Friday, September 23, 2011

North Face Endurance Challenge

The North Face Endurance Challenge half marathon was an incredible experience, the best event I have ever participated in. The Y shaped course, Nestled in the scenic Kettle Moraine State Forest was challenging and gorgeous. I made an entire weekend of it, coming out a day early for mountain biking and spending the night camping. Triathlon rocked but trail running rocked more. Thankfully there are off road triathlons that fold in mountain biking and trail running – next year’s challenge.

I cannot discuss my half marathon effort without describing the events leading up to it. There was no taper going into this event. I had 42 miles in on the week but felt fine. Nine hours of sleep a night, recovery runs, and a dominantly Paleolithic diet do wonders for recovery.

I could not pass up a 20 mile 3 hour mountain bike gruelathon with a friend the day before the race. Properly resting and tapering for an event takes social neglect I was unwilling to do. Mountain biking was a lot of fun and I only mention it as one key event played in big in my race the next day. I crashed my bike in a moment of lost focus on a portion of the trail that was neither fast nor challenging. I rode the bike into ground hard and took damage to my left ankle, knee, and elbow. Beyond the flesh wounds my knee and ankle had been slightly tenderized. No problem, I was still very mobile.

Light on my feet early in the course, also available on YouTube.   Photo and video courtesy of Jacob Burg.

It was a beautiful thing to wake up race day at a campsite a few hundred meters from the start line. I got to sleep in and there were none of the hassles of driving or finding parking. As I waited for the start my left knee felt tweaked but otherwise I felt fresh. I knew the course would be challenging after seeing the elevation chart and having previously experienced the technical terrain. Knowing my physical state and what lay ahead I planned to take the race easy for more than the first half and put in effort for the last three to five miles.

The race started in perfect weather on a flat paved road and I felt good and found myself showing restraint not to pass the leaders. My gait was even and I felt light on my feet as I traveled at a relaxed pace. The first few climbs of the second mile began thinning out the lead pack with me at a noticeable disadvantage. I took it easy up the hills, I realize the uphill is not my strength and look forward to working on this weakness in the future. A generous downhill and shallow incline greeted me going into the third mile and I reeled in many of the runners who had passed me on the way up.

North Face Endurance Challenge 1/2 marathon Elevation from the participant guide.

The rest of the race went much the same way taking up hills easy to preserve my legs and keep my heart from racing away and making up time on the downhills and flats occasionally trading positions with the sparsely spaced competition.  Coming into mile four I had lost sight of the leaders and only caught an occasional glance of the leading woman.  I gained in a large open straightaway and lost her for good in some hills come mile five when some pressure came from behind.

Proof I am not an even pacer with speeds between 3 and 14 mph.

The middle miles were flat and fast and I left my new found challenger behind. Encountering other racers was an exception as most of the race twisted and rolled over hills limiting sight lines. Come the ninth mile my weakness on the uphill was capitalized by my challenger and he passed. The tenth mile was the best as the course briefly looped back on itself and I got to see many other runners. It was the kind of effort I like to see in the morning with hundreds of runners navigating rock gardens, tree roots, sand traps, and striding up hill. Everyone was so positive and wished me well. I returned the favor and couldn’t stop smiling. Pursuit of Healthiness put it best in the comments:
“Trail running is amazing. It's quite different from road running beside the obvious scenery differences. When I did my 50K trail run in TX I always felt training for that run was more about the places I was going and people I was training with. For me, road running was always less about camaraderie and more about time / speed then scenery. The other variable could be the type of individual the different sports attract rather than the nature of the run. The best way for me to describe it is if I fell at the beginning of a trail run, there would be ten people around me who would ask if I was ok, versus a road run where ten people would step on me because I was in the way. I enjoy both types, but agree there is a huge difference.”
I was enjoying the downhill at this point but coming out of it noticed a hitch in my giddy up. Was it the cumulative effect of all the miles and my mountain bike fall? Was it the stick that my arch had landed on taking the recent down hill. Should I have increased my leg turnover going down that rock garden instead of speeding down it with big strides? I found myself heel striking with my left foot and using a forefoot strike on the right the remainder of the race. My heart had plenty of room to run but my legs were all used up. The hills and the technical terrain had taken their toll. It was an odd sensation, road racing inversely maxes out my heart long before my muscles and joints.

Regrouping at the finish with my lovely wife.

I lost two more spots on a big climb in mile eleven to a young calf and an old bull working together.  I wished them the best and they returned the favor.  It was heartening to know someone two decades my senior is still tearing up race courses.  I can only hope to improve with age and be of similar ability when my time comes.  The last mile and change rejoined the 5k and 10k courses taking place that day.  A young woman and two young kids shot past me.  My pride hurt but my legs couldn’t take more abuse.  That is until my spirits were picked up by seeing the finish line.  I took back everything I had given the 5k and 10k runners and finished with my fastet mile of the course.

More men participated in the event than women in contrast to road racing which is female dominated.

This wasn’t my fastest half marathon but I consider it my best.  I had strategized, raced smart, had fun and found my physical limits.  The first half and second half of the race were close to even time wise.  My core ached terribly the next couple days from my uneven gait.  I am still waiting for my ankle to recover but that is what swimming and biking are for.  I will take the lessons I learned on the trail and use them to refine my stride and comeback stronger.  I placed 10th overall with a time of 1:37:15.

The finish time distribution runs slower than road half marathons as expected from the technical terrain and elevation challenges.

North Face did an outstanding job organizing and putting on the race.  Multiple events were available from 50 miles to a 5K.  No detail was overlooked and  the 51 page participant guide answered every question I had.  All the race volunteers were very helpful and positive.  The technical shirt, water bottle, and arm sleeves were great quality.  The value for this race was excellent and I would do it all over again.

Thanks to my friends who kept an eye on my dog and took great pictures and video.

1 comment:

  1. Good for you! I just started running with a friend and we're both determined to commit to it. I hope that in the future I'll be able to run a marathon. It sounds like you had fun and placing 10th is a huge accomplishment. Sounds like you're really training and improving. I wish the same applied to my climbing but alas, rain and rocks are not a good combination.