Twenty weeks of training boiled down to 51.2 miles and 9:52 minutes. I thought three days out I would have enough distance from the race to write about it intelligently. Quite frankly, I thought I would have a lot more to say. But I don’t. Maybe I am still processing the experience. Maybe this is a classic example of how running or life or whatever goal you are working toward is more about the journey than the destination. Maybe that’s why not 36 hours after finishing I am already thinking about what to train for next. That is, once I can walk down stairs without holding onto the railing just in case.
But the Northface 50 miler in sum: I got through it. It rained a little. Then it didn’t. It was dark. And then it wasn’t. I was fast, until I was slow. I cried at mile 41. And then at mile 43. My family came. So did my friends. They were there at the finish. I placed 16th for women. And 67th overall. I am still trying to figure out how I feel about everything. However, I did learn a thing or two along the trail. You kind of have to learn something after nearly 10 hours running.
Fighting gravity is hard
10,731 feet. That was the total elevation gain during the race. It doesn’t sound like much spread out over 51.2 miles. But it is. Because what goes up must come down, and that downhill wrecked my quads. I signed up for the Northface 50 miler because I wanted to learn something about myself I didn’t know before. Well, here’s what I found out: I suck at running downhill. As strange as it may sound, running downhill is much more difficult than climbing. At least for me. Because I haven’t yet learned to stop fighting gravity and to simply trust myself to fall downhill on two feet.
Sometimes it is best to be in the dark
We started at 5am and spent the first 90 minutes running through what remained of the night. Nearly 300 headlamps bobbed up and down as we began our first ascent of the day. We looked like a traffic jam in the Headlands. From the terrain I knew we were climbing. But because I couldn’t see anything, save for the three feet in front of me, I didn’t know how far, or how high. Sometimes it’s easier not knowing exactly what it is you are getting yourself into. Because if you could see all the uphills you would face – maybe you wouldn’t do it.
Say hi to strangers
Running/suffering is always easier with other people. During an ultra you often spend a lot of time alone. And it can get lonely out there on the trail over the course of 50 miles. Sure the views are nice, and the sound of nothing but your feet hitting the dirt is meditative. For some people. But I don’t always like me. My brain is rarely supportive, offering up cheers like, good job Kristen! Keep going! It typically forgets who it is speaking to and whines, saying things like Who got you into this? When you find that Kristen you go punch her in the face. Not productive. I find talking to other crazies on the trail is much more helpful.
It is not ok to cry
I cried. I admit it. At mile 41 and again at mile 43. It was my first 50 miler and my arches hurt. So did my knees. And I acted like a baby. On Friday I warned my first pacer Andy that he had the very difficult job of keeping me on the trail from mile 32 to 45. I warned him that I might have a meltdown or two and it was his task to make sure I didn’t go hide in the bushes. I don’t think he expected it to happen. It did. That kid should get a medal for delivering me to Emily for the last stretch. The truth is, I was on course but lost in my head. I started focusing on how far I still had to go rather than putting one foot in front of the other. Next time I need to remember to remain in the present, working only to get myself to the next bush, the next rock, and forget about checkpoints and finish lines.
You are where you are because of help from other people
Sure, I put in the miles. But that is about the only thing I did by myself. And really, most of that I did alongside a team of other runners all working to accomplish the same goal and with coaches who knew what they were doing. But I did have Team Munson: the loudest pit crew at the race. They are special cohort of people who called and texted and flew in from Boston and Los Angeles and rallied from San Francisco to make sure I was never alone on the trail when things got hard. Who strategized race logistics and rented cars and bought plane tickets to be my side when things got really hard. And who I absolutely cannot imagine my life without.
They made T shirts and grabbed me food from the snack table in case I was hungry. They stood out all day in the cold to watch me hobble by for a few seconds. They kept me going when I wanted to quit. And let me cry when I needed to. (Thanks Andy.) They stood at the finish line waiting with hugs, or on the other side of the country for a phone call. Thank you all, I really could not have run that sucker without you.
By the numbers:
20 weeks of training.
10,731 elevation gain
21,462 total elevation change
Place: 16th women’s
Photo courtesy of T-shirt designer and photographer Allison McCarthy. To see more of her race photos visit