This year I’ve been blogging about my 50-mile races with The North Face Endurance Challenge Series, but really, the 50-mile race is only half of my challenge with TNF. Through some quick emailing last year with the Event Director, Nick Moore, I found out that no one has run all 50-mile races & half marathon races at all Endurance Challenge locations (6) in one year (or ever for that matter). I decided that that sounded like a good challenge so for the better part of this year I’ve been running both the 50-mile race AND the half marathon race back-to-back. For each event location I’ve arrived with the notion to race the 50-mile event and just run the half marathon. So off I go to each event racing the 50-miler and blogging about it while brushing the half marathon blogging to the side.
“What has it felt like to follow up a 50-mile race with a 13.1 mile run the very next day?”, I’m asked quiet often.
I think it’s time I stop brushing the half marathon aside and write about it.
To be honest with you, it’s been painful. Ha! No really, it has. I don’t know what endorphins I was sucking last year when I followed up the 2011 TNF WI 50-mi race with a 1 hr 46 min half marathon, but they aren’t the ones I’ve been sucking this year…
First up was Bear Mountain in New York, a brutal and beautiful course through the mountains north of West Point, NY. The North Face website gives this course a 5/5 rating for difficulty & technical terrain, boasting an overall elevation change of over 14,000 feet. I raced the 50-miler with a 3rd-place female podium finish and a time of 10 hours & 30 mins. The cut-off for the 50-miler is 14 hours; two-hours more generous then the usual 12-hr 50-mile cut-off. My 10 hour+ finish wasn’t a slow race for me; that was me hauling-ass up and down mountains so to say I “hurt” the next morning for the half marathon is putting it nicely.
Nonetheless I arrived Sunday morning for my half marathon and got on my way like everyone else. The pain in my right IT band/knee was immense and nearly unbearable. The trail narrowed and ascended into the woods and I wiped away tears as I hobbled through the pain. I felt nauseous as I thought about the fact that I hadn’t even covered one mile.
As I slowly made my way forward I remembered the words of friend & ultra legend Marshall Ulrich, “A lot of times if you keep moving forward through the pain your body just gives up on it and lets you be.” I prayed for my body to let me be. With 10-miles remaining I got my wish and ran pain-free across the finish line 3 hours after I began. Considering that I thought I was going to have to walk the whole thing, a 3-hr finish was beautiful.
A month later I made my way to TNF event in D.C. The website gives this course a 3/5 for elevation and overall difficulty, but only a 2/5 for technical terrain. What the website did not take into account was the thunderstorm monsoon the region would get the night before the 50-mile race would happen. Flat beautiful trails were pocketed with miles of standing water and puddles. The beauty of the course came from a single-track trail that paralleled the Potomac River. The difficulty of the course came from that beautiful single-track trail turning into miles upon miles of slippery mud. The first 13-miles, which would also be the returning 13-miles were 60% mud and muck. It was just like running through sand. I finished out the 50-mile race, again in 3rd-place with a finishing time of 8 hours 25 mins, knowing all too well what my legs would face the next day for the half marathon.
The excitement of the event weekend and my determination to beat the mud got the best of me. I ran out too fast in the start only to die on the return. I took my last 5 miles down to a jog and enjoyed the scenery when possible, but came in slightly disappointed I couldn’t find the same legs that ran a 1:46 half the year before. I ran this half in 2 hrs & 35 mins.
For event numero tres, I found myself on familiar ground this past weekend at TNF-WI event. I ran a 50-mi Personal Best the day before so I wasn’t expecting grandeur in the half, but I didn’t want to slog it either. I took to the road on our way to the trail, but found myself walking multiple times as my IT band/knee shot sharp pain up the side of my leg. I yearned for the soft trail to ease the pain and hoped that the initial uphill would warm up my muscles enough to loosen the IT band tension. Again I was granted my wish and was able to run out a 2-hr half marathon with minimal discomfort, but still came in 14 mins shy of my time last year.
In general I would say my back-to-back 50-mile/half marathon races have been lessons in pain, character building, and endurance. Sometimes things in life hurt, but that doesn’t mean endeavors shouldn’t be attempted or that tasks shouldn’t be finished. Pain has a threshold that can be increased with experience. I now know that each time I endure a pain, I will be more adapt to handle the stress it causes next time around.
Three back-to-backs down, two* more to go! : )
*Though The North Face Endurance Challenge Series has six events, the KS event only has a one-day event option of which I can only participate in one race. There is no back-to-back option. If you ask me, I’m being robbed ; )
- by ashleyk
- posted at 3:20 PM
- September 18, 2012