“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 there are many more hills to climb.” – Nelson Mandela
Mandela passed away 2 days prior to my first trail race, The North Face Endurance Challenge (NFEC), marathon distance. His words were my mantra as I climbed the hills of the Marin Headlands. My other inspiration came from my dear friend Kelly, a 10 time Ironman and 2 time 50 mile endurance runner who had to miss racing the 50K NFEC because her cancer had returned a few weeks before. While I was sad she could not be out there on the course with me, seeing her the day before the race lifted my spirits. She reminded me to enjoy my race; I reminded myself to be grateful. A big “thank you” to NFEC for deferring Kelly’s registration to any NFEC race she wants to do next year.
I signed up for this race to console myself after my DNF at Ironman Lake Tahoe (IMLT). A friend racing the 50K recommended it. Since I was pulled from the IMLT course at mile 60+ on the bike, I still had some pent up energy brewing inside my body. However, after a long training season, I was too mentally exhausted to do another Ironman right away. Doing a trail marathon seemed like the perfect answer. It was something new and challenging to focus my attention on. I admit I was frightened when I discovered there was 4,500 feet of climbing. I was also intimidated by the trails. While I had trained for IMLT by running on some local trails, I am very new to trail running. I am still learning how to navigate around the uneven and bumpy terrain. My goal for the race was to survive it without doing a face plant or spraining my ankle.
The temperature was between 35-40F on the morning of the race. Located in the Marin Headlands, just over the Golden Gate Bridge on the other side of San Francisco, the NFEC California is the “championship” of the series of NFEC races. As a result, some of the world’s top endurance athletes were competing that morning. A couple days prior to the race, I attended a panel discussion. I inadvertently photo-bombed a photo shoot with the athletes’ sponsor, Salomon. Oops. Just call me Gump, Forest Gump.
The 50 miler race began at 5 am! Yes, it was dark and cold at that time. Here’s a fun video of the elite male racers. It’s challenging enough to run the trails in broad daylight, let alone in the dark with headlamps.
The 50K race began at 7 am and the marathon (my race) began at 9 am. I arrived early to see my 50K friends at the start. Since I had a couple hours before my start, we drove to Sausalito where I ate a big traditional bacon and eggs breakfast. It was divine.
After being frozen at Ironman Lake Tahoe, I wasn’t taking any chances. I wore two layers on top, a fleece headband and inserted hand warmers inside my gloves.
- I carried too much food and too much water (2 liters) in my hydration backpack for the marathon distance. I think I will carry just a handheld bottle or a smaller hydration pack in the future. The aide stations were fully stocked with all the food I needed and were close enough for me to survive with less water.
- Solid food worked well for me on a trail race. Salted boiled potatoes, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, pretzels and oranges are my favorite. I waited until mile 13 to start consuming coke and took only 1 gel the entire day at mile 20.
- Power walking up the hills saved my legs. I was successful in making up time on the flats however lost a lot of time on the descents. I need to learn how to run faster downhill. I know I will improve over time with practice. For my next race, I will focus on running up some of the hills. I ran this race very conservatively because I was afraid of dying out on the course from all the climbing.
- Trail running is a much more laid back and supportive community. There was much more encouragement and camaraderie from fellow racers than any other race I’ve ever been in.
- Trail races offer the best free food for their athletes. Unfortunately, as usual, I am unable to eat much after several hours of physical exertion. It is important to consume some calories within 20 minutes so I came prepared with a frozen chocolate milk, my favorite recovery drink. It was so cold that my chocolate milk was still a little slushy 10 hours later when I finally drank it.
I finished about 44 minutes over my estimated goal time. My legs felt remarkably good 24-48 hours after the race. My quads, hamstrings and hip flexors were tight but I have felt worse after a half marathon. My feet were a bit tender but no worse than after any other marathon distance running.
It is absolutely gorgeous at The Marin Headlands, my new favorite place to run. I had so much fun, I will be doing the 50K next year with my friend Kelly. Did I really just say that?
I think my race report could have been summed up entirely with photos, taken on race day and on my training runs a few weeks prior. I can’t wait to get back out there again. Enjoy the photo journey.