Thursday, June 6, 2013
- The race started at 5AM in the dark and a runner was hit by a deer within the first half mile.
- It was wicked hot and humid. I'll never look at ice the same way.
- I managed to finish in 10:56 averaging a pace of 13:08 over 50 miles.
For a long time, I have considered writing a post about biting off more than I can chew and not recognizing my limits. Then I realized the previous statement is a load of crap and the only limit is the one you set yourself, thanks Felix! And yes, we're on a first name basis. I have always had a great deal of confidence in my ability to push said arbitrary limits with the exception of running. I suppose you could say that I err on the side of caution when it comes to knowing where my limit is and going right to the edge but not crossing it. I believe completing The North Face Endurance Challenge 50 miler this past weekend was me taking that leap of faith (in myself) and crossing that line.
The leap from 50k to 50 miles is big, especially when compared to making the less significant step from the marathon (26.2 miles) to 50k (31.1 miles), or said another way you're adding nearly four times the difference 4.9 vs. 19.9 miles. That being said, I think that Promise Land 50k++ (34 miles) helped me prepare for the leap which in hindsight doesn't seem as significant...but hindsight is always 20/20.
The North Face Endurance Challenge was by FAR the most expensive race I have ever participated in but not because of an outrageous entry fee. No, I can blame this on no one other than myself. Similar to last year, when I initially registered for the North Face Endurance Challenge this spring, I again registered for the 50 miler ($116.50) but quickly let the stress of such a large undertaking, in combination with a challenging spring course load get to me and dropped down from the 50 miler to the 50k, incurring a charge of $11.50 to change registrations. After completing Promise Land in late April (which is a challenging 50k with nearly 8000' of elevation gain), I felt more comfortable in my ability to endure 50 miles and decided to re-up my registration. However, the cost was now growing unreasonable and I was hesitant to spend the additional $28 to change my registration but I eventually caved. All told, I spent $156.25 on the a race ($116.50+$11.50+$28.25) which should have only cost $116 but I suppose that is better than registering and not being able to run it, or even worse not finishing it!
I was extremely pleased with my training leading up to the race. Not because I felt that I had adequate mileage or was "well prepared" but instead because the journey was rewarding in that each week was uncharted waters. The excitement of hitting new weekly high mileage and completing long runs faster and further than in previous training was motivating and helped me stay focused through the duration of training. Also, I knew that 50 miles was no joke and while you may be able to suffer through a 50k on minimal or inadequate training, 50 miles demands a certain level of respect which I was not willing to challenge.
Now that I have somewhat set the stage for the race, maybe I should get to the whole race report thing. Classes started on Tuesday after the memorial day weekend with the schedule for my course being Monday through Wednesday from 4-6:50. This meant that I could head home on Thursday morning and relax for the better part of two days. I left early Thursday and completed the four hour drive home before noon, grabbing a quick lunch at home before heading out the door again to meet my mom to head down to Georgetown for packet pickup. As I mentioned in last years race report and I'll say it again just in case you're listening race organizers/directors, move the packet pickup to Tysons where there is also a North Face store, more abundant/cheaper parking and the store location is closer to the race start and therefore more likely to be closer to out of town participant's hotels. Just do it! I digress.
I stopped by the start line around noon on Friday and the North Face folks were busy getting everything ready. A stark contrast to last year when everything was tied down because of the crazy storms we had in the days leading up to the race.
Per usual, laying out all of my clothes the night before to ensure I didn't forget something essential. Like to wear shorts.
A few minutes before five, the announcer called everyone in wave one to starting corral, which I was in, and introduced Dean Karnazes to a rather unimpressed crowd, at least compared the welcome he received last year at the 50k start line. Dean gave us a few words of encouragement and noted the high temperatures expected for the day and the importance of drinking lots of fluids. Less than a minute later the starting horn sounded and we were off and man-oh-man did things get exciting QUICK! The start of the race makes a lap around a couple soccer fields that serve as the parking for the 50 milers and is surrounded by trees at the perimeter and high grass on the inside. The section of the course we were running on had been mowed and was between the high grass and the trees. Less than a half mile into the race or roughly 3/4 of the way around the soccer field, I noticed a noise off to my right that didn't sound like a runner, as it was moving too fast and cutting through the high grass, and I quickly made the connection that there was deer to our right and announced to the runners in my immediate vicinity "DEER on our right!" which what the hell are you supposed to do with other than "I hope it doesn't hit me." I slowed down and watched several deer cross about 20 feet in front of me before beginning to trot again thinking the coast was clear. However, I quickly realized it was not as I heard the same rustling through the grass and announced "DEER" just as I saw the deer jump out from the grass and take out a runner directly in front of me. For a runner, I guess your biggest concern is your legs and unfortunately the deer hit him directly in his right knee causing them both to fall to the ground but in hindsight I think this was the best possible scenario as if the impact was higher there would have been concern for a head injury. A few other runners helped him to his feet, all of us asking whether he was okay. He was obviously very startled but assured us he was okay and that he wanted to continue. It was much the like the long grass velociraptor scene from Jurassic Park 2...except with deer.
The rest of the morning was rather uneventful, thankfully, and involved a lot of high grass singletrack before opening up to forest/fire road and entering Great Falls Park. The race required head lamps for the first couple hours but by 5:45 it was light enough that they weren't really necessary and I eventually decided to stow mine in my Nathan hydration vest around 6:30. I started the race with 64 oz. of lemon lime Nuun in my vest and finished the majority of it by the second aid station, mile ~8, and filled up with the Clif Shot mix they had as I knew putting away fluids was essential to finishing the day.
I have to give a HUGE shout-out to my parents. I'm not sure I would have finished the day without them there. They did everything I asked and I wasn't always the most pleasant, thanks again!
Unfortunately, most of the last 10 miles were more walking than jogging. The last four miles are brutal because you have to do an out and back around a lake (think lollipop) which meant you were heading away from where you knew you needed to be and it was pretty empty for most of the way. The good thing is that you pass the last aid station as you head out to start the lollipop and when you come back, although I only stopped as I headed out, they had ice which was AMAZING. You'd think I had never seen ice. I thought the 11 hour mark was out of reach upon starting out for the lollipop but realized upon returning when one of the aid station workers told me that the finish was 1.9 miles that it was possible if I picked up the pace. I started by making really small goals, first by jogging a couple hundred feet between tape markings. I then began looking off in the distance for anything to mark a good place to stop jogging - orange cones, spectators, and fences were all used. As I made the final turn onto the paved path that cut across the golf course I knew I was going to make it in under 11 hours and continued the walk/jog to ensure my legs didn't lock up a few hundred meters from the finish arch. I made one last goal ahead, a turn in the pavement, and told myself I would jog all the way to the finish. I was on pure adrenaline by this point and managed to pick up the pace to sub 10s which I hadn't seen since early on in the race. The announcer said my name as I went across the finish and I caught of glimpse of my parents as I collected my medal and tried to compose myself. I've said in past race reports, particularly after marathons, that the first five minutes after crossing the finish line are the worst because your legs are usually just in agony but my legs didn't really bother me very much. However, my stomach was a different story and let me know that it was terribly angry with me. I collected my shirt and took a couple finish photos before heading over to the ice bath to rest my legs in.