Race Preparation – North Face Endurance Challenge, California

The North Face Endurance Challenge series ends each year with their capstone race in the Marin Headlands of California. Sweeping vistas and humbling hills await people that wish to tackle all distances from 50 Miles to the Half Marathon (note that the 10K and 5K courses take place in the Presidio).

This event is a highlight for Brent, our club president. Here are some details on his race preparation strategy in order to feel comfortable for this event.

Q: Why do you enjoy this event?

A: It’s at the end of the year, and is a great litmus test to see how much you gained over the training year. The Half has around 2,400 ft (731 meters) of elevation change and that’s quite a challenge for any trail runner!

Q: What is the course like?

A: In 2017 they changed the course to finish over the Golden Gate Bridge and onto Crissy Field. It was a welcome change from my end because after the race, when you are crushed physically and mentally, you don’t have the logistical hassle of getting out of Tennessee Valley via a shuttle bus system. Additionally, you finish right next to the beer tent and food area; you can celebrate and and watch the other athletes finish.

Q: Which distance you prefer?

The Half because around two hours of climbing punishment is enough for me (at the moment). We do have quite a few Ultra people in the club that really inspire me, so perhaps someday, I might take on a longer distance.

Q: How do you handle nutrition?

A: I wear a Hydration Backpack with some water and food snacks. There are aid stations out on the course, but I prefer to quickly run though them and only take additional nutrition if I am running low. There are no water fountains out in the Headlands so be prepared.

Q: How do you prepare for the elevation?

A: Luckily I live right in the middle of San Francisco and have easy access to all the major climbing locations such as Mount Sutro, Twin Peaks, Mount Davidson, and Glen Canyon Park. A standard practice run that I do in the months leading up to the race is to climb up Mount Sutro, do a small loop, and then head over to Twin Peaks to get some additional elevation gain. This out-and-back nets me about 1,200 ft (365 meters) of climbing.

Section-by-section Play

Section 1 – Alta Trail up to Rodeo Valley Trail

There is only about 50 feet of flat before you start climbing. If you are a person that needs a warm-up, get it in before the start.

Pace yourself. You will (hopefully) be on fresh legs and feeling great. There is usually a large number of people that take this first climb too hard and then burnout for the next major climb (Section 3).

This part is mostly single track, so be prepared to be locked into a pace if you are between a large number of people. It is difficult to pass in this area.

Section 2 – Rodeo Valley Tail down

Enjoy the down and views. Take the down fast, change your gate up, use different muscles, and try not to burn out your quads on the way down.

Section 3 – Bobcat Trail up

Here’s where you will start to see who took the first hill too hard as they will be walking. Pace yourself again and get ready for the 4th section.

Section 4 – Mile 5-7 of Bobcat Trail up

There are sections that are above 10% grade. Slow and steady, head up (I tend to close my body position when I’m climbing hard), and chest forward to keep your lungs open. This is the hardest section of the course for me and usually humbles me.

Section 5 – SCA Trail

If you’ve ever done a “VORTAC Loop” with GGRC on a Sunday, this will feel like home. In this section you are heading over to the easy rollers and switchbacks before the Golden Gate Bridge. Take in the views and enjoy the single track. There are some easy passing points despite the single track, so try to pick off some runners heading home if you are feeling strong or have some “gas in the tank”.

Section 6 – The Bridge

Final stretch. A small 50 foot or so elevation change to the middle of the bridge and then you can burn the last of your energy coming home down the hill to Crissy Field.

Q: Any final advice?

A: Enjoy the day! Cheer on other runners, thank the volunteers, and take in the beauty of the course.