Wednesday, April 22, 2015

North Face Endurance Challenge Washington DC Race Report

So it was another big weekend for me running the North Face DC 50 miler at Algonkn State Park and Great Falls Park in Virginia.  A lush beautiful course in full bloom and toasty hot on this particular day.

Algonkian State Park, Great Falls Park, Sterling, Va.

Once again this adventure started with a very early wake up time of 2:15am.  I have always thought of 2am as more night than morning previous to this day.  But I actually didn't feel too tired when I got up, adrenaline and coffee probably had something to do with that.  I started the day with my usual pre-race fare: a bagel, a banana and a cup of coffee.

Even though the race was in Virginia a bunch of my Trail Whippass teammates were there which was really fun.  We hung out at the race start at 4am, drinking coffee next to bonfire's and catching up on life.  The gun went off at 5am sharp and the race was on.  There were about 240 runners, and at the start we were all running together at a decent pace bombing through the wooded trails in the dark, with nothing but our headlamps to light the way.  We actually ran in the dark for more than an hour which I am not used to, I guess it was because it is still early in the year.

I started out running a comfortable 9:30 pace, chatting with a guy I met at the Naked Bavarian 40 miler a couple weeks ago and one of his friends from Philly.   We stuck together for about 7 miles until I had to take an extended pit stop, I would not catch up to them again that day.  I kept a steady pace feeling strong on the uphills and the downhills all morning long, running through the mostly flat Algonquin State Park  section about 15 miles very comfortably with plenty of fuel in the tank.

In Great Falls Park we ran a very convoluted 7 mile loop three times, this is where most of the hills and rocks were.  I felt strong the whole time, but definitely did my fair share of walking on the uphills to make sure I had enough in my legs to get through the day.

After running my first loop in Great Falls I noticed the 50K runners had joined us on the trails, which was actually a refreshing change of pace.  I got to see Sally and talk to Elaine about the Vermont 100 and how I should train for it and what it's like to run through the night.  I probably wore her out grilling her with my questions.  It was actually a perfect distraction though and the miles just rolled on almost without me noticing.

One of the best aid station accommodations I saw all day was three buckets full of ice water and sponges.  Bless your hearts DC Striders for coming up with this one, I hit this one up on my first loop and couldn't wait to get to it again on my second and third loops as the temperature rose into the 80's, I think it got up to 85 degrees that day.

North Face Endurance Challenge DC

After three challenging loops in Great Falls Park it was time to hit the dusty trail home for the last 14 or so miles back to the finish line.  My A goal for the day was to break 10 hours (I ran a 10:05 at the Tussey Mountainback 50 miler in October ) thinking this course was supposed to be easier, the truth is it's really hard to compare one race to another, with elevation, temperature, trail conditions, there are just too many variables to consider.  But anyway I headed out of Great Falls after about 7 hours and 30 minutes thinking maybe it was possible and even if it wasn't trying would get me to run it fast.

I hit the final stretch feeling strong running, not fast, but strong and passing many people who seemed to be wilting in the heat.  After passing each person I felt stronger and stronger and more confident in what I was doing.  Though I couldn't seem to shake the negative chatter in my head telling me I couldn't keep this pace up, that I was never going to finish, that I should just give up and walk.  It was very clear that the challenge was coming from my head more than the course.  But the first 6 miles I ran strong thinking I had only a couple miles left to go.  GPS watches are never reliable and I know this, but I was super discouraged when an aid station volunteer told me I had "only" 6.5 miles left to go when I thought I had maybe 4 at the most.

I would like to tell you I didn't let this bother me and I kept running, but that's not quite what happened.  Basically I ate some oranges (never a good idea, when will I learn!) my stomach started bothering me and then I said to myself "I'm not going to make it in less than 10 hours so I should just walk."  So I walked a bit, got passed by a few people, moaned, groaned, ran some more and walked some more.  Then realized that when I walked I felt really tired and discouraged and even though I was tired I felt better when I ran and so I'm better off running.

North Face Endurance Challenge DC
Bringing it home

So I ran in the last 3 miles of the race and seemed to feel stronger and stronger the closer I got to the finish line.  I gotta say it felt really good to finish my third 50 mile race feeling strong, if tired, and having weathered the mental highs and lows that the day brought.  My official time was 10:49:20, good for 8th place in my new age group, the 40-44 crowd.

It was a big confidence builder.  As I think about running twice this much in July at the Vermont 100 I know it's going to be hard but I feel more confident that I can do it.

North Face Endurance Challenge 50 miler

After the race I hung out at the post race party talking to friends, people I ran with all day, and I even got to see Dean Karnazes again, and he actually remembered meeting me though he wasn't sure where.  One of the best things about ultramarathon races is the comradory, and I got a big dose of that after the race talking to guys I battle with all day and congratulating them for a job well done.  It was also a special race because this the area I grew up in, and I got to share the experience with my parents, my biggest fans.

Me and Pops after the race
Me and Pops after the race 
One of the guys I ran with all day.

Dean Karnazes, North Face Endurance Challenge DC
Hanging with Ultramarathon Man himself Dean Karnazes

Sally and I hanging with Dean Karnazes

Me and Dean Karnazes

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