North Face Endurance Challenge 50K Trail Race Report + Ultra Tips
It’s been a big couple weeks for me—May kicked off with the North Face Endurance Challenge 50K Trail Race in Bear Mountain, NY, for me, just a couple days before the first book in the Shred Girls series came out with Random House and one week ahead of our launch party at Joyride150 Bike Park in Markham, ON. So this race report is a little late, but I wanted to take a minute and talk about the race a tiny bit. It was my first race of the season and my second 50K ever, and it was a bit of a mental hurdle for me.
The Killington Under Armour Mountain Run Series race last August was my first 50K and it went shockingly well—I loved the distance and had a great finish as the third woman overall then. So there was a little bit of ‘was that beginner’s luck’ / ‘did I just like that new challenge versus the race style’? as I headed into this year.
There was also a lot of nervousness on my part because I started working with ultrarunning rockstar coach David Roche back in November, and for once in my life, I followed a training plan to the letter (with some input and changes from me based on minor knee injuries and cycling camps I was coaching…). So I had a lot of internal pressure to want it to go well. But at the same time, thanks to the knee issues I was having, I was pretty relaxed about the outcome to a certain extent—I didn’t expect a miracle race.
I’m not in the habit of posting race reports, so this won’t be a lengthy one. From the start, I had a couple of goals in mind:
- Race my own race
- Smile every mile (as per David’s edict to racers!)
I started in the lead group because I have a really terrible habit of sticking with whatever pace I’m surrounded by (this is per my dad, who’s watched me at hundreds of races at this point, and from triathlon to cyclocross to any distance running, I will run the pace around me 95% of the time). I know that if I want to do decently in a race, or even simply push to my actual potential, I need to seed myself in a spot that’s challenging (not TOO challenging) enough that I don’t fall back thinking I’m at the right pace, only to finish a race with a ton left in the tank.
Before the race, I decided my strategy was going to be to run with my Osprey Dyna Hydration Vest that I freaking love, packed with around 1 liter of Tailwind (unflavored) and 3 Clif Bar cherry chocolate gels with caffeine. Stuff that I’ve used in training over and over again that I know will work for me. My plan was to avoid stopping at aid stations unless I ran dry, because I know that’s where I would lose minutes and momentum (especially momentum).
The only major change for me race-day-wise was opting for a t-shirt instead of long-sleeves or a singlet: With the vest, something with sleeves is almost necessary to prevent chafing issues on my back/underarm, so while I hate the aesthetic of a tshirt, it was the most practical option, and luckily, I was reviewing this Rush one for Under Armour and really liked the fit and feel of it. Would recommend, even if you’re not usually a tshirt person.
If you’re wondering about shoes, it was a stressful decision!! You all know I love my Vivo Barefoot shoes, but for distances like this on terrain that’s this rocky and unpredictable, Vivos would have been really hard to use and would have wrecked my feet. But…. In the last few months, I’ve tried about 10 different sneakers trying to find a new one with a bit more sole to get me through a technical, rocky race. The one shoe with zero drop but a decent sole hurt my feet. The others managed to tweak my knee or fit just a little awkwardly. Then, I pulled out my On Running Cloudventure shoes I had gotten in September. I’d run in them a few times and they’d been fine–nothing earth-shattering, but they didn’t bug me either, and to be honest, I had forgotten about them after getting my new Vivos and leaving the On Running ones behind January through March when we were on the road. But I put them on for a couple of short runs and realized that they were actually the best option that I had.
Skier Julian Carr had turned me on to them, and while I thought they were fine for our local trails, I forgot that Julian is a mountain runner and uses them on extremely hectic, rocky, hilly terrain… and that’s clearly where they shine. I was SO impressed by how well they held up, and unlike my ultra last summer, I ended this race with extremely pruny feet but only one minor blister.
Anyway… I didn’t stick with the lead-lead group, and while I was the first woman for the first couple miles, I was passed by a hella fast woman who just casually blazed by me on a hill. I briefly thought about following her, and knowing now that I made it through with no knee issues, I kind of wish I had (but hindsight is 20-20). But I stayed at my consistent pace. Definitely, looking back, I could have pushed harder in that first half, but my pacing is still extremely questionable since I haven’t done enough of these to know what I’m capable of.
I won’t go into every single mile—but I will say I realized in an ultra, the worst miles are from 25-50% of the way. So, for a 50K, that’s around from 10 to 25 kilometers. You’re through the initial excitement and most of the race drama of passing and getting passed, and things are pretty shook out… but you’re still SO far from halfway. Once you hit halfway, I feel like you can start counting down a bit, and that’s where it feels like ‘OK, I’m actually going to make it.’
At around 5 miles to go, I realized I was out of water. I had more backup gels in the backpack part of my vest, but what I really needed was more water, and I was KICKING myself because when filling my pack the night before, I decided 1.5 was too full and emptied water out—water that would have been SUPER helpful. Still, there was an aid station just 3 miles from the finish, so I was able to stop and grab a few sips of Coke and then a few sips of water. With that little distance left, it wasn’t a big deal, but I would have preferred to save the couple minutes at the aid station and just keep moving. It’s not a huge deal, but I did lose 2 overall spots because of it.
Still, I came into the last half kilometer feeling pretty solid and ended up doing a semi-pointless but really fun last push into the finish, because I love sprinting the finish line, regardless of who’s around me. Because it makes me happy, and why not finish by emptying the tank?
I ended up 2nd woman overall (out of around 150) and the 26th finisher out of all the 5oK participants (around 500), so I was ridiculously pleased there—I hadn’t really expected to have a solid result, I was looking at this as a ‘try and see how it goes’ race… though I know somewhere in my subconscious, the drive to try to do well is always alive and burning.
But really, I was happy to have put together a fairly clean, consistent race. My pace didn’t drop halfway through, I ate and drank regularly, I smiled almost every mile, I chatted with people along the way, and—most important—like Killington, I crossed the line feeling SO completely happy and in love with that type of racing.
Actually, more important—I was able to happily house a cheeseburger and a can of soda, chill on a grassy hill with my parents for a couple hours, then roll to my good friend’s house, stay up late chatting and eating tacos and drinking margaritas, and wake up the next morning feeling a little stiff but generally fine, and with only a single small blister to show for it!
My new ultra-running tips:
- Sleeves. My first race, I did sleeveless and ended up with terrible chafing issues thanks to my hydration pack!
- Body Glide. I don’t care how much thigh gap or how low your body fat % is. Being out in the woods all day, you’re going to end up with something rubbing. Between the tshirt and Body Glide on underarms and thighs, I was SO much more comfortable this time!
- Smile. There were miles that I was definitely grimacing more than I was smiling, but I still contorted my face into a grin, even when I was by myself. And honestly, it really made a difference in my mood.