50 Miles Is Far.

I’ve put together a few quick reflections on Saturdays race followed by the actual race report.  Enjoy!

Start of TNF50 Photo Credit: iRunfar.com

Start of TNF50 Photo Credit: iRunfar.com

Nutrition Lesson 101

As someone so focused on racing marathons and relatively new to the 50K, racing 50 miles brought forth a new set of challenges.  Perhaps the most challenging aspect about Saturdays race was the nutrition factor.  My biggest fear was that my stomach would fail me and early in the race it became apparent that the gels, fluids, and waffles I was consuming did not agree with my stomach.  After 3 full bathroom stops before mile 35, something I’ve never experienced, even in training, I decided to switch my fueling plan completely at the next aid station.  I dumped out my bottle, ditched all my PowerBar products, and began drinking water, Coke, and eating Cliff Shot Blocks like crazy.  I was pleasantly surprised that for the remainder of the race my stomach tolerated unlimited consumption without difficulty.

Pacing For 6 Hours

Another challenge was how to pace myself for 50 miles.  In both of my 50Ks, there were points that I just flat out ran hard.  I would push, surge, attack corners and downhills and even ran scared towards the end hoping to hold off 2nd place.  During Saturdays race, I really wanted to respect the distance and wasn’t sure how I would feel after 4 plus hours of running, so I kept the first 35 miles or so very comfortable.  I tried to go easy on the climbs, which amounted to around 9,500ft, and even easier on the descents (mainly because of the sloppy conditions and my shoe choice).  I found myself just trying to stay on my feet through the muddy section rather than push the pace.  It wasn’t until the final Alta aid station that I decided to let loose a little and turn my legs over on the relatively mud free descent to the finish.  My 50th mile was a 5:21.  In a way, it’s nice that in my first 50 mile race I never reached the dark and lonely pain-cave I often hear people reference.

No I was not involved in a port-a-potty accident

No I was not involved in a port-a-potty accident

Road Flats For A Mud Fest

Now understandably, I’ve received a lot of questions as to why I would wear road flats on a 50 mile trail race that had been rained out for a week.  Prior to Saturday’s race I made the calculated risk to wear said shoes because they provide the cushion and stack height I need out of a shoe.  Nike makes a pair of great trail shoes in the Kiger and Wildhorse, two shoes I love for interval sessions and cross country style races, but, the minimal drop and stiff plate don’t work well with my hefty frame and efficient heel strike over long distances.  So the decision to rock the Flyknit Lunar 2’s was based upon a primary goal of finishing the race injury free as opposed to optimizing performance.

Fuel versus Time

I was surprised how I managed the aid stations.  Going in I had planned to only rely on my crew and blow past the aid stations like I had in my 50Ks earlier this year.  However, after the Stinson Beach aid station, when I scraped my pre-race fueling strategy, I found myself being very thoughtful on what to pick up off the tables rather than be concerned with time.  This was interesting as when I think of road racing, all that matters is time.  You do not stop.  For anything.

Ch-Ch-Changes

In hindsight for race-day execution I really wish I had tried to stay with my teammate, Alex, when he made a move shortly after the first Cardiac Aid station.  He knows the trails so well and is such an intelligent racer, that an attempt to stick with him would’ve been a smart decision.  Key word, attempt!  Still so proud of him for taking third.  A round of Snake Juice the next time I see you, Alex!

A couple of bro hugs post race. Photo credit: iRunfar.com

A couple of bro hugs post race. Photo credit: iRunfar.com

Many Thanks

Wow.  What an incredible race.  What an incredible experience.  What an incredible community of like minded athletes with a  passion for running. The organizers put on a fantastic event with everything from professionally managed aid stations to a 50 mile course that was marked impeccably well.  Thank you to everyone that helped orchestrate such a production and to the many volunteers that kept the cogs turning.

Big thank you also to Nike Trail teammates, Alex, Chris, Ryan, Dan and Zach for helping me through my first 50 miler, and DBo, Jorge and Billy for the many miles of running and encouragement out there.  And of course to papa Pat and Nike Trail for believing in me.

As a student of the sport, I definitely left Saturdays race with an increased appreciation and better understanding for ultra running.  I’m eager to continue my apprenticeship with the “long stuff” and see where it takes me. See you in 2015!

My faithful crew!

My faithful crew!

The Report.

After a few sleepless nights, celebratory drinks with friends, working the California International Marathon, and “crewing” for my wife’s third Olympic Trials marathon qualifier, I can now finally reflect on The North Face 50.

I Repeat. 50 Miles Is Far.

This is the race report; a bit lengthy, but, as I said, 50 miles is far. Check out my Strava data here.

Coming into TNF I had three goals.  I wanted to respect the 50 mile distance, come away with a positive learning experience, and to finish on the podium.  Suffice to say that 2 of the 3 were accomplished.

I was really happy with how the beginning of the race played out.  For those unfamiliar with TNF50, it begins at 5am and athletes are required to wear headlamps until 1 hour after sunrise.  This meant that for nearly two hours you must navigate single track trails in the dark.

You start out with two, 5 mile and 800ft+ Bobcat Loops, on nicely packed dirt fire trails.  We ran as a pack of perhaps 20+ men at a comfortable pace and plenty of friendly banter was exchanged which kept the atmosphere very pleasant.

We heckled Ivan Medina as he carried his sack lunch with him, i.e. clear plastic drop bag, there were predictions of which CTS athlete would come out on top and who Coop loved most, and I received some deserved harassment in my choice to rock neon yellow road flats for a trail race.

Our pack dwindled down to around 10 or 12 guys as we made the 600ft ascent to the 12 mile mark.  As we crested and headed down towards the Tennessee Valley Aid Station a dense fog engulfed the course.  At this point I trailed Dylan Bowman, or DBo, a native to the Headlands, and was very content to follow his lead as I knew he would race smart.

Photo Cred: Myke Hermsmeyer

Trailing eventual 5th place finisher Dylan Bowman. Photo Cred: Myke Hermsmeyer

It was on this descent, in the fog, that I realized my 5 plus year old Black Diamond headlamp was inferior to the 10 billion candle search lights a couple of Solomon athletes had as they approached from behind.  Thankfully, their light pollution, helped guide me along.

As I ran through Tennessee Valley I was amped to find a few of my best friends, Mikey, Cody and their respective partners, had traveled out to see the race.  I also 100% hold them responsible for the almost immediate GI distress and pit stop #1 that followed 1/2 mile later…

After I lightened my load, and being heckled by Alex Varner as he danced on by, (teammate eventual 3rd place finisher!), I got back on course and caught a few runners that had briefly passed me.  As we began a small climb I caught my first glimpse of Rob Krar in the flesh, who was a much smaller man that I had envisioned.  Little hands.

Our first real encounter with mud occurred shortly later as we descended into Pirates Cove.  It was here that another pair of Solomon athletes (perhaps the same?) barreled down the rocky terrain past me as I gingerly navigated the terrain in my road flats and I began to second guess my choice in footwear.

Not long after I ran up the longest climb of the day, roughly 1800ft over 6 or 7 miles, and slowly picked off a few guys that had pulled away earlier on the descents.  I really enjoyed these gentle switchbacks as they were far less taxing then many of the mountainous climbs I trained on in Mammoth.  Near the false top, perhaps 24 miles?, Nike Trail teammates, Zach Miller, Alex and I all came together and ran briefly with one another, all inside the top 10.  I had visions of us effortlessly picking off competitors one by one until the three of us stood atop the podium!

This, however, was short lived.  Zach and I took a very quick wrong turn in a parking lot and Alex pranced on ahead of us.  Not long after, Alex seemed to disappear into the forrest at the same time I stopped to relieve myself for bathroom stop #2.  After I caught back up to Zach and he let me know that his legs weren’t feeling too great, I passed him and ventured ahead hoping to regain contact with Alex.

[Worth a note, Zach had just weeks ago raced 62 miles on tile at the 100k World Champs and shortly before that ran his heart out at Les Templiers.  The fact he even showed up on Saturday is a testament to his desire to compete, passion for the sport, and love for our Nike Trail team!]

The course slowly continued to climb along a hillside with stunning views of the pacific ocean and several creek crossings, before hitting an out and back road section that for the first time allows one to see where you stack up against your competitors.  I believe I was now in 7th or 8th, felt great and was confident that with some 22 miles to go I could eat into the distance the guys in front of me had.

Trailing Mike Aish, 13:22 5k and 27:46 10k runner. Photo Cred: Matt Laye

Trailing Mike Aish, 13:22 5k and 27:46 10k runner. Photo Cred: Matt Laye

After navigating back down the trail we just came up, a quick fall into a creek crossing as I made contact with a guy headed in the opposite direction, we descended into the third most challenging part of the course for me; the top two waited in the next 10 miles…

The trail dropped down into a heavily forested area with hundreds of slippery steps.  My shoes hated this and I very carefully navigated my way down, with no falls mind you!, and it wasn’t long before DBo made contact with me again.

Photo credit: iRunfar.com

Photo credit: iRunfar.com

We practically ran into the Stinson Beach Aid station together at roughly 32 miles.  Here I was greeted by my wife and adoring fans, all 4 of them, and took a moment to slap hands with them!

Slap hands!

Slap hands!

Not long after, the second hardest part of the course presented itself to me.  You leave the open spaces of Stinson Beach and re-enter a very heavily tree-clad stretch of trail.  The single track takes you along a river, through an enchanted forrest, across several bridges and literally up a wooden ladder. I had gained on a Solomon athlete, later found out to be Tòfol Castanyer, at the same time DBo had closed the small gap behind me.

Somewhere deep in the forrest DBo remade contact and politely asked, “Hey, Tim. Can I get by you?”  Which google translates loosely into, “Bro, move your slow ass!” I gladly moved aside and as I watched him gracefully make his way up the switchbacks and out of the forrest,  I turned to my first set of power hikes.  Yes.  To all my roadie friends, I walked during a race!

Once out of the forrest, I took my third and final bathroom stop of the day.  The GI distress I dealt with left me beyond frustrated.  Out of the eight road marathons and two 50Ks that I’ve completed, I’ve only stopped once mid-race, and that was to tie my shoe at the Olympic Trials in 2012.  Never once was there GI distress.  So for 3 occurrences in one race and to still have 15 miles between me and the finish line, I was not pleased.

Luckily, at the previous aide station I made the decision to scrap my nutritional plan, that was the cause of many of my issues, and instead drink water, Coke, and eat Cliff Bar Shot Blocks.  Thankfully this proved successful as over the final 2 hours of running I was able to consume unlimited amounts without any adverse effects. Having conquered my bowels, I felt set to retackle the race.

My legs felt good as I passed through the final Cardiac Aid Station, mile 36.5?, unfortunately, I also then encountered the muddiest section, and my most challenging portion of the race. As I struggled to stay upright, falling multiple times, and slowly sliding my way down the switchbacks dodging 50k runners as they climbed up the other way, both Rickey Lightfoot and Jorge Maravilla, Solomon Athletes, passed me almost effortlessly.

Thinking perhaps the last 14 miles would be similar muddy conditions I seriously considered abandoning the race at the next aid station as my frustration level was escalating that I simply couldn’t run through the mud and I really feared blowing my knee out with every misstep.

Photo cred: iRunfar.com

Photo cred: iRunfar.com

But alas, the combination of Jorge’s perma-smile and charm as he galloped passed me, film maker Billy Yangs friendly face behind the lens that awaited at the 41 mile aid station with a few words of encouragement, and legs that still felt relatively fresh, I pushed onward, and literally upward, into the steepest section of the course.

I re-caught Jorge during the 2 mile, 1000ft climb, from 41-43 miles, and he laughed as on several occasions I took 2 steps forward and 1 step back in my dancing shoes… The two of us exchanged places at least 1 more time over the final 8 miles and it was at this point I really began to soak in what we had been through and ran joyfully over the final climbs.

The final descent from Alta Aid Station to the finish was the first time of the day that I actually dug really deep and pushed hard.  I threw in a 5:21 downhill mile attempting to regain some ground on Jorge but the dude wasn’t having it and held me off crossing in 7th place, to my 8th.

6:28:47 final time;  3 hours, 3 minutes and 21 seconds longer than I had ever run before.

Huge congrats to all the guys that finished in front of me and to everyone that completed either the 50k or 50 miler.  Truly a lot of inspiring stuff took place out there!

Thank you again everyone for the continual support!

Beer is good.  Beer is even better after running 50 miles.

Beer is good. Beer is even better after running 50 miles.

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18 thoughts on “50 Miles Is Far.

  1. Congrats! Funny that you had to switch to Coke to calm your stomach down. In the two trail races I tried a couple years ago (only 30ks), I found that Mountain Dew, Coke Zero and Crunch bars worked better for me than Gatorade and powerbars at the aid stops. Coca-Cola should sponsor your trail endeavors…

  2. hypernayte says:

    Wow, man. This is a great write up. It’ll be fun to see what you do with these distances, as you pick off the ultra distance lessons (shoes, nutrition, etc.) No doubt you will only get better at this.

    -Nathan

  3. The mental (and physical) callousing that comes from 50mi experience is huge … Soon enough, 50mi’s won’t be that far (even though it always is!) and you’ll be able to push harder and harder. Great job man, good to see a fellow Rocklin-ite doing well out there. If you’re still in the area, and have an itch to run the Lake Sonoma 50 in April (highly recommend it!!), it’d be cool to do some training together here and there (–jacobrydman@gmail.com–). Recover well.

  4. Awesome debut Tollefson! Sorry your stomach rebelled so much but at least you got it figured out mid-race which is a lot of ultras…problem solving on the fly. I can also tell ya that you were definitely always super peppy when I saw ya so not surprising you had the final kick left. Rest up and talk soon bud!

    ps – I have your crappy headlamp 🙂

  5. Hans Garcia says:

    Tim, we met about ten minutes before the start of the TNF 50. I was wearing the June Lake Triathlon shirt. Appreciate the words of encouragement. Great f****g job on the run! Also, fantastic write up. Long day for me but finished. Good meeting you and I’m sure I’ll ‘run’ into you up in Mammoth this summer.

    Hans & Gretchen Garcia
    San Diego

    P.S. DO NOT LOOK UP MY FINISHING TIME!! Think I’ll stick to mt biking…

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