The North Face Endurance Challenge Gore-Tex 50 Mile Championship 2010

Adventures9 Comments

Distance 52.17 miles
Elevation Gain 12,480 feet
Time 11:36:09 (PR)
Pace 13:56
Rank 140 of 296
GPS Analysis Garmin Connect

Back at the start of 2010, it sounded like a great idea to not race again after the Leadville Trail 100. A well deserved break. But days into that break, I realized that it wasn’t going to happen. I wanted to keep running and training with a slight purpose so I needed a goal. The somewhat obvious choice was another ultra and there is only really big show at the end of the year — The North Face Endurance Challenge Gore-Tex 50 Mile Championship. What a mouthful! Might as well be a part of it. Loop it into a trip to my work’s headquarters and its a decent weekend. Later, Natalee, my sister and Leadville Crew Chief, decided to jump on board — not as crew — but as runner! She would make her marathon debut on a trail course. Ballsy.

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I never really committed to a tough training plan for the fall. I didn’t have the time or the energy. My fall work schedule was 150% of what it was over the summer, the kids are back in school, temperatures are dropping, and I was driving back and forth to the cabin in Leadville a lot. Running stayed consistent but the volume dropped. No problem because I was still hurt. The piriformis injury that screwed up Leadville needed fixing so I tended to that with needles. Got it under control but my right ankle became really sore and weak in the process and wasn’t going to be fully recovered for race day. Oh well. I never put pressure on myself for this race so I wasn’t really going to stress about about it. Every other ultra I have ever done (all 4 of them!) required massive planning and stress. This race had none of that. Just go run it. A change in mindset. A test of methods. A different way to do things in preparation for 2011. An “off the couch ultra”…well, not really but it sounded nice.

We were in Florida for 11 days prior to my arrival in California so I figure any high elevation advantage I had was squandered running across Disney World in search of the next FastPass to maximize my children’s enjoyment. Another sign that this race was not the priority in my life. But, I needed to see if there was any truth to facial hair is proportional to speed.

Disney

Landed in California and worked 2 days before the race. When you train and hang out with people that run ultras, its not a big deal to talk about ultras. However, when you get a bunch of co-workers together and they ask about your weekend and you mention running 50 miles, their responses quickly remind you that its sort of a special level of crazy that we have achieved. This stuff is normal to us but super human to them. Little do they know that its possible for anyone…it didn’t happen over night for me. Got after it every day for years. But anyway.

Natalee came in and we prepared a bit on Friday while enjoying the company of kind of a big deal, Brooks Williams. Brooks and I got friendly early in the year as we both enjoyed torturing Brownie and found common ground there. He challenged me at Leadville but he ran away with that one finishing a work-day or so ahead of me. I continue to rib him but he is clearly running well yet still can’t carry a keg of beer well.

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I went to sleep at about 9 PM after packing drop bags and laying everything out very methodically. A little more sensitive when you have 2 drop bags, no crew, and some uncertainty about conditions. Rain was predicted but would it really fall. How much? How to prepare? In the end, I decided to blow it off for the most part.

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Alarm went off at 2 AM and we were up and out the door in 15 minutes. Drove up into the Marina District in San Francisco. No parking at the start so we had to shuttle over. My shuttle left at 3:45 AM but Natalee wasn’t needed for her race until 7:45 so she made a bed in the car and got another 4 hours of sleep or so. I wouldn’t see her again until my day was done. Look what I started? She’s an ultra groupie!

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Brooks and I were bus buddies and arrived at the start/finish to nice 48-50 degree weather. Stars were poking through and I thought maybe we were in for a nice day. We did start wagering but I knew that I wanted to run my own race today.

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Pre-race I talked with my Colorado buddies Geoff Roes (finished 2nd), Dave Mackey (finished 3rd), Dakota Jones (finished 4th), Kerrie Wlad and more. Brooks and I hung close as we waited for the 7 minute delayed start to get going. Dean Karnazes came out of the darkness to kick off the race. The runners gave him an obligatory “wahoo” but it wasn’t very sincere given Dean’s odd persona with this group. Nearly every ultra runner idiolizes him out of the shoot but later develops some sort of callus to him. Or maybe its because he doesn’t have wicked sweet facial hair like this guy.

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I spent maybe 15 minutes with the map pre-race. I wasn’t too interested in splits, elevation profiles, etc. I was there to run what I could and have a smooth day. Every ultra race I have competed in until this point seems to be marred by a number of things that I am working to solve and not repeat. However, the most predominate one that I have been unable to shake is the uneven energy stream. Too many ups and downs through the race in energy leave me feeling exhausted. So my goal was to run even and steady and make it feel like butter. Stomach of steel! Checking out the start line.

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Go! We were off into the darkness. About 100 steps in I realized that my headlamp sucked. Others near me could outshine a locomotive but I didn’t have enough lumens to see my shoelaces. My batteries were not showing as dead or low but Brooks had the same model of headlamp and his was 10x brighter. Oh well. Deal. I mostly stayed in packs from that point on so I could mooch off of their light. The first climb was super. Nice fire road. Not a serious grade by Green Mountain standards but I was able to run up it with little rise in hear rate while passing by numerous folks working really hard. I purposely was holding back to warm up the ankle and keep from going out too hard (another favorite mistake of mine). However, the lead pack was still in view. They were getting further ahead though so I wasn’t concerned. Plus, a nearly naked chick was in front of me. Later identified to be Jenn Shelton of Born to Run fame.

We topped out on that first climb and I was feeling pretty good. Had my first sign that I would need to use the bathroom shortly but that was good news. Wanted to get it all out soon so I could enjoy my day. So I pulled off the trail and let loose drop #1. Back on the trail, I had lost my pack from before and now I was in a lull with no runners in sight. So I started downhill and was quickly getting messed up from not being able to see where I was stepping. I needed light. So I kept moving slowly until somebody came and I used them to light my way down.

Came into the Tennessee Valley Aid Station just before day break. Heard a big “Go Brandon Fuller!” sound and I knew it was Mr. Top American, Justin Mock, there watching the action. He gave me a top 10 rundown in detail while I visiting the port-o-pot for drop #2 and then hit my drop bag to get more shot blocks and my headphones. This aid stations was only 8.9 in and needed to be another hour down the road. But it wasn’t so I got a few things that allowed me to start slightly lighter and moved on. Justin commented that it was a long break to which I responded that I would be out there a long time today and I just didn’t care today. In contrast in Leadville at aid #1 May Queen, I don’t think I let my feet stop moving. That was a mistake that I wasn’t going to repeat today.

The run out to Muir Beach was fun. Got more coastal. Sun came up. Could see big boats on the Pacific. Looped in and out of coves along the cliffs oceanside. Some descents in there. Wasn’t killing it but wasn’t losing ground. Mostly gaining on people that had passed me during the pit stop. Was having a nice run through there but it was getting colder. Being on the coast now, the winds and the rain were starting up. It wasn’t going to get warmer even with the sun. The race start temps were probably the highest we would see all day.

Dropped into Muir Beach and grabbed a few handfuls of food and kept moving. No sense in stopping there. Was hydrating well because of the cool temps. Didn’t need to fill my bottle and I had to pee so I didn’t get too worried about fluids. We hit a section of road at this point and had to run along traffic to get down to Mount Tam State Park. Then up on some singletrack and the rain really started up. I had no rain gear with me as most didn’t either. Not a big deal. I was dressed pretty minimal so I wasn’t getting soaked. Just needed to keep body heat up and I would be good. Just before we started the next climb, there was an army looking port-o-port so I shot in for stop #3 of the day. Better safe than sorry.

The next part of the race was probably my least favorite. We started on a winding section of singletrack that sort of required me to change my feet position on landing. The trail was really thin and I felt like it was one foot in front of the other…literally. A bit down the trail, a runner came at me from the opposite direction. I didn’t recognize him. A surprise leader? Shortly thereafter, I saw the women’s leader and realized the men lead pack and gotten off this trail before I arrived so I was seeing maybe #15 or so back. I passed by Brooks after a bit longer on the trail. We both stopped for 15 seconds to chat. Told him I wasn’t having a great day and he said he was cold and wet and they lost his drop bag. I told him if it got worse to wait for me at the next aid station and we could finish this thing in style together. Figured that would be enough to motivate him to get his ass moving. Never saw Brooks again on the course all day.

At the turnaround, we were about 25 miles into the race. My ankle had hurt a bit but now was getting more dull by the step and I wouldn’t even feel any pain in another hour from this point. However, my right hip had came back with full force. It was pissed off and wasn’t ready to do more work. It was Leadville at Twin Lakes all over again. I needed my crew to try and yank on my leg again. WTF. This probably was gone I thought. But it wasn’t. I had fixed the butt muscle but never really addressed the hip flexor that I knew was weak. It gets masked during shorter runs but today it was not going to cooperate. It had reduced me to a peg legged run but I was not going to be beaten down. Not in this weather. Not on this course. Not for this. So I stretched a bit. Ate some food. Killed maybe 10 minutes before setting out to finish the back 1/2 of this race.

Back on the singletrack, I had to pass all the rest of the field coming in while I was going back out. They were pretty good about getting over as I came by a I did the same when the leaders came by me. But all that tight trail plus the stepping on and off wasn’t good for the hip. I just wanted another fireroad so I could grind out miles. But that wasn’t the course. We dropped down through this mossy forest. Lots of wooden steps. Lots of places to hurt a hip. A stronger run could drop quick here but I was slow and careful. Losing time but still moving. I hadn’t walked a single step of the race to this point. That was probably the furthest I had made in an ultra before moving to the walk for uphills. As we came out on Stinson Beach I felt like that streak might end on the next up. And it did.

We entered the famous Dipsea Trail area and I was ready for a change in pace. I figured the walk might help the hip by stretching it out with larger powerhike motions. Maybe a good thing. The trail was an amazing hiking trail. Saw more tourists out hiking than fellow racers. The greens of the moss. The size of the trees. The trails. The bridges. The creek crossings. The ladders. The holes through trees. This wasn’t a race course, it was an obstacle course. I never really got my run going through this spot again. With the hip and the obstacles, I got frustrated that you couldn’t really get a running groove going. So rather than start and stop, I just powerhiked up this section.

Once that was complete, I was back at an aid station that had a drop bag. I had thrown my La Sportiva Wildcat shoes in that bag just in case. If the 101s weren’t working or I was wet, I had dry socks and shoes. With the hip pain, I decided to swap shoes there because I figured a thicker heal might do me some good to buffer the heal strike vibration up into the hip. So I took my nasty 101s and jammed them into the drop bag, changed into dry shoes, ate and got out of there.

The next section of trail was a nightmare. It was muddy mud mud. No running to be had. It was that moon boot mud that develops and you have to kick it off. People were grabbing branches and pulling themselves up. It wasn’t conducive to racing at all. But we got up it. From there, I just remember lots of winding downhill with tons of steps and rooted sections. It wasn’t my favorite terrain. It felt very anti-Colorado. I never got in a groove either because of the terrain or the hip. I was moving but not as quick as I would have liked. Kind of a blur through the next few hours. I was mostly alone on the trail covering 4-5 mile sections between aid stations. Pretty wet and on the verge of cold. Motoring along at 10:XX pace through little ups and downs. Nothing amazing but I felt OK and I was actually running…not walking so I stayed with it.

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Some time later, I came into Tennessee Valley and I saw my friend and co-worker, Luke Ma, standing there. He started cheering for me and shooing photos with his big SLR lens. I had told him to come and watch the train wreck that occurs in the ultra so he was there at 40 miles in waiting for it. I went and grabbed a bit of food while he ditched his camera and joined me for the ascent out of Tennessee Valley. It was a long meandering climb. I was all about the power hike up it while chatting away and hearing about what he had seen there all day. Told him about my condition and just felt good to interact with someone after several hours of boring solo running. He commented that this hill was a good workout at which I gave him the “…and I ran 40 miles to get here” look. We parted ways at the top so he could go back and get to his car and meet me at the finish. I saw rolling hills in front of me and knew I was getting close to being down. But the bad news was that my GPS showed us having only having 0.5 miles left at the final aid station — but the sign said 2.7 miles. The course was long! Son of a bitch. What’s another 2 miles? Not much on a training day but after 50 its not something you just tack on for fun! They had rerouted the course for this year on a trail closure and I bet its not measured right or they didn’t advertise this year would be 52.17 miles.

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I breezed through that last aid station and it was all downhill from there. Ran every step of it to the finish line. Made a little surge at the end to pass a few people that came into sight and were easy prey. Crossed the line and was greeted by Natalee, Brooks and Luke. Another successful ultra in the bag! It was a 50 mile PR so that’s good but I thought it would be faster.

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Post race was a disaster. We had to wait for them to bring our drop bags to the start/finish area from the aid stations. The final set didn’t come and didn’t come. They were waiting for all runners to come through before bringing them back. This meant if you wanted that bag, you had to wait until 7 PM for the bag to arrive. Brooks finished sometime after 1 PM. What a long delay/wait. After much yelling, we got them and got on the buses where we had to wait 40 more minutes because it was the final shuttle of the day. By the time we got into San Francisco, drove back home, ate, and showered, it was past 11 PM. That was a long day but enjoyed with good company.

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Got back and ate then laid in bed in a prone position while trying to fall asleep. Minutes later, Brooks bursts through the door and he and Natalee are ready to party. “Tomorrow” was the answer from this old man.

So what were the highs and lows of this race? It is so mentally out of sync for me to run a race without considering it to be a goal race. Even though I knew what I put into this race wasn’t much, I started dreaming of a fast race. I started wanting it the day to play out for me like it was a dream. Like I wouldn’t have to work for it. I remember Boston that way I guess and I want every race to play out like it did. But they haven’t. No ultra has for me yet. They all are hard. But they don’t get me down. I was very pleased with myself in regards to running more of this race than prior ultras and never feeling a bonk or unevenly fueled or anything. I usually fight the gut and there was no issue this time. I don’t know if I got lucky or what but maybe I found an OK combination for the future. Or maybe it was just the pre-race meal.

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Really, my weakest link was the hip and it slowed me down. Not sure by how much. Maybe it held me back enough that I felt evenly fueled all day. Never know. But I do know that I can’t expect this thing to fix itself. I need to get into a routine of working on this problem. I think its going to be a strength training solution. Its weak and its not getting better fast enough. Maybe because my left side compensating for it so much. My left leg drove all day and it used to be my weaker leg. Not anymore. So I will try and spend time working on building this up so that I don’t have a basic mechanical issue there again in 2011.

Would you race this one again? Maybe. Its a great course. I underestimated it a bit but it wasn’t some flat cakewalk. The scenery is great but I had seen it before in pieces. Fun set of trails but some of them aren’t my favorite places to run. The December race date is a challenge given how late it is in the year. I am glad to be done with my season now and feel like I am days away from starting up again. But a few race logistical things sucked and I will be bitching about them in my survey.

Oh, and Natalee…I am really proud of her! I never doubted her drive and commitment so it was just a matter of getting it done. She has been around this ultra scene now a few times so she knows the pain is only temporary. But the un-dated race medal lasts forever. She shot video of her run. Some of the course overlapped. She caught me finishing my race in the last minute of the video.

This video is making the rounds. Shows the leaders through part of the course. No cameo by yours truly but it gives a great sense of what the trails feel like in the Marin Headlands.

I went 52.17 miles with an elevation gain of 12,480 feet in 11:36:09, which is an average pace of 13:20. View my GPS data on Garmin Connect.

  • skatona

    Good god how did you run 50 miles with a rabid squirrel attacking your face?

  • I got him off at the end and now things are back to normal. Until next time?

  • Dude – end of the day – a PR. A PR. On a day where you felt less than prepared and with a jacked hip and shit on your face.

  • pittbrownie

    We all have bad races, but being outpartied by Brooks? Time for the nursing home, old man.

  • They just went to the hotel bar. I watched porno in the room!

  • nataleejean

    Ahhh, not just any hotel bar. It had Gayle and Angry Birds. Awesome bar.

    And Brandon was resting up for his Brooks sleep over anyway.

  • Awesome job Nat, I could tell you were about to lose it there emotionally at the end. Physical low, emotional high huh. Those trails are a b%&$@ on a dry day in good weather.

  • RunColo

    Nice work Brandon, loved the pictures.

  • nataleejean

    Won’t deny I was riding an emotional roller coaster. Ready for the next adventure!