Wednesday, December 7, 2016

The North Face Endurance Challenge 50K

My arms and legs are pumping furiously and I keep looking over my shoulder for a glimpse of the girl in the hot pink shirt. I passed her a couple of kilometers back and now I'm certain she's chasing me down. Being more of the slow-and-steady type, a sprint finish is my worst nightmare. I know I'm close, I just need to hang on a bit longer.

I sneak another peak behind me. There are so many runners on this final, slightly uphill road section where four of The North Face Endurance Challenge events -- 50mile, 50km, marathon and marathon relay -- converge that I can't spot her, but I sense she's closing in. And then I hear spectators shouting "Get her, Kelsey!" and "Go, Kelsey, go!"

I'm pretty sure my face looked like this dog's as I sprinted for the finish!?

In my mind, there were thousands of them all cheering for this Kelsey girl. In reality, it was probably only a couple of people, but it lit a fire under me and I was able to pick it up a bit. In my head, I'm thinking "sorry, Kelsey, not today, this is my day." (For the record, I don't know Kelsey nor have anything against her. I chatted with her after the race, and she was very nice.)

This mad dash to the finish seemed more exciting when I thought I was racing for 3rd place and a spot on the podium. It turns out you can't always believe what well-meaning volunteers and spectators tell you as I was actually 4th. Oh well, whatever, it was fun. And painful. But mostly fun.

In fact, the whole day was a blast. I can't remember when I last felt so strong and consistent for an entire race. It makes me very, very happy and relieved. Like I said, it's been awhile since I've experienced such euphoria on the trails with a number pinned on and I thought maybe that part of me was broken. Was it my best race result? Nope, but the races I find most personally satisfying usually aren't.

Amazing views and lots of climbing (over 7,200ft)
Photo credit:
This was my third time at the Endurance Challenge, having run the 50-miler in 2011 (race report) and 2012 (race report), and I continue to be very impressed by how well organized everything is, especially considering how many different events and athletes are involved. The course is scenic and well-marked, and there are plenty of aid stations. Plus, there is a nice selection of beer and hot food at the finish. And for once I wasn't suffering from post-race nausea so I could actually enjoy it!   

I had originally planned on running the 50-mile distance until a random knee injury mid-October set my training back a few weeks, and I decided 50k would be smarter. And since Dave was also signed up for the 50k, I thought a little spousal rivalry would be fun. (Dave had a good day and finished 15th OA and 2nd in his age group; thus, kicking my ass - surprise, surprise. Full results here.)

We arrived in San Francisco late Wednesday and spent the next two days exploring the Bay area on foot. It's such a beautiful city with so much to see and do, and we lucked out with perfect weather for the entire five days we were there. In hindsight, it probably wasn't the best idea to walk that many city miles before a tough run, especially in hilly San Fran, but those are the trade-offs with a race holiday.

Another potential attempt at self-sabotage occurred the day before the race when we made the unwise (yet delicious!) decision to have the extra spicy Thai curry at lunch. I knew it was a bad idea even as Dave was ordering it and yet I said nothing. Miraculously, for a girl with a looooong history of GI probs during races, my stomach was totally fine on Saturday. Whew! Still, I probably won't do that again.

For once, I had absolutely no race drama. Everything went smoothly, which unfortunately means no funny stories for my race report -- sorry. All the things I worried might flare up (and it's a fairly long list these days!), didn't and I was able to focus on simply running, eating and drinking. I couldn't even obsess over the data as my Garmin hadn't charged properly so I went watch-less for the first time in an ultra. Initially, I felt a bit lost without it, but after awhile I didn't miss it at all and may race without it in the future. If I race again that is... ;)

Usually once my last race of the year is over, I can't wait to start making plans for next season. Not so this time. I really don't know what's next for me. For now, I'm going to take a bit of time off from running to deal with a few chronic niggles. I'm also looking forward to getting out on skis and snowshoes, and tackling the tower of books on my nightstand. I suspect before long, I'll be pulling out maps and scheming on spring road trips and adventures, but for now I'm going to enjoy some downtime with no big plans or training programs to follow.

This year has had its share of ups and downs but overall I'm satisfied with where I'm at and what I've accomplished. I've tried to listen to my body even if I didn't like what it was saying and that meant taking time off to rest, racing less, healing injuries, building strength and, most importantly, finding joy in running again.

A huge thanks to The North Face Canada for your steadfast support and for making me look way cooler -- and faster -- than I actually am for the past three years. I'll never know why you decided to take a chance on sponsoring me, but I'm sure glad you did! #NeverStopExploring

Happy December my friends!