Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The North Face Endurance Challenge

The last three years I have felt I have been part of something special. Even, elite. This race is fairly new. Only in it's 4th year, The North Face Endurance Challenge has only been ran 2 times in the D.C area. The 3rd one was washed out due to a tropical storm. Even though it has only been ran twice, I was a part of it. The first year it was ran at Great Falls Park. It was brand new. I only noticed it through Runner's World Magazine. I signed up for it before I realized, THIS IS A TRAIL RACE! I was brand new to racing and a bit too excited about the sport for my own good. My eagerness and ignorance paid off. My first trail race ever had me hooked.

I ran the 10K that early September morning. It went by so quickly, I don't even recall the details. Only that its was dirty and hot that day. The trail was not as difficult as I thought it would be, but FAR more interesting than boring old road. As I finished the race, I kept hearing the name "Dean Karnazes". As I said, I was fairly new to the sport and had no idea who this guy was. I blew off the after party. Went home and Googled the name. I found out that Dean was, well, a big deal! Having missed the chance to meet someone that has had so much to do with this race, I was determined to be one of the first in the following year to sign up.

The next year, I signed up for the half-marathon. I was ready. And I was, sort of. The race that year was washed out. And I was pretty disappointed. The race was in my neighborhood, on trails in my hood. I had an advantage. I was pretty worried that the race wouldn't run again in my area. I was surprised when it was. But we will get to that and my tips. First, let me tell you what they did when the race was canceled. First, they gave us half of our money back, awesome North Face technical shirts that have the Endurance Challenge on the sleeve (you can only get those if you were in the race), North Face socks, a North Face winter hat and a happy hour at a hotel. My family and I went to get the booty at the hotel. And as we walked in, there he was, Dean Karnazes. Everyone lined up to meet him. It was a bit of mad house. My son, managed to talk to the ladies assisting Dean and he was allowed to draw numbes for the raffle. After which, Dean personally came over to meet my son, sign an autograph, give him a couple hats for himself and sister and take a picture with him. A great guy all around. My son and I read his first book at this great evening. So, it was a total wash out.

The year 2009 came. And again, I was one of the first to sign up for the race. And again, they were running it my hood. I was FAR more ready. And again, I THOUGHT I was ready. The course is at Algonkian Regional Park. The morning of the race is what we would call in the area, a little warm. I was so excited I didn't care. My son, aka Road Crew, and I arrived earlier enough to wander around the familiar park that had been transformed into more of a running festival than boat launching park it is known for. My son, bored within minutes, pulled his fishing pool out as began to warm up. FYI: Great place for fishing if you fish. Minutes ticked by and we all lined up at the start of the half-marathon. Some familiar faces I had seen in the area were there. Many new faces. Listening to the announcer talk about the 50 milers and 50 K runners from the early morning start. There was a total of 4 races that year; 10K, Half-Marathon, 50K & 50 Miler. We all counted down to the horn and off we went. It was great and challenging. Remember, I said this was my "hood". Well, there were parts of my hood I had no idea existed. I fell three times tripping over roots, calf muscle cramped up on me and took a wrong turn. I will cover these mistakes in my tips and lessons learned. As I finished, I felt as though I accomplished something. You see, this was my FIRST half-marathon. I have ran 13 miles before, but not a race. And yes, my first half, was a trail race. If you have ever ran a trail race, you may call me nuts. I didn't do too bad for my first time: 2:06:32.6. Not to make excuses, but I did fall a few times and caught a cramp. I still finished, and that is what counts to me. After the race, I finally got to meet Dean myself. He remembered my son and asked him when he will run a race. "Maybe next year." Maybe. My son was then asked to draw numbers for prizes again. I think he has found his calling. Again, Dean rewarded the boy with some North Face swag. It was quite a day. Quite a race. Quite a life.

Tips and lessons learned.
  1. Sports drinks are your friend. In the summer, water is just not enough. You need to fuel up right and hydrate right. I am a big GU and Accerade fan.
  2. Trail shoes are a must. Going up hills and through creeks require special shoes. Shoes with traction and water resistant. I wear Salomons. However, mine don't fit just right. Which cause me to get my first black toe nail and a nice sized blister after a run through a creek.
  3. Wear sleeves. I cannot stress this enough. Some trails are single tracked. You will have brush on both sides. As you run, the brush may slap your arms. And if you have no sleeves, well I am sure you can figure that out.
  4. Accept nature. You will encounter snakes, deer and insects. Me being a country boy and former soldier you would think I would be OK with this. Well, I hate snakes and deer seem to JUMP out at you some times on the trail forcing a few profound words to escape your lips.
  5. Be courteous. Not everyone that you will run with on these trail races will be as experienced as you. They will not, accept it. Do not attempt to get in a yelling match. Some of these people are new to the sport and may be their first race...just like I was. Just stay as far right as possible and everything will be fine.
  6. If you are a bleeder, do something about it. A man that seemed to be in my shadow the entire race was a nipple bleeder. I mean, he was bleeding! And of course he had a WHITE shirt on. Bleeders, buy the pasties and get some Body Glide. Or wear a red shirt. Gross.
  7. Pay attention to the ground. I know, road runners are like WHAT? Really, look at the ground 4 feet in front of you. Know where you are going to plant your feet. And watch for roots. You can very easily catch your toe and be face first in the dirt.
  8. Pay attention to the trail. Watch for the markers. Some trails, such as this race, have intersecting trails. I once kept going straight when I should have went left. a minute later, I saw I took a wrong turn. Stopped and turned around. To my surprise, 3 other runners were right behind me staring at me. "Um, I took a wrong turn I think. " We all laughed and got back on the trail. I am looking for a technical running shirt that says "Don't follow me, I am lost too!"
  9. Have fun! I cannot stress this enough. Have fun. Laugh. Hoot and yell...others will join you.
  10. Stay for the after party.

The registration has been opened for this years North Face Endurance Challenge 2010. Advertisements are in Runner's World Magazine. I have even recruited some fellow runners to run it this year. This year's race will be a little different. It is now a 2 day event. They added a 5K, full marathon and a kids fun run. The same trail will be used, again in my hood. And again, I am doing my FIRST marathon and it is a trail race. I may be crazy, but damn am I having a good time.

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