Imagine pushing your mind and body to the end of what you believe you can do and then push past that. That is what happened on the 18th of November when I participated in The Northface Endurance Challenge 50K. This was my first ultramarathon trail run up in the Marin Headlands in Sausalito California just north of San Francisco. Awesome scenery on the trails and if you were just visiting it would be a great day for a hike.
We started our morning at 4:00am in our first step mentally to accomplish our task and we made it to our starting point in Marin City. The first challenge was the wait until our start time at 7:00am where it was literally freezing at 32 degrees. Great way to start the race frozen before you even start! Once we got off we warmed up and embarked on our journey and we hit the first hills in the Tennessee Valley straight uphill but that didn’t slow us down. The strategy going in was to run the flat and down hills and hike the uphill portions in an effort to conserve the legs during the day. This portion of the race took us through, up and down and side to side on the trails while giving us some of the most beautiful views of the Pacific Ocean all the way through Muir Beach.
Heading through the Heather Cutoff to the Dipsea trail we started to feel the pain because at this point we had already ran over 17 miles and what really hit me was the downhill parts. Going down the hills really activated my quads and we couldn’t just go down thinking it was easy. Every step was a mental challenge as there were rocks and roots on every step. To boot there were points where it was a little muddy as well so we had to be extra aware and not lose focus on simply staying on my feet. As we proceeded through the cardiac ridge into the Muir Woods that was the most challenging part of the race and most scenic. We ran down through all the redwoods and climbed down and up 2 foot tall stairs. At one point my eyes fogged up and I caught a root on my right toe and I took a header. When I hit the ground it was like my body had a system malfunction because both of my hamstrings wanted to seize and cramp but I popped back up and continued running. Good thing because I loosened up about 20 steps after and kept climbing.
After we ran through the Muir woods we exited through the Dipsea Suicide Descent. Again at this point going downhill with rocks mostly now and single person narrow trails the hurt was on mentally. We already surpassed the marathon mark of 26 miles on our watches but we weren’t done yet. We still had to hike our way out of Pirates Cove and that was a long grind. At this point my legs were feeling like 200 pounds and hiking was more like a slow uphill slog but somehow we kept going. Once we reached the top for what seemed to be like the 10th time we could see the Golden Gate Bridge out in the distance which was more than encouraging as now we knew that we were closer to the end! Not done yet though as we had to descend through the Alta trails and grind through the pain in the legs and dig deep mentally. When your mind wants to do something your body will do amazing things.
Getting down the hill yet again just before the Golden Gate Bridge was just what we needed and we said “why not” more stairs. It didn’t matter at that point because when you keep finding challenges over and over and over again you just do it. What other alternative is there right but to keep moving forward. I will say that running on the Golden Gate Bridge was a welcome relief because it was flat, no rocks or roots and the only “obstacles” we had running were human beings sightseeing on the bridge. Cutting downhill yet again going into Crissy Field we saw the finish but we couldn’t get lazy again because not we were running through deep mud and all I needed was to tweak and ankle at the end! Crossing the finish was a deep feeling of accomplishment and pride. Me and my running partner Matt White literally did it! 8 hours and 49 minutes officially on my feet running, hiking and avoiding some of the most difficult terrain all day proved I could push further mentally than I ever thought possible. Up next. 50 mile? Let’s do it!