The North Face Endurance Challenge Series took place at Park City Mountain Resort in Utah on October 4th, 2014. Here’s my race recap from my 3rd place finish in the 50K race:
Game Plan. Beat Tim Olson. Sure the professional 100-miler was coming off some tough summer races and setbacks, but this was the first opportunity in my short ultra-career to race against a professional athlete. So what did I do after trailing Tim for the first quarter mile of the race… I make my move and passed him! I felt more confident in front of him, thinking about my race, rather gawking at his every step. And the fact that he would be staring at my November Project spray-painted singlet, as he trailed behind me on the climb, gave me an added stimulus. Well, my lead didn’t last long, as he passed me before the first aid station. I was proud to get a “good work, man” out of Tim as he forged ahead.
Calf Power. I didn’t have my normal confidence on the climbing portion of this race. Chalk it up to my new found fun-employment, I have noticeably lost some of my fitness during the last two month’s of ‘self discovery’. For one, I no longer have 21-miles of cycling each day to my office. This contributed immensely to my overall fitness and stamina, and though I’ve added more running into my routine, I don’t feel like I’m as active as I once was. Also, having suffered through an Achilles injury earlier in the year, I developed a habit of doing calf-raises in the stairwell at work every time I went to the bathroom. This equated to roughly 500-700 calf raises per day, which strengthened my ankles and provided leverage for my big feet to climb uphill.
The race began at an elevation of 7,000 with a 12-mile climb up to 10,000 feet. It was never quite the steep ascent that I have encountered on trails in Colorado, but rather a more gradual and mellow incline, that just seemed to keep going and going. I wasn’t ready to resign from the race yet, even though early into the climb I had already planned adjustments to my training plan for ECSCA to add in mandatory daily calf raises.
When I finally hit the ridgeline after mile-12, I was hungry for some decending. Unfortunately, the descent was steep and riddled with loose rocks, so I had to be cautious. I did my best to make up some time on the downhill, and immediately felt re-energized with the gravity-assist. It was around mile-15 that I started greeting back-of-the-pack 50-milers that were sharing the same course. But seriously, uggh! The 50-mile race started 2-hours before the 50K, and these folks were only 15-miles in after about 4-hours on course. I give them credit for working toward their goal, but I did not wish to be in their shoes!
Sunblock blind. My only fear during the whole race was that I might have to quit due to irritated eyes. I rubbed sunblock on my face in the morning and didn’t bother to check if it was alcohol-based or not. I don’t even know if sunblock contains alcohol these days, but as brow-sweat began to seep into my eyes, the burning sensation caused me to panic. It was a helpless feeling of ‘make it stop’ & ‘why is this happening’. After a brief period of incessant blinking and glove-wiping, the right combination of perspiration, tears, and adrenaline made the irritation subside.
I think this is true with any (non-physical) ailment in ultra-running. Our minds look for focal points to distract us from the obvious [Left, right, left, keep… on… running]. Usually, just by changing your demeanor or frame of thought can distract you from the reality of the race, and allow you to daydream your way to the finish line. The benefit of trail running is that usually a change in terrain or scenery can stimulate your senses enough to gather yourself in the moment and return to a run-focused state of mind.
Pain in the Meta-tarss. I developed a strange pain in the fifth metatarsal of my left foot during the second half of the course. I couldn’t figure out what was causing the pain as I was consciously and naturally falling on the inside ball of my foot. The single-track trail was often narrow and V-channeled causing my feet to impact at an angle. I shimmied my toes a bit and breathed deeply to get oxygen and blood flowing. Again, as suddenly as this pain began, it went away. Though after the race, I was greeted by a Rhode Island sized blister on the side of my foot. It’s possible that there was a crease in my sock or foot bed that led to the discomfort.
I have been running in the Altra Olympus trail sneakers for all of my trail races this year. I’m considering switching it up next week as I race in the Rocky Peak Ultra Fun Run 16-miler hosted by my friends in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. I’m wondering if the ample cushion of the Olympus is detracting from my speed on the course. I’ve had this debate before with trail running friends, and am starting to believe that sneakers with rock plates in the soles are more effective than super-absorbent cushion. Your thoughts??
Oktoberfest! The final aid station on the course was Oktoberfest themed. Cheers to all the jolly folks working this station, as it was a welcome sight and sound for the final third of the 50K race. I knew that we would be returning to this aid station after 5.1-miles, so I was a bit discouraged by the immediate and continued downhill after the station. 21-miles into the race, I had felt like we’d climbed enough, and I was looking forward to galloping downhill to the finish line. One last stretch of climbing remained. In order to circle back to the Oktoberfest aid station, it took one final concerted effort up the resort access road. I listened intently for the blissful sound of German folk music that was broadcast from the aid station. With each step up, I flexed my ears a bit firmer, hoping to hear a yodel-ay-he-who.
Downhill. After gracefully passing through Oktoberfest the 2nd time, I knew the course was all downhill for the last 4.7-miles. I was in 4th place at this point, there was the white t-shirt guy (Michael Hilverda), Tim Olson, and the sprinter back-pack guy (Gary Gellin) ahead of me. I felt fresh and fast on the downhill. I had been sucking down energy gels every half hour, and hydrated enough to charge to the finish.
I finally reached an opening in trail where I spotted white t-shirt guy about 200-yards ahead. It’s hard to gauge distance on thre windy singletrack trail, but I saw him, and revved my engine to try and catch him. After a few zig-zags on the course, I saw him gingerly standing up from the ground. Shortly thereafter, I passed him on a switchback in which he said he had hit a tree. I asked if he was OK, received confirmation of his OK-ness, and drove on toward the finish line.
I began to kick my way down the windy single track excited to be in 3rd place and welcoming the unnatural sights and sounds of the resort trail. It wasn’t until I was spooked by the cacophony of children’s voices that I knew I was real close to home. These voices were echoing through the walls of the alpine slide and from the tree-top skimming zip-line. I channeled the excitement and continued the tight zigs and zaags through to the finish.
I was utterly satisfied and honored to have earned a spot on the podium next to two professional ultra runners. I had finished in 4:44 and took 3rd place in my 3rd 50K of the year. I was proud to represent my November Project tribe (#NP5280) in front of The North Face event team, our free fitness community co-founders and HR department – BG & BM, and my fellow tribesmates, all of whom made for a phenomenal weekend!