Race Report: The North Face Endurance Challenge – Wisconsin 50 Mile

The North Face Endurance Challenge WisconsinThis past weekend, like most ultra races, seemed to have a bit of everything.  New friends, old friends, mass influx of early morning endorphins, dizziness / nausea, thoughts of never running again, turning the car around for some sub-6min/mi closing speed, and a podium finish accompanying a 75 minute personal record.  I guess there’s my race report … that’s about it really, but for more details keep reading.

The week started with shameless social media inquiries to anybody that would let me park my car on their campsite to sleep for the night before the race.  Sure enough, somebody bit and my new friend Thad and his three buddies hosted a great pre-race campfire. Forgetting S-Caps I made a McDonalds run for a handful of salt-packets and resisted the temptation to pound a few McDoubles.  Back at camp those that drank beer gave more than enough entertainment for those of us that weren’t before retiring to our respective cars / campers.  The CR-V was fine … put the seats down and lay diagonal across the back  trunk area with legs fully extended!  A few pre-race nerves and a full bladder woke me twice but I was up before my 4am alarm and ready to rock.

Drive 2min to the start line, secure gear, shoes, etc. and I’m walking to the start line when I realize the smooth-looking (down right dreamy) fit gentlemen beside me is none other than Dean Karnazes – the face of The North Face Endurance Challenge series and in my opinion living his life of running for all the right reasons.  I mention to him I know what he did for his 30th birthday but he doesn’t know what I did for mine – solo trek across the Grand Canyon and back (Rim-Rim-Rim) on my first time ever running over 30 miles.  He made some comment about making quite the leap especially from training in Iowa before helping me secure my finish line bag and be on my way to the start line … thanks early-morning-Dean with your hair and jaw line already in perfect alignment before sending us up the trail.

First 21

What a great day – perfect chilly conditions and I’m feeling light and comfortable through the early roller-coaster up-downs of the trail.  Lingering ~4-6th place I settle in nicely and chat with a 50mi rookie about pacing, headlamps, and training.  I can’t believe somebody else is viewing me as the experienced guy … only one year ago I was in 10k / road marathon training and had just started dreaming of The Grand Canyon.  After the first aid station I find myself alone in 4th and after a quick “business” / leaf-wipe I’m on my way settling into a great early morning rhythm.  In training and now racing, there is no better time to run than the cusp of dawn and into sunrise.  Just an excellent time of worship and prayer almost forgetting the pain that will be had in a few short hours from now.  At the second AS I started to wake up a bit refilling on water and inviting the AS crew to join in my fun with some air-drums and/or air-guitar.  Filing out towards the fields I popped in the ear-buds and zoned out to some talk radio / stand-up comedy for another hour or so before coming upon 3rd placer Eric Senseman.  With some friendly chatter and a few miles together I made my only true pass of the day and into 3rd place – a spot worth $350 if I could hold it to the finish.  Approaching the 21mi AS I saw my long-time college roommate / buddy and favorite Puerto Rican runner Micah Hernandez and we exchanged hellos, water bottles, and goodbyes just as I outlined in my crewing emails.  According to him and others on the course I was ~11 minutes back from first … wha?  That much?  I felt great and running conservative but didn’t know I had that much work to do.

Next 14

These next miles were quite the turning point.  The rolling hills got even “rolling-er” and I knew my road marathon shoe choice (Nike Luna Racer) was having a bit of a hard time with the hard gravel.  Nonetheless I pushed forward looking forward to the next AS where Micah would start running with me for a while as a pacer.  This was an out-and-back section and I was able to see the first two runners now … oh, that makes sense.  It was Tyler Sigl – a face I’d seen all too often in college.  A freshmen when I was an upperclassmen he was already topping the NCAA DIII national scene and would go on to become a 3-time national champion, 13-time all-American, and Olympic Marathon Trials qualifier (2:17:28).  Another quick exchange with my single-man crew/pacer from the unincorporated US Territory Estado Libre Asociado de Puerto Rico  and we were off and running together.

The next few miles were full of chatter catching up on life, family, and old college memories.  Letting Micah talk on the uphills and throwing in my diminishing and shorter two-cents elsewhere it was the perfect mental break and without knowing it I had already put in 30+ miles on the day.  Well, then I did start to know it … finishing up this section I was feeling empty, depleted,  a bit dizzy, and just down right tired heading into the next AS.  The only salt available was in a bowl so I had no problem double and triple dipping my sweaty fingers to get some kind of balance.  Micah filled my bottles with soda – no Sprite available (!) so it had to be Coke in my 10oz and Mt Dew in the 20oz.  And that’s how I left him … sweaty hugs as he departed for his son’s birthday party and I moved down the trail towards more pain and nausea.

Next 5

Rough.  Feeling like I had to pee for the last 90+ minutes I finally stopped and did it.  My bladder thanked me, but I couldn’t help but realize I wasn’t retaining water … low salt and possibly too much caffeine (especially with the Coke AND Dew?).  Chomping into some McD’s salt packs helped a couple minutes at a time, but the technical rolling trail was dominating me as I felt light headed and dizzy after every climb.  The sun was coming out and while trotting through the 20-degree-warmer fields again I was shot – not my legs, not my lungs … but just … my brain, balance, body.  I knew as I approached the next AS slowly I needed salt / electrolytes and I needed it … well, NOW!!!! I changed out my Mountain Dew bottle for GU Brew (I think) – sports drink without caffeine and basically chewed down some scoops of salt and Cliff Blocks. Leaving the AS I was halted to wait for cars before crossing the street … I made no objection as my body wanted less running and more couch-sitting & football-watching.  But a short 3 seconds later the car passed and I was on my way … waiting for one of two things – 1) feel better or 2) stagger to the next AS and drop out

Last 10

Things turned around.  I was able to run the entire way save one or two climbs and just wanted to keep moving.  My legs felt fine the whole way but now my energy and brain were back in the game.  With 6-ish miles to go I ate anything that looked good at the AS which ended up being about everything.  Cliff blocks were a favorite and I feel like I should give them a try next time out with 33+cal per block!  I smelled the finish line as I whizzed by the last aid station (actually grabbing nothing) 3.7 miles from home … and then it happened.  He reassured me I was never alone and never actually down and out … a second (or 4th? 5th?) wind … a massive adrenaline / endorphin / spiritual rush came over me in the last 3 miles.  Blaring the likes of Lecrae and some other solid rock I was FLYING through the trail once again.  I doubted that 2nd place was in site, but I did the only thing I knew when I feel this way … HAMMER HOME.  Glancing at my watch as I entered the last “roadway” I know I might be able to break 6:10 so I turned my music OFF and let myself listen and feel the self-inflicted strain that closed out the morning’s run.  The legs were twinging but I knew they’d probably cramp more if I allowed myself to slow down … flying home at ~6min/mi was a glorious feeling after 49+ miles of running/walking.  I wanted to be done … I wanted chili and beer … I wanted to take off my shoes and call my wife, but for now – these next and final steps, I wanted to praise Him.  Thank you Lord for your endurance and your faithfulness on the cross … seeing it through while being beaten and bloodied as you knew it was intended.  You are the true and better self-inflicted sufferer.

Summary

Happy!  Finishing strong and overcoming the rough patch was so rewarding compared to the dismal state I was in to finish up DWD Devil’s Lake 50mi.  Some salt / nutrition tweeks are in order and I’m excited to try some blocks / applesauce as part of my feeding schedules.  I’m not sure where to go from here but want to get in a good effort before winter strikes and I take an extended break.  A more experienced and confident version of myself wants redemption at Wildcat 50km after my (casual / road-trained) ultra debut last year.  But for now … continued recovery and Taco Bell are front of mind 🙂

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