Here is a race that was still unknown in Europe a few months back, and which is now a reference in today’s world championship calendar!
Headlands, kilometers of single track, a light rain, and breathtaking landscape along the Pacific Ocean. It was 50 miles in Marin County with 3100 meters of elevation gain, and no less it required to gather this year’s most strong field of man and woman on this type of distance. If Geoff Roes and Lizzy Hawker were the favorites, there were also many outsiders, as it was the first time that so many Europeans (The Team Salomon) were moving to the U.S., which promised an exciting race.
The start was given at 5am for the 400 privileged runners who were able to get a bib. A group
a couple of dozen runners cruised the night trails together before Geoff Roes started to increase his pace and lead the group, narrowing it down to five at Bootjack aid station. On the women’s side, Lizzy Hawker arrived at the same point with nearly 5 minutes ahead of Anna Frost, widening the gap in the most runnable parts.
Anna would wade into after Stenton Beach (20 miles from the finish) on a long and difficult climb. She would catch and pass Lizzy before taking off to a strong finish 13 min ahead of the British! Geoff Roes would push it at the same spot to lead the race ahead of the prosecutors, Dave Mackey, Dakota Jones and Miguel Heras. It was not until five miles to go that things would switch on a muddy and steep uphill. Miguel, who opted to wear the S-Lab shoe with the outsole with studs of the Speedcross, would find a much better grip than his competitors, who would not be able to get the most out of themselves. Even if the course was very runnable and with a moderate elevation gain, it finally was the specific trail running shoes that made the difference and created an opportunity for Miguel.
Dave Mackey :“His traction was clearly better than mine on the slick mud.”
Geoff Roes :”I couldn’t move in the climb cause it was super muddy”
Anna and Miguel both made an achievement for beating the North American icons of ultrarunning. Here are their reactions shortly after the race:
- What did you know about the trail running scene in the US before coming to San Francisco?
Miguel Heras - I knew there is a great attitude towards trail running and that shows up on the great runners this country has. I also knew that races are faster and less technical that what I am used in Europe.
Anna Frost - I didn’t know a lot about trail running in the States. Though I had raced in Pikes Peak and the Transrockies I wasn't sure about the real meaning of this race and so I didn’t have many expectations.
- Did you know your competitors for this race?
MH – I met Geoff Roes in August in France during the UTMB, but I Dakota Jones and Dave Mackey were quite unknown to me. I just did some on-line research and found out their great performances, but that was all.
AF - I just knew Lizzy Hawker personally. I raced against her in the UK once but what she has done in the last few years is an inspiration for me and I have a lot of respect for her accomplishments. Other than she, only my teammates Devon Crosby-Helms and Caitlin Smith, but they couldn’t finally run.
- How did you feel running next to those great runners?
MH - I'm a bit new to this sport (only running for 2 years) and so I always feel like going undercover when I run next to those amazing runners. Many times I feel like a rookie but then I realize I can keep pushing it and so I do. It’s like when I started running with Kilian Jornet or Augusti Roc. I felt like I shouldn’t be running next to them but then I just stick with it and enjoy it to the max.
AF – I’m a rookie to the 50 milers distance and I didn't know too many about the competitors but I knew I would have follow them to be able to finish in a top position. So I decided to follow Lizzy and I then I passed her about 4.5 hours into the race.
- Did you expect this type of course?
MH - Yes, I talked with my teammate Kilian Jornet and I also did some research. The course was quite what I expected but I loved it, specially the single track parts. I was amazed to see a deer crossing by the trail during the race!
AF - I expected to find runnable trails, but the long climbs and down hills was quite unexpected. Anyway, it turned out to be good for my type of running and I was able to use those climbs to my advantage. The variety was amazing: single track, wide trails, running in the night, the dense wood parts and the beautiful coastal scenery you could see from the headlands was incredible.
- What can you tell about the organization?
MH - I knew it was a serious and good organization, and with so many so many loops I expected it to be complicated to run, but it wasn't. It was well marked and with many volunteers at the complicated junctions.
AF - It as very well marked course though as I was leading alone the race for many miles, I got quite anxious of taking a wrong turn as I had no runners ahead or behind me. After the 30 mile mark there were a few runners from the 50K race and marathon listening to music with their headphones and they were not aware of their surroundings, so I had to dodge them because they couldn't hear me coming. Even so, many of the runners that I passed were shouting and cheering me and those were amazing moments in the race.
- Talking about cheering, what do you think about the race spectators?
MH – There were not that many compared to, let’s say Italy or Spain, but they were all very loud and cheering all the time.
AF – In terms of numbers, quite the same as in UK, but really supportive, especially at the aid stations, which, by the way, were very well equipped. I loved that fact they knew my name (probably because it was printed on my bib number) and they would cheer "good job Anna!"
- Let’s talk about your training for the race. How did you prepare for this competition?
MH – I’ve been logging many km throughout the year, but after Cavalls del Vent I’ve was training more on fire roads for the last 20-25 days, running faster and doing some elevation training. For example, I did 2 hour runs with +600m of elevation to train on trails similar to what I would find in the race.
AF - I had a very busy season in terms of competition so after Malaysia I took a week off before preparing myself for this race. I did no specific training as I was in the UK and so I training in the fells, mostly steep and technical running, but I tried to include some more flat trails. I believe I did around 15 hours of running and 10 hours of cross training (MTB, cardio machines, weights, yoga). I also tried to put hours in it to get rid of a little bit of weight (through a low carbohydrate and high protein diet) to get leaner for a distance I had never run before.
- What do you think of San Francisco?
MH - I love the city and the history you can feel in every corner. That was my first time in SF and I loved running its hills even, on pavement.
AF - It's a really fun city. There’s a lot going on, a very vibrant city. I’ll stay five more days after the race to have the time to discover and enjoy it a little bit more.
- What was the moment that made the difference for the final results?
MH – That was around mile 40. I didn’t feel good until then, but at that point I could see the three runners ahead of me and that motivated me. Then I realized I could push it and so I passed Mackey, then Jones and then Roes around three miles to go. I was lucky the last stretch was an uphill, as I do well in this kind of trails. I was also lucky that my S-Lab with the Speedcross outsole held extremely well on that very muddy last uphill. That helped to make the difference so I could get the most out of what I had inside.
AF - The climb up from the beach around mile 25. I spotted Lizzy and I thought "it’s now or never". So I pushed uphill and felt quite good. Then, with the help of Matt Ward, my pacer, I worked really hard for the last 5miles, as I thought Lizzy was chasing me.
- How did you feel when you crossed the finish line?
MH - Very, very happy, as I went through a lot of pain during the race. It was a victory built more than on physical strength, on mental perseverance and that is when you feel really good with yourself. I’ve got to say this was the victory that I felt most happy about at the finish line.
AF – A mixture of emotions: physically exhausted but also mentally, as the race was a roller coaster of emotions and very, very sore. I was also moved by the great support I had from the Salomon crew and also for the family and friends that I knew were out there following the race on Salomon's Facebook page.
- Now that you've raced in the USA, does it make you want to run more abroad? Will you come back to the TNF EC SF?
MH - I've raced abroad a lot before when I was adventure racing, but I had an extremely great time here in SF. As long as I can, I’ll be back next year!
AF – I’ve raced all around the world this year but I love this sport because it allows me to run in new places all the time.
- What races do you have on your calendar for next year?
MH - I still have to plan next year's calendar, but I know I'll be at the Ultra Trail Fuji, the UTMB, and maybe a few of the Skyrunning Championship races, like Sentiero delle Grigne or Giir du Mont
AF - This was an extreme experience for me. I'm not sure I'll run another ultra very soon. This was also a very busy season so I decided to step back and run a bit less. There are a lot of "maybes" right now: Mont Blanc Marathon, 4 Trails, Sierre Zinal, Giir du Mont, Transrockies again and, now that I'm moving back to New Zealand, I'll do some of the classics there and Australia.
- What about the winter season?
MH – I’ll be doing mountain bike and ski mountaineering but as this year the racing season ended quite late, the winter season will be shorter.
AF - I'll be chasing the summer in New Zealand, so I'll spend a couple of months tour biking, swimming in the sea and just running with friends with not too much planning. I'll be back to race training around March or April, but nothing too serious for the beginning of the season.
- And one last question. You spend the entire week in SF with the Salomon team. How was it?
MH - I'm very happy to be with the Salomon team. They have never put pressure on me to get results and they believed in me without having had any prior remarkable results. Every time that I win, I feel I do it for the entire Salomon family, not just for me or the other racers, but the full human group.
AF - I always feel at home with the Salomon family, and this time wasn't an exception. There's a lot of interaction and support for the athletes and this was crucial for the good results. We're always learning from each other and so you never feel like racing alone but rather always sharing the experiences with the entire family.