– by Samantha Pruitt

Sure, I’ve gone into some races not quite as prepared as I should be, with not as many ideal training miles on my body. Who hasn’t? But here I am- driving to meet up with my girls, so we can carpool to San Francisco for the epic North Face Challenge trail race through the Marin Headlands, really wondering………

The SF North Face Challenge is a race I’ve done many times over my last 10 years as an Ultra Athlete. Mostly I am super stoked to go on this trip because it’s been a hectic year and I’ve done very little trail racing…. actually I have not done any at all! So being able to go with three other bad ass females on a running road trip sounds like a vacation to me:) HELLYES; like-minded women on the road to an adventure, staying in a hostile in the middle of the pacific coast mountains, sharing bunk beds, yummy food and cold beer, toasted with deep meaningful conversations about life. Phenomenal, phenomenal, FEMNOMINAL.

To add to the appeal of this event, I’m a super fan of Dean Karnazes and this national race series that he created with his team and brand. So how can I resist? GOING!

Adding to this mixture of excitement is undoubtedly some hesitation, or shall I just say anxiety, around what exactly is going to happen out on the trail. You see, I signed up for this race a year and a half ago but then there was a fire so the race got canceled, rained checked to this year. Well sure- 18 months ago this 50K race sounded like a damn good idea and I was actually in ‘long distance running shape’. And now…….not sooooo much.

Exactly how outta-ultra-shape am I? I confess my longest run to date this entire year is only 10 miles. My longest time spent active on my feet was 3 months ago where I was the nite pacer on the Tahoe 200 race. Truth is that the Tahoe sufferfest was damn good mental training, as we climbed BIG ASS mountains in the pitch dark and below freezing cold for endless hours each night, but that was NOT trail running. 

Also true is that I hit my beloved Headstrong Fit workouts on a regular basis, getting my overall FITness leveled up plus I jumped on my mountain bike a dozen times for some joy rides! 

So what should I do? Should I actually attempt to do this 50+K race (33 miles) or should I drop down into the slightly reasonable marathon or even more reasonable half marathon distance?

With my trained mind set & empowered emotions I know I can handle the 50K. This ain’t my first rodeo at suffering through ultra long adventures. But Intellectually, as a trained endurance coach and experienced athlete, I realize it’s just NOT a good idea to jump into a race with 33 hard mountain miles not having done sufficient physical training. The chance of pushing over the edge into failure is massive. For me, long-distance endurance and outdoor adventure events are invaluable opportunities for my mind and spirit to go on an exploration journey. Of course my body also has to come along for the ride:)! I alone have to fuel the strength, willpower and tenacity to keep going no matter how much it sucks. So I guess what it all boils down to now is, since we are driving into the North Face packet pick up, who’s going to win? Will my fearful and anxiety filled intellectual self decide what to do? Or will my mentally tough and spiritually driven self, who knows damn straight what’s this girl is capable of, decide? Stay tuned….

Race Report:

In the packet pick up line I stalled. I wavered watching my friends get their half marathon bis. I reviewed the course cut offs and course maps with 6,800 feet of elevation gain. GULP. Then I stepped in line and grabbed that race bib, some safety pins and my race shirt for the 50K!

That night we arrived at our hostel, had a great meal then early to bed. Waking at 5am to ingest lots of coffee and a small bite then with one of my other brave ultra friends we headed to the cold foggy start line in Marin City. Oddly I felt calm and fully accepted my fate- whatever the day and 33 miles were to bring me. 7am sharp we took off and in the first .25 mile all headed straight up the mountain. I took deep breathes, knowing that speed would not be my friend today, but patience would. I went up and down and up and down and up and down for hours. There was zero flat terrain except when we crossed the road to get to the next mountain trail! After about 3 hours of hard motion my body was tired. My legs, feet and back were sore and heavy. Still I continued to hike all the steep climbs and run down the hills and over the rollers, taking in water and a few calories as needed. “Just be consistent” I said my mantra to myself and turned up my ipod. We ran from the SF Bay end of the mountain range to the north end and then turned around to head back to the Golden Gate. The trails and views were so beautiful, the humans sharing the trails with me were equally beautiful. 

Around 6 hours in I was SLOslow, miserable and my stomach was a mess so started to give serious thought to dropping at 26 miles for a marathon day instead. The climbs were so steep and long now I had to side step up one painful leg lift at a time. I was on my edge. Totally unlike me, I text my non-racing friends to see where they were at incase I needed a ride.

The suffering was REAL.

The idea of sitting down in a warm place with a warm drink and next to my loving friends was drawing me in. They were at an aid station about 45 minutes in-front of me so I knew I had to get my head on straight and step UP or step OUT.

Slogging and shuffling into the 26 mile marker aid station, I saw the beautiful faces of my girl friends cheering me on. Their energy and faith in me was enough to fuel me onward and pushed any thought of quitting right out of my mind and body. I proceeded forward to the next mountain climb. 6 more miles to the Golden Gate Bridge crossing and then into Crissy Field finish line doesn’t sound that bad, but in this terrain and at this pace that’s 2 more hours. Yikes. At this point I was chasing the course cut offs. My body could only give me what strength and speed it had and my mind just drifted free of judgement.

Over the next two hours, as the views of the Golden Gate Bridge willed me forward, I simply put one foot in front of the other. I had leg cramps, my feet were in pain, my stomach was upset, my hydration pack was causing my mid back to ache and my lack of training was schooling me HARD. To mange the edge, I stopped every 10 minutes. I no longer cared about the cut offs and took photos or push on my fellow racers. Then finally I crested the last climb and started the decent into San Francisco. Back in civilization, I shuffled across the Golden Gate Bridge, dodging hundreds of tourists in the freezing wind and fog with my music cranking loud. Barely able to run now, shivering I jogged-marched-slogged right onto Crissy Field and through the finish line where my friends & total strangers cheered me on. Across the mat and then BOOM onto the ground before I could even get my medal.

9 hours and 40 minutes later I was no longer moving. I was D.O.N.E.

In reflection, I still know intellectually that it was not ideal to race 33 miles without any specific training. I realize that if I had wanted to be faster or less miserable that training would have been a very good idea:) I am also not in any way suggesting that others follow in my footsteps into the pain cave. But I also know, once again, my mindset over came the suffering and took on the challenge. Emotionally I flexed my resiliency and positive self talk muscles non-stop. I moved along my edge for hours, resisting and then embracing the pain, eventually making peace with it. After all, pain and suffering are temporary. The edge is there to sharpen your inner warrior and to teach you about yourself. It has zero to do with winning, success or others. It is YOUR EDGE. And therefore it can be developed, expanded, explored and owned by no one else but YOU. I strongly suggest you make friends with it. #playwithyouredges

Story by Samantha Alderton-Pruitt

Story by Samantha Alderton-Pruitt

Founder/CEO @ RaceSLO, Podcast Host @ EnduranceTownUSA, Ultra Endurance Athlete & Outdoor Adventurer, Blogger, Life & Business Development Coach

Facebook: Samantha Pruitt

Instagram: @thesamanthapruitt

Email: samantha@raceslo.com