North Face Endurance Challenge 50k Race Report

North Face Endurance Challenge 50K Race Report June 7 2014


First off, this report is about a month & a half late.  I am just not in the mind to start writing things down when I first do them.  I pledge to be better about this, especially when it comes to running.

So leading up to this race my training had really not been great.  It was only about 3 months earlier that I had DNF’d the Seneca Greenway 50k race which was the very first time in my athletic career that I had ever started something and not finished it.  Mind you back in 1991 I was about 3 miles into the Chesapeake Bay Swim and really wanted to stop.  The current was so bad that they were pulling hundreds of people out behind me so there weren’t any boats near me so I just kept on swimming.  I did learn a valuable lesson that day.  KEEP GOING.  JUST KEEP MOVING FORWARD.  I think these 2 statements are the hallmark of Ultra Running.  So I had also been struggling with some lingering injury issues.  My Achilles have really never fully recovered from giving me about 2 years of pain and aching and on my left foot that pain transferred down into full on Planar Fasciitis.  It was the reason I had to drop out of Greenway, the pain in my foot just became too much to handle and I had to stop around mile 13.  So my training was not very consistent, I had done some long Saturday runs and had coupled them with a few weeks of 3 runs per week with the total of about 15 -25 miles per week at most.

My good friend Russ was kind enough to agree to crew for me.  He could accompany me to the start line, take the bus back to his car & meet me down at Great Falls VA Park around Miles 13.1 & about Mile 18 as we did a loop around the park and hit the same aide station 2 times before heading back to the start/finish line.   The plan was if my foot was really acting up that I would pull out of the race when I first saw him.  Then if I was feeling okay I would do the loop through GF Park and when I saw him again I’d have ½ marathon to go to the finish. 

The start/finish line was at Algonkian State Park in Northern VA.  There’s a golf course there and it’s right on the Potomac River.  The trail we headed down is called the Potomac Heritage trail and follows the Potomac all the way down to Great Falls by way of Riverbend & Riverview parks.  The trail exits the park and takes you through Trump National Golf course as well.  It is a wide trail for a bit then becomes narrow and also goes in and out of tree cover until you get back into the woods after the golf course.  It was a nice enough morning, not very hot or very humid so my Camelbak would suit me well in the hours to come. 

Around mile 6 or so you hit the first of 4 300+ ft. hills.  I had never run this part of the trail before as I had parked at Riverbend and ran down to Great Falls Park and tried to run the course as a training run about 2 weekends before the race.  When we encountered them all I could think about was if I make it back up this way these hills will be a BEAST to climb and descend on tired legs.  Overall the first 10-13 miles of the course were really fun, I met a guy named Kahlid who chatted me up along with a couple of cousins from VA who were running their first 50k.  There was one small incident involving a creek crossing where everyone was using a small branch to get across w/o getting their feet wet.  I am not afraid and am now used to running with wet feet & shoes so I decided when I saw another girl jump down the bank and into the water that I’d do the same.  (I crossed about 7 different creeks in sub 20 degree weather throughout this past winter training on trails so this was really no problem).  When I stepped across I felt my body go down and my pelvis area hit (I think) a big branch.  I fell forward quite a bit and my Camelbak almost came all the way over my head.  I escaped the opposite bank and scampered down the trail thinking about what an ASS I had just made of myself when I noticed a couple of other guys behind me who were faster than me.   I had joked to them how much of an idiot I felt like when I fell and they said, “No you showed us the way!”  That made me feel better but I did not leave unscathed.  I had a scrape on my shin and the top part of my ankle.  I also had pain in pelvis area just under my stomach from the fall.  It wasn’t too bad and I hoped that it didn’t become an issue later as I got more and more tired. 

I made it down to GF Park without much more incident and felt pretty decent.  Told Russ when I saw him that I would be changing my shirt & socks on the way back out and that I would probably be fine to continue back out.   What I didn’t know is that the 50 miler folks would have to do 3 loops around the park so there were many people running the same trails coming and going in all directions.  It was a very cool atmosphere as there were people cheering you on that were running other distances seeing you come towards them and givng you a “Get after it” or “Looking good” type of call.  I did some of the same but felt mostly shy about doing it.  I think the 50 mile folks did it a lot more to each other as those 3 loops were the bulk of the middle of the race and I am sure by the 3rd loop all they want to do is get back on the trail back up to the finish.  My new friend Kalihd met up with me at the start of the loop and eventually ran away from me being in way better shape and much younger! 

At the aide station before I changed into dry stuff I ran into a guy who used to be a Pool Operator for me a few years beforehand.  So random the people you see on the trail!

So I changed out of a wet shirt, wet socks & borrowed Russ’s headphones as I had lost one of the rubber ends from my earbuds.  He gave me some encouragement and said that “You got this, only ½ marathon to go!”  it was good to hear, I wasn’t in a whole lot of pain and I was feeling confident that I was going to be able to finish. 

The next few miles I felt my first onset of cramps in my quads.  I kept on drinking the Nuun that I had in my Camelbak as I felt that staying as hydrated as possible was my only recourse at preventing debilitating cramps.  So I ran through the next few miles hitting the aide station at Carhart and realizing that my best friend in the world is the Orange.

I have never taken Oranges as a recovery snack and I don’t really eat many in my day to day life.  This must change.  They had cold quartered Oranges at every aide station which I started eating and then had a whole Orange at each of the last 2 stations of the race.  I believe that with the water & Nuun this was the key to keeping me hydrated enough to finish the race.

At mile 27 there was the last 300+ ft. hill and that is where the wheels started to fall off.  I was getting tired and my lack of full training became evident.  According to my MapMyRun stats I was 18 min/mile for miles 26 & 27 then back down to 16 for 28 & 29 and back up to 18 for mile 30.  I am sure that there were hills there that were doing a number on my pace & my phone isn’t the best at recording miles (I have recently bought a Garmin watch finally after 6 years of running!). 

There has been a point in each long race I have done where I see folks falling apart around me.  During my first ever ½ half marathon (Parks ½ the best one out there) I remember seeing a guy in severe calf pain along the trail around mile 12.  It is always jarring to see someone in debilitating pain.  This race was no different.  At one of the small stream crossings I came upon a woman who was being helped to a calf stretch by another runner.  She did not seem to be able to walk and was in severe pain.  The runner in front of my alerted the race officials of the situation at the next aide station. 

I made it back to the final aide station and actually had to pee after I left there so I am happy that my hydration plan really worked out well this race.  I think overall I understand what my body needs and how to nourish it throughout a race. 

I remember getting on the final part of the trail before the park turn and seeing it in the distance.  I was hurting but not massively.  I was happy with the day so far, at one point I thought I would be besting my 50k PR of 7:48 but the last few hills killed my pace and my legs so that came and went.  I finished at 8:01 and really felt that it was a tremendous day on the trails.  I had come into the race thinking that I may have to drop again if my foot pain became unbearable again.  I wasn’t sure if my training would be enough to carry me through the race.  I persevered and finished with a big smile on my face. 

I would recommend this race to anyone looking for a 50K in June in the DC Metro area.  It was very well organized, the aide stations were very well stocked & fully staffed at all places.  There also seemed to be EMT’s stationed along the course so immediate medical attention could be given should the need arise.


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