And thank god it’s done. The North Face Endurance Challenge 50k was by far a huge test in willpower and a demonstration of lack of preparedness. I was severely under-trained and needed that finish line to show up around mile 27 more than anything.
Have you ran a marathon, and you hit the “wall” around mile 20 or you reach that point around mile 24 where you don’t really care anymore and you just want to the race to be over? That last few miles of excruciating pain or deliriousness sucks. Well, just because you run 31 miles instead of 26.2 doesn’t mean that feeling around mile 24 is pushed back to mile 28. You still feel like you want to be done and die, but you’re still 7 miles from being done. Suck!
It started setting in around mile 17 with the hip flexors. That was a sign that it was going to be a tough last half. Negative split? Ya right. Mile 19ish was the turn off for extra miles for the 50k crew. You’ve never experienced true disappointment than going down a lonely road, downhill, knowing that you have to run back up that long lonely road, after adding 3 more miles to your death march. The North Face Endurance Challenge series is typically a trail run. If you have ever been on trail runs or hiking in general, you know that it’s much more of a challenge than pavement running. You’re dodging roots, rocks, foreign objects, squirrels and maybe a bear or two. You’re heart rate immediately red lines as you’re hopping and skipping to secure footing. Remember trails don’t care about sudden changes in elevation for cars and motorized traffic. Well, North Face decided that since we were on pavement, they would hit every single hill they could find in Kansas City.
If you think Kansas City is flat, you’re fooling yourself. Downtown is a minefield of hills (and gunfire if you wondered too far off the course). Don’t think I wasn’t checking out a few “spectators” and grateful for KCPD at every turn. But aside from mortal danger, every one of those damned hills were life sucking, energy zapping obstacles that got harder and harder to overcome.
By mile 24 I made the executive decision to walk hills, or I was going to be a mess before even sniffing the finish line. One target was to keep my heart rate between 150 and 160 for the race, and sadly walking up hills with the gusty 20 mph winds in my face at times kept me right up there. I was trying to power walk the hills to keep any semblance of a good pace, but after mile 25 it went to hell in a hand basket. I forgot my drink mix in the car along with my sunglasses, so there I was staggering around blind from the sun and thanking god that they stocked the aid stations (which spaced out like every 2 miles, bonus!) with GU brew, Nuun or Gatorade, each of which I trained with in the past and new I’d be ok using. Luckily I remembered my gel blasts for every 30 minutes to keep the calories replenished. I started taking bananas in at mile 21 to stave off cramping that I knew would be inevitable, but that didn’t really work.
Mile 27 brought the cramps. Ironically I was approaching the finish area of the KC Marathon from a few weeks before, where I started cramping at mile 25.8ish. Same spots… groin and left forearms were the major problem. I think the bananas did keep the quads from locking up, as I could tell from mile 27 to the finish they wanted to. I’ve never been as excited to see a finish line as I was at this race. After running, jogging, shuffling and walking miles 27 to 31, the last half mile was downhill and gave me enough momentum to shuffle to the finish line. At 5:21:35, I was done on so many levels. That is now the farthest I have run at one time and took more time than my first marathon by 5 minutes. That’s a long time to keep your feet moving. I’m still tired thinking about it.
Bonus points were scored for GREAT weather. It was high 30’s, low 40’s at race start and at the finish it was in the high 50’s. The sun was great outside of the fact I forgot my sunglasses, but that’s my doing. I went with the Team Wheaties jacket and under armor base layer on top, wind pants for my legs with thin gloves and a stocking cap. I was pretty comfortable the entire race and never really faced over heating issues. It was just right, but I could have probably survived with less. I wasn’t really sure how to dress since I knew I was going to go through a couple season changes for how long I was going to be wondering the course.
Let’s see, what do you really want to know about running a 50k….?
Can anyone do it? If you trained right, yes. Don’t train like I did. I think I got away with it since I’ve been training for long distance races for the past 3 years. My year round base of long miles allowed me to at least run to mile 27 and shuffle walk to the finish. The last finisher did it in 8:17. If you pace yourself slow enough, you can make it. If you want to finish in 3:15 like the winner, Better Eat Your Wheaties and come up with a solid training plan.
What would I have done different? I would have remembered my sunglasses, switched the wind pants for shorts and remembered my drink from home. Oh, and I would have ran more miles for training. Small details.
Being done now, would I have still ran it knowing what I know now? Sure. It was more for the experience and accomplishment than trying to set land speed records. I have a family and a full time job like my wife, so I was real with myself knowing it was going to be a crap shoot.
Will I run another one or go for longer miles? I’m not sure. A multisport friend, Scotty, ran the 50k as well and asked before the race if I was eyeing the Brew to Brew 46 mile solo race option in 2013. I think my response was something like “f*@k no”. In the near future, I’m focusing on IM Lake Tahoe. I’m not looking to add events like marathons or ultras that require significant recovery time that could impeded my training. My goals are set for 2013. Who knows in 2014.
How did North Face do this year? This was year two for the Endurance Challenge in Kansas City. They changed a few things, and kept some things. The packet pickup was in the hotel, rather than the “village” at the start/finish area. That’s cool, but they only had one vendor selling stuff and it was more administrative than community building. It was purely for the utilitarian purpose of getting your bib, shirt and swag.
Finish/start was on the road this year instead of the park. That’s cool, I didn’t feel that it made a huge difference.
Post race “free” food was only bananas and apples. They also had the same drinks as the aid stations for athletes, but it wasn’t what you have seen for other events with chocolate milk, bagels, other fruit options, etc. The North Face has a much more grass roots approach to the running scene in this regard. Runners did get $10 worth of tickets to use at meal trucks on site, but long lines and vendors running out of food wasn’t very much fun for the 5:21 50k crowd. I had to settle for a coke (I needed caffeine and sugar to get me to my car and then Chipotle) and a bag of chips at the post race village.
They did provide heating pits before the race when temps were so low. So many people crowded by them, that not everyone got to experience the benefits. Like I said, though, I was well prepared for the temps, so no biggie for me.
The aid stations were well played. There was no shortage of fluids (Nuun, Gatorade, Water or GU Brew) and as you reached further into the guts of the race, the long distance stations had chips, bananas, oranges and sports gels. You really could not complain about the spacing or the preparedness of the aid stations. They exceeded requirements for a race of this magnitude.
Another sweet perk was Dean Karnazes hanging out post-race to sign autographs. I wrote up about meeting him for a training run at the KC North Face Store, but didn’t get to geek out and get an autograph. Well, before stumbling back to my car I snagged his signature on my race bib. Pretty sweet. And he remembered my name from meeting me earlier (or he saw it on my race bib), but either way he was cool and tried to be personal with each person he saw after the race. I’m sure he ran at some point in the day, but not sure if he ran one of the actual race distances. I also found it impressive that he was there 5 hours after the start time, catching the last marathoners and 50k finishers. Pretty solid.
So after one suffers through a 50k, how do you recover? Resting on the coach sipping chocolate milk? No. Hitting the space age compression recovery boots? No. Due to a couple of viruses running through the house, my wife was down, so I immediately took over the kids when I got home. By taking over, I meant shuffling around the house trying to stop them from hurting each other or destroying things. The best recovery to avoid muscle soreness is stay moving, right? We hit the park, we wrestled in the living room and then we deposited them with my mom for a movie night and a night sans kids to celebrate 5 years being married. I know, wild and crazy. But hey, we just moved, the wife was sick, I just ran a 50k… it was all we could handle. =) As I kept saying, no rest for the weary. Sunday was spent rigging up a hoist for the roof rack and FINALLY cleaning up the garage enough to park two cars in it! It was a banner day for the moving process that we can now fit two cars in our garage before is starts snowing and freezing rain for the winter.
How’s day 2 post-race? I can feel it in my legs from hip to toes. It’s not debilitating, but sitting in a chair for any length of time creates stiffness when I get up. Overall I’m still “weak” and tired, but honestly I feel better than post-race KC Marathon. Achilles did great, no issues there. Thanks to Slather, the only skin friction issue I had was a blister under a toenail, which really was a function of a deformed toenail rubbing on my shoe. I can’t complain. Just in a little pain in my ass, but I could say that about so many things in life, that it’s not really worth noting.
So that’s it, no real epiphanies. It wasn’t a euphoric finish, crumbling to the ground crying about my accomplishments. I wanted to try something longer than a marathon, The North Face was gracious enough to grant me an entry to share my experience with you guys, and there you have it. I wanted to experience the event, the suffering, the highs, the lows and the accomplishment. That’s what most of my endurance junk is about. Nothing makes you feel more alive and appreciative of what you have than that moment after continuously moving for 31 miles and you get to stop moving.
Special thanks to the wife, Em, my mom and mother in-law for kid watching and the kiddos for going with the flow (as much as kids can).
Here are the official results – official sufferfest photos coming later!
Ryan Falkenrath – 50k 26-35 age group
Chip Time – 5:21:35 for a 10:22 min/mile pace
Overall 106 out of 218
31 out of 47 in 26-35 age group
80 out of 134 men