2019 Race Recap #14: North Face Endurance Challenge 50k

In terms of my commentary about the race itself – course markings, watch issues – I don’t think I could say anything differently from last year. This is a very well done event, easy registration, good festival area, good course markings. There were a couple of times this year I found the markings a little wonky, but I think that was more me than the course itself.

What I really want to talk about is my experience of the race. 31 miles is a significant distance under the best of circumstances. This race covers roughly 6000′ of elevation gain – more than a mile going up. It’s quite possibly the most difficult thing I’ve ever done, and I’ve now done it three times.

Last year I finished in 9 hours, 50 minutes. Since last year, I’ve run 2 road marathons. The distance, while still quite significant, doesn’t feel quite as daunting. I also ran the 7-Sisters trail race, a race that while shorter by 2/3s was more technical and were it longer, and probably not much longer, I would likely say IT was the most difficult thing I’ve ever done. So, I feel like I was reasonably prepared for this race.

Truth be told, I hadn’t hydrated well enough over the preceding days. I now know that, but otherwise I was ready. I felt good through the majority of the race. There was a couple of points where I could feel some cramps coming on but was able to hold off any real difficulty until after the mile 26 check point. At that point, however, it was clear to me that my running for the day was pretty much over. Sad really, as there were some imminently runnable downhills that would have been nice to crush.

The thing about technical trail running for me is that it is hard on the body, you really have to stretch yourself, but more importantly than that it’s refreshing, revitalizing. Here’s what I mean by that: in a world where your attention is monetized, you cannot afford not to be paying full attention all the time out here. The odd rock, or root, or decent all demand your attention or you will trip. What’s that person behind you doing? Should you let them pass? Are THEY paying attention?

When I’m running on a road, there’s the occasional car to be mindful of, but otherwise there’s a lot of room for internal dialogue to creep in. I wear headphones and listen to music most of the time to drown out that negativity. On the trail, your mind don’t have that luxury – it has to be focused on the task at hand.

Today, I woke up sore, with a few dents and dings, but mentally quite refreshed. Like spending the day in mediation, being present. It’s hard to do that in modern life, so I’m thankful for having had that time.

I wrote last year that I was bummed about failing to have foresight enough to grab a selfie at “Redemption Rock.” ✅

I took well over an hour off my time from last year, but when you look at my official splits you can definitely see where the cramps really started to affect my race. All in all, a solid effort that I’m pleased with.

RESULTS

2019: 113/164, 8:42.03
2018: 149/175, 9:50:48
2017: 176/185, 10:11:19

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2018 Race Recap #38: Anchor Down Ultra

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Schwag.

“The Smallest State’s Longest Races.” Six Hours, Twelve Hours, 24-Hours, 100-Miler. The time based races are a hard deadline in which to run as many miles – or in this case loops – through Bristol, Rhode Island’s Colt State Park as you can in the allotted time.  For this series of races, the race director has set 8-loops as “finishing” for the six-hour race, 16-loops for the 12-hour, 20 for the 24-hour.  Each lap is roughly (but officially) 2.45 miles.

It’s not all pavement, it’s not all trail. It’s roughly 0.9 mile of trail. 1.5 mile of pavement, with the remainder being grass.  And for all intents and purposes, it’s pretty flat.  All races start at 7 PM making the challenge less about the course – after all, the course it’s terribly difficult in and of itself – and more about the individual endurance required to overcome gnarly roots in the dark, after a full day of living, over an extended period of time during one of the hottest, most humid times of the New England summer.

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Here we are just before the start of the race. Look at how clean and spiffy I look in my donut socks and dry shirt.

The race organizers did such a super job marking the course, and staffing it with volunteers at the start/finish and the half way point.  Food – salt, sugar, hydration – at the festival area, hydration and ramen soup at the half way.  There’s a camping area at the starting festival area to set up your own stuff.

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This was just after lap 5 – roughly 12.25 miles in. Juxtaposed against the picture above, I’m pretty sure it’s clear that I was a big, sweaty mess.

The day wasn’t overly hot, but it was humid. By mile 13, I was drenched in soggy wet clothes. My feet and shoes were wet and gross.  That was a few hours into the race. Because of the odd mix of terrain, I wasn’t quite sure what shoes would be most appropriate: trail shoes, street shoes? I decided on a pair of older model On Cloudsters I’ve got. I like them for running my local rail trail and they’re generally quite sturdy so you don’t feel every little thing on the ground. As it started getting dark in the overgrown woods, I tripped on one of the ubiquitous series of gnarly roots along the trail and landed on my hands and knees. No major damage there, but I could feel my leg starting to cramp as soon as I hit the ground, so I hopped back up and continued on.

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You can see where I ate dirt on my left leg. I’m not sure when this was taken other than to say, it’s quite clear my delirium was in full swing.

From that point, though, I decided I’d power walk the trails – my mental exhaustion and physical exhaustion were combining to make night time trail running somewhat more dangerous that it might otherwise be – and just run the pavement. Upon my return to the festival area, I changed out my shirt, and changed from my Ons and donut socks, to a pair of ankle socks and Nikes more befitting street running. I felt every little root after that – probably not a bad thing, to keep my head in the game – but they allowed me to be the best runner I could be on the pavement given my situation.

I finished Lap 16 in 9-hours 17-minutes so I had plenty more time to get back out there and rack up some more miles – and grab higher placement on the finishers list – but I was so dead, exhausted I just couldn’t see myself going any farther. By that point it had started to rain pretty good and I just wanted to be done. My friend Ilya had come to watch Rich and I run, so he ran the last 3 laps with me – something for which I am very thankful, as he made me push myself just a little harder than I may have otherwise.

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Flavor Flav looked at this thing and said, “No man, that’s too big…”

So I left satisfied with 39.2 official miles (my Garmin clocked 40.8) with time still on the clock. I arrived home after a drive home that was something just shy of terrifying, at 6:15 – with 45-minutes still remaining in my race.  I’m bummed that I didn’t get more, but satisfied I left it all out there on the course. Several folks from my running club ran the 6-hour and another guy and his son ran the 12-hour, so there was support and people I knew there which helped make the experience a little less solitary.

Results

12 HOUR Race; 20/35, 16 Laps, 9:19:27, 39. Miles.

28 Days of Inspiration – Day 26

28 Days of Inspiration

Cliff Young

He didn’t know he wasn’t supposed to be able to run a 544 mile ultra-marathon.  Hell, he was a potato farmer – what did he know about endurance running?  He showed up one day at the starting line of an 875K race and won.

In fact, he took significant time off the world record for similar races.  He was 61-years old in 1983 when he won this race.  Take a look at my times this year, I haven’t come close to winning a solo race of any distance. He didn’t just win, he CRUSHED it.  544-miles at aged 61.  I’ve spent the past year running races, slowly building up distance from a 5k in February to a half-marathon in October.  I’ve run training runs, pushed myself as much as I can.  Cliff Young ran the inaugural  Westfield Sydney to Melbourne Ultra-marathon…and won.  I must be a loser – I’ve been running my butt off this year and I’m struggling to get mediocre times on some fairly modest courses.

The lore will have you believe he’d never run, just strolled up to the starting line – oblivious to the challenge ahead of him – wearing overalls and rubber boots.  A real naif.  He didn’t understand ultra running so he didn’t know he was supposed to run for 18 hours and sleep for 6.  A great story to be sure.  But incomplete at best, and misleading at worst. Take a look at the video below.

So far as I can tell, he really WASN’T a runner and he really WAS a farmer.

But this wasn’t his first attempt; he didn’t just show up and decide to run.  Perhaps in 1982 when he attempted a 1,000 mile effort one could argue he had no clue – after all then he had only trained for a few months.  Upon failing half way through he wrote he and his support team were inexperienced.  You don’t just stroll up to a starting line in work boots and spend 6 days running a 550-mile race without having done SOME work.  In this case he had been training.  He knew the challenge before him.  He had a plan and he worked that plan.

Merriam-Webster defines “Inspiration” as “something that makes someone want to do something or that gives someone an idea about what to do or create : a force or influence that inspires someone.” I tend to think watching the results of another’s hard work and effort toward a goal is far more inspirational than hearing a story that’s been sanitized, cleaned up and repackaged.  Cliff was ridiculously inspirational but not because he showed up one day out of the blue and laid waste to a field of other runners en route to finishing an ultra-marathon, but because he worked his ass off as a 60-year old to position himself to be able to do that.

He wasn’t some rube fresh off the farm who decided to run an endurance course because he had time on his calendar.  He planned this.  He worked for this.  It’s unlikely that a 61-year old man is going to win an ultra marathon, but that’s the inspirational part of it. He worked and trained.  We don’t need to embellish the story; we don’t have to make up or gloss over the reality.  The facts are remarkable on their own.

Be inspired because he had a goal, worked his ass off for it and made it happen.  There’s nothing inspirational about flukes or luck; there’s everything inspirational about someone deciding they’ve got a goal that they’re going to make happen. Cliff’s story makes for a great tell, but bear in mind his wasn’t the story of unexpected glory, his was the story of hard work paying off.