The North Face Endurance Challenge 50K, San Francisco

The North Face Endurance Challenge 50K, San Francisco

By: Grace Krause

It didn’t take much to convince me to sign up for the North Face 50K. The lure of sunny California in December and the thought of training and racing with Roost teammates and friends was more than enough to stoke the fire for my first 50K. A last-minute entry by my mom, who continues to amaze and inspire me every day with her passion and persistence in running, only added to my excitement.

Training for the race was tough. The 50K distance was unchartered waters for me and I underestimated the time commitment I would need to successfully complete all of my runs while also juggling school and work. The course ran through the Marin Headlands on the coast of California and included over 7,000 feet of elevation gain. I was unfamiliar with the terrain and the area, so I could only go off of others’ past experiences and the race guide. Luckily, being a part of the Runners Roost Mountain Ultra Team and staff means having endless running buddies. I am grateful for the many words of wisdom and constant support that I received from my friend and coach, teammates, and boyfriend throughout this training cycle. These friends made the race possible whether it was waking up for early runs, doing long runs on the weekends or offering training advice.

The day before the race, I ran an easy shakeout run with my mom and boyfriend. We explored the neighborhoods of San Rafael, where we stayed, and my mind was blown by the steep hills and green grass that we encountered around every turn. We talked race plans and goals, which were different for each of us. Despite the numerous training runs I had completed with my friends, I knew I had to run my race and my race alone. My ultimate goal was to enjoy the race, the company, and the views. I knew this would be tough in the middle of a monster climb or when I had 20 miles to go but I vowed to stay mentally strong.

The race morning was chilly and early. We rode the bus to the start where we ran into a few other Roosters. Seeing the Roost logo pop up amongst the crowded start area added to the excitement that was already in the air. We said our “good lucks” and “kick butts” and we were all off. Some of us running the 50K as our first, some running it as one of many. I was able to start the race with 3 friends, which I am truly grateful for. The miles fly by when you are able to chat, take in the scenery together and encourage each other up the climbs. We started out barreling down the road to some wide trail that quickly approached the first big climb. We reminded ourselves and each other to be conservative on the first climb, we would need this energy later in the race. Together we shuffled up the wide fire road and soon enough the climb topped out and awaiting us was an incredible view of the Pacific Ocean. We started the descent in awe of the endless Pacific and views of the San Francisco Bay.

The beginning miles went by quickly running with teammates. We moved together and kept the pace controlled. Soon the singletrack trails that we Coloradans love were in view. As we started up the singletrack, it became congested and we had to work our way through the line of runners. Here our pack started separating as we climbed up to the Muir Woods. I began losing sight of the last of my friends as I approached the aid station before entering the thick forest. It was mentally challenging falling behind my teammates with more than half of the course still ahead, but I reminded myself of my goals and that I must run my own race.

After reaching the aid station, I talked to some of the volunteers for a minute, had a snack and entered the thick forest solo. I was nervous that alone, I would not keep up a decent pace and become discouraged. However, with the huge redwoods towering over me, I found my rhythm and cruised through the trees. The ground was soft, making the climbs and steep downhills enjoyable. I was giddy to see what lay ahead. I passed numerous day hikers who shouted words of encouragement and I was able to cheer on the first few 50 mile runners as they flew by me. The 50-mile race was a championship race with professional runners from around the world. Seeing the top women cruising through was inspiring.

Coming out of the woods, I was further into the race than I realized and was encouraged by the enthusiastic aid station volunteers and other runners. The climbs before the finish were brutal, but revisiting the views of Muir Beach and being around so many other strong runners made it doable. With a handful of miles left, I chatted with a few nearby runners. One woman shared that this would be her 16th time running the marathon distance while another was also running his first ultra. Talking to fellow runners was energizing, even at the end of the race. The camaraderie I felt during this race was incredible. I had never felt such excitement for the runners around me who were crushing it, especially my friends and teammates. I bid farewell and good luck to a man that I ran down a final descent with and started picking up the pace. I couldn’t believe that it was almost over.  As I ran into sight of the finish, I saw my group of friends cheering on all the finishers. The excitement of seeing all of these people gave me one last burst of energy and I ran strongly to the finish.

After crossing the finish line, I walked through the chute to join my teammates, a large group of people easily identified by the Runners Roost hats and sweats, who were lounging around eating, drinking beer and talking about the race. The laid-back atmosphere that often accompanies ultras was felt in full force at the finish area. Spirits were high as everyone bonded over their accomplishments. Although everyone ran the same course, we all had unique personal experiences.

We then headed back to the final stretch to cheer in my mom, who was also running her first 50K. She had strained her quad the week before, so I was nervous with anticipation as we kept our eyes peeled for her. When I saw her flying into the home stretch with a huge smile on her face, I was overcome with joy. We all cheered her in and met her at the finish. Soon after, the post-race legs started settling in and it took us far too long to make it back to the shuttle to go home.

That night we ate a big dinner and recalled the highs and lows from the race. It was an amazing feeling being so far away from home yet having so many friends and Roost teammates at the race. The North Face 50K left me with a feeling of accomplishment and pride for myself and my teammates. I will definitely return to this course in the future.

Grace is currently a student at CU Denver, working towards her masters in Special Education and works at Runners Roost in Denver.

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