I ran the North Face Endurance Race series 50k at Bear Mountain this past weekend. I have run in the marathon relay once and in the half marathon twice. I have wanted to run one of the longer distances for a while now and this year was the year to do it. (They also offer a 5k, 10k, marathon, and 50 miler options).
I have had a very solid training base through the end of March, when I was up to 35+ miles a week with a long run of 20 miles. Right around the beginning of April, I tweaked something in my left knee while playing volleyball, which then caused a Baker’s cyst (the inner knee fluid seeps out and collects in a pocket behind the knee, making the knee difficult to bend/extend. The cyst itself is generally not harmful but is a symptom of an underlying issue. It goes away with rest and recovery). The knee issue led to a decrease in training, which was effectively an early taper before the race.
The week leading up to the race we had a few days in the high 80’s and low 90’s which would have been hard to race in, but race day started cool with start time temps in the 50’s and a high about 70. The parking, parking shuttle, packet pick up and bag drop were all smooth, the it was time to get down to business.
There were about 450 runners in the 50k, they started in waves. I was in the 5th out of 6 waves. My strategy was simple – start slow and taper off. I had my phone set to strava which gave me an audio cue when I hit each mile, then I could compare with my watch and the race pace chart to see how I was doing. The pace chart showed the distance to each aid station and the expected time of arrival for the lead runner (about 7 min pace), the middle runner (about 12:20 pace), and the trail runner (about 19 min pace). I had a good steady trot on the flats and downhills and walked the uphills and stayed on the middle runner pace through the last aid station (mile 28). By then I was taking longer walking intervals and my trot was more of a shuffle, but I kept moving and knew I would finish.
I finished in 7:21, which was an average pace of 14:17. I was 230th out of 438 finishers and 25th out of 44 in the male 45-49 age group.
I met a few interesting folks along the way. A few neighbors and friends from West Point were there, including a neighbor named Gabe who was either just ahead of me or just behind me for the first 22 miles before my pace really slowed and he pulled away. I was wearing my Team RWB shirt, a non-profit group that helps veterans stay active and saw a few other Team RWB folks. I talked to one of them, James, at the start of the race. He was out of San Antonio and was up at West Point for his fortieth reunion weekend! He said that he tried to get some of his class mates to run with him but he didn’t get any takers.
The race aid stations were well supported with water, HEED, PB&J sandwiches, pretzels, potatoes, gels, M&Ms, bananas, and oranges. I had a camelback with water and food, but it was so well supported that I did not need most of the food I brought. I drank my camelback while running and had HEED with electrolytes at the aid stations and had gels and other snacks at the stations too. Nutritionally, I think I got the balance about right - eating enough to keep up my energy but no so much that I felt bloated or sick.
For equipment, I had gotten a new pair of Salomon trial shoes earlier in the spring. I had worn them on three shorter trail runs without issue and wore them on the race and my feet were fine in them. I almost wore a newish pair of shorts but they had given me the slightest bit of irritation on training runs, so I swapped out with an old reliable pair of Nike shorts that have never had any irritation. (by the end of 7 miles that little irritation could have been major chafing and I did not need that!) Overall, happy with the gear choices and performance.
By the time I was done, I was pretty drained (physically and, somewhat surprisingly for me, emotionally). As I was running in the last 2 miles, there were a bunch of marathon relay people passing me and I was nearly overcome with emotion – the joy and relief at almost being done combined with the spent legs and achy body. I finished strong, with an 11:48 last mile (my mile splits ranged from 10:09 on a smooth fast mile-6 section to 21:16 on a very rugged and steep mile-27) and made it across the finish with a huge grin on my face and my arms in the air. I was able to take it easy on Sunday, working the computer system at my son and daughter’s swim meet. By Monday, I could still feel tightness in my legs but was moving around better. I was even able to play a few games in our lunchtime volleyball league. I was a little slower and didn’t have quite the same ups, but managed to play well. I think today I will venture out on a short slow jog just to help continue to loosen things up.
Overall, it was a very tough experience, but I am so glad that I tackled it and that I was able to exceed my expectations and finish as well as I did. I don’t know if I will do it again or if I would consider anything longer, but I am so glad that I did it.
Here is the route, starting and ending at Bear Mountain in the upper right.
Here is the elevation (on the left scale) and pace (blue line, on the right scale). Total elevation gain was 5,300 ft.