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The North Face Half: Race Report. Hills, Unscathed Nips, and Kashmir

Spoiler: I finished.

Was it fast? NO! 

Was it strong? Eh, Not really. 

Was it fun? YES! 

Finished a short racing year running The North Face Endurance Half Marathon in the Marin Headlands Sunday. First and foremost, it was fun. 13.75 miles (yeah, LONGER than a half marathon) of uphill and down on some beautiful trails that would have had some awesome scenery had it not been cloudy/misty. My biggest goal was to run the thing without knee issues. Goal accomplished. In fact, I was a little surprised, given the severity of the downhills, that my knee came through pretty much unscathed.

My Tree

There is limited access to Fort Baxter, the start/finish area in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, so busses shuttle runners from several locations. My pickup was in Larkspur and was uneventful. The weather was coolish and misty. Daylight was still awhile away as I settled in by my new favorite tree to relax prior to warmup. Even though expectations were low, I enjoyed some pre-race jitters while doing some light running, my knee exercises, and some stretching. Gotta love pre-race jitters.

The “gun” started for me at 8:08 am and wave 5 of 7 was off. The first quarter of a mile was uphill but that soon gave way to a nice half mile downhill stretch that nicely allowed getting in a bit of a groove. I cruised through the mile mark right around 9 minutes feeling decent and then the hills began. The first was roughly 1.3 miles long and didn’t feel as bad as it looked. Already, a bunch of people began walking. I vowed, at that point, that no matter how bad it got, I would make every effort to run/jog the whole way.

Hill #1

The downhill that followed was a couple of miles long and while some spots were very steep, my knee held up pretty well. It was during this stretch that I noticed it was raining. Not full-on rain raining, just a light sprinkle kind of thing that did not let up. The clouds, I understand, obstructed some nice views of the Pacific.

I ignored the first aid station at 3.7, decided to partake of some water at the second (at 7.9 or so). There were four total. I hit the second and fourth and that seemed to work out perfectly.

At 5 miles uphill #2 began. It was about a mile and a half long and was the

The hill with no end in sight

steepest of the three hills. It was on that hill that I noticed a huge discrepancy in my mile splits between the up and down miles. The down ones were being ticked off in the 9:00 to 9:20 range; the up miles were 15 minutes + (and the + gets emphasized). I also noticed that I had taken a song on the uphill. Rarely does music pop into my racing head, but yes, Jimmy Page and the first twenty seconds of Zeppelin’s Kashmir perfectly set the scene for my slow, steady uphill trudging. 

The drop from 6.5 to the aid station at 8 miles was VERY steep. I found it difficult to stay upright without losing control. I also found that the people I would pass going uphill, would fly by on the down resembling kamikaze pilots. 

At 8 miles, a guy said, “only one more hill.” What he didn’t say was that the one hill was about three miles long. Smart ass. Couldn’t trick me, though, I studied the course guide. Steady was the rule. Halfway up, I thought, “this reminds me of Imogene Pass.” Oh yeah, except that the Imogene “hill” was TEN miles long. It was also during this hill that I noticed the utter success of my Body Glide plan and my Ultra Running Company racing top. My PNS (Protruding Nipple Syndrome ) had been completely controlled and that made me a very happy camper

The forest

Just before mile 11, the hill topped out and the trail led us to a gorgeous forest. Looked like eucalyptus trees, but what do I know. I still approached the steepest descent sections with caution, but really tried to move strongly on the “safer” stuff. I also decided to count the people I passed (not out loud, as to be a jerk). Ended up with fourteen and was passed by only two. I took it as a positive thing.

That half mile “get in the groove” section during mile #1 was an uphill, “break my groove” section on the way back. Nonetheless, I zipped by a few more people and finished feeling pretty good all things considered. The finish line area was buzzing, so I soaked up the juju a bit, grabbed a banana and some sea salt chips (hardly ever get THAT craving, but sure had it this time) and loaded the bus for the return to Larkspur.

My return trip was the opposite of the early morning trip. On the way, I sat next to a guy who had NOTHING to say, and that made me VERY happy. Post race, I sat next to a young woman named Paige, who had just finished her fourth half and was contemplating a full marathon. We chatted about training, and destinations, and timeframes, and it was all very nice.

I was pretty sure I’d be sore from the beating administered by the hills and was not disappointed. Yesterday (Monday), I was WAY sore. I struggled through a 3 mile jog to get

Look like on a death march.

the blood flowing, but would have been hard pressed to escape if aggressively pursued by a turtle. Today: considerably better.

Lessons learned: 1) my knee is much better than I expected. I worried about this a lot, but was pleasantly surprised. 2) I need to really hit the hills if I plan to trail race. The Squamish 50K will make this course seem flat, so it’s hill time in 2016. 3) My URC shirt was the perfect anti-nip chafe solution. YAY! 4) I must have a terribly unhappy look on my face while running. My race pictures were brutal (see the one to the left).

Next up is three months of training to be ready for the Napa Valley Marathon. I’m looking forward to a fantastic 2016 and some awesome racing.

Run on. My Movescount Suunto “Movie” of the race….