Two Ultrarunners Take on San Francisco

The race on Saturday was completely epic. However, I did spend Thursday through Monday in San Francisco with Laura and we did some pretty awesome stuff outside of running.

This is what ultrarunners do on vacation.

We arrived on Thursday around 11 and found each other at the airport. I had left Ithaca at 5AM, so getting to San Francisco and finally eating felt really relaxing. Sure, we had to run a little bit on Saturday, but largely, this was a vacation for me. I have only been on a plane one time before, almost 10 years ago as a freshman in college.

Laura and I navigated the airport and bus system and made it to the North Face store downtown to pick up our race bibs. Laura had the brilliant idea to walk to our hotel which was less than two miles away. No big deal right?

Well, San Francisco is essentially steep uphill and downhills everywhere. Once we got out of downtown, we walked through China Town and Little Italy before getting to this really steep incline right before our hotel. This would have been a challenge without 100 pounds of luggage…but you know ultrarunners, we never do anything half-assed.


Well, we made it up the hill and down the next and checked into our hotel. I went on a quick 3 mile jog around the bay before meeting Laura at Whole Foods for dinner. She had another brilliant idea (this time it was actually a good one) to stay as close to our east coast sleep schedules as possible, because of the early race start. After dinner, I went to bed.

On Friday I woke up around 5:30 and took a dark tour of Lombard street (where we were staying) running about 5 miles. I ate breakfast and decided to go back to China Town and explore the city just in case the race went badly and I couldn’t move. Laura had to meet with her crew to plan her racing strategy so I went solo.

The produce in China Town was so cheap! I got a bag of fruit that would probably have cost $8 in New York for $2! There were also a lot of different foods I wanted to try (and actually have in my freezer waiting for me at home) but refrained because of the whole running thing. The day before I left for SF I went to the Asian market in Ithaca for the first time (since I’m moving ya know) and bought steamed buns and rice balls that are now ready for me when I return. This was a good strategy so I didn’t buy so much in China Town. I didn’t have enough room in my bags.

After walking around for the morning, I found a plant based, gluten-free place called Seed + Salt near the Marina and only 0.6 miles from the hotel. This café was amazing! All the options were both delicious and made with ingredients I knew I could trust in my system for the race.

I got loaded toast (#basic). One side was a nut and seed bread topped with almond butter and homemade raspberry chia jam. The other side was a more traditional gluten-free bread topped with dill cashew cream cheese and sprouts. My favorite part was the nut and seed bread. It was so hearty and had a rich depth of flavor. The café itself was really bright and not overpriced. It was modern and definitely a place I could see myself frequently visiting if I lived in town.

I made it back to the hotel, relaxed until Laura got back from her meeting and then went back to Whole Foods with her to get dinner. Laura thinks, and I agree, that having a place where you can get predictable foods is important before the race. We ate and then hit bed early.

Well, I ate a lot of stuff during the race, but that’s boring, so I’ll skip that. If you’re interested, read my race recap or message me directly.

The night of the race, we could barely walk, so we settled on eating at The Plant Café Organic because it was super close to the hotel. The food was fantastic. We both got the Plant Burger which was made with beets, lentils and other good stuff. There were sautéed onions and an aoili dressing also on the sandwich. I asked for a sourdough bun, but they gave me bread. I didn’t care, I just wanted to eat as besides a Clifbar right after the race, I hadn’t eaten yet. It came with a side salad which was good. Fries would have been better but I didn’t want to pay the extra $2.

We walked back to the hotel, I ate another Clifbar, almond butter packet and apple and then got in bed.

I didn’t sleep very well because my body was bruised so each time I moved I could feel some pain.

On Sunday Laura and I got up at 5:30ish to get back on the bus to the starting line of the race (there was a half marathon, 10k and 5k happening) to get my drop bags which I didn’t use at all during the race. I had shoes and socks and other stuff in them, but I didn’t really need them so I didn’t bother asking at the aid stations.

I found out my iPod and wireless headphones were either stolen or fell out of my bag during transport. That sucks. Laurel, I know what I want for Christmas.

We headed back from the start line and walked to Whole Foods (yes, this is what vegans do) for donuts and breakfast. We planned to just get a ton of donuts and eat them, but once we saw the hot foods bar, decided to get both!


We each got soy chorizo and potato hash with guacamole. I also got slaw on mine because I can never find vegan slaw and it’s delicious. For my donut, I got chocolate peanut. Everything hit the spot

After brunch, we found the house from the TV show Full House and of course had to take pictures. I wanted to get closer, but Laura reminded me “uh, Ellie, that is actually someone’s house!” Lucky I had her.


Our next stop was the North Face store in town because they had a 10% discount for racers. I got a sick new hat for running and put a few things on my “if I was rich” list.

We took the bus to Pier 39 to see the sea lions and then walked around Fisherman’s Warf, which is essentially a tourist trap. I got a few things for Laurel and Gennie but thanked God I didn’t work there. So many people!


We walked back to the hotel and moved Laura into my room for the next night. After all that walking, we were ready for a break so TV and naps it was. Laura introduced me to a show where kids bake off against each other. It was quite adorable and a good thing to snooze to.

A bit later, we decided on dinner at Gracias Madre, coming highly recommended from all our friends. It did not disappoint! Laura got “bowl uno” and I got “bowl dos”. My bowl had peanut sauce, pineapple salsa, sautéed mushrooms and lentils, pico de gallo, avocado, coconut rice and spinach. Oh my Lord anything with peanut sauce makes me swoon!


We finished off the night stopping to get dessert at Whole Foods, chocolate frosting and cake and raspberries? Yes please!


Monday was a lot of travel. Laura had to catch an 8:00AM flight and I didn’t feel comfortable navigating the buses alone, so although my plane was at 11:50, I went with her. I hung out at the airport eating, people watching and walking around trying not to let my legs tighten.

They confiscated my peanut butter in security, so food was kind of boring. A loaf of bread, some fruit and the rest of my bars uneaten from the race. A lot of travel, a lot of layovers, but I made it home :-

I’m ready for the next one, but first I should move 😉

TNF Endurance Challenge 50 Mile Race Recap

Where to begin to write about this race? 

I want to first thank Ian Golden for all his support, encouragement and time. He is the only reason I made it to this race and am so fortunate to have him and the Red Newt Racing team behind me. Thank you also to Strong Hearts Vegan Power for even putting these crazy ultra endurance events on my mind. I would not be here without you.

It was both the most beautiful and most terrifying thing I’ve ever done. I learned more than I ever wanted to know about myself and can honestly say that I am forever changed.

Pre-Race


After getting in to San Francisco Thursday afternoon, Laura and I spent Friday relaxing and got up around 3AM on Saturday to get to the start line of the race. It began at 5AM, so we made it with plenty of time to check out drop bags and stay by the fires to keep warm. The race was very well organized. To get from our hotel to the start, all we had was a short walk to the local middle school, a hop on the shuttle and we were there in 25 minutes. You cross the San Francisco bridge on the way, which was really neat for us East Coasters.

At the race start there were plenty of bathrooms, food and fires which we all huddled around to keep warm. I was living it up. Listening to all the real trail runners talk about the other races they’ve done was so neat. I was really excited to start!

Race

The race began at 5AM and required us to wear headlamps until the sun came up. Immediately, the men shot out like a rocket, which I was expecting, but so did the women! There were some pretty fast ladies up there including Megan Kimmel, Ida Nilsson, Stephanie Howe, Sandi Nypaver, Magda Boulet and of course my friend Laura Kline. These were just the women I had heard of (I’m a newbie so sorry if I forgot you!). 

I set off at a comfortable pace near many people, but because it was dark, I have no idea who they were. For someone who gets worried about getting lost, I enjoyed following the headlamps of people up the mountains. It was neat to watch Zachary Miller, Sage Cannaday and others leading the charge up the accents.

The first few miles flew and I made it to the aid station. I was carrying a bottle of tailwind with a pouch holding a Clifbar and RunGum. I felt good, so I didn’t stop (it was about mile 6) but reminded myself to start to eat and drink. I started sipping my tailwind, but before I knew it we were at mile 10 and I hadn’t eaten anything yet. At the aid station around there, I went to the bathroom, refilled my bottle with Tailwind and got my bar open. This aid station was a point at which I could get access to my drop bag, but I didn’t need anything.

The next few miles were a series of easy climbs and descents. At each climb I felt good and just repeated “I know how to climb,” over in my head. Two weeks ago, Ian had planned me a route to practice steady climbs like these, so I visualized those training runs, just moving along steady. 

At mile 15, a steady 5 mile climb began through switchbacks up the mountain. This was kind of fun as I had never really done them before. It was single track, and I kind of got stuck behind a woman for a while, but who knows, maybe going her pace for a few miles saved me later. After I passed her, I was in a line of guys for a mile or so until a loose rock caught me and I took a fall. I messed my knee up nicely, but they helped me up and I kept going.

At the next aid station around mile 19, I knew it was going to be important for me to stay on top of eating. Ian told me that whatever looked good at the aid stations should be put into my mouth. The Clif chomp gummies were it at that point, so I grabbed a handful and carried on. 

The next section of the course till mile 25 were a bit rough. I’m not going to harp on this, just mention it. This section was the out and back part, which I did not know was coming. We were running on the side of a steep mountain and I was really focusing on not falling off the side. I did not see the runner coming toward me until he was pretty close and although I tried to get out of the way, it was not fast enough for him. He pushed me off the trail and almost down the side of the cliff. No, he did not stop. I am lucky the grip on my shoes worked and I grabbed onto a root. I kept going. I refused to get upset about this. 

At the next aid station, we were almost at the halfway point, so I popped in my first piece of RunGum along with refilling my bottle with Tailwind. It gave me a bit of pop and I started back down the trail determined to let people know I was coming and not have another accident. 

The next aid station was around mile 30 and here was when I grabbed potatoes (which I thought were bananas but it was a nice surprise) and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I felt great leaving that aid station…until I made it to the stairs. Oh my God the stairs. There were so many! Climbing up and up and up for what felt like forever and not being able to run sent me into my first dark place. I have never walked that much in a race, but I remembered what Ian said about doing what the other fast women were doing, which was fast hiking them. 

I felt like crap at this point, because I had to have a huge piece of humble pie and just slowly plod along. Once we got to the top, it wasn’t even downhill yet, still more gradual uphill. This meant it was runable, but still a pain in the butt. Finally I reached a downhill, but it was so steep it hurt more to go down. This part taught me a lot!

I made it to the next aid station and was told that the next one was only 3 miles away. Only three miles!!! I essentially sprinted to the next one, which in hindsight was foolish because it was only mile 40 and there was another steep climb. This was the part of the race where I went into the dark part of myself. I hurt, I was going slow, no food sounded good, I was worried about my knee and all I could see was uphills. There was seriously no peak. I cried a lot.

I thought about my sister and the note she wrote me before the race. It was the only thing I had to pull me out of this. I remembered that she was cheering for me and regardless of how I did or if I finished, I had the courage to start. I thought about my running group of girls who are always there for me. I put one foot in front of the other, allowed myself to cry and made it up that mother fucking hill. 

At the top, I was so relieved until I saw the bone crunching downhill on the other side. Going down that was one of those “be careful what you wish for” moments, because they hurt my knee a lot more than uphills. At the bottom of the hill was an aid station and there were only like 7 miles lift. I could walk 7 miles if I had to, I was finishing.

After than aid station there was one more climb that most people walked, but I just wanted to get done, so I jogged as best as I could. I hit the 46.5 mile aid station and told myself that only a 5K separated me from talking to my sister. Seriously Laurel if you’re reading this, I repeated “just keep swimming” for 3 miles while thinking about the stories I was going to tell you.

Finally, I heard someone say “just around the corner.” I saw the finish and the tears started again.


7:59:57. Sub 8 hours by 3 seconds.

Post-Race


At the finish I was crying and just repeating “I’m ok, where’s Laura?”

Of course, no one knew who she was and my knee looked really bad so they thought I was injured. Someone put a medal on my neck and tried to give me a water bottle, which I promptly knocked out of their hand. 

I found Laura at the bag tent and kept crying for no reason. I mean, when in doubt, cry and my white female privilege will probably get me something. Laura walked me over to the med tent where they attempted to pick out the gravel and green shit from my knee before just covering it and asking if I had recently got a tetanus shot. 


After I was bandaged, we grabbed some Clifbar and I tried to call my sister but there was no service. 

I put that on hold, cleaned myself up and tried to find famous runners. 

Sage Cannaday, Sandi Nypaver and I
Priorities people.

Casually chatting with Stephanie Howe
Zach Miller won the men’s race.

Ida Nilsson won the women’s race.

Laura Kline finished 11th female.

I finished 15th female.


What a day. 

Thank you to everyone who cheered and to the North Face for a great race.

Thanks for reading!

The Way To San Francisco 

When this post goes live, I will be running around the San Francisco area of California for The North Face 50 mile championships. As I write this on Wednesday, I am experiencing some emotions, but mostly I am in that anxious taper period where I don’t want to move because I will not allow injury to happen.

A bit of backtracking is necessary to understand how I got from my first marathon last May to my first 50 mile race today.

After a less than ideal summer of training, I was ready to finish my season with the Watergap 50k on October 4th. I was content and ready to enjoy the race with friends. I did this and had a great time. I felt like my body was finally responding to my training, I was sleeping well and had no complaints.

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Well, that race was so much fun, I decided if I recovered well I would attempt a second 50k on November 5th again with no expectations other than go out and have fun. What attracts me to trail running is that aspect. The community, the atmosphere and the relaxed pace of each race. I had a great time again and would have been overjoyed to finish my racing season with that.

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The night of that race, I was given the opportunity by Red Newt Racing founder and owner, Ian Golden, whose team I race for, to go to the North Face Endurance Challenge in San Francisco. In addition to be what I would call my running mentor, he also has a good sense of what races I would do well at and enjoy. Also, being a race director himself, he was able to get me into the race that next day.

I do not say that lightly. He pulled some major strings for me and his continual support is both getting me to the race and getting me there injury free. My two 50k times also qualified me for entry to the race. I cannot thank him enough for everything he has done and that he believes in me. It is amazing how much easier running feels when you have a support system.

My sister is another huge support. When she found out she was more excited than me and so encouraging, I have avoided a lot of nerves simply because she assumes I will be fine and let me know I can do anything I put my mind to. She has written me index cards of encouragement and a note, which I will keep in my pack during the race for when times get tough. I’ve never really told her this, but I think of her at every finish line. She’s always there with me.

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I have not really told too many people about this race and that was on purpose. Simply put, I don’t want any focus on me because this is a learning experience. I want the other women, like my teammate Laura Kline, to get more support because they deserve it more than I do. Sure, I’m going to get out there and give it my best, but this race is just for me. I’m being selfish. I shared it with people close to me who I want to experience it with me, but largely this race is for me. I don’t want to do it just to post about it on social media. My blog here is different, mostly helping me process the race and also helping me relax before the race and save energy. So if you, my readers, feel like I’ve been hiding something or want more information, please understand what I’m thinking and let this post serve as a reprieve of some sort.

Thank you to my Red Newt Racing team and my Strong Hearts Vegan Power family for all their love and support. Thank you to Ian, who is the best thing to happen to my running since I realized I was a size 10 (almost 10.5) shoe instead of a 9.

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Thank you to my running girls, Lesley, Melissa, Natalie, Courtney, Chantal and Katie, who make Wednesdays the best day of the week, and who I will miss the most when I move.

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Thank you to my CTB family for being understanding about my training and providing my body with a steady stream of decaf coffee.

Lastly, thank you to Laurel, my sister, my girl, my favorite. I love you.

Time to go CRUSH IT!

Dear Laura,

Dearest Laura,

Tomorrow, you are running the North Face Endurance Challenge 50 mile championships with me, and to be honest, I could not be more excited for you. 


I remember when I first met you at Ragnar ADK and thinking about how lucky I was to be able to watch you run. Your legs move so fast, you look both steady and controlled, but also I can tell you are loving every second. I wanted to be like you.

Watching you the past two years has been really fun. You continue to amaze me with your incredible speed and endurance, both in running and with eating (12 donuts over 30 miles! You are my hero!). It’s refreshing to see a fellow vegan athlete crushing it, I’m glad you’re here with me.

Thank you for helping me navigate this travel experience, I would be lost somewhere in the airport if it weren’t for you.

Thank you for always answering my questions, no matter how silly they are.

Thank you for being a female vegan role model, whom I can look to when I have no idea what I am doing.

You have kept me sane, kept me off the ledge and encouraged me to follow my dreams. 

Thank you.

Right now, I want to give some help back to you. I want to remind you that you have what it takes to win this race. I want you to remember all your training, all the hard workouts and races, all the times you hurt, because those things will carry you through this race. I want you to remember that when you hit a low point tomorrow, I’m out there too and I’m with you. You have all my love, energy and support at your disposal and I will gladly give that to you at any point. I want this for you.

Now stop reading, go eat something and let’s CRUSH it tomorrow!

TO THE FRONT!

Love,

Ellie