Monday, September 20, 2010

The North Face Endurance Challenge - Race Report

I'll apologize right off the bat, because we took no pictures, so I don't have any good eye candy for this report. The weather was crap - pouring rain and lightning right up until the race started - so the pics just didn't happen. So, sorry about that.

(I did, however, find this yummy looking shot of a Five Guys burger and fries online, and figured I'd throw that up here because that's what Cath and I had to eat the night before the race. It was pretty good - I'd definitely recommend it).

Anywho, as for the race itself, we got up to Middle-of-Nowhere, Wisconsin, otherwise known as Eagle, WI, around 2:00 p.m. on Friday, checked into our Holiday Inn Express and moped around the surrounding strip mall for a bit before chilling in the room until our burger dinner. The weather on Friday was extraordinary - very fall-like temps, clear skies, perfect for running. Unfortunately, the race was on Saturday. Thunderstorms started rolling through
in the early morning hours dumping all kinds of rain, and I was seriously wondering if the organizers would let the race proceed in these conditions. It was looking ugly out there. Regardless, we gathered our stuff and made our way to the park where the start/finish area was assembled, and, luckily, the storms seemed to be making their way east and the rain eased up. By 7:00 a.m., all systems were go, and all 142 of us made our way to the start line. The Ultramarathon Man, himself, Dean Karnazes, was there to give a little pep talk, and we were off.

As mentioned previously, Cath and I had decided to run the race together, and employ a run/walk split in order to conserve energy. I can't remember exactly why we chose to run 9 minutes and walk one, as opposed to, say, a 8-2 or 7-3, but that's what we went with and it worked pretty well. I was actually surprised that nobody else seemed to be doing a run/walk, as they all made their way past us on our first walk segment, but I figured our system would pay dividends in the end.

The course if divided into six sections, each approximately five miles long, seperated by aid stations. It seemed like we hit that first aid station in no time, with Cath and I running somewhere between 8:30s and 9:00s (I wasn't running with a watch, so my numbers could be totally wrong, but that's what it felt like), and feeling pretty good. I had started to get a head cold a couple days before the race, and had taken a decongestant hoping to keep my head clear, and it seemed to be doing it's thing. The weather was cooler than the day before, but humid because of all the rain. The trail, however, was a complete mess - mud, mud, and more mud. That thick, slippery mud where you think you might lose a shoe if you try to run through it. But the scenery was spectacular. Just really beautiful trails, and so, so quiet out there. I can't imagine a more scenic place to do a race. Just lovely.

We hit the second aid station and I was still feeling pretty good. The weather was holding - a few sprinkles, but nothing major - and the terrain had changed for the better. We'd find that each section of the race showcased a different type of trail running - some horse trails, some single-track, some wider cross-country ski trails, etc. It was great to get away from all the mud, but this section had a ton of steep sections, choked with loose and slippery rocks. Cath turned her ankles a number of times, and I was worried that she might be risking a sprain. Luckily, the third section of the race was through a series of relatively flat - but soggy - fields along the Ice Age Trail. They apparently use the Ice Age Trail for a number of endurance events, and I can see why - the views are just incredible and the terrain is challenging, but very doable. The only bad part of this section was that it was all single-track, which made passing - and being passed - a bit of a pain.

It was at the end of this section that I started to feel kinda crappy. My head and chest were getting congested, and I just wasn't really getting into a good running rhythm. Just laboring. We hit the fourth (of six) aid stations at mile 22, and, as I pushed another gel into my mouth, I got that feeling like I just really didn't want to run any more. I started to panic a bit because I knew we still had nine more miles to go, and I was not feeling good. We started out again, but it wasn't long before I told Cath to go on without me. She was running really strong, and I didn't want to hold her back. It was also making me kinda nauseous running directly behind someone, and I hoped that a little distance would do me some good. But, first, I figured I'd walk a spell and try to re-focus. I kept Cath in sight for about another mile or so, running for stretches and then walking a bit, but she was soon out of sight and I was pretty much by myself out there. Unfortunately, the solitude didn't make me feel all that much better.

The run/walk stretches started to get about equal, and my legs were really starting to rebel - my feet, ankles, hamstrings, and hips were all telling me to stop. The last aid station was just 3.7 miles from the finish, and I thought I'd be able to finish relatively strong - or at least run the whole way in - if I could just get to that last station. I was then run/walking with a couple of other guys, which is always a nice way to spend the time when you're not feeling great during a race, and we finally hit the final aid station. One of the guys I was with said that we had 50 minutes left in order to break six hours, and thought we could make it if we did a 4-minute run, 2-minute walk split. We started out running, but I just didn't have much left in me. Everything just hurt really badly, and I was also mentally pretty burnt - focusing on the trail all day, picking a good line, avoiding big rocks, and the head cold had left me really drained. The run/walk splits were now pretty ridiculous - seriously, like 50 yards of each, over and over again. I'd run the downhills and walk the uphills, hoping the end of the trail was just over the next hill.

We finally got back to the main road, which I knew was just a half-mile or so from the finish. I did manage to break six hours, barely (5:59.56!), but it wasn't a world-dominating performance by any means. I pretty much just slogged through those last nine miles. In fact, if Cath hadn't taken a wrong turn near the very end, and thereby run two extra miles, she would have beaten me by at least 20 minutes. She was strong from beginning to end, and I surely was not. But I'm trying to be positive about it - I wasn't feeling 100 percent, I hadn't trained (and taken it as seriously) as I should have, and I probably didn't take in enough nutrition out on the course, and still was able to run/walk it all the way in. I actually lived up to my nom-de-blog, finishing 73rd out of 142 competitors, 20th (out of 35) in my age group, and the 62nd male (out of 112).

And I can say that I've done an Ultramarathon. Dean Karnazes might not be too impressed, but I can live with that.



  1. I hope you got the same burger after!

  2. Wow! I've always wanted to tackle an ultra but my chronic injuries just won't let me. Congrats to you! And that burger pic made me so hungry.

    BTW, you were at IMWI??? I can't believe we didn't meet up once again!

  3. Great race report. Congrats to both of you!! I'd love to run a 50k and you make it sound ... interesting