Friday, December 17, 2010

Pacing at the North Face 50 Mile Endurance Challenge (My First Pacing Stint)

David Schoenberg asked me a couple of months back if I could pace him at North Face 50 mile on Saturday December 4th, his first attempt at the distance.  Because of a trip to the midwest my wife had to make related to the public charter Montessori school we helped found, I couldn't give him a definite commitment, until I my brother and sister-in-law told me I could just leave the kids with them (thanks, guys!); there was a cookie making party in San Fran in the afternoon.  I was set.

You could start pacing either at Stinson Beach (mile 28.3), or at Bootjack 2nd visit (mile 31.7).  Of course, I didn't really want to drive and leave my car at either site and get driven back there (inconvenient for all parties).  Plus, I thought 19 or 22 miles was too short given I had all day to run.

After studying a trail map, I decided to start at the eastern trailhead of the Hoo-Koo-E-Koo Trail in Kentfield, run the entire trail until a transition to the Matt Davis Trail into Bootjack.  From there I could climb and descend a northerly, circuitous route to Stinson Beach if I were early enough, or take a relatively flatter and more direct route if I arrived not so early, or just stay put if I were really late.  Since David's wife Melanie was crewing him, she could tell me when he reached Bootjack the first time (mile18.9) and I could try to adjust my route and pace accordingly.
midway on Hoo-Koo-E-Koo on a dry day

After being kicked all night in the queen sized bed I shared with my two kids, they got up earlier than their cousins.  I fed them breakfast, but stuff came up.  Bathroom emergencies, spilled cereal, dental hygiene.  By the time I was dropped off at the trail head by my brother, who was going to give a medical talk in the city, it was already past 8.

It was drizzling.  The copy of the map I was using soon got soaked.  The sinusitis/bronchitis/upper respiratory infection I'd had all week made the beginning tough, but I knew from prior runs that after about 30 minutes of running, I'd feel better.  Melanie texted me that David got to Bootjack 1 at 8:10; since the race started late, he had covered the first 19 miles in 3 hours, quite fast.

Hoo-Koo-E-Koo singletrack from

I got to Bootjack from a direction no other runners were coming from. I'd never been to Bootjack before, and it was hopping.  I helped myself to food and refilled my bottle, while the leaders came in for their second visit.  I recognized Western States winner and record holder Geoff Roes, but not the other guy running neck and neck with him. 

After the mile up to Pantoll (with lots of runners going both ways on a very narrow, cambered and muddy single track--yikes), I decided that I might get caught behind David if I went descended Matt Davis trail to Stinson (the course goes this way, but with an out along Coastal Trail), so headed Steep Ravine Trail instead.  I'd run up it many times in various races, but never down-- more technical and thus slower going than Matt Davis.

I was thus treated to a mid-course view of the all the race leaders, some of whom I recognized and some I didn't.  I scared Hal Koerner who was fooling with his headphones, then wondered how he knew my name.  For the second time in a race (1st time was Miwok 100k 2008) I saw Kami Semick (in 3rd) pants down front towards me peeing (I guess since she wasn't expecting anyone coming down the other way).

Kami with her pants up at Western States (?) 2007

Uli Steidl and a few others that probably were hammering it at the beginning didn't look so good (Uli won in 2007 and 2009, and still holds the course record-- though the course was shorter in 2009 than the previous two years).   Several times during the descent I thought I should take out my camera and take cool action photos of all these elite, semi-elite and fairly fast ultrarunners in action, but I was feeling pressed for time as it was, and it was still drizzling on and off and didn't want to screw up my camera.

link to results-- first page shows most of the people I saw coming down Steep Ravine Trail

The rain had stopped and I enjoyed the view of Stinson, arriving to see Melanie.  While I was still fueling up, David arrived-- perfect timing!

photo by Rick Gaston

At this point, if you'd like, you can stop reading my blog and read David's account, which is better written and illustrated with photos, although to give myself some credit, I took almost all the photos for the second half of his report.  (Given my huge blog backlog, I should've just posted a link to his blog, but I had already started this...)

David's race report:  Giving It My All at the The North Face 50 Mile Championships

Feeling relatively fresh (3 hours in fact), it was easy for me to prance ahead and take photos, which I tried to do often, except when we were flying on the downhills.

my picasa photo album
I had told David from the first minute that I'd talk as much or as little as he wanted.  The climb was tough on David, who'd already run more than a marathon, which probably prompted him to ask me to talk.  Not knowing any good jokes, I tried probably unsuccessfully to make an interesting story out of our possible move to a new house.

On the ascent, we caught up with my Rho Quicksilver teammate Pierre Couteau.  Besides wanting to hear how he was doing, this relieved me of talking myself so much and I figured David would be able to pass him more easily if he chatted too much.

At a later ascent, David asked me to talk about my kids. This also was difficult.  How do I summarize my kids, who are so interesting and complex (and crazy)?  I love them so much, very difficult to convey this while huffing up another killer ascent?  So I failed my kids, failed David, but the race had to go on.

The trail summitted at Pantoll, but no aid station there, then a short downhill to Bootjack.  Melanie was there so I could concentrate on my own nutrition without worrying about David.  From Bootjack, it was mostly downhill, technical single track.  David is a good technical runner and unlike on the climb, I didn't have to hold back to stay with him.  There were lots of 50k runners that we passed.  I'd never run those trails before, so it was a special treat.  Still, the 5.6 mile split was quite long; my bottle ran out and I started wondering if I was eating enough myself.

The next split, to Muir Beach, after a short climb on the Dipsea Trail and back down on Deer Park Fire Road, was the mostly flat Redwood Trail.  Flat, but not fast, as the mud was thick and slippery-- I commented this was the suckiest part of the course.

In addition to passing the 50k runners, we started passing by marathoners headed in the opposite direction.  Already in cheerleader mode for David, I tried to give a cheery and supportive "great job" or similar to every single runner we passed in either direction, figuring a lot of them were pushing themselves to their endurance limits.

David was very efficient at the aid stations-- at Muir I actually missed his departure, calling out his name a few times.

I had just gone hiking with my kids and niece a couple of weeks earlier on this trail, doing the scenic and tough Pirate's Cove Coastal trail as a loop, and with some time pressure since I had to get back to work.  Very proud of my older son and niece, who whined minimally, traversing that long trail you see in this photo (and about halfway done with the hike).

After climbing Marincello, some downhill, and then a smaller summit to Alta, the last climb.  I was wondering what kind of kick David had.  I was pushing him on the uphills (he had to run everytime the grade grew shallower) and by his breathing I knew I was working him hard. After the final descent, he kicked into this turbo mode, hyperventilating.  I wasn't breathing quite as hard as David, yet, I could not move my legs any faster.

From the time I paced David (actually even longer before), no one passed David.  Except this woman, also doing her first 50 miler-- but we cruised past her in the last mile.

I'm sure running against opposite her Circadian must have been tough too.

I cut the final turn to snap David coming into the finish shoot.

Looks like he left it all out there!  Excellent finish for a 50 mile rookie in an thick elite field, 40th overall out of  298 starters (33rd out of 221 males).

Pacing can be fun!


Garmin Forerunner 305 recorded map of my run

David's blogged race reports:
Giving It My All at the The North Face 50 Mile Championships
Additional North Face 50 Post-Race Thoughts

my album of photos on Picasa


Gretchen said...

Very cool, Mark! As I mentioned to David, I bet it was awesome to have you as a pacer. I bet you get more requests now, especially after his awesome finish. Sounds like it was a great day, and congrats to Dave for such a smart and successful race!

Scott Dunlap said...

I knew you would be an awesome pacer! Every time I've run with you, the miles go by easy and quickly.


Anonymous said...

Good read. Thanks.

GoldenTrailsDave said...

Glad you wrote this up. Definitely interesting to get your perspective on this race.

I look forward to returning the favor next year! Tahoe?

Baldwyn said...

Wow, David did a great job! Great report from both you guys! Really enjoyed the paragraph on failing your children.