Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Journey to Endor

it was pretty damn beautiful out there
California came and went pretty quickly and before I knew it, Christmas - New Years - 2016. So much of the last few months have been consumed with this race I feel like I crammed in a fall/winter's worth of activities in one month. So 2016 is almost  is here. I had a pretty full plate, race wise, in 2015. All of it was capped off with the North Face Endurance Challenge 50 miler December 5.

Obviously I've been struggling writing this post since it is now more than a month post race. I could easily blame the hubbub of the holidays, which is partially true, or I could admit that this post, like this race, was difficult to finish. Running  any distance is a journey and rarely do journeys happen without a hitch or two. The longer the distance, the more chances for these bumps in the road to catch you. Trying to some up 13hours and 42minutes of running in one blog post isn't easy. We laughed, we cried, we talked about Portlandia, and I came to some truths about where I want to go next in my running career.

Waiting for the start!
Not Pictured, Donny cause he was in line for coffee
First and foremost, the race was amazing and my crew was out of this world. I couldn't have done this without Donny, Beth, and Carissa helping me out. We had such a blast the whole weekend there were many times when all the prep and running hardly felt like work. Kudos to all the friends we met out there and especially our hosts who provided me with such a comfy couch and bed to recover on. The race was very well organized, parking situation aside, and all of the aid stations crews went above and beyond making sure you had everything you needed, including a bit of conversation.

In the course description of this race they focus a lot on the "mysterious car wreck" which you run by twice on the trail. Seriously, they bring it up several times and make it sound like a pretty sweet part of the course. Coming from Colorado, it really just looks like any rusty old piece of mining equipment you can see on a 14er or in the middle of Downtown Breckenridge. What I can't believe is the race promoters focused so much on a car and not even one footnote caption on the fact that we ran through ENDOR!

No, not that we ran through forests that reminded you for Endor. We ran through  Endor, A large chunk of the back half of the course was through the Muir woods which is where George Lucas filmed the Ewok parts of Return of the Jedi.

According to Wookieepedia: By the time of the Galactic Civil War, the Ewoks had reached a level of civilization where they engaged in religious, artistic, medical and even political activities. Nevertheless, they still focused most of their energies on the daily provision of food.

What a great segue because I'm sure everyone is wondering, how's your stomach Emily?

Well it's great! I had almost zero food issues during the race and more importantly no major issues after the race. My post race success is largely due to Beth forcing me to "drink this", "eat that", "now drink this again". Front loading calories was huge because I wasn't very interested in eating later on in the race. I managed to get in a good 200 or so calories every hour and mixed it up between Raw Revolution Bars, Honeystinger Waffles and chews, and even a PB&J sandwich. Bringing pickles was also the best decision I've made so far in my 30s, they had NO pickles at any of the aid stations. Are pickles just a Colorado thing?

Now, over a month post race, I'm happy to report I have had no real digestion issues. I did notice a small lack of an appetite initially, but no where near what I felt like after the North Fork 50 in 2014. I could most definitely eat half a sandwich a week post race.

Overall I felt healthy internally and the real struggles came more from the physical difficulty of the race rather than me sabotaging myself.

Stinson Beach - we ran down to it then
back up with zero shark attacks 
The first 26 miles or so were great. I kept promising myself not to "be an asshole" and run conservatively. The challenge was the first half of the race was so runnable. It was hard not to blast through it even if I was trying to play it cool. I will not sit here and try to tell you that running uphill is the easiest part of trail running. It's not, but running downhill can be so much more painful than you can imagine. I first noticed the toll all the downhill running was taking on me as I came into the Mile 27ish aid station, where I would pick up Carissa for pacing. The trail went from flat/mellow rolling to a steep decline into Stinson

The climb immediately after the 27 mile aid station was obviously concocted by Satan within the bowels of hell.

It was 3ish miles of this:
Honestly these stairs looked a lot taller in person and
lot more frequent in occurrence then this picture shows. 
Just stairs upon stairs. As an avid "Pro-Stair" person, never in my life have I wished more for an elevator. They just kept going and my legs just kept going and then my legs and I had to go down and suddenly the stairs going up didn't seem so bad.

The race was really rough for me from about Mile 40 until Mile 48.9. I tried to spend enough time at aid stations to get some food, but I knew if I stopped and sat down the likelihood of getting up again wasn't high. I tried my best to just keep moving forward and focused on Beth retelling me an episode of Portlandia and how the same thing happened to Donny when he tried to donate clothes to the thrift store in Crested Butte. The great thing is, despite all the pain I experienced the 9 miles, the thing I remember most about that stretch is the story about the thrift store* not the hurt in my legs or frustration in my head.

Beth and I at the finish, all I wanted to
do was sit down but I had to take this picture
I'm really excited to have finished this race. It was a lot more challenging terrain wise then I had
anticipated (Rocky Mountain Hubris). It was also a lot more beautiful than I could have pictured. The first half of the course is really fast and awesome. The only real disappointing part of the course was the section by the "famous wrecked car". It was beautiful running, overlooking the ocean, but it was also two way traffic on the most single-tracky parts of the course. The perks of being a faster runner were seen in that section since return traffic had the right of way. I got real good at balancing on the slope side of the trail.

As I finished the last few miles of this race I realized I still have a long way to go before attempting a 100 miler. With that in mind I chose not to enter the Leadville 100 lottery for 2016 and instead focus on improving my 50 mile running and give a go at a 100k.

I may make a return trip for this race. Whenever you have a less then amazing race performance there is always the drive to return to the scene of the crime and do better. I think I can give this course another shot now that I know what to expect trail and terrain wise.

Physical prowess aside, mental toughness is the biggest asset you can have when ultra running. The sheer desire to finish and finish under the cut-off can overcome some of the worst quad aches you can imagine. I knew I could do it, even when I felt the absolute worst, the concept of not finishing didn't take up much real estate in my brain. People usually say I'm crazy for doing this and that there is no way they could ever do a race that long. You totally can, if I can, you can. But you have to go into it knowing you can overcome all the stuff/hitches/roadblocks/demons that will most certainly try and root themselves in your brain. Training for this race I wrote about Doubt and how dangerous that thought can be. Knowing I have the mental toughness to not even let doubt in for 50 miles reminds me that I can do this again and I will.

*Bonus the thrift store rejects became that nights Rocky Horror Picture Show outfit if only I had a picture.