First off, I have to start by saying how grateful and humbled I am by my community and support network! The overwhelming amount of well wishes I received before heading down to San Francisco and the number of messages I received as soon as there was even question that something was wrong was very humbling.
This past weekend in SF, I was reminded that no matter how much prep and planning we do in life, sometimes things happen beyond our control, and that is life. It doesn’t make the experience of blowing my ankle on my goal race and taking my first DNF any less painful, physically or emotionally. But at the end of the day, I am healthy, happy, and have had thee most unexpected and incredible race season, so I truly cannot complain. Nothing is broken, the universe was simply trying to force me to take the break it knew I wouldn’t...
So Sanfran… the weekend I didn’t expect
TheNorthFace50 Championship.. my final race of my 2017 season.. my first 50 miler. The day before the race, I ironically posted about looking forward to seeing what happens when you run more than 55k… I blew my ankle at kilometer 50 and hobbled 7 km’s past, with a body (other then my ankle) that was still ready to go… so I have yet to answer or know what truly happens after 55k…but, my day will come.
Anyhow, TNF50- I have to say this was one of the most beautiful and challenging races I’ve experienced yet in my life, next to Coast Mountain Trail Series WAM55k and I cannot wait to go back next year to finish it! The day started off absolutely cold at the race start just outside of Sausalito SF. The North Face Race Start was set up very well with heat lamps to keep all us ultra runners and our crew warm. At 455am, we all corralled into the race start area for the 5am start. A few quick announcements were made and promptly at 5am, we headed off, essentially right into our first climb, an early indication of what was in store for the day...
Lead by headlamps in the dark, in a pretty big cluster of runners, we continued to climb until we hit the first aid station 4.5 miles in. From the aid station we entered a looped section of the course. We continued to climb a little longer, then hit a nice big dirt road downhill and flat section, before climbing again back to the first aid station. Runners spread out at this point of the race, but you could still look around and see headlamps sparkling in the dark, it was enchanting.
After the loops, we headed into our third climb, the biggest one yet. This was my FAVOURITE solo part of the race. We climbed relentlessly on open crushed gravel road, with ever changing 360 views of valley, glances of the golden gate, views of the ocean and the city, all with the back drop of the most breathtaking sunrise I have yet enjoyed while racing… It was absolutely unexplainable and almost brings me to tears thinking of it... there is nothing that will ever take this memory from me.
From here, we took the most flowy downhill into our first crewed aid station, Tennessee Valley. This aid station was nice and quick. My crew had me in and out in under a minute, and I left feeling like a Nascar that had just gone in and out of the pit. After Tennessee, we took on our fourth of nine climbs of the race. This section had the most intense, steep crushed gravel road downhill, which I later found out I missed re-climbing at mile 38.8 to head back to Tennessee Valley for mile 41.8.
Climb 5 was probably my most favourite and hated climb of the race, climbing into Cardiac aid station… the sun was up and nice and warm on our heads. The 5th climb takes on the greatest elevation of the whole race, 1500 feet to be exact… It is endless, VERY runnable switch backs where you can look up and back and see runners going on for forever. One of those long, torturous climbs where if you feel great, it is awesome, but if you are fatigued, they are mentally frustrating as you feel silly doing anything but running. At this point of the day, I was just starting to feel the first 4 climbs. I ran most of the climb in low gear, walking where needed. The end of the climb was marked by Cardiac aid station. Leaving Cardiac, we entered my second favourite part of the race, Old Mine and Pan Toll Trail.. a BEAUTIFUL, flowy, tree-covered trail, hugging the ridge of the hill. This section allows your legs a little shake out from the first 5 relentless ascents and descents of the race.
Just as you are getting comfortable with the shakeout, you start your biggest descent of the race. A 1900 foot descent to the cool ocean air of Stinson Beach, where you are greeted by your crew for the second time in the race. This was my FAVOURITE shared moment of the race. Coming into just over half way point of the race, I was feeling stoked on life and greeted my crew with the biggest smiles, happiness and sweaty hugs ever. At this point of the race, I was right on my personal goal of finishing in the top 20 of the women’s race and due to some circumstances with other runners, my B goal of top Canadian female finisher was in grasp…
It was time for some shared fun! My pacer joined me and we headed off into what would be my last climb of the race, climb 6, one of the gnarliest, steepest climbs of the race. If you are local to Vancouver, the only thing I can liken it to is a meaner version of the Lynn Grind in North Vancouver, done twice. There were some runnable sections, tons of stairs and it was all up and up till we came into a clearing at the top with amazing ocean vistas! From here, we ran along a stunning coastal ridge section until we reached Cardiac Aid Station for the second time.
From Cardiac, we descended back down into the trees and hit some fun runnable trail, hugging the lower ridge of the valley. I started to open up in this section and my pacer responded as we belted out, singing some Needtobreathe songs. As it always happens, 2 km after cardiac, while we where having fun and being carefree, I slipped left off a wet log, rolling right over my ankle.. with some lovely feelings, cracks and sounds, I knew in that moment that that was it… that my day at TNF50 was done.
I took a minute seated on the trail, bracing my foot, then got up, and gratefully was able to hold my weight on my foot.. so in my true stubborn personality, knowing the only way out at this point was forward, I said “well, let’s go” and we hobbled and jogged the next 7k of the race in a solid 1hr and 15 minutes... At 55k, I told my pacer to run ahead to the next aid station then come back, so I could get an idea of how far it would be.. At 57k, the next main road crossing, I was greeted by an awesome course marshal.. “ 46, oh, runner 46, Jeanelle Hazlett, your vehicle is here to take you out”… At this moment, the reality that I truly was done my race hit and like any strong, stubborn athlete would do, I burst into quiet tears…
This was my experience with TNF50… the most beautiful and ugly race day I’ve had yet. I can't even say how much it excited and broke my heart to have so many people (my husband, brother, trail BFF Gareth, amazing pacers Jono and Brice) come down and support me for this race and to not finish it as planned…
This weekend was a journey of 1 million emotions, as I knew it would be, but not quite the emotions I expected.. I can say in earnest, I absolutely LOVED almost everything I experienced on that lovely race day, and on that breath taking course. Nothing is going to steal the joy I experienced from the sunrise on that beautiful day, from the feeling of running my own race, and from the love and support I shared with my AMAZING crew!!
We all have to experience a DNF at some point in our lives.. grateful this all happened at the end of the season… now I have even more gusto and drive to learn from my experiences of 2017 and come back next year and see what I can do with race season 2018.
I cannot wait to go back next year and experience the other 30 km I missed out on in that beautiful Cali race. TNF50 2018, see you before we know it!