North Face Endurance Challenge

Sometime after finishing Leadville, I figured running a 50-miler would be a nice way to cap off the year. At the time, the North Face Endurance Challenge sounded like a walk in the park. After all, I only had to run half as far. I have a very flawed sense of logic, because running such distances is never easy or really that much fun in the moment – it’s all about retrospect.

Nearing the start time, people did what people do best in crowded spaces; forget how self-seeding systems work and of course, what deodorant is good for.

The race started shortly after 5:00 AM, so we were required to wear a headlamp. I wove about until I was in the top 30 and stayed within sight of the leaders, err, their headlamps. Overall, it felt like a quick start, but I was all for it. I figured if I were to compete, I’d have to run someone else’s race (since my ultra experience quite limited).

On the second mini start loop, I came across a guy with a long beard and long hair. I figured it must be Anton Krupicka, so I said, “It’s Tony, right?” to which he replied, “No, it’s Brian.” Awkward. Seriously though, I thought it really was him.

In my defense, it was dark.

I had already lost sight of the leaders by this point, but I maintained the quick-ish pace. Through 14 miles, I was averaging 7:33/miles. The course got a bit more technical, as we descended and ascended coastal stairs and slightly muddy, mucky trails. Since I’m kinda klutzy, I took it easy.

From there the course was either stunning or beautiful, with a healthy mix of mud and varying gradients.

Stats: 50.8 miles | 9,821 vertical feet | A lot of Shot Blocks

By this point, I was far from being anywhere near the leaders, but was enjoying the day. For example, I played this fun game of trying to keep my shoes dry. I was doing really well for 20-some miles, until I stepped right into a stream. Fail.

Fatigue was also starting to make itself known, but it’s a part of the game.

Digression: writing about long runs is becoming a harder task than actually running long distances.

Being that the trails were wet to begin with and worsened as the day wore on, some sections resembled a muddy slip-n-slide more so than a hiking trail. Those sections became a festival of controlled sliding. Amazingly, I did not fall.

Oh yeah, I learned two things about running ultras:

  1. My quads are not (yet) strong enough to handle the pounding of downhill running.
  2. Wearing a vest with two water bottles chest-side must be like having big boobs.

Let me elaborate…

Give me a steady incline and I will run up it all day. Give me a long downhill and I’ll run it for 5 minutes. I suppose I need to do more downhill running to toughen ’em up, because those guys are holding me back.

Regarding big boobs, I’ve been running with two water bottles mounted chest-side and when I do, my lower back takes a big hit in the latter hours of the race. That’s probably a terrible analogy, as I have no idea what it’s like to have big boobs, nor have I talked to girls about the physical pitfalls of big boobs. Anyways, I love the vest, but it’s not going to be joining me in any more ultras.

Ooh, another fun tidbit: I felt what I imagined to be a rather impressive blister developing on my left big toe. When the blister and the interior of my shoes came in contact, it was horrible. Blisters are temporary though, so I dealt with it.  Shortly thereafter, the blister ran out of room to grow and popped.

By this point, mile 40-something, I was way off my hopeful finishing time. So, instead of focusing on time, I played another game. I’d run 2 minutes up a hill and then walk and talk for 1 minute with a fellow runner. It was mainly small chit-chat, but it was rather rejuvenating.  I’d also tell random people that they had mud on their legs. That always garnered a smile.

I ran some more and after what felt like too long, I crossed a line, hence signifying the end of any additional physical effort. Check out the Strava file here.

To celebrate, I sat in brown ice water.

I finished in 8:10:03, good enough for 66th overall.