Monday, December 5, 2011

The 2011 North Face Endurance Challenge 50-mile Championship, San Francisco

When I signed up for this way back in March, I'm not quite sure what I was thinking.  When I thought about this over Thanksgiving, I'm not sure I knew any more than I did then.  When I think about it now, I realize that thinking about it isn't nearly as important as feeling it.

And believe me, by the time it was all said and done, I definitely felt it.

There is so much to tell really, I'm not sure how I'll get all of my thoughts into a couple of posts, but I will do my best.  I'll start with the logistics and work my way to the actual race itself and I promise I will keep brevity as a theme . . .maybe.

As an aside, and for what it's worth, throughout these two race-recaps, I've highlighted and bolded things that:

  • I wish I would have known
  • I wish I hadn't overlooked
  • Benefitted me a great deal
  • Generally might be helpful  
And so with that in mind . . .

On Friday, my neighbor and friend J and I headed up to San Francisco to the North Face store to pick up our race schwag, listen to a panel discussion and have ourselves a little pre-race dinner.

The packet pickup was not exactly what I would describe as smooth, if I'm being honest.  To be fair, my attitude might have been tainted by the fact that we had just endured 3 hours of San Francisco traffic in an effort to get to the shop 15 minutes before they shut down pickup.  That being said, the JV cheerleader they had checking people off of the list wasn't exactly surpassing my expectations, asking really helpful questions such as "What is your last name?" after I had handed her my ID, and providing me with wonderful nuggets of information such as "I'm hungry and I lost my scrunchy" while she initially ignored me.  She was an annoying anomaly though, as everyone else was all over it.  I have great luck with these sorts of things . . .

One important note here:  They allow you to drop off your drop-bags right there at the store.  DO IT.  There were many people that were scrambling like crazy right before the race and I know for a fact that there were still folks standing in line to drop off when the gun went off.  This is not the stress you need right before you start running up a mountain.

We wandered over to the panel, hosted by the race director and featuring Dean Karnazes and Mike Wardian, the dude that won the San Francisco Marathon despite food poisoning from eating some bad tacos.

I wasn't a huge fan before, but Dean (with the microphone) was a great ambassador and Mike Wardian (white shirt) was simply funny as hell.

The panel was a nice touch as the setting was really intimate (basically just the second floor of the store) and they took plenty of questions followed by some autographs.  I honestly don't think many folks had a clue who Mike Wardian was and what he has accomplished but he really entertained the crowd.  Dean also spent a great deal of time signing autographs and chatting with everyone as well, post-panel.  We didn't have much time though, as we needed to check into our Hostel in less than two hours and still hadn't  eaten yet.

Somehow, someway, J and I managed to find a Thai noodle place with bowls for under 8 bucks a piece, a  relative bargain in San Francisco.

Salty and Carbo-ey.  Come to Papa.

If you're wondering, the name of the place is King of Thai Noodle, on O'Farrell St  and it's only a 10 minute walk from the North Face store.  Great place to get some nice salty fixings that won't drive your stomach crazy.  The duck soup and papaya salad were just what I needed.  Your mileage may vary.

Once we got the hunger pains taken care of, J and I headed over to our Four Star Hotel accommodations. J, being an absolute genius, alerted me to the fact that the Marin Headlands Hostel is located, get this, AT THE START LINE.  I'm not exaggerating when I say that I could have thrown a football from the front porch and hit the big inflatable North Face arch.  And guess how much?  26 bucks.  Yeah, you have to sleep in a bunk bed with 7 other dudes in the same room and make your own bed, but come on, you can't beat this.  No shuttles, no worries (80% of the customers were runners) and if you're lucky, you can start the day having coffee with one of the best ultra-marathoners in the world, such as Ellie Greenwood (who has only accomplished a few minor things, such as winning Western States this year).  

The one big downside to staying here is that there is no cellphone or wireless reception whatsoever.  Which means that any good-byes, good lucks, I love you's, and prior coordinations need to be done before you enter the giant cell-phone black-hole that is known as the Marin Headlands.  Of course, you can always do what I did, which is use the pay-phone to call your wife collect and listen / chuckle as she scrambled for a credit card to pay for the call.  She's awesome and despite the inconvenience, was nothing but happy to talk.  She wished me good luck, told me she was proud of me, and off to bed I went, happy as hell and eager to tackle these mountains.

As cool as our place was though, it didn't help me get to sleep.  I was pumped and I had the added nervosa of wondering if my cell-phone was going to work as an alarm clock given its low charge.  I finally passed out around midnight and woke up around 3:15 to a dead cellphone.  No way was I risking oversleeping for a mere 45 minutes of additional sleep.

I bumbled into the community kitchen, sparked up some water for my Starbucks Via and found J, who couldn't sleep for shizzle either.

As a last minute audible, I decided to go with the North Face E50 water bottle they gave me instead of my hydration pack.  This turned out to be both good, and bad.  On the upside, I think the lack of additional weight helped me out.  On the downside, that water bottle is a joke and I would have been better off with my duct-taped self-modified mountain-biking bottle that I had as a spare in my car.  Yes, it was that sucky.  I violated the rule of "go with what you know".  Thankfully it didn't crush me, though it did irritate me.  More on that later.

After we got our stuff together, we wandered down to the start line, about a hundred meters away, to hang out and cuddle underneath some giant heaters with everyone else.  This is when I realized that some of these poor saps weren't going to make the starting gun because they were waiting in line to drop off their bags.  

In short order, Dean Karnazes came up, said a few inspirational words that I couldn't hear because of the crappy PA system, and we all awaited the sound of the gun.  Or in this case, the sound of the guy saying "Go".  I did spot Geoff Roes and Mike Wardian before we bolted out of there, and I was absolutely positive this was the last time I would see them, even at turnaround points.  

Turns out I was right.  Shocker.

With headlamps on and spirits high, we took off like a herd of either gazelles or turtles depending on your persuasion, and plunged into the 5 a.m. darkness for what was surely going to be a long day.

By Marcus with 3 comments


I can't wait to read the rest of these posts. This is really amazing stuff, Marcus. Also, I have had some great times at the Marin Headlands, including a stay at that hostel, and miss it like crazy at this moment.

Thanks Claire :-) I forgot, weren't there a great many cross country meets out there? I was such a lazy ass in high school. I really wish I could have taken advantage of all of the great opportunities. I guess this is my attempt to make up for it.

It really was an experience. Don't have any pictures during the race itself though, a camera seemed just a little too much to deal with!

You're my laid back, plan free hero. Can't wait to read the rest of this!

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