Race: North Face Endurance Challenge California – https://www.thenorthface.com/get-outdoors/endurance-challenge/california.html
Runner: Dan S
Location: Golden Gate National Recreational Area (North of San Francisco)
3 Bests – what aspects of the race did you like the most
The setting. Much of this course, from vistas overlooking the Pacific, to vistas overlooking the San Francisco Bay, to trails through the woods, was very pretty.
Race organization. This was a well managed, well aided event and a very-well marked course.
The weather. We had beautiful weather for the run, which provided an opportunity to enjoy the setting (see above).
Not so much – aspects of the race that didn’t do it for you
The stairs. There is a significant amount of running on stairs (mostly coming into Stinson Beach and back out of Stinson Beach). These stairs were configured such that (steep enough, switchbacks, in and amongst trees) they slowed progress considerably. The downs into Stinson Beach were largely “wasted” (couldn’t move at a higher pace even though running downhill) because of the stairs. The incline out of Stinson Beach involved a lot of walking because of the stairs.
The out and back. There is a section of single-track out and back near the midpoint of the race. Meaning, runners going out to McKennan Gulch Aid Station are on a the same single-track trail as runners coming back from McKennan Gulch Aid Station. This opposite-direction traffic on a narrow trail with a comparatively steep drop off on one edge (not much room to move over) made it very difficult to consistently-evenly run for a fair amount of the out and back.
Highlights of your race – what did you do well and enjoy about your race in particular
I believe that I was more efficient at my aid station turnaround time than I have been in the past.
Lessons for others – share your pro-tips on the race to help the next runner
If you’re fast enough to get through the single track out and back before the majority of the runners (so you have to face less competing traffic), go for it.
Lessons you learned that will help you next time around
Walking inclines can be a tactically sound decision, even on a 50, even if the inclines aren’t stairs. Efficiently managing hills does not necessarily mean running all hills.
Most important course specific knowledge to know about the race
The main course specific knowledge that stood out for me (stairs and the out and back) are addressed above.
Aesthetics – is it a pretty course
Yes. This course is one of the prettiest I have run.
Difficulty – is it a tough course
For runners at my skill level, yes. I am aware of the fact that there are more challenging 50 mile runs. However, this course was not to be underestimated. There is a notable amount of elevation change that must be addressed, as well as the challenges associated with the less desirable aspects of the run described above.
Organized and well run – did it feel like a well-oiled machine or were they flying by the seat of their pants?
The event was very organized and very well run. A top tier event in this regard.
Competition – is there a strong field?
Yes, it is my understanding that this event does draw a crowd of elites and professionals. A review of the winning times for the race are telling in this regard.
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.
Not especially – if you register early. I registered almost six months in advance and had no problem getting in to the event. The race did fill up eventually, though, and had a deep waiting list.
The aid stations were well stocked and well spaced. I was particularly appreciative of the closer spacing of the aid stations when I came to the later portions of the course.
Weather and typical race conditions –
As noted above, we had spectacular weather for the event in 2016. However, I understand that great weather is not necessarily a given for this race and that there has been miserable weather at some past offerings of the race. Note that the event is held in the late fall in Northern California – there is a reasonable risk that there will not be good weather in this part of the country at that time of year.
Gear – did you need anything special or is there anything you’d recommend for the next guy?
No. I ran with a Salomon S-Lab pack with water sachets, gloves, a buff, and a jacket (it was in the 40s near the start), then shed the gloves, jacket, and buff later in the day (it was likely in the 60s by the afternoon).
Spectators – is this a friendly course for your friends
Not especially. I understand that spectators could come to Stinson Beach and Tennessee Valley. If spectators were familiar with the area, they could likely have also made Muir Beach or some of the other outposts (as permitted by the race organizers). The event is not configured for great spectator access along much of the course, though.
I think there are cash awards for the winners but do not know the details on same.
The Overall Score – how many stars do you give this race and do you recommend that others run it
I would give this event three to four out of five stars on account of the beautiful setting and high quality race management and presentation. The out and back single track and stairs keep the race from the four to five out of five star range.
I can definitely recommend running the event.