The North Face Endurance Challenge S.F. Marathon WIN!!
So a little background is in order for the story behind this race. Lauren and I have always been active in athletics, more on the obsessive side of things. We both tend to go to the extreme in everything we do, which has served us well at times and has been a detriment at others. I have always run in some sense whether it was playing soccer or running track. I even entered in the occasional 5k with my mom at a young age. Lauren grew up running cross country and track in addition to playing basketball.
I fell off the wagon for a long time, blew out the ACL in my left knee (never repaired it) and had 1.5 inches of the medial meniscus removed from my right knee. Later on I broke my right knee cap in half (again, never repaired it). I even picked up smoking for 12 years. I wasn’t in the best running shape to say the least! So with that history, the idea of even entering in a marathon was absolutely ridiculous, let alone on a course like this one!
But I slowly cleaned my health up, started exercising and quit smoking. When Lauren and I started dating almost 4 years ago, we started running together. It felt good to get moving again and we have had fun exploring the endless amounts of trails out here in Marin ever since. The biggest change was when we decided to move to a completely whole foods, plant based diet. We both were up for the change and curious to see what benefits, if any, we might find. Let’s just say that now we wouldn’t have it any other way!
We have continued climbing, surfing, biking and running and after 2 years of being plant based our health has never been better. We have both noticed major changes in both our endurance and strength in our various activities, but more importantly in our recovery. Then one day Lauren was talking about this crazy endurance race right here in our backyard, the Marin Headlands. I checked it out online and thought this was the most painful course someone could conceive! So why not give it a shot? There were still a few slots open and we would have only 3 months to get race ready. This course follows the coastal trails in the Marin Headlands north of San Francisco and has over 5,000 feet of elevation gain. Not an easy course.
At this point, our runs were on average 4-6 miles long with the occasional 8-9 mile run. So we had to ramp up our training fast. We were also running in Vibram Five Fingers which met some serious limitations around the 10-12 mile mark with lots of elevation change. So we had to quickly find a pair of minimalist shoes and let our feet adjust to the new support. Of course this brought about some inflammation issues wearing new shoes on top of ramping up the mileage as fast as we did. Lauren had to take an entire month off of running because her tendinitis was so severe. And just as she was healing up, Lauren took the dogs for a run and our big puppy tripped her and severely injured her knee. I was doing fine until, while working on a side project at the house I stepped on a large nail that went completely through my foot, almost pushing out through the top. I had my tetanus shots up to date, but I ended up getting a blood infection otherwise known as sepsis. This put me out on the couch for a week and almost hospitalized me 6 weeks before the race. I can definitely appreciate the effectiveness of antibiotics!
Training wasn’t going so well for us at this point! Lauren didn’t even think she was going to be able to run at all with the new knee injury. We only had a couple weeks to get a few long runs in before it was time to taper down for the race and let everything just heal up. The weather up to this point had been absolutely beautiful. This too would change just days before the race. One of the worst rain storms the Bay Area had seen in years hit race weekend. The trails became a mud pit and there was flooding everywhere coupled with strong coastal winds.
Did I mention this was my first marathon and Lauren’s second? My only real running race since high school for that matter. Not what we had in mind! Race day came and we caught the bus to the event which, ironically enough, broke down. The driver managed to coast it down the hill a bit and we had a half mile walk through the rain and mud to get to the check in.
We stood in the rain for almost an hour waiting for the start. No way to warm up or stretch, or even stay dry or warm for that matter. At this point, we just wanted to get this over with! Over 5,000 feet of hill climbing over 26 miles through rain, mud, and wind was not sounding like fun.
Race time finally came and we were glad to be on our way to warming up. We said our “good lucks” to each other and off we went. The only advice I received for running my first marathon was to not start out too fast and to pace myself. Well, I ended up right out front and after about 8 miles there was no one in sight. I felt like I was running the pace I had trained at. So I looked down at my new Garmin watch to verify this and it was saying I was running a 4 minute mile pace! No way! I thought the satellite reception was bad from the weather and sending bunk information. So much for that helping me out! (I later learned, after the race that it somehow changed from statute measurements to metric, and the pace was in kilometers/hour). So all I knew at this point was that I was far in the lead, probably running too fast and was most likely going to bonk and blow the whole race.
My pace ended up being what I had trained for, and actually a bit slower due to the mud,wind and rain. This was something that we both completely underestimated. It was similar to running on sand. Every step needed extra balancing, extra effort. A bit more than half way through I found myself way behind the curve on water and sodium and the mini cramps from running in mud for 15 miles was starting to take its toll. My lead began to dwindle as I stopped periodically to stretch out the cramps and soon someone caught up and passed me. I did my best to run through the cramps and at least keep him in sight.
The next aid station I got to was like paradise! I filled up a cup with 1/4 salt and downed it with fluids, almost immediately puking on the spot. I slammed down 4 more cups of fluid and off I went to get my lead back! We had one last hill climb to conquer and I slowly inched my way back to the lead. Along the top of the ridge there was one last aid station at which I stopped for more salt. I turned to see a different person now run right pass me! I threw down my cup and took off after him. I quickly passed him on the downhill and never looked back.
I basically ran through cramps for the last 10 miles or so. Lauren hit the wall around the same spot I did and dealt with cramps just the same. She was a trooper and maintained her position in second for the women up until the last 2 miles, where another female edged her out. The cramps she was dealing with were too much to push any harder and hold on to second place.
With all the elements leading up to the race and the conditions on race day, I could not believe how well we did! I took first place overall and Lauren finished 10th overall and 3rd for the women! It was a great day for team Dils! The race was amazing and we learned a lot from it. What I can say is the level we were able to compete at, with minimal preparation and training, was in big part due to our diet. Eating a whole foods, plant based diet was the best way to fuel our bodies to push us through to the finish line! Our training regiment was in a big part helped out by adding supplements from Vega. The Vega products accelerated our recovery during hard training days and helped fuel us through the race and gave us that extra kick to push through the cramps and finish in style!
It is truly amazing what the human body is capable of! It has the amazing ability to mend itself and recover if given the chance and the proper nutrition. Our original intention of moving to a whole foods, plant based lifestyle was for cancer and heart disease prevention. I would have never thought that there would have been this hidden athletic advantage! Now I am not saying that everyone can experience the same results, but what I can say is that you will surprise yourself with what your body and mind are truly capable of if you just give your body the nutrition it really needs.
It was a good thing we packed our own food for after the event. Proper nourishment could not have come at a better time! The funny thing is that at events like this, you are held hostage to the typical standard western diet menu items: cheeseburgers, hot dogs, pizza, etc. Not what you would expect for a field of endurance athletes. So what you see here is the same quinoa vegetable dish I pack with me on my 4 day trips. But I also wasn’t one to pass up on the free beer, which has never tasted so good!