Sunday, December 4, 2011

2011 North Face Endurance 50 - San Francisco

"God doesn't come and go. God lasts. He's Creator of all you can see or imagine. He doesn't get tired out, doesn't pause to catch his breath. And he knows everything, inside and out. He energizes those who get tired, gives fresh strength to dropouts. For even young people tire and drop out, young folk in their prime stumble and fall. But those who wait upon God get fresh strength. They spread their wings and soar like eagles, they run and don't get tired, they walk and don't lag behind" (Isaiah 40:28-31, The Message)

Photo by: Brett Rivers

To even attempt to describe the early miles of this event in great detail or in overly-dramatic fashion would be futile at best, possibly comical.  As the old saying goes, "You just had to be there."  From the gun, roughly 30 guys (plus Anna Frost!) shot out at what seemed like road marathon pace.  I couldn't help but laugh as I settled in next to Jorge (Maravilla) and Joe and - given the ferocious pace we were witnessing - joked about whether or not we were actually running 50 miles today.  After a bit of road, we hooked left and engaged in one of the many climbs of the day.  This 900' ascent up the Bobcat trail felt really good.  The grade was manageable, and plenty of folks were around to banter with and keep company.  I kept cadence with Jorge as we picked our way up the climb past Meltzer, Frost, and a slew of others.  The only annoying part of these early miles was that it was dark and with my pathetic headlamp, visibility was limited at times.

Eventually we crested the climb and swung a right and began a rather enjoyable descent down the Rodeo Valley trail.  At this point, the race had broke open into 3 main packs.  About 5 or 6 guys in the lead pack, 12-15 guys in a close chase pack, and 10 or so in the 3rd chase pack I was a part of roughly 30 seconds behind them.  Jorge and I set a good tempo on the descent and surprisingly pulled up with the 2nd pack.  Before joining this group though, Jorge led out a loud wolf-pack howl as we were both loving these early feel-good miles and, to jokingly alert the guys ahead we were coming.  We settled in next to Mike Wardian and Jason Loutitt as the trail flattened into a grassy jeep road and it was a short hop from here back to the road section we had just run miles earlier.  The first aid was here (5mi, water only) and I saw Tim Olson stop briefly to refill before rejoining the group.

We then made our first trip up toward the Tennesse Valley Aid, which included a 600' climb followed by an almost equal descent.  I tip-toed past Dominic Grossman and Ian Sharman on this climb and on the ensuing descent, encountered a seemingly game-changing occurrence for me in what would play out as an unexpected, roller coaster-like day.  On this mildly techy descent, there were small wooden pieces that stuck up in random places.  Well, one caught my toe and I plunged head-first into this gravely surface, cutting open my left hand and scraping a hefty portion of my left leg.  The guys behind me were gracious enough to check on me to see if I was ok and nothing felt dislodged or broken, so I kept moving.  That is, until I caught another toe and re-scraped my entire left side again; only this time my left elbow wanted in on the fun and my left leg felt it wasn't bleeding enough.  And again, the guys behind me - who probably now felt sorry for me - checked on me, but I kept chuckin' along trying to ignore a screaming left side of my body.  A few strides in, however, I noticed that the trail looked a little darker than it had previously.  I reached up to adjust my headlamp only to find that it was no longer wrapped around my head.  Oh boy, here I am still ~30min from true daylight, descending in almost complete darkness, shaken a little from two painful spills, and watching the guys in front of me (who had headlamps that could illuminate a small city) bolt away. 

"Jacob, do you need some light?" That familiar voice I recognized as Jorge's and being the kind of guy he is, offered to give me some light as we were now descending down some wooden stairs.  In a moment where unfortunate circumstances were getting the better of me, a true brother came to my aid and sacrificed a little of his race for the betterment of my own.  I kept telling Jorge to run ahead, that I was slowing him down, but he helped me just enough to where I could navigate the last few bits of stairs on my own.  The course then hit some flat road into Tennesse Valley Aid (8.9mi, 1:05:29) and Jorge put a little distance on me while I tried to stick with Tsuyoshi Kaburaki (who had a fantastic headlamp!).  Looking back, it seems funny now that at that point, I was less concerned with racing and more focused on carefully selecting running companions who had the best headlamps.

After running down some road, we veered right and engaged in a steep,  half-mile/400' climb.  The climbs were really clicking (especially the steeper grades) for me and I just focused on maintaining a manageable effort because it seemed by doing so, I was pulling guys back to me.  I caught back up to a few guys at the top of the climb and the trail was beginning to look more and more visible which gave me comfort that the sun was nearing its duty for the day.

Things kept pretty constant as I made the steep descent down to Muir Beach.  The legs were still feeling prime, I was dumping more calories than I'm used to down the hatch in hope that it was going to set me up for a solid 2nd half of the race, and I was ultimately enjoying this beautiful terrain.  Kaburaki was still in front of me as we pulled into Muir Beach (12.7mi) and on the trip out of there, found it odd that I was seeing Tim Olson just come into Muir Beach (last time I had seen him was on the last climb before coming into Tenn. Valley).  Nevertheless, Kaburaki put a small gap on me, but I pulled up just behind Loutitt on a short road section before the longest climb of the day, the 1500' ascent up to Cardiac Aid.  The climb up to Cardiac was probably one of the more funner sections for me during the race.  The first half of it consisted of these mellow-graded switchbacks in which you could get a really good pace going.  And thankfully, I did just that.  Tim came up on us and told me that he had taken a wrong turn, but was in really good spirits and floated up this climb past us.  Shortly after that, I passed Jorge Pacheco and left Loutitt and then began picking other guys off on this climb.  Eventually, I passed Kaburaki (but he stayed right on my heels) and then saw that I was pulling Jez Bragg in also.  I wasn't forcing the pace on this climb, like I said earlier, things were clicking and it just felt effortless.  I passed Jez (who was taking a piss on the side of the trail) and he hooked up with Kaburaki and myself as I led our 3-man train up to Cardiac Aid (18mi) where Bryon Powell and Anton were there to cheer us on.

Jez and I got out of the aid quicker than Kaburaki and we just trotted along, dumping calories back into the system after that ~3mi climb.  I was content to tag along Jez's heels as he set a really sustainable tempo.  We weaved our way through some lush forest and then broke open onto some rutted single-track with views of the Pacific Ocean to our left.  At this point, I think Jez was starting to feel really good because he upped the tempo just slightly and I was fine letting him go.  Shortly after, Kaburaki came upon me and he too seemed to have found another gear and hooked onto the coat tails of Jez as we made our way to the 22.8mi turnaround at Mckennan Gulch. 

Even though my body seemed to be cooperating, I think watching them slowly pull away was somewhat of a mental blow for me.  I found myself for the first time on the day in no-man's land.  A few minutes out from the aid, Salomon's Greg Vollet came flying past me in the opposite direction and about a minute after that, a chase pack of Wolfe, Roes, Dakota, and others were in pursuit.  I began to count the number of guys who had already made the turnaround in order to get an idea of what place I was in.  11, 12, 13.....Jorge then came by, 14, 15, 16, 17, Jez and Kaburaki, 18 & 19; so I figured I was in 20th place at the turnaround.  Coming back, it was great to see Jason Schlarb, Joe, and others still moving really well (Lizzie Hawker was in the lead for the women, with Frost hot on her tail). 

However, it was on the trip to Stinson Beach that my race took an even deeper dive.  Not only was I in no-man's land, but about 10min down the trail I could see Schlarb closing on me.  It was a treat to jog with him for a brief stint, but it was short-lived as I knew he was on a mission to hunt some dudes down.  I told him to "go get 'em" and shortly after that, Ian Sharman went by me.  A few more guys passed me and now, foolishly, I began to count the places I was losing.  The 1900' descent down to Stinson Beach was pretty uneventful.  I had come to grips that my day of racing was over and from here on, mentally shifted from "racing mentality" to "training-run/survival mentality" and was just going to soak up a still enjoyable jog to the finish. 

About halfway down the descent, I spotted a Salomon runner below and then the red hair gave it away that it was Rickey Gates.  I asked him how he was doing and he informed me that he wasn't doing to well, his legs were hurting a great deal.  Rickey also gave me news that Greg Vollet was likely going to drop after setting a blazing pace off the front.  We cruised into Stinson Beach (28.2mi) and I was then passed by Karl Meltzer who flew through the aid.  I got out a little quicker than Rickey and after some rollers, hooked up with the famous Dipsea Trail.  Honestly, this section sucked.  These steep stairs taunted my glutes and hamstrings and this 1,300' ascent seemed never-ending because just when I would gather that I was done with the stairs, more stairs came.  It was just after the trail flattened out some and popped up over the ridge that I heard a woman from behind in the distance yelling, "I'm giving these stairs some hell!" Anna Frost looked like a woman possessed as her powerful stride came into view and challenged my vulnerable shuffle. Honestly, I tried to match her stride, but it was not to be.  She was on a mission and was eating up the carnage with an appetite that was almost surreal.

I rolled into Cardiac Aid again (32.9mi) and was looking forward to the ~1000' descent through mostly forest.  It was here though, that I was passed by a few more people: Hal Koerner and Ellie Greenwood.  A pass from Hal was expected, but to be double-chicked! I mean, it is Ellie Greenwood for cryin' out loud, but still, a blow to the pride nonetheless.  Once again, my mind was just out of it and now I was in 30th place. 

I never once thought seriously that I could turn this around, but continued to focus on taking care of my body regardless.  I pumped calories, S caps, and water into my body hoping for some sort of miracle.  It was around mile 35 that such a miracle happened, but it was not what I was looking for or expecting.  As the trail was switch-backing upward, I spotted Joe just below and shouted some encouragement toward him.  He eventually caught up to me and we started running with one another, sort of summarizing our days so far to each other.  Joe wanted to forge on ahead and it was such a relief finally running with a friend that I sub-consciously didn't want to grind away alone again for several miles.  Therefore, I tried to follow Joe's pace and found that the legs were responding.  We continued to chat away some and I think this helped the both of us sort of distract our minds from what was going on.  We passed a Salomon runner (the Argentinian) just before we hit a road section and rolled into Old Inn Aid (38.9 mi).  I grabbed what I needed, but waited just outside the aid for Joe to refill his pack before continuing on.  We hit a steep, but thankfully short 200' climb just past the aid and passed former NCAA Div. 1 stud Jordan McDougal and another guy (Matt Flaherty, I believe). After the climb, we had a nice descent followed by a flat grassy section.  If I were to guess, I would say Joe and I were both moving under 8min pace through here and - as Anna Frost had done - were eating up the carnage like it was Thanksgiving again.

Running with Joe was a divine blessing for sure and the Lord knew what it would take to get me going again and I'm humbled by this reality.  God met me in my deepest need once again, as he always does at the perfect time, and I was enjoying every moment of his grace.  Joe and I eventually cruised into Muir Beach (42.6mi) to see Hal just leaving.  This once again fueled my former empty mental tank as it reaffirmed that we were moving at a pace quicker than those ahead of us. 

The next section would be one of the last big tests of the race for me.  The climb out of Muir Beach is ridiculous.  It's stupid-steep, with false summits galore.  Given the difficulty of the grade, I found that I was able to run this stretch decently well, but quickly held back and power-hiked some of it so as to not overdue it and blow up before the finish.  I passed Hal and got a small gap on Joe, but Joe kept a good rhythm and was no more than 10-15sec behind me.  After cresting this 1mi, 1000' climb; what lay before me was some much-welcomed steep downhill and a view of the Tennessee Valley Aid maybe a mile or more away.  My quads still felt sharp so I proceeded to blast this downhill section in hope of making up any ground on anyone ahead of me.  My confidence, faith, and joy were at an all-time high due to the fact that at one point I was dead, but now I was resurrected with a fresh mind and fresh pair of legs working in unison for a common purpose of finishing strong.

As I came into Tennesse Valley (45.4mi), Jorge was just leaving and this gave me great motivation to see if I could bridge the gap because Jorge's beaten me soundly twice prior, and we have such a healthy rivalry and mutual respect for one another, but as any competitive person will attest, it's not fun to be beaten by someone time and time again.  Upon leaving Tenn. Valley, up ahead would be the last climb of the day, a 2mi/700' ascent.  I just focused on keeping the pace honest and noticed that Jorge was slowly coming back to me.  A few ticks in, around a bend in the trail, I spotted Mike Wardian ahead too.  I gave Mike a fist-pound and threw some encouragement at Jorge and kept pumping away to see who was next up the trail. 

After cresting the majority of the climb, I continued to hammer the downs and happened to come across two more guys: Galen Burrel and Leigh Schmitt.  Into the remaining portion of the climb, there was one more person I would come across, none other than Ellie Greenwood.  She appeared to be really struggling and was walking when I ran by her.  I shouted to her, "Come on Ellie, remember your finish at Western States, I know you've got a strong finish in you!"  She replied, "Ahhhh, not my day today."  To help ease maybe some mental deflation, I told her just around this bend, it would be 3 miles of downhill into the finish.  These words seemed to positively resonate with her as I moved on and kept pushing and pushing. 

I blew through the last aid-station and on the downhill, dropped down to sub-6 pace as I made sure that my seemingly still healthy quads would have every last bit of weakness beaten out of them by the finish.  It was then that my mind once again went back to how this race had unfolded overall, specifically to when I seemed down and out for 13 miles; and now that I was moving with such fervor, I began to get pretty emotionally choked up and was on the verge of joyful tears.  I mean, here I am, some virtually unknown, still somewhat newbie to the sport who - compared to the stout talent of the individuals I was competing against - was beating guys I shouldn't have been beating.  And here I am, in the deepest, most competitive ultra in the history of this sport, throwing down sub-6 minute miles after pushing my body for the previous 48.  I don't know about you, but its stuff like this that gets my blood pumping.

I finally made my way onto the pavement and after a short, mellow uphill grade, started pumping my arms in haste in order to make the final drive to the finish.  This seemed to work well because once I rounded the corner, I nearly ran into a spectator who corralled me into the finishing chute, in a time of 7:05:46, which was good enough for 15th place. 

Holy crap, what a day. 

"Hey idiot! Finish line's right there!"

Felt good to sprint through the finish and a brief flash of my old glory days as a 100/200 meter sprinter.

Just some interesting little factoids: From mile 38 to the finish (51.2), I ran a split of ~1hr 40min (7:41/mile avg) and recorded the 2nd fastest split in the field from mile 45.4 to the finish (43:46, 7:32/mile avg); Tim Olson took top honors in that regard and closed it out like a champ in 43:05. Furthermore, apparently it took 5:30's in the last few miles for potential 2011 UROY Mike Wardian to fight off a few fierce "uppercuts" from Joe "bare-knuckle brawler" Uhan. Stoked to see that Joe held on for a top-20 finish in 19th place, in a time of 7:11.

I think there's still too much to process before I give any post-race thoughts/analysis.  I want to let it all sink in some more and savor these memories and feelings a little longer.  But one thing I will say for sure, to God be all the glory.  He showed up huge in many different ways out there, from using Jorge in the early stages to provide some much needed light and to later, using Joe to be a much needed companion when I was struggling.  Each instance different, but each coming at the perfect time.  I'm so humbled and thankful for his grace and provision.

Full results here

Some post-race photos taken by Sara and Mom:

Oh those alcohol pads felt lovely.

It looks tame with the shorts on.  It extends up to my hip.

Joe scoring a few SF brewed "Big Daddy" IPA's in plastic bottle-form.

Mutual congrats to and from Jorge Maravilla. A great friend, competitor, and brother.  So Proud of him for dueling it out in the front with the big boys, fighting through stomach issues later in the race, but still finishing well in 21st place!

My beautiful wife congratulating me.

Even in my late 20's, Mom comes to every race.

Definitely get my competitive drive from my Dad.  He races stock cars.

The three J's: Jason, Jake, and Joe. All of us stoked how today went down overall.

Much appreciated encouragement from Tony during the race and afterward.

6th at WS and now 4th at TNF 50. Tim knows how to step up his game. Another great companion on the trail.


  1. CONGRATS! Amazing results after taking a header so early.

    I think there's a rule that says you're allowed to "chicked" once per fall - so your good.

    If you were old and slow like me that stuff wouldn't bother you.

  2. thanks Chris. Ok, fair enough. You'd think it wouldn't bother me given the fact that my wife ALWAYS beats me whenever we have a push-up competition. Anything new on the horizon for you goal or race-wise?

  3. This is an excellent account of the race....thank you for including the one we all need to thank-God.

  4. @Anon - thank you. He's blessed me tremendously, whether that's allowing good or bad things to happen to me, I trust that it's on purpose, for a purpose. And I continue to see the good fruit of that day after day.

  5. Great account of the day!

    Look forward to seeing you soon.

  6. Jason - it was a great day, all-around. I'm planning on running quad rock 50 in FoCo in may, you gonna be there?