Runners can be a crazy and spontaneous bunch. This is a good thing… most times. With the North Face 50 mile race at the end of December, it was time to see where I was in my training. A couple of weeks ago I decided to sign up for the Mt. Diablo trail marathon through Coastal Trail runs. I kept this fairly low-key and didn’t really tell too many people. It was a sort of personal test to see if I was capable finishing a difficult race on my own. A test to see if I was mentally and physically prepared for this 50 mile goal. Here are the facts:

What I am training for:

North Face 50 Miler
Distance: 50 Miles
Elevation Gain: 10,059′

What I ran on Saturday:

Diablo Marathon
Distance: 26.2
Elevation Gain: 6,760′

As you can see, both are really challenging and the latter would be an excellent gauge as to where I am in my training with less than 80 days to go.

Before I left the house to conquer “devil mountain,” I was able to see the baby girl before I left the house. She was wearing the perfect shirt. How can you not run a strong race when this is cheering for you from home. This would also inspire a funny moment around mile 18.

Shirt: Eat My Daddy’s Dust

The first 6-7 miles were straight up hill. This may have saved me. It’s great to knock out almost 4,000′ on fresh legs. I have been on Mt. Diablo before, but have never been to the summit. Looking at the map and elevation gain was crucial to the day’s success. I knew it would take 6-7 miles to reach the summit and it was just a matter of running when I could and hiking when I needed to. The views from the summit were breathtaking.

Mt. Diablo Summit. (Click to enlarge)

Who broke my thumb?

Miles 0-7

Time on course: 1:43:50
Avg. Pace: 14:50/mile

Now it was a 8-mile shot downhill… all the way down. Every inch that we had just gained over the last 7 miles was going to go straight to the quads. There were sections of the downhill part that were almost “unrunable.” Like this one:

I was pretty much surfing down the side of this with three other guys. Funny thing? This is the half-way point (of this particular section) where it was level enough to stop and take a photo. The miles went by pretty quickly as you can imagine.

Miles 8-15

Time on course: 3:18:59
Avg. Pace: 11:53/mile

Now that we were back to the elevation we started at, there is only one thing to do: go back up. And that is just what we did. The next 7 miles were uphill, almost reaching the summit again, climbing another 2,500′

Sensing a theme?

Around mile 18, or the 4 hour window, I started to get delirious. First, I started having a conversation with the First Lady (what I call my almost one year old daughter for the purposes of this blog). She was wearing a shirt that my wife bought her for my birthday (shown above). In order to get myself back up this mountain AGAIN, I needed a mantra — something runners can repeat to themselves to give them strength/motivation/inspiration/etc. “Eat Daddy’s Dust” was then said several times and quickly followed by “you want them to eat the dust? Ok, eat the dust.” Like I said, delirious. It happens. It was hot, I was running low on water and I still had 4 miles to climb.

Ever see that movie Tremors?

I also took this photo because that rock in the middle looks like the movie Tremors, right? I know, I lost it out there.

Miles 16-21

Time on course: 5:21:35
Avg. Pace: 17:06/mile

As you can see, this was a really rough 6 miles. I was low on water for most of it and my quads began to tighten up so bad, they were on the verge of cramping. It was a lot of hiking and running whenever possible, then more hiking. There was even a rock I decided to sit on for a couple of minutes to try to gather my composure. Sometimes you just need to take a moment, breathe in the fresh air and know you must keep moving forward. These 6 miles was why I came out to do this race alone… to see if I was strong enough mentally and physically.

Once I reached the second highest point of the race, it was a 5 mile shot downhill to the finish line. What goes up, must go down. After a couple of orange slices, a refill of water and Dixie cup full of coke (the soda), it was a straight shot back down the first 5 miles of the course. The legs and quads were obviously screaming and I just wanted to be done. It was close to almost 1 pm and the heat was starting to pick up. It is Mt. Diablo after all.

But there is was. 50 yards away. The finish line. I can see it. It looks glorious.

Tree Root.


Face plant.

That’s right. I bit it. I bit it hard. I looked up and saw two people sitting at a picnic table. Their faces were stuck. Just staring. I couldn’t help but smile and find some humor in the fact that I had been running for 26 miles, 6 some hours and I bite it with the finish line in sight. Makes sense I guess, it really was the only time the entire race I wasn’t watching where I was stepping. My right hand and left knee got the worst of it, but I was injury free and thankfully didn’t whack my face. I ran across the finish line, dirty clothes, bloody hand and a smile on my face. I was done.

Miles 22-26.2

Avg. Pace: 10:00/mile

A medal AND a scar!

Finish Time: 6:11:33
Avg. Pace: 14:10
Overall: 7/30
Age Group: 3/4

That’s right! I finished top 10 and 3rd in my Age Group — my first time ever placing in my AG.

Things to take away from my top 10 finish and very first AG placing:

  1. I was not by any means lightning fast and sponsors will not be knocking at my door to grab a piece of the next big 30+ y/o out of San Francisco.
  2. I showed up. I started. I finished. There are plenty of other people who could have run this race and finished far in front of me. Heck, I know several that could beat me in their sleep going up and down this mountain. But they didn’t race on this particular day. I did.

I gave that medal to my daughter. It’s in her room now hanging on her wall and I told her (yes, I give life lessons to my 11 month old):

It doesn’t matter how fast you go or how slow you go. It matters that you had the courage and strength to start. Regardless of where you finish, it matters that you gave it your all and put in the effort needed to reach your goal. On some days you may finish 28th, 342nd or be the last one to cross the finish line… but you never know unless you are willing to try.

I’m pretty proud of that medal and thought it was an important lesson to share with her. I’m more proud of it because the field was so small. Proud because it was extremely unexpected. The last thing I thought I would hear as I am pouring water over my bleeding hand and covered in dirt was “Congratulations, you placed 3rd in your age group.” The look of surprise and shock must have been something to see. When they announced at the beginning that there were 35 peopls signed up for the marathon distance, I was hoping to finish in the top 30. Honestly.

So what about that 50 miler now?

I basically have to do double the distance and another 4,000 feet?