North Face Endurance Challenge 50k

As is usual in the days leading up to a big race, I was sure I was coming down with a cold last week. I didn’t actually feel sick, but just a bit “off.” I had that slightly headachy feeling, was extremely tired, and I was convinced my throat was getting sore. I have come to realize that this is my body’s reaction to the last week of taper, but it makes me very paranoid every time. So from Wednesday on, I was drinking OJ, getting lots of sleep and popping extra JuicePlus+ capsules in an effort to ward off the sick gods.

It worked, and I got a great night of sleep the night before the race. I was asleep by 10pm  on Friday, and when my alarm went off at 4:25am, I was genuinely confused. It took me a moment to remember that it was race day. Normally I toss and turn all night, afraid that I will over sleep, so this was a nice change. I got up and immediately made my coffee and had my breakfast of toast with peanut butter, honey and cinnamon. I saved my banana for later because I just wasn’t that hungry. I got dressed and threw a bunch of random running tops/jackets in my bag because I had no idea what to wear considering the weather. My friend James picked me up at 5:15, and we made the drive out to Ottawa Lake.

All the way out there it was pouring rain and lightning, and I couldn’t help but think about the poor 50 mile racers who set off in the dark stormy weather at 5am. By the time we got there it had stopped raining, but it looked like we were in store for more throughout the morning. I decided to wear a very light paper-thin running jacket over my tank top, just for some protection from the elements. Here I am pre-race, before making my final wardrobe decision:

We made our way to the starting area, and I was already regretting the jacket. It was pretty warm (probably around 60 degrees), and I knew I really wouldn’t need it. The jacket is really light though, so I figured it wouldn’t be a big deal to just tie it around my waist. I ran into some friendly faces before the start and chatted for a bit, wishing everyone luck. We all knew we were in for a crazy, sloppy, muddy, and wet race, and I was really excited! Right before the race started, Ultramarathon Man himself Dean Karnazez was on hand to give us a little pep talk and wish us luck. That was a pretty cool surprise. He is much smaller in person than he looks in photos. A lot of photos make him look really beefy, but he actually has a pretty typical marathoner’s build.

At 7am sharp, we were off. The course started out with a little bit less than a mile on the roads leading out of the park before we hit the trails. Once on the trail, there was an almost immediate long uphill. I just took it easy, knowing I had a long way to go. My first few miles were in the low-mid 9 minute range, which was perfect. My stomach was feeling a little bit unsettled, but I was hoping that would just go away. In the first few miles I got passed a lot. I tried not to worry about it and just focused on running easy. By mile 8, I was pretty much alone. The occasional person would pass me, or I would pass someone here and there, but for the most part I was alone with no one else in sight. I was glad that the course was marked very well with ribbons and signs, because I have a fear of getting lost on a trail run.

The terrain was varied, but a lot of it was not surprisingly mud. I am talking deep thick mud that tried to pull my shoes off several times. It was very slippery, sometimes I would plant a foot and it would slip any which way. It made for slightly slower travels than I would have liked. There were some sections where it would be pretty flat for a few miles, and then I would come to a section that was very hilly and reminded me of running at Lapham Peak. For the most part, I chose to walk up the really big hills in order to save energy. Later in the race, there were some very sandy sections, which was also a challenge.

My stomach continued to feel really unsettled through mile 15, and I started to worry that I would be able to take in enough calories. I started the race with my handheld bottle full of Heed, but that’s only around 150 calories. I knew I needed to start taking in some nutrition. There was an aid station around mile 16, and I decided to take a mint chocolate Gu as well as 1/4 of a banana. I refilled my bottle with water only, because I have never tried whatever sports drink they were serving. The aid stations were every 5-6 miles, and they were very well-stocked with food, liquids, and great volunteers. After I took in the calories, my stomach felt really bad for a few minutes and I was worried. But then out of nowhere I started to feel better. The next few miles I would just get twinges of pain, but it finally disappeared once and for all.

Coming into that aid station, it had started to rain again, and as I was leaving the skies broke loose. One of the volunteers told me I looked great and to try to “stay dry.” I looked at him and we both started laughing at the absurdity of his statement. It was seriously pouring. There were loud cracks of thunder that made the whole thing feel pretty epic. I chatted with a guy on the trail for a bit, and then I wiped out. I planted in the mud and just went down before I knew what was happening. Luckily I wasn’t hurt, and was able to pop right back up and keep going.

The next few miles were pretty tough. My legs were really starting to get tired, and I knew there was a long way to go. Around mile 20, the trail got very hilly with lots of ups and downs, and I went to a bit of a dark place mentally. Not only had I not run as far as a marathon yet, but once I did, I still had 5 miles to go. I just kept telling myself to keep moving forward, and it would be over before I knew it. The next aid station was just before mile 22, and I had a Hammer Gel and another 1/2 of a banana. I saw some pb&j sandwiches at the last minute, but decided not to eat one. There was a sign telling us it was 5.3 miles to the next aid station. I knew that was going to seem like a really long ways, but I made it my goal to get there and have some pb&j. Gotta have some motivation, right?

I set out again, and here’s where things got sort of fun in a way. I started to see some of the guys that had passed me earlier in the race, and I started to pick them off one by one. My legs were really hurting, but it felt great to start passing people. Each time I passed someone, I told them nice job, and they told me I was looking great and running smart. My only focus now was on that last aid station. After what seemed like forever, I finally got there. I had a mocha Clif shot and refilled my water bottle. There was a sign that said 3.8 miles to go, and I was so happy. I didn’t even bother with the pb&j, I just wanted to finish!

Once there were 3 miles to go, I felt like I had a second wind and the pain in my legs was gone. They were beyond tired, sure, but I really felt like I could pick it up to the finish. With about 2.5 miles to go, I passed a woman who I had my eyes on early in the race. I knew that I was close to the road back into the park when I hit the long downhill that we had climbed in the beginning. Running down that hill was killer, my quads were screaming at me, but I was making good time. Once I hit the road I kicked it into high gear and somehow ran the last mile in 8:12. I crossed the finish line in 5:08:49 with a huge smile on my face, so happy to be done. I got my finishers medal and water bottle, and then I heard my friend Joel calling my name.

Joel had finished the race in a smokin’ 4:02, and he was parked in his lawn chair near the finish line. I talked to him for a bit, and he told me he thought I was the 3rd or 4th female finisher. I couldn’t believe it. I went to get some food and met up with James. This race probably had the best post-race food I have ever had. I ate a roll with peanut butter, some veggie soup, an amazing salad with cranberries, feta cheese, and walnuts, and 2 of the most delicious cookies ever. They were oatmeal craisin chocolate chip, and I probably could have easily scarfed down 3 more.

Around 1pm they posted some of the results, and James went to look at them. He came back and told me I was 3rd overall female and 1st in the F21-29 age group! I still couldn’t believe it, but I was so happy. For my 3rd place finish, I won an awesome North Face running jacket and a bronze medal.

My lower body was completely caked in mud.

Here are my official results:

Finishing time: 5:08:49

Average pace: 9:54/mile

31/142 overall

3/30 females

1/6 age group (F21-29)

All in all it was a great day. Even though I still have mud in my toenails, I am already looking forward to more ultrarunning and trail running in the near future. Official race photos should be ready in a day or two, so hopefully there will be some good pictures from out on the trail. Happy running!

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5 Comments

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5 responses to “North Face Endurance Challenge 50k

  1. WOMAN! You are a machine!! CONGRATS. What an amazing experience. I was mindblown by all of you guys coming across that finish line caked in mud. Everyone seemed so happy. I would’ve collapsed! I didn’t realize you were running it, so it was a happy, little surprise to see you coming in while I was heading out on my (meager) 6 miles for the relay! I am still getting over a wicked cold, so my race was awful. I am in awe of you trail runners. I’m just not cut out for it. 🙂 Congrats, again. You are awesome.

  2. seriously you are the biggest badass i ‘know’.

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