TNFC 50K (2012) - Race Report

happy runner TNFC 50
Happy runner under the rain

I am not sure why I decided to run the 2012 The North Face Challenge Championship 50K as my first ever 50K trail race. I am not even sure why, a few months ago, I decided to give a try to trail running. But anyways, I signed up to the race back in august just before it sold out (yes, first hurdle successfully passed!). The TNFC 50 event weekend is mostly famous for its 50 Mile race, which always gather an exciting field of Men and Women elite runners, but as a virgin of ultra trail distances, 50km looked long enough to me.

I had seen photos from last year event, and the trails in Marin Headlands looked awesome, offering spectacular views over the Pacific Ocean. Unfortunately, in the week leading up to the race, weather was calling for heavy rain and wind and it was unlikely that we would run in the same perfect conditions than the 2011 edition. Confirmation of the bad news was given at the packet pick up when the TNF staff announced that California States Park officials had issued a mandatory re-route of both 50 Mile and 50K race courses to ensure the safety of all runners, as considerable damages occurred on California State Park trails due to weather. As a result, the entire course north of Muir Beach (and the associated big climbs) was out and the course was now basically a succession of smaller 800-1000ft hills. Well, at least the race was still on! (it happened that all the Sunday’s races — 5k, 10k, & half marathon — were cancelled)

happy runner TNFC 50
Profile of the 2012 TFNC 50K modified course

The next morning, I was up early, and headed out of my hotel room to catch one of the shuttle to Fort Barry (the main event site). Because of the heavy rain pounding the Marin Headlands, the start line area was just mud everywhere and 45 min before the start I was already cold and soaked … not really a good start ;) Still, I was excited to toe the line.

TNFC 50 start in the dark

I didn’t really have strong expectations for the race, but I was eager to see what my limits were and I was ready to push myself as hard as I could. My 3 months of solid training (relative to my standards) leading to the race had given me confidence that I could break the 5:00 mark, and I decided that this would be my goal for the race.

After Dean Karnezes gave us all a brief pep talk at the starting line, the race finally went on! It was still dark, but a headlamp was not necessary as the sunlight was slowly showing up. Surprisingly, I found myself running with the lead pack for the first mile. After a quick look at my watch, I convinced myself that the pace we settled in wasn’t a good idea if I wanted to finish the course, so I let the group of 7-8 runners pulling away. The first climb quickly arrived, and I was feeling good. Even if I wasn’t pushing too hard in the uphill, I came back on an passed a couple of runners. However, as I was reaching the top of the climb, I looked back and saw a group of 4-5 fast dudes charging behind me and quickly closing the gap on me. As they arrived to my side, I realized that they were the leaders of the 50 Mile race that started 2h earlier than the 50K, and they were already in their second loop. I was now running with some athletes of the Salomon Team, Miguel Heras, Greg Vollet, Fran├žois d’Haene, as well as Mike Wolfe and Cameron Clayton ;) I couldn’t maintain their speedy pace in the downhill for a long time though, so quickly I was alone again, with a big smile on my face.

Guillaume Calmettes and Greg Vollet
Charging the downhill with Greg Vollet

The rest of the course was a succession of muddy climbs and slippery descents. I felt good the whole race, running the uphills at a slow steady pace and rolling the descents as best as I could. I tried to take in 150-200 calories per hour, popping a gel every 30-45min, and forced myself to drink regularly (even if I wasn’t feeling thirsty because of the rain).

The miles quickly passed without I noticed, and it was already the finish line! 5th overall in 4:14, 15min behind the winner, Joshua Korn from the team Salomon, I couldn’t ask for more! I threw my hands up in the air, being so happy to have run further than I have had, especially in those flood-like conditions.

joshua korn TNFC 50
Joshua Korn, winner of the TNFC 50K 2012
Photo Matt Trappe

The food at the finish line area was really awesome, and I spend the next couple hours cheering on the runners finishing their race. I missed the finish of the first 3 male runners of the 50 Mile race, as they were already done when I finished my 50K, but I had the chance to see the finish of the first female, Emilie Forsberg and her pacer, Anna Frost. Even if it was cold and rainy, the atmosphere at the finish line was awesome, trail running is all about sharing with others! A lot of great memories!

What a great first 50K trail race! Time to start getting ready for 2013 now!