2018 Race Recap #26: North Face Endurance Challenge 50k

No automatic alt text available.If the The Great Inflatable Race was a lark, and the Newport 10-Miler was all business, this…this was pure [expletive deleted] hell.  No, seriously. I hate this race. I’m never doing this [expletive deleted] race again. Which is exactly what I said last year when I finished it: I fell down at mile ten, broke my toe and took a bunch of stitches in my arm.  And maxed out my insurance deductible.

This year the course was changed a bit: they added an extra hour to the cut off, but according to my GPX data they added about 500′ of gain to the course. Whats really interesting is that last year AND this year, they said GPS watches were inaccurate, etc., but I have to say, while my watch did not align with the watch as a whole, it was off by literally 0.1 mile from last years.  If the course actually IS 31 miles, then my watch is consistently inaccurate, so at least I have that going for me. I get that consumer GPS is going to be less accurate than government data, but don’t gaslight me thinking that I somehow screwed up.  Ya know?

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Honestly, this was the best I was going to look all day, at the first summit

The course was incredibly humbling: a couple of friends from my running club – these women are incredible runners – bagged out at mile 15. Trails aren’t for everyone. The elevation gain is front loaded at the first 10-miles: of the 6000’+, a good 3300′ are up front, leaving about half over the remaining 20-miles or so. Gets those legs all good a rubbery for the rest of the course.

The course takes you to the summit of Wachusett Mountain twice, then down and into the state park. Were I actually conditioned for this, it wouldn’t be that bad – there are stretches where the course is downhill fireroads – which should make for a good pace. The problem is that by the time I got to them, I was so drained I literally could not move any faster than I was: I tried to pick up the pace a few times, only to be met with muscles telling me they would cramp if I did.  I spent more than a few minutes along the course stopped, stretching out my back or pulling my legs out of a cramp.  I really thought I had properly prepared myself with nutrition and fuel but clearly that was not the case.

Relive ‘North Face Endurance Challenge 50k’

One take away I have from this is just how beautiful the area is.  I took the time to stop and take a few pictures along the way – by clicking the “Relive” link above you can see the course and the pictures are geolocated on the map.  You really just don’t appreciate how steep these trails can be without actually seeing them.

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Probably not the steepest, nor the least accessible, but then again if it were less accessible I probably couldn’t have taken a picture.

In the end analysis, the distance was pretty much on point from last year, the elevation increased with some modifications to the course. I give the organizers a lot of credit: organizing a 50-miler, 50k, marathon, marathon relay, 10k and 5k and doing it really efficiently. Course markings were good – color coded ribbons matched to your race – and aid stations generously positioned on the course.

I did what I came to do – redeemed by performance, or mishaps, of last year.  While I had not forgotten the theme – redemption – I did forget the course takes you by “Redemption Rock” and had I my wits about me, I’d have taken a selfie there as a reminder. It wasn’t a fast race and all of the same things (sans falling down the mountain) that plagued me last year got me this year – something about training or something sounds vaguely familiar.  BUT I accomplished it, I finished, and unhurt.  That’s a win.

Results

2018: 149/175, 9:50:48
2017: 176/185, 10:11:19

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2018 Race Recap #14: To Hale and Back

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Just before the start of the race, this was the condition of the trail.  Photo Credit: Mass Ultra

The thing I really love about TARC (Trail Animals Running Club) races is the vibe of the thing. No matter what distance you’re running for a given race, it’s like $22 to enter: Oh, you’re doing the 5k? $22; You’re doing the 6-hour? $22.  The whole scene is really chill too: you’re asked to bring some food for the aid table, donuts or oranges or whatever. Today I was offered a quesadilla, a pulled pork taco, and a couple of donut holes.

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Here’s a shot from a little later on in the race, after I ditched the knit hat and nylon jacket. Guessing lap 2, maybe 3 because I don’t look like a sweaty mess and the trail still has a lot of snow. Photo Credit: Mass Ultra

Hale Reservation is an educational organization with about 1100 acres of property. When I was a kid, my parents would buy a summer membership and we’d spend time at the membership beach.  They had these aluminum docks demarcating swim lanes or something along the beach, and my sister and I would bring our buckets out and catch some of the ubiquitous sun-fish in them.  As I was reflecting on that, I actually said to myself “Man, that seems so long ago…” when I quickly snapped back to reality: that’s because it was a long time ago. The last little round window decal I remember was from the summer of 1978 – 40 years ago, there kid.  That IS a long time.

There’s a really good synopsis about this years To Hale and Back winning efforts at irunfar.com about half way down the linked page (sorry, there doesn’t seem to be any HTML anchors or anything to send you to the exact passage.) The first paragraph says everything you need to know for my purposes:

Four late-season snowstorms slammed New England in recent weeks and assured that the To Hale and Back 6-Hour Ultra–the Trail Animals Running Club’s season opener-would be a challenging affair. The snow-packed and often sloppy course conditions at Hale Reservation ensured that course records were safe, but they didn’t prevent Joe McConaughy and Elise DeRoo from delivering winning efforts.

I remember the last time I was there – not as a member as my family had stopped going years before, but my friends family was a member in the early 1980s and invited me along for an outing. I got so sunburned, I remember feeling like there were bugs crawling under my skin like some kind of addict going through detox.  I remember it as a great day, but a horrible afterward.

Now, the region was just hit with its 4th winter storm in as many weeks earlier this week, so I knew the trail would be snow packed and generally gross. I wasn’t quite sure I knew what else to expect from the trails – I hadn’t seen an elevation map and frankly this was my first trail outing of the year so beyond the unfamiliar terrain and snow, I had several months of cobwebs to shake off.

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There I am, the closest I’d be to the front of the pack all day, at the start of the race. Click the graphic to see the video (because I’m cheap and have the free WordPress account I can’t upload it myself).

My hope was to get in 20 miles – about 6 or 7 laps, it’s so hard to tell with the trails – but my goal was at least 15. I’ve done TARC 50k trail races in just under 7 hours, but given the snowpack and generally unconditioned self I set expectation low for a 6-hour accumulation.

It was pretty warm – about 34 degrees – at the start and was projected to continue getting warmer throughout the race, so I did layer up. This was a solid move as after my first lap, my nylon windbreaker and knit hat came off.  That was my last solid move as far as gear went though: I made the cardinal sin of wearing a pair of shoes I’d never worn before out today and in the end that’s what did me in.

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This was on my 4th lap, so it doesn’t look quite as bad as it did the first few laps.

Long about my 4th lap, I realized I had a pretty significant blister building on my left heel.  I was going to pull the plug after that, but I was pretty sure I had another lap in me so I went for it. It was slow going, but I did in fact have that lap.  I may have had another lap left in the tank, but I just couldn’t do it and pulled the plug after 5.  According to my watch, that was good enough for 17.2 miles. According to the official records, that was good enough for 16.  Grrr. The vagueries of trail courses will do that to you.  That said, I do know there were some modifications made to the course to account for snow and treacherous conditions, so maybe that added more distance than was given credit? I’m curious to see other folks’ data, but for now, I’m sticking with my 17.2 (my GPX data was pretty consistently showing me a 3.4 mile loop).

Relive ‘To Hale and Back’

So, I called it quits with somewhere around 90-100 minutes left. Which bums me out, but I’ll file it under “lessons learned” and go from there.

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I’m pretty sure the though process was, “what the hell am I doing?” Photo Credit: Mass Ultra

End of day, I finished 68/93 – and, not that I’m the least bit salty about it or anything, you’ll see that I’m officially credited with 16 miles (even though the course was actually 0.2 mile longer than they’re saying), but it was 0.2 miles longer for everyone so it doesn’t affect the results…just the official distance…which I’m not salty about at all.  Or anything. More disheartening is that I finished near the bottom of the men.

I do wish I had taken one more lap, but as I sit here writing this post, my legs stiff, my blister throbbing, and ready to fall asleep, it’s probably for the best I didn’t.

Results:

68 of 93 Runners
51 of 62 Males

Beware For I Run Fearless…

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On Saturday, I completed race 46 of my goal 46 in 2016.  The Ragnar Trail Run is a three loop trail race, completed with a team of 8 with each runner completing all three loops, and in this case it meant covering about 15 miles over the course of however long it takes one’s team to complete the circuit.  Except my team was short runners…and half way through, we had an injury.

My 15 miles became 24, 19 of which were run in the second 12 hours of the race.  It was a monstrous race.

I’m a street runner.  I’m an obstacle course fan.  Elevation gains and long distances arent my thing.  Coming down that last trail – the longest, highest elevation – running, running, running…almost unable to stop, with quads screaming to stop and yet not being able to – it was a feeling like I’ve never had, truly something alluding to what I have to believe hell must be like.  Being Ragnar, and being the last runner, as I came to the transition area to complete the race, my team joined me to cross the finish line together.  It was an amazing, awesome conclusion to the race, but a fantastic way to mark the completion of my 46 race goal.

These were folks I had met only for the race.  I didn’t know any of them.  Not one.  I responded to a Facebook post looking for team members.  Their only interest in me was that I was filling a slot that would have otherwise gone unfilled.

41337066_race_0-9710193401717151-originalAnd, yet, by the time we crossed the line together, this was their goal too.  It was important to them that they were a part of this for me.  I heard them talk with pride about the fact this was my 46th race on the year.  I kept the bib.  It was important to me, and it was important them.  That meant so much to me that over 28 hours,  we went from strangers to friends bonded by the completion of a goal.

It was a powerful experience; not just the completion of my original goal, but how these strangers came together to care about my goal.  Years from now, I will look back at 2016 and I will remember this experience fondly.

This year has helped me be fearless about setting goals.  Fearless of taking on unknown challenges.  Fearless about pushing myself for more, to be better, to compete in the unknown.  And this has made me powerful.  I’ve taken chances.  I’ve lept from safety and pulled the ripcord, not knowing where I would land.

I honestly thought it would be more difficult to accomplish than it was, but as I look back I realize I’ve relied upon my old friends, stepped out of my comfort zone and met new friends, and have joined strangers who have become friends.  It’s been a fantastic year and I can’t wait to see what the rest of the year holds.

I met one person in March by happenstance who has become a solid race buddy.  I met another guy who responded to my call to join our Ragnar Relay team with whom I’ve now run a couple of other races and recorded our #Kill22 pushups together at the Providence City Hall. I jumped into a pool of ice water in the middle of February just because I was asked to, to raise money for a kids’ camp.

I feel incredibly powerful for having met my goal.  I feel incredibly blessed for having met so many wonderful people in my year of running.  I already know how ridiculously blessed I am for having such a fantastic peer group of old friends supporting me.  My family has been so loving and supportive.  Nothing happens in a vacuum.  I’m living proof.

Beware I am fearless and therefore powerful.