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North Face Endurance Challenge San Francisco

Event: North Face Endurance Challenge Championships

Date: December 3rd, 2011

Location: San Francisco

When a racing friend of mine suggested getting a group together to go out to San Francisco for the last event of the North Face trail running series, I jumped at the chance.  It would allow me both to cross another state off my lifetime bucket list as well as test myself against a much hillier course than I could find in Ontario.

The two-day event offered distances from 5K – 50 miles; knowing I had a busy few months ahead of me, I chose to sign up for the 50K, which was rated 5/5 for scenery, pverally difficulty and elevation (6331 ft of gain), but only 2/5 for technical difficulty. I was excited that the race be going through areas that I’d only read about in magazines, like the Dipsea Trail and Muir Woods. Although I didn’t have quite as much time to train specifically for this as I would have liked, a series of long runs and complementary events in the 6-8 weeks prior left me feeling pretty confident that I’d at least be able to make the 10-hour cutoff.

We arrived in San Francisco on Thursday afternoon and spent Friday being tourists, which included driving up the coast and checking out some of the race aid stations. I got really excited at both the beautiful weather and the scenery, but a nagging chest cold that was getting worse rather than better worried me a little.  On race day morning, I felt quite terrible, so much so that if the event had been close to home, I wouldn’t have ran.  But, I’d come all the way to California to do this race, so I figured I might as well try!

My cold forced me to start slower than I would have normally, an unintentional strategy that I think may have worked to my advantage.  The temperature was beautiful for running and the sun was shining all day.  Throughout the course, we travelled through a range of ecosystems, from beautiful redwood forests to long, slooooowwww climbs up open trail with sweeping coastal views.  I was humbled by the long, but gradual climbs and enjoyed the fact that the downhills were equally lengthy.  I did my best to drink well and the aid stations were packed with some of my favorite race foods, like salted potatoes.  The course was well marked and there was always people around to chat with.  Even though I wasn’t feeling all that well, I tried not to let that subtract from the otherwise awesome experience I was having.  At one point, a familiar looking face said something uplifting to me. My reaction was, “hey, aren’t you Dean Karnazes?” Turns out it was and I had a short chat with him on the trail where he was pacing his son in the marathon. Cool!

On my entry form I had indicated my approximate finishing time as 8 1/2 hours, which I felt was realistic given the terrain and my training leading up to it.  Despite the incessant multi-mile climbs, the footing was rarely technical and there were lots of opportunities to make up the time spent trudging up hills.  I was pleased to come in at 7:37, almost an hour ahead of my estimate and only 20 minutes slower than my Haliburton Forest time from the year prior.  Whereas normally I likely would have started too fast and drained my legs early, my lungs forced me to be more conservative throughout and I felt quite good even towards the end.

All in all, I had a great time and the course definitely lived up to its 5/5 for scenery.  Below are a couple of the photos that I took out on the course.

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