The North Face Endurance Challenge Gore-Tex 50 Mile
For the past 8 months I have trained for Saturday in our nation’s capital. In many aspects it has consumed my thoughts, energy and most of my spare time. Have you ever seen Great Falls? It is an amazing place and it is only minutes outside of DC! Crazy.
The things I’ve learned since then I did not expect. More on that later.
I have oft said, everyone should train for a race since it one of the few things as an adult you cannot reschedule. You either show up and do it or you don’t.
My watch said the temperature was bouncing off 96 after lunch time. I didn’t hit my target finish time, but mother nature really didn’t provide the target conditions either.
We started at 0500 Saturday, my dad and father-in-law crewing me at four stops smack in the middle of the race. The first 15 miles were a bit crowded as runners settled in and made a decent pace over gravel roads, cut fields, neck high grass, and finally dirt single track through semi-jungle undergrowth. There were few areas to pass, but I was in between several groups talking it up, and I just listened and let the miles pass. I saw a girl face plant at mile three trying to shortcut a ravine and remembered that this is a long day, plan accordingly. I heard another girl say she thought we would be moving much faster, and I joked that I had thought that too, but it didn’t seem to me that one would be able to move through this stuff much more quickly than we were.
Miles 15 through 34 were a quad loop that was hilly and really technical in places. We saw quite a few people banged up and bleeding at the aid station.
From here to 30 miles, I was in bad shape. Legs - I was okay, but my stomach was not cooperating; I could not get the engine to turn over. I don’t think I drank enough, and perhaps I drank the wrong things at the start. I struggled through the first two loops, and my crew actually started to talk about packing it in.
This is precisely the opposite of what I had asked, and after a quick reprimand I went back out. I entered super crab-ass mode.
I wore the vest this time and started drinking much more. I moved through the secondary aid stations quickly just walking as as fast as I possibly could. On the last lap I ditched the vest and just thought about walking 13 minute miles or faster. I felt like I had drank half of the Potomac and none of it seemed to be helping.
I was at 28 miles and I thought, well, if this was the worst that I was going to experience, I would just keep walking and try to sneak in under the cut-off time. The rest of my body was fine.
On the fourth lap, I discovered the magic of chicken broth and salty potatoes from a woman at the aid station. It changed my life.
I came into the last crew stop on 35 miles and just had a completely new lease on life. I was running everything and for the first time, was seriously thinking of finishing. Let’s do this.
From here was the longest stretch between aid stations, and the crew had my vest packed, so I did not linger and took off for the final hills back along the widest parts of the Potomac. I guess I hadn’t realized how hilly these sections were coming out, but you could not ignore them on the way in. There was a lot of scrambling and sliding, and even though I certainly did not train for hills like this, I kept moving, at times with my hands on the rocks in front of me like some sort of deranged cat clawing my way up any way possible.
I noticed that a lot of people would try to run the uphills, sputter out, take a break, and then try to make up time flying down the other side. I consistently passed them by not stopping and just power walking up and coming down under control, trying not to get too out of breath and winded.
After the hills came a lot of technical single track. I ran sections of this where i could, but I never walked less than a 13 minute mile or so. I can’t tell you how many people I passed walking. When you step back and look at it, if you’re expending a great deal of energy to just jog what another person can walk - you should be walking.
Just as a note, it’s not to say that oh hey, I passed such and such - the important thing is that you start to build belief. Every time earlier when I was the one being passed, I was really getting down on my chances.
When you’re the one doing the passing, you start stocking up the shelves of confidence and it really starts leading you on. At least this is how I see it.
At one of the final aid stations, another magic volunteer handed me two cups full of ice. All I remember from this section is that two other gents and I took off out of the aid station, talking about life, and 10 miles disappeared. It must have been complete zen, we were just motoring and all the while I was chewing on glorious ice.
At times I felt like I was on a manic people mover that I could not get off - as if my legs were no longer under my control.
At the last aid station, I snatched one more cup of ice, and just ran the rest to the finish line.
I opted for trail shoes, and I’m glad I did. I kicked every rock and tree root on the south shores of the Potomac. My pinkies are black (again), but at least they don’t hurt.
I never put music on this whole race, there was simply too much going on.
I finished 142 out of 282 at 11:38:09. The winner won in 6:45 and went back out and won the 5k the next day, peeling off six minute miles, he is an amazing 39 years old. By the time I finished all those folks had gotten their medals and I’m pretty sure had left the area. I admit I was a little bummed I did not get to snap a pic with Dean Karnazes.
It’s been a long haul. It’s been downright selfish on many a Saturday morning, when I should have been doing x, y and z with my family. I grew to hate training in the last four weeks coming in at the end, and right up to the starting gun, I felt like I peaked two weeks ago. I can’t tell you how grateful I am that my whole family supported me over these past eight months.
What did I learn? Two very simple things:
Number one, the little things in life really do matter. A cup of chicken broth and a few chunks of ice saved me. We’re talking about raw separated Swanson chicken broth out of a tin can poured in a cheap waxy cup. The top was oily and the bottom was a gelatinous glob.
It was stunningly delicious.
Number two, if you wait for it, and you want it badly, it will come. I hope I don’t have to walk 20 miles straight next time, but I will, because while some things were going badly, some were still okay. I waited and something happened. If I would have quit, well, nothing would have happened.
I would have thought about that nothing for the next 10 years or so.
A very wise man told me these races are all about adaptation. This is great life advice as well.
Afterwards, the world’s best crew took me back to the hotel, and I enjoyed the celebratory can of Pringles and an ice cold Stella, before hitting the sports bar and watching the Pens lose game one. I drove home the next morning and have felt good since - I credit the chicken broth, perhaps Dan Bylsma needs a 55 gallon drum of it at this particular moment.
It was an absolutely amazing weekend. I had the best time with my dads, and I think they had a great time as well (although they are quite relived that it is over). The North Face and Gore-Tex put on a great show - super volunteers, extremely well marked course, challenging but fair.
If you are considering something uncomfortable, I highly recommended you pursue it with all you’ve got.
Thanks for listening. XOXO