Ahh…the start line of the North Face 50. After a year plagued by ankle and knee injuries, it was one place I didn’t think I’d be. But, after a few injections, and lot of PT, somehow I’d gotten it together enough to be there. I was nervous about the time cutoffs, but based on my 30 mile training run, I’d be fine. Especially since I was picking up Ksenya around mile 30.
We got to the start line in plenty of time, checked our drop bags, and then it was 5am and we were off. The first few miles were fine…it was just me and the mountain and a few hundred of my closest friends. As I made it up bobcat, I realized that my new watch had somehow reverted from miles back to kilometers. Awesome….so I had no idea where I was. Well, I knew where I was….I knew the trails, and I knew the two cutoff times, so I was good.
As I jogged down Rodeo, I met Becca, a woman from New York City who would stick with me until approximately mile 20. She was great….friendly….and we had a ton to talk about. She said hello to just about everyone, and listening to their conversation made the miles up Miwok and Coastal pass like nothing. At one point, we were talking about how I’d never been stung before and it would be really bad to find out I was allergic on the trail. She assured me she’d chase down the lady we met earlier with the bee sting meds. We shared the journey through Pirate’s Cove, and she celebrated with me when I realized I had made through Pirate’s cove and Muir Beach and had yet to see a sweeper.
I jogged from Muir Beach to Cardiac, before beginning the slog up the hill. At this point, two things happened – first, we were joined by a lot of 50k runners, so I wondered if I’d see any of my friends that were running that distance, and second, I had some weird acid-refluxy thing going on. Apparently the potatoes and Mt. Dew I’d had at Tennessee Valley and Muir Beach hadn’t solved that problem as I had hoped. Ugh…well….onward and upward, I suppose.
Thanks to Becca, Heather Cutoff passed pretty quickly (and there wasn’t any out and back traffic like last year). We got to Coastal, and while there were places I had planned on running, I realized it wasn’t going to happen with the acid issues going on. Oh well….I was still right where I wanted to be pace-wise, so I wasn’t worried. Just sick of climbing. Thankfully Becca was still on my heels and chatting with everyone….then, it happened, I recognized a voice. Yay! A friendly face at just the right time.
My friend, Liz, had come up behind us. She was looking great running up the hill, and had I felt better, I would have tried to tag on and run up the hill with her. She mentioned her boyfriend wasn’t too far behind, so I kept an eye out for him and that took my mind off the horrible feeling for awhile. He passed by shortly after, I mentioned I was worried about being slow, and he told me to just keep moving. So, that’s what I did….one foot in front of the other, with Becca behind me, we made it up the hill.
I paused at the aid station to try to cure the acid problem along with the nausea that had started to pop up. One of the volunteers suggested Coke, but I already was working on some Mountain Dew. Then I heard my name being called, and behind me was my friend and fellow AIDS Marathon Coach, Toby. So many friendly faces at just the right time. I told him I was nauseous, and he told me to keep at it, and that it would pass.
And it did, as I made my way up to Matt Davis, I started to feel a lot better. Becca and I jogged the out and back where we could (lots of jumping out of the way of oncoming traffic), making our way to McKinnon Gulch – the first hard time cutoff….and I was still ahead of the sweepers. Then…ouch! Sharp, stabbing, pain in the back of my thigh….if had been an inch higher, it would have been my ass. Who gets stung by something in their ass? Me. Of course. Guess. I can cross getting stung by a bee off my bucket list. Great….hopefully this doesn’t cause too much of an issue. But at least I can concentrate on that pain rather than my hip flexor that had started to ache way too early. I paused for a moment to pull whatever sharp object had impaled me out of my leg. Becca asked if my hamstring was ok. I told it was, but something had stung me. Could have been her opportunity to chase down our friend from earlier. Somewhere between getting stung and the aid station, I lost Becca. The people at the aid station there were great. Handed me a cup of hot broth, a welcome change from the PB&J I had been eating.
As I made my way back, I was surprised that there were people behind me. I wished them all good luck as I jogged by. I ran a bit with another guy who had run the race the past two years, but hadn’t been able to finish. He, like me, was very excited to ahead of the sweepers and on pace to finish with time to spare. We jogged together for a bit before he took off. Unfortunately, I came up on him with the sweeper….he’d fallen and split his knee on a rock. He desperately wanted to continue, but the sweeper seemed to think otherwise.
After that, I made my way down the longest descent ever into Stinson Beach. It was technical, I was skittish, but I was feeling good. It felt like hours, but I got down to a flat section and my friend Mark was running up to meet me. Some volunteers greeted me by what I think was the fire station and sent me along my way to the aid station where Ksenya was waiting to run with me. She helped me refill my pack and I grabbed a sandwich (it was only peanut butter and hard to eat, so I dumped the rest of that quickly….).
We made our way up Dipsea to Cardiac, a mere 2.3 miles, but 2.3 tough climbing miles. But, I actually ran some of it. Big change from Brian dragging me up that hill during my first 50k. I don’t remember a ton of it, but I’m pretty sure I was crying at some point and then there was a ladder on Steep Ravine. It wasn’t good. But yesterday, yesterday was great. According to Strava, I even had a PR going up that hill.
And, then I got to the second pass at Cardiac and it all fell apart. The acid-refluxy crap was back, along with some nausea and dizziness. Going down in to Muir Woods was ok, but climbing out, not so much. I did ok until I got to Fern Trail? Lost trail? I think it was lost. Wherever I started to climb again….and then there were the stairs at Canopy View. I passed two ladies with kids in back packs, and all I could think was, please don’t let me puke now…..
Once we got to Panoramic and Sun, it really went down hill. I was looking forward to not climbing anymore, as the nausea seemed to dissipate if I stopped climbing. But, since it was my lucky day, that’s when the dizziness took over and the trail started moving. Good times. At that point, I realized that running wasn’t going to happen, the last thing I needed was to crash and end up with some sort of lasting injury. I slowly made my way down the trail, wishing the aid station was a lot closer than it was…..everything just felt fuzzy. Ksenya told me if I was going to fall over, to make sure I fell towards the mountain rather than off the cliff….thankfully, it didn’t come to that.
Somehow, Ksenya got me down to the aid station at what we thought was mile 35, and found the medic. They got me in a chair pretty quick and before I knew it I had a bag of chips, a cup of electrolytes, and a cup of water. I choked down a couple of chips while someone wrapped me in a space blanket and Ksenya loosened the ankle braces on my legs. Eventually they came all the way off and they ended up in a trash bag with all of the rest of the stuff I discarded…pack, braces…maybe gloves….I don’t know. The medics took my blood pressure, which was high…and a little scary since I’ve never had high blood pressure….ever. She continued to keep me talking and put a hot pack on the back of my neck. I started shivering and ended up with another space blanket to wrap around my legs while we waited for transportation. I’m pretty sure I was the abominable space blanket woman….one wrapped on my shoulders and another tied around my waist like a towel.
The aid station captain lived near Tennessee Valley and offered to take a couple of us there. Since she brought me to the aid station where they took care of me, I will forgive the fact that she made a big production out of making people sit on trash bags and made sure I had a barf bag….
I don’t think I realized how much trouble I was in until we got to Tennessee Valley and I was wandering around trying to find my drop bag and then wandering around with it, but didn’t really know why. Ksenya had mentioned grabbing some food, but I really just wanted to get in the car….never mind we still had to hunt down the key. Ksenya got the key from Shannon, who I think was the aid station captain at TV.
Shannon took one look at me and in a matter of seconds had me on a bench with a cup of warm broth. I just wanted to hold it, she seemed more concerned that I drank it though. She started digging through my bag to find my warm clothes….asked me if I had warm pants….what warm shirts I had, etc. While asking one of the other volunteers to grab an extra space blanket. I asked her if I should just suck up the cold and change everything – new t-shirt, new hoodie, etc. She seemed to like that idea just as the shuttle showed up. So, she decided we were taking over the bus. She grabbed two volunteers and we headed on to the bus. Once we were there, she helped me pull off my wet t-shirts and swap them for the dry clothes I had in my drop bag. Yay wool hoodie. Best purchase ever.
Once that was done, she asked me what I wanted to eat. I told her I wasn’t hungry, but she wasn’t having that. Just proceeded to tell me the aid station menu; ‘We have oranges, bananas, peanut butter & jelly….’. At that point, I realized I wasn’t going to get out of eating something, so I went for the PB&J. She sent one of the volunteers she brought with her to get some PB&J and the other to get some more hot broth. I ate a couple of PB&J squares while I continued to warm up…..then she sent the volunteers for more broth and M&M’s. Of course I had to eat a bunch of those too. At some point Ksenya brought my down jacket in (so glad I left that in my car after the Turkey Trot last week). Shannon handed me another cup of broth and told me I could leave once I wasn’t blue anymore and asked me if I wanted to sit down. I think I went through three, maybe four cups of broth and was handed one for the road before she let me off the bus. I had on a running t-shirt, a wool hoodie, the down jacket I took to Mt. Everest last year, a wool headband, and two hoods. And the moment I stepped off the bus, I was freezing again. Luckily, it was a short walk to my car, which Ksenya had already warmed up.
We drove back over to the visitor’s center and somehow convinced them to let us park in the lot there. I think Ksenya told them we were picking stuff up and I needed to get my bag and I couldn’t walk very far. Anyway, worked in our favor, and we parked next to the flush toilets and didn’t have to walk too far. I grabbed my stuff and headed over to the finish to wait for Brian to come in. And, despite being sick all day, he did finish :). After that, we crashed in the grass and split a beer. I was still shivering, despite adding another layer of pants to my wardrobe, so Mark gave me his down jacket to put on top of my own. And at some point, I had another space blanket added to the mix….I think that might have been Ann – thanks Ann!
In the end, I had actually gotten to mile 37, not 35….and I would have been fine with the time limits, and I did better than last year, but, just not my day. Luckily, I will be able to finish another 50 miler another day. Big thanks to Ksenya for running with me and taking care of me at the end; Mark for crewing; Dr. Hal, Dr. Wardwell, and Megan, for putting me back together so I could even get out there; and the amazing aid station volunteers.
Until next year, North Face, until next year….