North Face Endurance Challenge

Ted Neal at 4:45am. 50 miles with 11,000ft of climbing to go.

When my alarm clock went off at 1:30am yesterday morning I was disoriented and thought I certainly must’ve made a mistake setting the alarm. Why in god’s name would I have an alarm go off in the middle of the night? And then, it surfaced in my budding consciousness: trail running. And then, a smile came across my face.

The North Face Endurance Challenge (San Francisco) is a championship race and the last of five in a national series. It’s still going on today. There’s six races total. The shorter, faster ones are today while the marathon, 50k, and 50mi were yesterday. The first place male and female at the 50miler each took home $10,000. Second place got $4,000 while third took home $1000. Needless to say, with all that coin on the line, the talent came out of the woodwork to run. I knew I wouldn’t be anywhere near the money, but the draw for me, as always, is the opportunity to throw your hat in the ring and see how you stack up against some of the world’s best. There’s great motivation to get the most out of yourself on the day.

I had suggested to one of my athletes, Ted Neal, in October that I thought it’d be a good idea to hit one or two shorter Pacific Coast Trail Runs (PCTR) events down in the Marin Headlands to steel our legs for the longer North Face event coming up. Ted and I did the Muir Beach 50k together on 11/7. At Muir, we ran many of the same trails we would run at North Face. I, for one, am thankful we did Muir. I think it really gave us a nice boost in fitness for the demands we’d both face yesterday. Specificity of training!

So, all in all, it was one wonderfully arduous day out there. I have some highlights I’d like to share with you from the race. Congratulations to Ted for completing this true beast of an ultra. It was quite the epic journey. We both came out on the other side, thoroughly cleansed of body, mind, and soul.



North Face 50 High-lights

  • Setting a personal best for morning departure to a race start (2:15am)
  • Riding the yellow school bus over to the start with Ted, shooting the breeze with other runners
  • Being psyched / relieved the weather was cooperating
  • Being psyched to have the opportunity to run with so many bad @$$ athletes
  • Starting in the dark and spending the next hour and change watching the long, luminous string of headlamps traversing switchbacks up and over the hills. That was beautiful and not unlike a big string of x-mas lights.
  • Duct-taping my shoe at mile 6 after the lace-lock broke. That was knarly.
  • Just enjoying the first 10 miles (except the part when my lace snapped); parking my heart-rate in the 135-145 bpm range
  • Almost getting stampeded by the leaders coming back on an out-n-back stretch. Freight train! (I could not believe how far in front of me they already were!)
  • Getting to spend a day running on some pristine trails in a picturesque setting.
  • Seeing friends all day long on the course
  • Asking a random runner how far he thought the next aid station was. His response: “No English. I from Brazil.” (Sao Paulo as a matter of fact)
  • Taking a 100mg Clif Shot and putting on my iPod Shuffle at mile 30. Time to motor! >>>
  • Finding a 50mg Mocha Clif Shot on the ground just about 8 miles later.  😀
  • Bounding through the epicness listening to Coldplay, Jackie Greene, U2, and Moby, to name a few.
  • Climbing, climbing, climbing.
  • Talking to random people, while climbing.
  • Running well over the final 2 miles of the race.
  • Some pretty cool The North Face schwag
  • Spending quality time in the port-o-john after finishing.
Too many stairs to count. (Photo by Chihping Fu)


Race Report Stuff

Successes –

  • Having PCTR’s Muir Beach & Stinson Beach 50k’s in my legs
  • Off coffee 7 days prior to the race
  • Choice of clothing as well as choice of hand-held bottle
  • Taking the first 10 miles especially easy. Ignoring the ego
  • Using yoga: going to my edge and being more comfortable with the discomfort
  • Remaining vigilant with my nutrition/hydration
  • Using my Garmin displays effectively
  • Using music/caffeine to create optimal motivation
  • Not slipping and falling out there on all those slick, wooden stairs, rocks, and roots
  • Using the aid stations effectively while thanking volunteers on my way out
  • Listening to my body more carefully to sustain a good pace
  • Executed my race plan pretty well

Great Efforts –

  • Watching people pass me early and trying to accept it
  • Becoming present. Getting “out of my head.” Working to stay in the moment. Controlling what I can out there.
  • Being patient when my shoe lace snapped at mile 6.
  • Working on my attitude, relaxation, and technique while on course
  • Struggling to make the conscious choice of stopping feeling sorry for myself and just running fast over the final 2 miles. Giving up the fight is way too easy. We conjure up so many justifications for our own mediocre performance. It’s important to lean against our limits a little bit, at these moments.
  • The final 2 miles. Opening up my stride, letting go of doubt, emptying my mind of thought, and pushing hard until I’m across that line.

Refinement –

  • Ensure my racing shoes are in better condition (my shoes were left on the porch, essentially rotting, since my last race at Stinson Beach, three weeks prior. That’s pretty bad.
  • Off course twice for short durations. Frustrated. North Face can learn a lot from PCTR’s excellent course marking.
  • Continue to work on breathing. Not enough regular deep, cleansing breaths.
  • Better conditioning leading up to the race. Unable to push my heart-rate as high as I would have liked in the later miles.
  • Becoming even more aware (and silencing) unconscious, negative thought patterns. Constant battle.
  • Not enough activity during race-week. Training dropped off considerably 10 days out.
  • Sleep and stress during race week need to be closer to ideal. Work smarter. Anticipate. Plan.


(Photo by Chihping Fu)


(Photo by Chihping Fu)


Nice Subaru…


Bob’s Garmin Data

North Face 50mi Overall Results


>>>  Point Positive!  <<<



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