the Lost trail and Ocean View trail. After a short climb we got to an intersection with a ribbon _at_ the intersection, but no ribbons down the trail one way or the other visible. Now what? Based on my memory of the course map we had to stay right and descend in a few switchbacks down to a creek. Matt didn’t know either. So we went to the right. After 300m the trail did make a switchback, but still no ribbons. Just as Matt voiced his nervousness about our decision we saw a ribbon on the trail. We were on the right trail after all. On the next climb Matt again pulled away, by about 20 - 30 seconds. This is the only part in the entire race where I walked for may be 50 meters. The stairs were spaced too far for single (running) steps but too close for two steps - but walking large steps was OK.
At the top of the climb Trisha and Jennifer, a girl from the Seattle University XC team, were sitting on a big rock, watching us run up the trail. As Matt ran past them he said "Congratulations on winning the Seattle Marathon!" to Trisha. Trish did not tell me that until after the race, though.
About a 1/2 mile later I had caught up with Matt again and the trail crossed a private driveway. To my surprise a ribbon was placed about 15 feet up the driveway, and none along the trail. At this point again my course knowledge paid off. As Matt and a 50k runner we had caught up with wanted to follow the course markings I told them that this driveway would only lead us to the Panoramic Hwy, that the trail is what is marked on the course map and course description, and that it will lead us to the Dipsea trail in less than a 1/2 mile. And the website said runners are ultimately responsible for knowing the course. So we took the trail. When we got to the Dipsea trail we had to turn down to the right, but the ribbons were directing us up to the left. A few hundred feet later at the road crossing there were no markings at all. I suspect some idiots thought it would be fun to move / remove trail markings to confuse runners. [Again, in 2008 and 2009 the trail was marked very well, sometimes with ribbons every 30 feet, even when there was no intersection anywhere close.]
We followed the road down for may be 1/2 mile because the Dipsea trail is closed due to a washout [it is still closed in 2009], then descended the stairs down to the Muir Woods aid station. There were two noteworthy occurrences on the next 3 miles to Muir Beach: First, we ran into a group of 4 deer on the trail. They barely moved as we ran towards them. So we passed them a few feet away as they just looked at us. The second one came as we crossed one of the bridges on the Redwood Creek trail. We must have run across it with the exact same stride, and our stride frequency must have exactly matched the natural frequency of the bridge. The bridge started shaking so hard I thought it might collapse – but it didn’t.
I tried to pick up the pace somewhat to see if I could put a little gap on Matt before the Dias Ridge climb, but he stayed right on my heels the entire way to Muir Beach. At the bottom of the Dias Ridge climb (mile 39) Matt was a few steps ahead and I expected him to push this climb, especially the first, steeper part. To my surprise he didn't run any faster than I was comfortably able to run as well. This was the first time in a long while that I thought I do have a realistic chance to win this one. We stayed together for the rest of the climb to the Shoreline Hwy aid station at mile 41. This one came just in time as I had run out of water about 5 minutes earlier. We both refilled our bottles and while I grabbed 2 Carboom from my drop bag Matt got a 10 second lead. I ate one of ‘booms, then caught Matt may be 3 minutes later. I kept running the pace I was on to catch up with Matt on this gradual uphill, and again Matt just stayed right with me. A few minutes later I feel a rather large rock under my left heel. "Damn it! I can't stop now! ... But it's still about an hour of running with 2 major descends. I can't do that with this rock in my shoe. I have to stop." So I stopped and emptied my shoe, and Matt got a 15 second gap. Again, I was able to close the gap within a few minutes.
On the final descend into Tennessee Valley we both were running pretty hard. I decided to eat my other Carboom before the aid station so I can focus on just running and drinking on the last 40 min of the race. This turned out to have been a bad idea. About 30 seconds after I finished my ‘boom it came back out - in about 5 or 6 "episodes". Again Matt got a 10 - 15 second lead. Fortunately my stomach settled quickly and I closed the gap to within a few seconds by the time we came into the aid station.
Trisha was waiting there with a new bottle of Gatorade and she had an open pack of Carboom in her hand: "Uli, eat this right now!" "No, I just threw one up 5 minutes ago." "Take it. You HAVE to eat!" I wasn't in the mood to argue, so I just took the bottle and the Carboom and took off. Matt meanwhile went to his drop bag. I expected him to slowly catch up to me again in the next few minutes. But instead I heard him come up behind me like a runaway train. I wasn't sure what to think. He pulled up next to me and said "Uli, you're &%#*ing tough" All I could think of was "So are you!" I was really surprised to hear what he said next "I think I'm done." And with that he dropped off the pace and I was by myself.
I still wasn't sure if that was really the last I'd see of Matt until the finish. I kept running the same pace I was before for several minutes before I turned around. Matt wasn't anywhere in sight. At this point I knew I had won the race. I still felt that I owed it to myself, the race, and Matt to run it in fairly hard, and not just jog and look over my shoulder once in a while.
I had already gotten mentally (not sure if I would have been physically) ready for the race to come down to a sprint over the last mile or so, but I’m very happy that it didn’t come down to it. Over the last 2 miles I just tried to maintain my pace to finish under 7:00 hours, which I did in 6:57:22. Matt was second in 7:10:10, 41 minutes ahead of 3rd place Leigh Schmitt in 7:51:06.

The final time difference certainly doesn’t tell the whole story of this race. It was a more or less easy run for 20 miles, followed by a 25 mile neck and neck race. Matt was definitely the thoughest competition I have faced in any of my 11 ultras so far. He certainly lived up to the “go out hard. When it hurts, pick it up”, his sign-off in every e-mail. As he told me afterwards, his quads were just thrashed. I certainly wasn’t able to tell from the way he ran down to the Tennessee Valley aid station. He’s also one of the nicest guys out there, and his dry humor always provides entertainment along the course. Last year at Pikes Peak Matt smoked me by 23 minutes, this time I came out on top. I think this probably wasn’t the last time we ran against each other. And while I hope the outcome will be the same as this year, I wouldn’t bet on it! [As everyone knows, Matt came back in 2008 to beat me by 5 minutes and set a CR in the process. Hopefully Matt will be back in 2010...]

Ultras run so far:
2002 Chuckanut 50k 3:57 1st CR
2003 Way too Cool 50k 3:18:17 1st CR
2003 White River 50M 6:37 1st CR
2004 White River 50M 6:32:43 1st CR
2004 Sunmart 50k 3:12 1st CR
2005 Chuckanut 50k 3:42:59 1st CR
2005 Sunmart 50k 3:07:47 1st CR
2006 Chuckanut 50k 3:55 1st
2006 American River 50M 5:58:44 1st
2007 Northface Seattle 50M 8:17 1st (CR)
2007 Northface SF 50M 6:57:22 1st (CR)
2008 Northface SF 50M 6:54:45 2nd
2009 Bridle Trails 50k 3:31:06 1st
2009 Northface Bellingham 50M DNF
2009 Northface SF 50M 6:33:30 1st (CR) (course was shorter than in '07, '08)

Sunday, December 13, 2009

How old am I?

This seems to be a rather simple question. According to my birth certificate I was born on March 6th 1972, which would put my age as 37 and change.
However, Trisha has been telling me for years that I act like a 13 year old, especially on occasions when I did something she particularly didn't like. But who do you trust, you wife or your birth certificate?
Now the situation became even more complicated. Besides the monetary award for winning the Northface Endurance Challenge last weekend I also won an "Ironman Inner Scan Body Composition Monitor". It gives you a lot of more or less useful information, like weight (134 lbs), % body fat (5.5), total body water % (63), basic metabolic rate (1650 kcal / day), physique rating (8 "thin and muscular") - NO WAY!
And metabolic age: Twelve.
Great! Now my wife has scientific proof to back her up.
At least the next time she tells me I'm acting like a 13 year old I can tell her "Thanks. I'm acting mature for my metabolic age."

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

2009 North Face Endurance Challenge 50 miler San Francisco

The story really starts with the 2008 edition of the race, where I finished 2nd to Matt Carpenter by about 5 minutes. After the 2007 race Matt analyzed his preparation for the race and came up with several things he needed to change in preparation for the 2008 race. He did, and he was prepared and ready. I knew he’d be more ready in 2008, yet somehow I thought I beat him before, I’ll beat him again. I should know by now that this kind of mindset doesn’t win big races. So after the 2008 race I tried to figure out what I needed to change to be ready this year. I came up with 4 things:
1) Don’t focus on and run a marathon earlier in the fall.
2) Don’t run your long training runs too hard
3) More milage
4) More uphills / downhills

The training went well and as the race approached I felt I was in the best shape for this race so far, ready for a course record. Given the list of runners who were listed in the published registration, and those who told me at one point or another of their intent to compete, I thought it might be necessary to run a CR just to be “in the money” (top 3).

The top contenders in 2009 in alphabetical order:
Sal Bautista: Won the Bellingham and Wisconsin TNF 50 milers this year. Ran a great time on a very hard course in Bellingham. Recent college grad.
Matt Carpenter: 2nd at 2007 race, won with CR in 2008. CR at San Juan Solstice 50, Leadville 100, Pikes Peak ascent and marathon. Too many others to mention all.
Sebastien Chaigneau (France): Second place finisher at this year’s 103 mile TNF Tour de Mont Blanc. Don’t know much else about him.
Tsuyoshi Kaburagi (Japan): Third at last year’s race, about 6 minutes behind me. Third at Tour de Mont Blanc this year.
Hal Koerner: 2008 and 2009 Western States 100 champion.
Anton Krupicka: Had run really well mostly in 100 mile races before, but this July stunned everyone by breaking my CR at the White River 50 by 34 seconds, demolishing a very talented field in the process.
Jason Louitt (Canada): He was one place behind me at the 2009 Mountain Running World Championships in Italy in September.
Chris Lundstrom: 2:17 marathoner, his first 50 miler, but he’s familiar with the trails and the course.
Dave Mackey: Beat him in both of our previous meetings, at the 2003 Way too Cool and 2003 White River 50. But he had obliterated an already strong CR at the Miwok 100 earlier this year, on a course that uses many of the same trails as TNF 50.
Chikara Omine: Won Skyline 50 this year, 2nd (behind Mackey) at Firetrails 50, local runner who is very familiar with the trails.
Goeff Roes: If he doesn’t get Ultra Running Magazine’s “Ultrarunner of the Year” award the voting panel would clearly disqualify itself. CR at Wasatch (by over one hour), CR at the Bear, CR at Mountain Masochist (by over 20 min).
Leigh Schmitt: 2nd at the 2009 Washington TNF 50 race, knows course from last year.
Uli Steidl: 2007 winner, 2nd in 2008. 2:19:45 marathon this spring. 12th at Boston in 2007. Current CR at Chuckanut 50, Sunmart 50, Way too Cool. Former CR at WR 50.
Michael Wardian: 2009 USATF ultra runner of the year. Top 10 finishes at last 2 IAU 100k world cups. Multiple USATF 50k, 100k champion. Won WR 50 in 2008, second behind Krupicka in 2009.
Mike Wolfe: Won WR 50 in 2006, 2007.

The day before the race I found out that both Matt Carpenter and Tony Krupicka had not contacted the race director and are not entered in this year’s race. I later heard second hand that both have (or had) knee problems.
The only other runner from this list not to start was Sal Bautista. He had picked up his race package the day before, but did not start.
While the absence of these three runners clearly weakened the field, I still think (in my biased opinion) that this was the strongest field of any 50 mile race in the US this year, may be in several years.

The course:
About 5 % pavement, the rest is on dirt fire roads and smooth single track trails with awesome views of the Pacific mixed with technical single track through old growth forest, and brief views of San Francisco.
Due to reconstruction of the Dias Ridge trail the section from Muir Beach to Tennessee Valley was changed, and shortened. I ran this section easy on Friday before the race and estimated it to be about 1 mile shorter than the Dias Ridge trail. Upon returning home I mapped both sections with Google Earth – it’s very open terrain and they still had the old satellite picture with the original Dias Ridge trail. The new section is 1.1 miles shorter and has about 150 feet less of elevation change. So given a pace of about 8:00 min / mile for the elite men, I estimate the course was about 9 min faster this year, about 18 min for the back of the pack.

The race:
The start of the race was delayed by 15 min (not sure why), but given the almost perfect weather conditions (cool, no fog, very light wind) this was no big deal. The first section is a flat mile, followed by an 800 foot climb up the Bobcat and Alta fire roads. Jason Louitt was pushing the early pace, with the rest of the chase group running fairly close together. Jason really picked it up on the descent down into Rodeo Valley, and by the time we reached the first aid station at 5.8 miles in 41 min (42 min last year) he was out of sight.

On the 600 ft climb up the Miwok trail – actually a fire road - a group of about 15 runners formed, with Jason way out in front. When we got to the turnoff onto the Old Springs trail I thought I saw a light way higher up on the Miwok trail. Turned out that Jason had missed the turn. There was no arrow pointing to the Old Springs trail, but there were several ribbons at the intersection and down along the Old Springs trail. Missing that turn clearly was his own fault. By the time we got into the Tennessee Valley aid station at 1:05h there were still about 15 runners within a minute.

The next 1.5 miles are gradual downhill on pavement and dirt before a steep 500 ft climb up another road. This is where the fun starts: technical single track in the dark on the coastal trail. After the descent to and climb out from Pirate’s Cove I looked back and could see a chain of about 12 lights behind me (and 2 in front), then a huge gap to the next person just starting the descent.
A few minutes later, just before the Muir Beach aid station (1:37:34 – 1:38 last year), Jason comes flying by like he’s running a ½ marathon: “I missed a turn before Tennessee Valley!” And with that he stormed into the lead and soon had about 40 seconds on us.

After running through the Muir beach community for about ¼ mile we hit the Redwood Creek trail briefly before starting the long (1500 ft) climb to Pan Toll via the Heather Cutoff and the Coastal trail. At the bottom of the climb the race was as follows: Jason is about 40 seconds ahead of us, Geoff Roes, Dave Mackey, myself and Chikara Omine – in that order – all together. The rest of the larger lead group is following close behind in smaller groups. Geoff seemed determined to not let the gap to Jason get any bigger and started to pull away from Dave. I didn’t want to be left behind, so I passed Dave and went with Geoff. Even though I was racing I had time to enjoy the beautiful ocean view and sunrise. Makes this climb seem to go by so much faster! After about 2/3 of the climb we caught up with a slowing Jason and passed right by him. Dave and Chikara were may be 60 seconds back at the time.

My plan was to eat and drink a lot in the first half of the race so I would have the necessary energy when the racing starts in earnest in the last 2 hours or so of the race. Turned out my plan was a little too ambitious, or we ran too hard early on, as a good fraction of what I had consumed in the previous 2 hours found their way back up and out just before the Pan Toll aid station. We had reached Pan Toll at 2:20 (2:23 last year).

After some more fluids came up on the first 2 switchbacks down the Steep Ravine trail I tried the humorous approach: “I don’t like this! But at least my stomach feels good now!” I was worried that the loss of fluids and calories would hurt me in the end, but there was nothing I could do about it but try to eat and drink more.

The Steep Ravine trail is an awesome single track descent through old-growth forest and along a creek, with lots of stairs, roots, rocks and even a ladder to go down. At this point it was just Geoff and I, with no one else in sight. I was in front, and Geoff commented that “for a speedy road runner you are very nimble on this trail.” I tried to not go too fast on this section as there is still a lot of running to be done after this.

We reached the Stinson Beach aid station after 2:40 (2:43 last year), so a 20 minute descent. I was out a few seconds earlier than Geoff, and Dave Mackey caught up with Geoff briefly at the aid station, but did not stay with him as Geoff caught up with me early on the Matt Davis trail
climb. I asked Geoff what’s up with Dave and he said Dave told him he doesn’t feel good on the climbs today. Geoff and I stayed together for the entire climb, and we never saw anyone else until we got to the open section where we turned left onto the Coastal Trail to the McKennan aid station. That’s when we saw that Chris Lundstrom had moved into third place, a little over a minute back. From the top of the Matt Davis trail it took about 21 min to the aid station, and nothing changed in that section.

We reached the aid station at 3:28:20 (3:32 last year). It was interesting to see where everyone was as we headed back towards Pan Toll. Chris was still a minute back. Michael Wardian was about 6 min back at this point, not sure where Mackey was. About 10 min after we left the aid station Caitlin Smith headed our way, closely followed by Joelle Vaught. Holy crap!!! They are just over 20 min behind us at the ½ way point, and we are on CR pace! In 2007 Lizzy Hawker didn’t run Matt off the trail til way later. They must have been at least 10 min ahead of Lizzy’s pace from 2007 at that point. After seeing several other runners on this out-and-back section we eventually ran into Jason. He had lost about 30 min in the span of 1:30h and would later drop.

After about 20 min we got back to the Matt Davis trail junction and stayed straight on the Coastal trail towards Pan Toll. This section is relatively flat, with a few rolling hills. Chris continued to be about 1 minute behind us all the way into Pan Toll (4:01 – last year 4:04).
Pan Toll was not a good place for me that day. I had just taken another gel before the aid station, and that didn’t go over well with my stomach. So I came running into the aid station puking. My wife Trisha – who did a fantastic job crewing for me all day – had a very worried look on her face and asked me how I’m doing. “Besides the throwing up I’m fine.” I really felt fine with that exception, and even my stomach was fine afterwards. But now I was really concerned about running out of steam in the later stages of the race! But there was no point to dwelling on that thought. With that I grabbed my bottle and more gels and off we went, just as Chris came into the aid station.

This next section, the Bootleg trail, drops about 1200 feet of great technical single track, with lots of stairs, through old growth forest and along a creek. A trail runner’s dream. Last year I tried to close a 2:30 min gap I had on Matt at Pan Toll, and I came within a few seconds on the bottom before Matt pulled away again on the next climb. This year Geoff just took off and we flew down that trail way faster than I ran it last year. Geoff is definitely a better downhill runner than Matt, but also not quite as strong of a climber. So while I was going close to my limit to stay with him on that descent I had an easier time to stay with him on the climbs compared to Matt. At the top of the Lost trail by the Panoramic Hwy was my wife and Geoff’s sister and dad, cheering us on. Chris Lundstrom was about 1:30 min behind us at that point, according to Trisha later, but we never saw him. Geoff continued to push the pace on the Sun trail, then I led the descent down the road and Dipsea trail to the Old In aid station. We got there in 4:52:27 (4:58 last year, 5:05 in 2007).

Geoff was out of the aid station first, and we crossed Redwood creek and started the 300 ft climb towards the Deer Park fire road. The last 30 seconds of that climb Geoff slowed down significantly (he later told me he wasn’t aware of that at all), but I didn’t pass him. We ran down the fire road together and the way the gate at the end of the road was closed sort of forced me into the lead. So I led the flat single track Redwood creek trail back to Muir beach. I didn’t really push it here, but definitely ran that section faster than last year.

I figured the race will likely be decided on one of the last 2 climbs. I thought as long as Geoff doesn’t find another gear on the hills than what he had shown so far, I would likely be able to hang with him. Of course there was the issue of all the lost fluids and calories earlier in the race that might catch up with me. I wasn’t going to try to push it on the climb out of Muir Beach. For all I cared we could let it come to a sprint on the last 400m on the road. I mean, I prefer to pull away sooner, but if that’s not possible I like my chances in a sprint at the end (except if it would have been Chris Lundstrom).

We ran into the Muir Beach aid station together, and I left a few seconds before Geoff. For the first minute of the climb I could hear his steps and breathing behind me, when all of a sudden it got quiet. Did he stop to pee? Or is this the break I was hoping for? I didn’t turn around for a few minutes but kept my effort steady, at something I thought I could sustain for the entire 1000 ft climb, and when I finally turned he was may be 30 seconds behind. As time passed the gap grew, and by the top of the hill my lead was about 2:30min. I reduced my effort to about 90% as I didn’t want to risk a late-race blow-up. I kept turning around but couldn’t see him (or anyone else) any more.

I got into the Tennessee Valley aid station at 5:51:22 (6:12 last year, but adjusted for the course change it would have been about 6:03 last year). Trisha told me I had “at least 2 minutes” lead. That kind of concerned me, as I had 2:30 lead at the top of the hill. Did Geoff actually get closer?!? As it turned out, he didn’t. My actual lead at TV was 3:30 min.

Anyway, I knew we both had slowed down somewhat from our earlier pace between mile 30 and 40, so I was a little afraid someone might sneak up on both of us at the end. With the Marincello road climb being shared with the 50k and ½ marathon runners it is a little more difficult to tell if someone from the 50 mile race is coming up from behind. So my plan was to keep running at 90% and turning around from time to time to make sure there was no bad surprise. My quads were pretty thrashed at this point from the downhills, mostly the crazy descent on the Bootleg trail. So I didn’t want to push it harder than I had to.

I knew by the TV aid station that the clock would stop for me well under the old course record. However, from running the new trail section on Friday before the race I knew it was about 8-10 min faster than the old section. So I wanted to be sufficiently under the old CR that I could call it a true CR for myself, regardless of what the race officials say. Once I got to the last AS at Alta my energy level was actually pretty good for that point in the race and my brain wanted to push it hard for the last 2.5 miles. But my quads objected: “only if it’s absolutely necessary”. Since I could not see anyone fast behind me for a long way my quads won out and I kept it at 90% all the way to the finish.

Final time: 6:33:30
Adjusted time: about 6:42:30 equivalent on old course
Old CR: 6:49:33, 2008, Matt Carpenter
So in my book I count it as about a 7 min CR.

A big thank you to my wife Trisha for her help on race day with crewing, in the days before the race for getting me ready mentally, in the weeks and months before the race in helping me plan my training and in the past few years for giving me the opportunity to train more or less professionally and letting me schedule most of my “work” around my training.

Thank you to Dr Scott and Dr Jeff from Essential Chiropractic for taking care of my adductor / hip flexor / etc issues. I didn’t feel a thing during the race, or afterwards! When it comes to running related injuries, they are the best!

Thank you to The North Face for putting on such a great event. Thank you for putting up a prize purse that attracts such a high caliber field! As I told Trisha afterwards, I’m not sure what I’m more happy about, the money I won or that I have beaten such a strong field, in CR time. Of course, without the money there would not be such a strong field. I’ll save my full take on prize money in ultras for another blog….
I was happy to hear that the 4 regional TNF races and the championship events will not only continue, but expand next year: a marathon, a 50k and a 50 miler on Saturday, and a 5k, a 10k and a ½ marathon on Sunday! I wish them good luck with this expansion, and if any of you reading this ran the race I encourage you to fill out the feedback survey they have online. I know they actually read them and try to make the event even better the next year.

Full results and the survey are posted at:

A 4 minute video of Geoff and I at about mile 34 is posted here: