2011 was my 4th trip to this race, having done the 50K twice and 50 miler once. Unlike the other years, I feel that I specifically trained for this race with long runs and 50Ks, all with this race in mind. My goal going into the race was to focus on pace and run most of the hills and set a PR.
The race began at 5:00 a.m. with a clear dark sky, a modest wind, and a very deep field of the best ultra runners in the country. I lined up in the middle of the 300+ person field avoiding the front end track meet. After ¾ mile on the road, we got on the fire road for our first climb up Bobcat. With it being dark, I would look back to see a long stream of headlamps winding its way up the road. In front, I could still see the leaders as they were make it over the top. The route then loop back around and down Rodeo Valley to the 5.9-mile aid-station.
The soon to be leaders
Trail of Lights looking down Bobcat
The next climb joins the same route as the 50K going up the Miwok trail for 3 miles to the Tennessee Valley aid-station (mile 8.7). On a personal level this was the first year I ran this climb. On the way up, I passed many runners who flew past me on the previous downhill. This would be a theme through much of the race going back-and-forth with runners yet in most cases, I eventually left them behind. Part of my pace goal was to remain constant and avoid blowing myself up by running too fast on the downhills.
Leaving Tennessee Valley was a quick climb to cliffs overlooking the Pacific. This is perhaps the most scenic section, especially for a guy from Colorado. I enjoyed the company with a few runners as we watched the sunrise and the waves crash below. After 4 miles, I made it to the Muir Beach aid-station (mile 12.7) and refilled my camelback bladder and grabbed some GU Chompers.
Looking toward San Francisco
Following a flat section of pavement and single track, the race began its longest climb. It began as a very runnable switchback climb up the Heather cutoff. After a few more miles of gradual climbing we made our way up to the Cardiac aid-station (mile 18). Again, the 50 milers would be on their own for the next 15 miles.
The climb continues
At Cardiac, the winds were very strong yet we quickly moved into the trees, which served as a good wind block. All over the ground were many limbs and leaves from the previous few days where California had been beaten by the strongest winds in 10 years.
one of the many bridges - on the 50 mile out-and-back
another view of the out-and-back section
A car that someone drove off the road from above many years ago
The next 4 miles, the race followed rolling single-track that was part of an out-and-back section. If I had one complaint about the race it would be this section. Every runner had to manage getting out of the way of others who were retuning, so every few seconds I found myself stopping to the right to let the faster runners go by.
After 4.8 miles, I finally reached the far McKennan aid-station (mile 22.8). I ate a few oranges and refilled my bladder and put on some Vaseline in few strategic areas that had started to chafe and I was off – minus one of my gloves. When I realized my mistake, I made the quarter mile trek back. After searching a few minutes I finally found it in the trash.Now it was my turn to be a fast runner and have everyone move out of my way and I would say thanks and good job to everyone along the way. After two miles of dodging other runners, I began a thick-forested downhill along the Mark Davis trail to Stinson Beach. For the first time in my running career, I smashed my head into a low hanging tree (being 5’5” this usually is not a problem). Luckily it was not too bad and I kept going to the Stinson Beach aid-station (mile 28.2) for a quick refill.
The next 4.7 miles was steep railroad tie stepped section up the Dipsea trail. This was the first time in the race where I fast hiked yet I found the last 1.5 miles as being runnable back to Cardiac (mile 32.9). At Cardiac, I refilled my bladder and had a few quick bites of food and I was off on the trail that would be shared with the 50K runners for the remainder of the race.
Still climbing on Dipsea
This 6-mile section was slightly modified from previous races yet very similar in conditions and very scenic. My advice for individuals trying to decide between the marathon or the 50k, the scenery makes the case for the longer route. 90% of this section was single track in through the Muir Woods along the Ben Jonson and Redwood trails with a brief ½ miles section on the road to the Old Inn aid-station (mile 38.9).
Bridge on the Ben Johnson trail
After a quick climb leaving Old Inn, the race was mainly downhill and flat along the Frank Valley trail back to the Muir Beach (mile 42.6). After another bladder refill, I began the 2nd steepest climb of the race fast hiking up Coyote Ridge with a final 1-mile downhill to Tennessee Valley (mile 45.5).
Back to Muir Beach
The next 2.7 miles would be the last climb of the race. I began by fast hiking the Marincello road and then I was able run again on the last part of the climb to the Alta aid-station (mile 48.2), which I skipped to begin the final descent.
Top of the 2nd steepest climb looking at the last climb in the distance
The last 3 miles going down, I kept my constant pace to the finish line at mile 51.2 (yea, it is longer then 50 miles). My finish time was 10:17:25 beating my last Northface 50 mile appearance by 50 minutes and placed 144th overall. My pervious 50 mile PR was 10:06 on a flat wooded course outside of Houston. Since this was 1.2 miles longer, I would guess I beat that too.
Top Men finishers
A video of the race
In summary, Northface puts on a well-organized race in amazing locations and this is truly their capstone race that fits well for a late year event. I highly recommend the Northface San Francisco and to also enjoy the city afterwards.