The North Face Endurance Challenge 50k was awesome on so many levels. When I first decided to run this race, it was an out there idea to encourage me to embrace this long trail direction my running was taking. I didn’t know if I’d really be able to do it, or even if it was a good idea, but I registered early and added it to the race calendar. Then I started to train and things started to feel natural, but before I knew it, I was injured and back to questioning my registration. Now I can’t say it enough, how happy I am that I stuck with it and kept running.
When we arrived to Algonkian Park in VA around 6:15 Saturday morning, nerves were a little high, but the vibe felt right. With some music playing, runners stretching, and KFB + both our moms by my side, my head was in the right place and I was ready to go. As we lined up at the start, I was surprisingly calm. Dean Karnazes took the mic, syced us up a bit, and before we knew it, we were off.
Miles 0-6: The start was slow. Somewhere around 350 runners took off, and almost immediately funneled into a path the size of a car, weaving through a field. The first mile was my slowest of the first 10, which isn’t surprising considering I was forced to walk as runners lined up to jump over a log or carefully tiptoe through a ditch. But after the first mile or two things started falling into a rhythm and the jerky running started to fade. After the first few miles of light gravel road, we single filed through the next several miles of singletrack along to the Potomac Heritage Trail. I was overwhelmed with excitement throughout this first section, to the point where the only way I can describe it is that it just felt right. Miles were ticking by, my legs felt strong, and I just loved being on the trail. We hit the first aid station, where I quickly refilled my bottle, downed my first Gu, and tried to skip by a few dozen people who were filling up on the other goodies.
Miles 6-12: Things really started to get interesting in this section when the elevation changes became more drastic, and the trail became increasingly rugged. This was a great place to pass a few people who were walking the hills, and a great place to establish your own race. My head refocused into race mode, but I continued to enjoy the beautiful views from the trail. One of the things that I loved most about this race was the vibe from the other runners. When a runner went down after tripping on a rock, everyone around them stopped to help them up. And when I missed a turn, potentially going WAY out of the way, it was a group of runners yelling at me to come back that forced me to come to and turn around (I think it ended up being about .4 miles out of my way total).
Miles 12-20: As we came out of the woods and hit the smooth main trail in Great Falls, the first group of spectators began to emerge. Coming into the second aid station, I was feeling great. I was greeted by my team, with whom I took a minute to check in and say hi, but quickly topped off the bottle and kept going. After pushing through the main part of the park, we (thankfully) jumped onto the most technical trails of the day on the Ridge Trail and Difficult Run. Other than dodging a few unsuspecting hikers, this section was a lot of fun. With the raging falls on your right, the technical rock hopping offered an exciting changing up from what we had been on most of the day. This was a slow section, but I kept to my Gu every 5 mile routine, and stayed on track. We rounded back through the same aid station from mile 12 (now mile 19) to head back home. It was at this point that I began to feel nervous about what was to come. I knew my typical ‘wall’ comes around mile 21, and even though I was feeling great at 19, I had a lot of running left to go.
Miles 20-26: Right before leaving Great Falls and climbing back up the Potomac Heritage Trail, the cheer team was there with some encouragement and smiles. I took a minute to chat with them, threw back 2 Advil, and calmed the nerves a bit. I can honestly say that I left them feeling the best I have ever felt after running 20 miles. After leaving them I slowly climbed the uphill and picked back up the pace downhill, walking some, but mostly jogging my way through the next several miles. This stretch felt the longest. By this time the field was thin, the temperature was on the rise, and for the first time I was worried about running out of water. Gus 4 and 5 were much tougher going down, especially while rationing the water, and I was starting to get hungry. When I hit the major creek (about knee deep with nothing to offer a way around), I passed a guy who was just standing in the water, enjoying the fresh cool flow. I can’t blame him, it felt great. When I finally reached the second to last aid station at mile 26, I was at the beginning of my lowest point. I decided to eat half a Clif Bar, 3 orange slices, and a few potato chips before going back out. I don’t know if it was from eating too much, drinking too much, or the fact that I had just run a marathon, but I almost immediately began to feel nauseous.
26-Finish: Honestly the end is kind of a blur. When I hit my lowest point, feeling like I might get sick, I walked for about a minute. After just that short break, I fell back into a slow but consistent pace and kept moving. Other runners were few and far between, so it was really just me and my head that kept me going. I took another breather at the final aid station around mile 29, then powered through to the end. As I rounded the corner to the final field, saw KFB, my mom, and KFB’s mom ringing their cowbells and yelling my name, a huge smile and a few tears covered my tired sunkissed face.
Looking back I’m still amazed at how well I felt through most of the race. I never crashed to the point of wanting to quit (which I have during a marathon), and I wasn’t totally shot after crossing the line. I crossed the line at 5:44:25, good enough for 77th of 325 finishers (might be my first top 25% finish). The race was really well organized, well marked, and well manned. The North Face knows how to organize a race, and I was really happy to be a part of it. I certainly made some mistakes, but I learned a lot over the course of those several hours. This is definitely just the beginning of my ultra running future.
Highlights and lowlights:
Fastest Mile – Mile 13 at 8:43 pace
Slowest Mile – Mile 29 at 14:24 pace, included my slowest aid station
Mile of Note – Mile 30 at 9:21 pace, I was excited to stop running
food and gear
Food: 6 Gus, 1/2 Cliff Bar, 3 Orange Slices, 1 Handful of Chips, and lots of Water