>This past weekend I was running the North Face Endurance Challenge 50 mile. Going into it, I knew it was supposed to be hard. Only 19/85 people finished last year. However, encouraged by my own arrogance and the line on the website that said “changes have been made to the course to make it a little faster” I figured I would be fine. I anticipated it to be rocky, and I expected it to take a little longer than my other 50 milers. Fine, no problem – it’s all good training.
I took the train to NYC Friday afternoon and met Brad at the North Face Store where we got our packets and headed up to the Econo Lodge at Bear Mountain, NY. I tried to no avail to convince him to take me to the Wild Animal Petting Zoo the next day instead of racing, but the race it was going to be. So at 3:22 am the alarms rang and as I laid in bed I heard a sound I never want to hear the morning of a trail race: pouring rain. Great. There’s nothing like wet shoes before you’ve even begun the run. With an early start of 5am, we were in for about an hour and a half of darkness. Starting a trail run in the dark is somewhat of a double edged sword. One, you can’t see the mountains you’re attempting to run up. Therefore, you end up running a heck of a lot more than you normally would and not being able to see it makes it feel easier….but that can take its toll on your legs as well. Finding that balance early is key. I felt good at the start, but was a little concerned about the terrain – it was ROCKY. And steep. And did I mention rocky? Prior to this, the hardest race terrain-wise I’ve ever done was the Jay Mountain Marathon. Now that pales in comparison to what I was facing here. At one point I was on my stomach sliding feet first down an almost-vertical rock face. WTF. And, if you know me at all, you probably realize that I’m as clumsy as they come when I run. And the only thing I’m worse running on than rocks, is wet rocks. I was in for quite a day.
The rocks were relentless. You were forced to do a high knees dance slash run, keeping your steps small and wasting a lot of energy in the process. When you finally had a chance to stretch out and get in some strides, it was short lived and a couple inches of mud. And the rain was still coming down. In every race, I will inevitably hit a low point in which I wonder if I should even continue. Usually this point is between 30-35 miles. Saturday, I hit that point at mile 12. Uh oh. At mile 16, I came across a guy about my age, just laying across the trail with his hands over his head. I asked him if he was okay, offered him a GU or salt tab, he dejectedly said no, he was fine, someone was coming back for him. Doubtful, I thought. But whatever, I had a ways to go. (Note: after conferring with Brad I learned that he, too, had come across this guy at the same point where I saw him. When Brad checked to make sure he was okay, the dude started swearing and saying this race was the stupidest thing ever. A direct quote was “I just ran a 2:41 at Boston, and it’s been 4.5 hours and I’m not even at 20 miles yet!” HA!) I reached the 20 mile point at 4 hours and 57 minutes. Hold crap. Usually I’m about 26 miles into a race at 4.5 hours. Then I found out I was only about 25 minutes ahead of the cutoff time for the aid station. The feeling of doom was unshakable at this point, but it was almost comical to me still – I’m in danger of being pulled from a course? F-you guys, I win these things, you can’t pull me! Little did I know…
I knew I at least had to get to the next aide station at mile 27 where I was hoping Jen and June would be, and I could make the call about the rest of the race at that point. I ran my little heart out for those 7 miles, and realized I only picked up about 12 more minutes, making me about 35 minutes in front of the cutoff. Again, I couldn’t shake the negative mindset I had. The somewhat funny thing was looking back is that I was actually doing well – I felt fine nutritionally, my legs definitely had another 23 miles in them (if I could run the trails) and I was probably in the middle of the pack of runners who were still in the race. To anyone else, I was doing well.
Approaching mile 27 I was getting attacked by bugs, fell 2 more times (making it a total of 6 falls in 27 miles) and decided to stop when I got to the aid station. This just wasn’t my day. I had signed up for the race intending for a challenging – but runnable – 50 miles. I was afraid that if I continued, the fatigue would only get worse and I would really hurt myself on one of the falls. Falling on trails can ruin a year, and I’m simply too close to Western States to let that happen. Images of Amy Agnolutto’s knee after she fell running Boyer’s Furnace this spring were popping into my head (can be seen here and here….and in fair warning, they are really gross so be prepared). I had stopped having fun long ago, and had to cut my losses. Of course, the other half of me was saying “no, keep going…you need to learn to go on even when you’re not comfortable, you won’t just be able to quit at WS after 27 miles.” However, this course was not WS. WS is difficult, but not retarded like this course was. The neat thing about ultras is you can’t fake your way to the end. There was not a chance I could just walk/jog it in to the end, like I have made myself do in road marathons where I wasn’t having a good day. You have to respect the distance, and the trails…and as this day proved, they do their part in keeping me humble.
So that was that. 6 hours and 27 minutes after the start, I turned in my number and chip and got into June’s car with Jen to head to mile 40 to support Brad. He held strong the rest of the day, and finished in about 10.5 hours. His 50 mile time is usually about 7:15 to give you a sense of how hard the day was. It looks like there was about a 50% finish rate overall for the day. Sunday I woke up with some chafing, and a few bumps and bruises (including my pride), but I was in one piece. I went for a run and got right back into my training schedule. I am looking forward to a little bit of a shorter race at Columbia this weekend, where I will hopefully regain my competitive edge and get hungry for the actually competition of a race again. I’m not sure if it’s just been the past 10 days of rain, but my overall mood has been pretty apathetic and I’ve lost some intensity. With about 3.5 solid weeks to prepare left, I need to turn that around as fast as I can.
And finally, a big thanks to Jen and June for coming out and being there for support! You guys were great!