During the weeks leading up to The North Face Endurance Challenge Series Race in Bear Mountain, NY I did a lot of assuming. I assumed that a trail so close to a city the size of New York couldn’t possibly be technical. I assumed that the trails would be nowhere near as wet as what I had been running on all spring. I assumed that since I had run a 100km race a month earlier, 50 miles would seem short. Wrong, wrong, and wrong. This is a burly course, and the 2014 edition included a lot of water and mud. Don’t get me wrong, it was what a trail race should be, and the course was awesome, just unexpectedly challenging!
This was the second TNF ECS race I have done, and I am definitely hooked. I realized it was no fluke that the San Francisco race last December was such a good time – these folks have it dialled in. The series’ races are like a travelling circus, and even at this first stop of the year in New York, everything seemed to be very well executed. The basics like online race information, packet pickup, parking, shuttle buses, and drop bag check were well done. When I got to the race site all that was left to worry about was 50 miles of running.
It was an awesome feeling to cross the lawn at 4:15AM and walk up to the race festival site. It was like deja vu from San Francisco with lots of tents, lights, gas fire pits, and the start/finish arch. It was surprisingly warm at this time of the morning, and after a bit of chatting with old and new friends we were lined up and ready to head out into the dark.
The race started quicker than I expected. I knew there were some fast folks in the mix, but I was surprised at how many people were up front and moving quickly right off the gun. The course quickly turned upward with a long gentle incline over rocky trails that had many sections with flowing water to splash through. We made our way up through the first hour of darkness, but it wasn’t long before we could turn off our headlamps and enjoy the sunrise. The first 20km went by pretty effortlessly and things were feeling good.
The first memorably tough section involved some steep climbing up and over large rock face ascents that had us on all fours. The descents in this area were similarly challenging, and I managed to roll my ankle badly enough to pull up and take stock of how it felt. It felt bad, and I was concerned about not being able to bear weight and maintain a decent stride. I was also disappointed that stopping meant losing touch with a good group of about 5 guys that I had been running with. I decided to keep moving and hope for the best. Fortunately, and in spite of a few more ankle rolls, it started to get back to normal after some cautious km’s.
The course continued over lots of rocky singletrack trail interspersed with some road sections which were the only times you could really get a normal stride and pace going for any length of time (if you had enough energy!) The aid stations were well stocked, and volunteers were helpful. Dean Karnazes was even working at one of the aid stations! I think I only hit one station that didn’t have Clif Shot Bloks, but they all had a ton of stuff available.
I ran the whole race on HoneyMaxx hydration and Clif Gels and Bloks. I didn’t have any issues with a lack of energy and have been really happy with this Clif/HoneyMaxx combo all year. Very simple and easy (especially when Clif is a race sponsor and stocked at all aid stations!)
During the late morning hours we started hitting some serious river crossings. With a lot of rain during the week before the race, the water levels were high. There were a number of spots where I found myself in water up to my knees. My shoe/sock combo was working well and I had no issues with my feet being wet all day. I actually found myself looking forward to the water to cool them down!
I struggled during the middle portion of the race with tired legs. I think it was the combination of the ankle rolling and residual fatigue from my last race that had me mentally unfocused. I was happy to pull my brain out of the doldrums over the last 20km where the course got pretty challenging. The last section included some steep and very rocky climbs. I was picking off some of the other 50M runners that had dropped me earlier in the day. This was energizing me, and combined with the force of the finish line pulling me along, I had my most enjoyable running since early in the race. Before I knew it, I was through the underpass that we had crossed 9 hours earlier and I realized the finish line was only a few hundred metres away. I also saw that the last runner I had picked off was close, but I had enough left for a strong kick to the line to hold him off.
The finish line was sweet relief. I was definitely exhausted by the strong fight this course put up. I was looking forward to getting my shoes off, grabbing a cold Sierra Nevada pilsner and soaking in the race festival atmosphere while watching the other finishers. I really love the atmosphere that The North Face Endurance Challenge Series manages to create at their races – runners have access to anything they need: ice baths, massage, food, beer, results, and more.
I definitely didn’t have my best performance, but it was a great day. I was blown away by how badass this course was when it’s located 45 minutes away from so many millions of people! I would have expected the trails to be completely beaten down, and easily tread! I saw the biggest snake I’ve ever seen in the wild during my race, and friends saw a bear during the 1/2 marathon on Sunday. This park is serious wilderness!
Once again, zero complaints about this North Face Endurance Challenge Series Race. They’ve got it down to a science and I can’t wait to join them again for the first ever Canadian stop on the tour in Ontario in July at Blue Mountain. If you want to join me, use my RBR15 code for a 15% registration discount. They have distances to please anyone, and every wave in every distance is started by the super dedicated series originator, Dean Karnazes (check out the video for one of my favourite parts about Dean’s starts)