The North Face 50 Mile San Francisco Race Report – Keith Laverty

the north face san francisco race report
Photo: Sarah Bard

Race: North Face 50M Championship (new course)

Runner: Keith Laverty

Date: 11/18/2017

Location: Marin Headlands / San Francisco, CA

Results: 24th overall, 7:20:00

Strava Activity Link:

3 Bests – What aspects of the race did you like the most?

  1. The competition and depth of the field. The field was absolutely loaded and there is almost always someone to work with. However, if you start to falter, there’s always someone else lurking to pick up your carnage and pass.
  2. Racing across the Golden Gate Bridge – gave me an adrenaline rush!
  3. Ocean views and the fresh forest smells of Muir Woods.

Not so much – Aspects of the race that didn’t do it for you

It didn’t bother too much but there were several times in the 2nd half of the course where some singletrack sections got bottled up with 50k and Marathon runners – so it was challenging to get into a rhythm. At the same time, a lot of those runners were giving kudos and good vibes as I ran by.

Highlights of your race – What did you do well and enjoy about your race in particular?

  • Seeing my wife and baby boy at the aid stations/finish, running through the dark, making new friends along the course and running across Golden Gate Bridge were all memorable moments.
  • Despite some mid-race rough patches, I finished stronger over the last couple of hours, and in general, climbed very well over the course of the day. I was able to pass a few more competitors in the final two major climbs.

Lessons you learned that will help you next time around

  • The pace went out hot (think your local XC race) as expected but looking back, I think I *still* went out too fast even though I had convinced myself I was running conservatively and controlled. Next time around (depending on course profile), I may consider reigning it back to a very pedestrian pace/effort if that means I’ll be able to really start rolling and finishing strong in the last half of the race.
  • I had a rough patch starting at mile 20 or so until the mid-30s with leg cramps already threatening, but my wife, Elisa gave me a potato doused in salt which did the trick just perfectly along with continuing to eat more in the 2nd half of the race.
  • I’d likely practice a bit more downhill technical running during training.
  • I may have underestimated the more mild climates of the Bay area as well – so if you’re accustomed to the cooler temps of the PNW, really focus on intaking more sodium and electrolyte than usual earlier on in the race.

Most important course specific knowledge to know about the race

This is dubbed a “runner’s course” which played great into my strengths as you can really open up on several sections of the course – including some of the climbs that are very runnable.

However note a few more sections on the course that were difficult or unexpected, including:

  • *Very* steep stairs coming out of the Stinson Beach AS, on the Dipsea Trail. Prepare to power-hike.
  • One deep creek crossing at about mile 37 – no avoiding getting your shoes wet!
  • Several branches/trees to go over or under especially on the long downhill to the Stinson Beach AS (from Cardiac AS) and on the technical section between Cardiac and Old Inn. There was even one precarious tree trunk bridge that had a lot of runner traffic from the other two distances offered (Marathoners and 50ker’s).
  • The tourist sidewalk was open to the public over the Golden Gate Bridge (yes – there’s a longer road section!), so you really need to pay attention to the wandering groups of walkers. One competitor just ahead of me even grabbed someone on the back of their shoulders to get around. After the bridge, there a few more flights of downhill stairs to get to Crissy Field.
the north face 50 san francisco race report
Best support crew all day

Aesthetics – Is it a pretty course?

Yep – witnessing the blood orange sunrise along with the SF city lights and hills were amazing along with views of the ocean, and several sections of much-appreciated shaded forest. Once section almost felt like I was running in some exotic cliffs and shores of some Mediterranean country like Greece or Croatia.

Difficulty – Is it a tough course?

Definitely on the tougher side and a bit more difficult than the previous course routes:

The updated TNF course is 50.7 miles w/ 10,400′ gain whereas last year’s course was a little over 49 miles and ~9,300′ gain, according to iRunFar. The course has 9 major climbs!

Organized and well run – Did it feel like a well-oiled machine or were they flying by the seat of their pants?

Very well-oiled machine and no major issues with the race logistics. Course marshalls on the road crossings and major intersections did an excellent job.

Competition – Is there a strong field?

Oh, very much yes. By far, the most competitive 50-miler in the country as there is $10,000 up for grabs for the race winners.

Here is iRunFar’s post-race results article for an idea on the competition:

Logistics – Does it require a special handshake, registration a year in advance, hotels all booked? Give us the low down on the nuts and bolts of making the race happen.

  • This is a huge event with all the bells and whistles – I’d say the main thing is to book an AirBnb or hotel well in advance. Also pay attention to the parking and shuttle situation as parking is extremely limited at the start, finish and even at all of the aid stations.
  • Give your crew plenty of information beforehand and make a plan.
the north face san francisco race report
Getting help at the aid station from Elisa and Luke

Aid Stations

  • 11 aid stations with 3 of them being crew-access stations. All of the aid stations had the exact same offerings including skratch lab electrolyte.
  • It didn’t affect me but several runners had mentioned that they surprised to find out that the aid stations did not have any gels or GUs – especially being in GU country!

Weather and typical race conditions

Ideal and temperate conditions – most of the race was sunny and in the low 50s. It was 37 degrees for the 5am race start but it felt comfortable once you got going.

Gear – Did you need anything special or is there anything you’d recommend for the next guy?

This was actually my first race having to run with a headlamp. This is a required gear item for about the first hour and a half of the race. I went the entire race with a single Nathan handheld bottle as there are plenty of aid stations plus my crew support.
As the trails were pretty dry and runnable, wearing the Brooks Launch 4 (road shoe) ended up working out well.

Spectators – Is this a friendly course for your friends?

There are only 3 crew/spectator friendly aid stations but at the Tennessee Valley AS, you can see your friends/family twice. The Cardiac AS also had a ton of volunteers and spectators rooting people on.


Everyone gets a finisher’s medal at the finish line. And serious prize $ for only the top 3 runners.

The Overall Score – How many stars do you give this race and do you recommend that others run it?

5 out of 5 – Highly recommended for a memorable and challenging experience.

the north face 50 san francisco race report
Ahhh, the finish line!