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The North Face Endurance Challenge D.C.

No matter how you cut it, 50-miles is 50-miles, so gearing up to run the distance will likely always be an anxious and exciting event for me.  Any number of different factors can affect how a run goes: sleep, training, fuel, digestion, mentality, focus, clothes, a bad a hair day ; )  To combat over thinking any number of factors that could drive me mad, I continually remind myself to take it as it comes.

This mentality served me well as I sat in the Milwaukee airport nearing 7PM on Friday, June 1st.  My flight to D.C. was supposed to leave around 2:30PM, landing me there by 5:30PM, with plenty of time to get my rental car, settle into my hotel, and grab a good meal before a full night’s sleep leading into The North Face 50-mile Endurance Challenge starting at 5AM Saturday morning.  Instead the overhead speaker gave update after update of the torrential downpour and tornado warnings looming over D.C., preventing any plane from landing and delaying all flights ready to take off.

“What an adventure this is already,” I thought as I smiled to myself, wondering if I should change into my race gear in the bathroom before take off, just in case we were delayed enough to reason that I would get off the plane and have to drive right to the starting line.

Hours later, safely in D.C., I settled in for a 2-hour nap as I set me alarm for 2:45AM.  After all, I was just grateful to be on location with the opportunity to run the next day.  Life could be much worse.

With the freshly fallen rain and a cloudless morning sky, a chill hung in the air before sunrise.  It would make for a perfect temperature to run.  The ground though was a different story and I prepared myself for the fact that my feet would be soaked the entire day.

As consistent with the welcoming North Face Endurance Challenge Series, many new ultra runners toed the line as we waited for our race countdown.  This was ever more apparent after the start as the rookie runners scattered single-file to the edge of the trail to avoid the large puddles that had formed up the middle.  “Who’s afraid of water?” I blurted out as I sliced straight up the center directly through the puddles. The effort to stay dry was pointless; 50-miles of trail lay ahead and a runner is more likely to twist an ankle avoiding water, then to get a run-ending blister going through it.

Miles into the race and out on the single track, the course paralleled the Potomac River.  The track was compacted, firm mud that curved boldly back and forth on the river’s steep bank.  I kept anticipating undulating hills, but the trail remained flat, so I let my legs move evenly below me as I enjoyed the sunrise and thanked God for another day of running.

It was during this river section of the course that I foreshadowed the late mile difficulties.  After three 7-mile loops in Great Falls Park, we would head back to the finish on this very same track.  It was through the early swampy sections that the mud slid around under my shoes so slick that it felt like running in sand.  After miles of the sliding, my butt and hip muscles started to feel the extra work, and I felt slightly pessimistic about the early fatigue as I entered the Great Falls Park aid station at mile-14.

Into the aid station I was running with a tight group of lead female runners, but I decided to take the time to change my heavy shoes & soaked socks.  The Great Falls loops totaled 21-miles all together and dry gear could make all the difference, even if only for a little bit.

With renewed confidence & a full fuel pack, I took off down the trail to fight for a place among the top female runners.

The first 7-mile loop I spent gaining ground and assessing the other runners abilities.  The second loop I gained speed and passed three women positioning myself as third place female.  The third loop I held on and willed myself to project a strong stride so the other women wouldn’t try to catch me. And the 14-miles back on the single track I threw my feet forward as quickly as I could, through the mud and muck, while coaching myself not to lose the ground I had worked to gain.

As the miles counted down from 50, the clock counted up.  I did the math over and over again using my fingers, but I kept forgetting if I had calculated whether or not I could break 8 or 9-hours for a race time.  How many miles were left? How fast was I running? What aid station had I just passed? I just couldn’t remember, so I just kept moving as fast as I could.

I crossed the finish line as third place female with a finishing time of 8-hours & 25-mins.  Most significantly though, on the podium the MC mentioned one of my reasons for running; MS Run the US, Inc. and the cure for multiple sclerosis.  I proudly stepped on stage wearing my MS Run the US race jersey and smiled as I chatted with other runners about the cause and the cure we’re fundraising for.

No matter how many good races God blesses me with, I know that I am ever more grateful for the opportunity to reflect the inspiration my mom has provided for my life.  I am all too aware that at any moment everyday-blessings can be striped from a life for no particular reason.  I know in my heart though, that if that were to happen to me, I could honestly say that while I had the gift, I did not waste it.  For this very reason, I hope to keep running every race as fast as I can, not for a place, but just because I can.

My mom & I


  • by ashleyk
  • posted at 9:07 PM
  • June 6, 2012