It was going to be a victory lap or a long day of taking in the scenery. Either would’ve been just dandy. Somehow, it was all of that and more. Now, a few days removed, I realize how special Round Two at the North Face 50 was. Why? Saturday was the day I got the fire back.
After a grinder of a Saturday in last month’s Cuyamaca race (aka the Carnage Carousel), I was looking forward to getting back up to the Bay. 2016’s experience can’t be topped. The purpose isn’t to replicate the past, as that is a recipe for disaster. Saturday was going to be a new experience in a place in a beautiful place that I sort of knew. It was like revisiting an old friend.
Friday night, I arrived in the Bay around 8 PM to meet Hickey at his mom’s place. We were treated to a stellar meal: salmon, pasta, a salad, and tons of veggies. Perfect! We ate then hit the hay. With the race starting at 5 AM, we needed to arrive in SF by 3:30, so 2:15 alarm would have to do. Embrace it.
I’ve never heard Hickey complain before. In true fashion, come 2:05 AM, he’s firing up the coffee. We did the usual routine: a bite of food here, a sip of coffee there, all while throwing together our Saturday attire on.
We arrived at Marina Middle School just in time to catch the last bus to Sausalito. It was really nice for a change to arrive at the race without being in a rush. Actually, it felt weird, but I loved it.
There was a buzz at the start as throngs of vibrant colors huddled around propane heaters. We ran into Ryan Cronin and his fiancé, Melissa, right before. I was stoked to see them as Ryan and I shared many miles pushing each other a couple years ago at Fort Ord. They were fired up. So were we. So was everybody.
Before the race, I had a mantra in mind – Appreciation, Not Expectation – as a reminder to be present. I wanted to free myself from expectation because I knew this was a new race, and thus, a unique experience. The purpose of the mantra would also act as a cue would me nudge me into savoring the sunrise, to thank and stoke-up the volunteers, and to energize others out there. Most importantly, it would keep the gratitude flowing, mostly for the fact that I am healthy and get to play in a breathtaking environment.
Thus, that’s what I told myself the first 15 miles. It worked for every single step. We were socked in by the marine layer, but it didn’t bother me. I kept repeating that mantra. I was chatting up the folks around me. I’m always fascinated where all these folks are from and how’d they end up here. Curiosity didn’t kill the cat, it’s the only way to try new things or drive a genuine interest in others. Curiosity is the pre-requisite to growth. Without it, one becomes static and probably really uninteresting. By dishing it out, it is reciprocated back. In doing that, we all elevate each other.
Early on, I chatted a lot. The way I gauge if somebody is keen to chat is by one’s immediate response. How do they reply to a “Howdy” or “Morning”? Is it upbeat or sound like frustration? When the response comes in the form of complaining, I press on.
I don’t understand it. Bickering about the course, weather, injuries… There’s no performance benefit to complaining. It sucks the energy right out of you and from everybody within your vicinity. Steer clear from the energy vampires. Rather than giving, they take.
The marine layer lifted. The sun poked through. The stoke was high.
Every aid station was stellar! They brought the juice all day long and were more than helpful. I slammed PB & J slices, potatoes with salt (not just fistfuls of salt this time hahahaha), broth, and orange slices. Halfway through, I requested a concoction of half-electrolyte fluid with half-Mountain Dew. It was cash money! No doubt I’ll be trying that one again. Without a doubt, they helped me ride a rhythm.
When I jetted out of the Stinson Beach aid station, I left way too fast. I had my headphones cranking on instrumental Irish jams (some foreshadowing for later). I felt like I was literally transported into a Braveheart scene gallivanting through the Scottish highlands with William Wallace. Of course I’m going to take off!
Everything was clicking. It was really bizarre. I kept waiting for things to fall apart, and not in a pessimistic sense, but more of a realistic one. Oh yeah, I wasn’t wearing a watch. That helped big-time in keeping me present. Rather than fret about some pace, I could savor the beauty of the surrounding place.
The stairs were ahead. I remembered these from last time because they were a slap to the face. Rather than be gloomy about it, I flipped the switch. I was frothing to get to them and even verbalized a “WHERE YOU AT?” a few times. A dude I just met – Fabio – led the charge as we took em’ one step at a time.
Back to the singletrack… The marine layer slowly burned off as we cruised through the Muir Woods. I could talk for hours about the beauty of this portion. If you’ve never been there, GO.
Finally, the big climb was looming. I think it was Tennessee Valley? I never remember the names, unless I pull-up the website. It’s usually a blur. Somehow, the rhythm remained so I decided to “ride it out” – mantra #2 for the day. I’ve never used two before, but they helped keep my head in the game. Between the ebbs, flows, highs, and lows, the goal endured: ride it out.
“The only cure for suffering is to face it head on, grasp it around the neck, and use it.”
– Mary Craig
We hit the climb. It wasn’t as bad as I had remembered. Like the stairs, I think during round one it was a total shock. I knew they would be there, but freeing myself from any expectations I just focused on my effort in getting to the top. Once there, just cruise it down.
At the mile 42-aid station, I fueled up. I ran into Ryan again. He provided some encouraging words. More high-fives and fist-bumps were shared. We charged on.
One last climb and the Golden Gate came into view! It was on this stretch that I finally started to yearn for the race to end. Right before we got to the bridge, a dude named Pat ran up behind me: “Dude, a couple miles left, let’s charge this bridge bro!”
“Yeah boss, let’s get it. Hay is in the barn!”
A minute later, I heard a YEWWWWWWWWWW. It was Fabio and he was blissing out on bridge. I can’t speak for them, but in crossing the bridge with them, I felt the synergy. It was intense. We were pushing, and grooving and dodging the masses.
We finally crossed it and dropped down near the waterfront.
We were nearing the finish. Everybody along the waterfront appeared to be having a swell time, especially one gentleman. A fierce spectator, this elderly Irish chap brought the juice:
“YOU’VE GOT MORE IN THE TANK LADDIE! LEAVE IT ALL OUT ON THE COURSE!!”
We exchanged head nods and, of course, we high-fives. I couldn’t let him down. I let it rip. In reality, I probably wasn’t moving fast, but I did my best to heed his command.
I turned the corner. Yes! Done. Over. Finally.
YEWWWWWWWWWWW! Fabio belted once more for good measure while. Pat was there too. The three of us exchanged high-fives again.
Then, we went to the Sierra Nevada garden for our earned beverage. I’m still not quite sure what the “spot” is, but that first sip of a Hazy IPA sure hit it.
While waiting for Hickey to roll in, I hung out with Pat’s crew. I was shivering and they loaned me a jacket. Clutch. People are always looking out for each other which is another reason why I love doing these things.
Just as Hickey entered the beer garden, I ran into Jake O. and Diana – friends I met through another friend, Jake Johnson, two years ago in Yosemite. Jake crushed his first 50K and Diana had crewed for him. It was great to see them! Hickey was fired up as well! He hammered out yet another ultra. I think he’s done this race the last 6 or 7 years. Don’t ever let the old man in!
We grabbed some burritos and reveled in the post-race afterglow. We found Ryan and Melissa hanging by one of the fire pits. She crushed her first 50-miler and in under ten hours – phenomenal! We walked back to the car, with a satisfaction only effort can provide.
It felt like one of those memorable concerts that don’t ever want to end. Yet, with the passing of each song, you near that inevitability and try to savor every fleeting second. Then, once it concludes, you realize how incredible the experience was. That pretty much sums it how Saturday felt and I can’t wait to go back!
- No watch. No worries.
- This was the most present I’ve ever been in a race. The experience was 100% better because of that.
- Never underestimate the power of a mantra
- Appreciation, not Expectations
- Let it Ride
- Those worked for me. You might think their hokey or love em’, it doesn’t matter to me. That’s the beauty of mantras. Find one that works for you and go all-in on it.
- Bring the Juice! Share it with others.
- Speaking for myself, but I’ve learned not only do I perform better, but enjoy the experience more when I keep it loose. I keep it loose by reciprocating and harnessing as much energy as I can from the amazing volunteers, enthusiastic spectators (especially the elderly Irish gent), and fellow trail brethren.
- Nobody at these events ever roots against you. They’re hard enough, so you know most of the encouragement is genuine. We’re all out there trying to get through it. Might as well elevate each other, right?