Race: North Face Endurance Challenge California – https://www.thenorthface.com/get-outdoors/endurance-challenge/california.html
Runner: Matt U
Location: Marin Headlands, CA (just north of San Francisco)
26th overall, 7:14.37
3 Bests – what aspects of the race did you like the most
Competitive race that pushed me to push myself. It was a gorgeous course and we had great weather. We also had a big contingent from Team U both in the race, crewing, and volunteering which made for a great day!
Not so much – aspects of the race that didn’t do it for you
I’m not a fan of stairs during a race, and there were a bunch of them in the middle portion of the course near Stinson Beach aid station. It wasn’t a big deal, but somehow I wasn’t mentally prepared for them and they were a bit of a shock to me.
Highlights of your race – what did you do well and enjoy about your race in particular
I ran more aggressively than I have in a long while and I stayed strong for the majority of the race. I think it was my best race of the season. I ran fast but under control early on. I stayed patient on the stairs and single track trail during the middle of the race, and then I pushed a little before mile 40 when the trail flattened out a bit. I suffered on the hill prior to Tennessee Valley aid station on the way back with my quad cramping a bit, but I got it back together and finished strong. In summary, I had a strategically sound race and I pushed myself hard with good results!
Lessons for others – share your pro-tips on the race to help the next runner
There are runnable trails for the majority of the race. This is good and bad because nearly all the ups are runnable to some degree and if you’re not ready for running long uphills, this could likely cause you problems! There are also a large amount of stairs in the middle of the run which really slow things down. As a sidenote, I’ve read a couple analysis articles about this race that focus on how much runners slow down during this race in the second half and the consensus seemed to conclude that it was because runners went out too fast. I think it’s inevitable that people will slow down because of all the stairs!
Lessons you learned that will help you next time around
If this is my goal race for the season, more uphill running prior to the race will be helpful and will likely decrease the odds that I have any cramping issues. I suppose that knowing about the stairs will help me, but I don’t anticipate spending much time training on them, I’m just accepting the fact that I’ll be slow on that section and look to make up time elsewhere.
Aesthetics – is it a pretty course
One of the prettiest courses I’ve run. We had perfect weather in the 50s and 60s, clear skies and sunny. We had views of the ocean and the bay, along with nice forests to run through. I loved it and even found myself wowed by the scenery, something that rarely happens to me during a hard race given my focus on not falling and on racing well.
Difficulty – is it a tough course
Yes and no. It claims 11,000+’ of vertical gain which is challenging. However, much of the course is really smooth and runnable. It’s difficult depending on your skill set. It’s by no means an easy course!
Organized and well run – did it feel like a well-oiled machine or were they flying by the seat of their pants?
This is the second North Face Endurance Challenge race I’ve done this year and they have both been well run and organized. I’ve been happy with both experiences. Plus, they’re relatively inexpensive as far as 50 milers go – $95.
Competition – is there a strong field?
One of the best fields in the world
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.
Simple. The race did sell out but not for at least a few months. There was a special process for being in the “elite” race, though I’m not sure I actually noticed anything different from being in the “elite” race relative to anyone else outside of starting in wave 1.
Plenty. I only carried one 0.5L soft flask throughout and that was sufficient. They had Tailwind and I drank that exclusively during the race.
There aren’t a ton of spots for spectators to go during this race. Tennessee Valley is a spot you could hit twice. The trip to Stinson Beach was challenging I was told. And Julie was able to see me around Muir Beach on the way back, as well as at the finish. For 50 miles, there weren’t a ton of spots to see people. However, the aid stations seemed plentiful and there were so many runners that it was not lonely out there.
$10k to the winners!
The Overall Score – how many stars do you give this race and do you recommend that others run it
5 out of 5 stars. I had a good run, the weather and course were awesome, the race was competitive, and lots of my friends were there running. Great weekend and race!