On Saturday April 18th, I completed the North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Miler in Sterling, Virginia. This race reports covers my incredible experience, and is hopefully interesting for both ultra runners and non-ultra runners alike!
Before the Race
I woke up at 2:30am after a night of very mediocre 5.5 hours of sleep. I was groggy, but after a week of anticipation, it didn’t take me too long to get moving. I threw down a bottle of Tailwind and half a breakfast bar, took a quick shower (I know, it sounds weird, but it helps me wake up), and then headed out the door. Side note - It turns out driving out of DC at 330am on a Saturday is quite the experience. There was no shortage of drunk people with Jumbo slice, and TONS of cops on the roads.
It took me about 35 minutes to get to the parking lot in Sterling, Va. I distracted myself with rap music and an internal debate about which shoes I was going to wear (I eventually settled on the Mizuno Wave Sayanara over the Altra Superior). I then quickly gathered my things and headed to the bus for a short ride to the start zone.
Once I got to Algonkian, I tried to keep my mind of the challenge ahead, but I also wanted to soak it all in. I took some photos, prepped my gear, tested the headlamp, and went to the bathroom and scientifically impossible amount of times - I was ready for the 5am start!
Course Map from StravaMiles 1-5
I started at 5:01am in wave two - just enough people in front of me to keep me from going out to fast. The course starts with a big loop around a super muddy field (some guy lost his shoe in the first quarter of a mile!), hits a paved trail, and then jumps into single track. We had a solid hour and a half of running in the dark (party of which is an out-and-back, so you get some headlamp to the face action), which was enjoyable not only for its novelty, but also because it meant cooler temperatures.
In those first few miles, I kept a close eye on my watch - not for mileage, but to make sure I was staying on point with calories intake, and that my pace was not too fast. My goal was two hundred calories an hour (one water bottle), and as much of the second bottle as I could get in. I’m no stranger to GI issues, so with the heat coming, I knew I had to get down what I could, when I could.
As we exited the first part of the single track alongside a golf course, the sun started to poke it’s head. It was truly incredible seeing the sunrise just before heading into a new section of the trail filled with wildflowers and a nice small stream along the route. At this point, I had separated from the pack - both those in front and behind. I did make a couple of running bros, and got some insights from a more experienced ultra runner who had completed this course in the past.
Back by myself, slurping down the calories, and taking on the first climb. The North Face 50 doesn’t have a lot of gain, but there are some hills that will give you a nice challenge. In the early stage of the race, the goal is to power hike the ups, and go somewhat easy on the downs(dont want to thrash your quads!). I did a pretty good job of both, but probably went a little hard on the downs since I had been training for them (and, as a snowboarded, I just love bombing down!)
The miles continued to quickly tick by (or so it felt), until I got closer to that 10 mile mark. At that point, I still felt great, but I was looking forward to hitting Great Falls where I’d see my awesome girlfriend and a few other folks. That was until I rounded a corner and saw the Ultramarathon Man himself - Mr. Dean Karnazes. He was running the race with us mere mortals, and was just out enjoying the day.
Trailing Update: Less Than One Week Until NFECS 50 Miler!
Here we go - the final countdown until the North Face 50 Miler in Washington, DC (well, Virginia, if we are being picky). I have a pretty busy work week keeping me distracted, otherwise, I’d probably obsess over more details than I’d like. That said, I do have a few things I’m focusing on this week:
- Sleep - I’m trying to sleep 8-9 hours each night. I have to make this a priority, as it will not only help my body repair from the training and racing, but also because the chances of me getting a good night’s rest on Friday are very slim.
- Food - Nothing crazy, nothing too knew. The only major change is I’m eating a lot. It’s a bit of a #treatyoself, and a bit of an attempt to make sure I’m fully powered. I generally eat healthy, so I’m not too worried. As we get closer to the event, I’ll probably focus a bit more on carbs (not trying to pull a Michael Scott from the Office or anything. After all, it’s mostly a fat burning activity), and reduce the high-fiber stuff.
- Drink - I’m staying hydrated, but not overdoing the water - don’t want to flush out all of the salt! Also, I’m not really drinking alcohol. I might have a beer, but otherwise, I’m staying away for a few days. It helps with sleep and energy.
- Gear Prep - One good part about my training was I managed to dial-in my gear and nutrition. I think it is fairly minimal, but I’m probably bringing a bit too much. For the most part, I’m all set and ready to go, so aside from a quick double-check and bottle filling, I should be done.The basic list is as follows:
- Ultimate Direction AK Vest + UD Handheld: This is a weird combo, but I really don’t like running with two bottles on my chest. I’m really used to running with a handheld and just one bottle, so that’s what I’m going to do. I’ll use the free pocket for my old iPhone (I hate to be that guy, but I really want some pictures, gosh darnit!).
- Tailwind Nutrition - Orange and Naked flavors. This will be my primary source of calories and electrolytes. I freaking love this stuff. I’ll bring one 200 calories packet per hour I plan to be running, which is more than I’ll need/be able to take. I figure, worst case, I can share, or have some left over. It’s light, and with a drop bag, no big deal.
- Wet wipes - partly in case I need a good refreshing face wipe, and partly for, well, emergency bathroom situations (we’re all trail runners here, right?). Light, easy to carry.
- S! (Succeed) caps - a couple in case I really need them. Also super light and easy to carry.
- An extra contact lens.
- Petzel Headlamp - since the race starts at 5AM, all runners are required to wear a headlamp.
- Nip Guards - the best!
- Clothing (duh).
That’s it - just work and four details to focus on this week. I’ll probably take my last easy jog on Wednesday, pick my packet on Thursday, and then have a nice easy day before trying to get some sleep on Friday!