A very well constructed race. Stephen and I were in wave 3 at the start. 5am, dark, headlamps ready. It was unseasonably warm, so I wore fringe covered Reebok shorts and a TNF crop top sports bra. The high was to be 86° F. The countdown finished and the race began! We all ran and shuffled our way down the shoulder of a local road, figuring out our pace and order. Then hit the trail, where the rest of the race took place. The trail was tree-lined, pretty wild flowers and plants everywhere, and oh, the prarie sections, which I’ll get to later.
The trail was a variety of surfaces, depending on the section. There was packed dirt with diggers (roots) and rocks. Some rocks at times were loose and somewhat large, great for ankles. Some horse trail, covered in sand, with it being a few inches deep. This made it challenging to push off, but provided a nice cushioned landing. The prairies were beautiful, however exposed you to full sunlight on this warm day. The pairies were grassy (obviously), which was a different experience, for me. And as trail runners do, you’re bound to trip and or fall running on these surfaces, which happened to both Stephen and myself.
We didn’t receive any injuries, just more dirt added to our clothing and gear. The course was loopy and had out and backs, where we got to see other runners, say hello, and give words of encouragement. Aid stations were between 5k-5 miles apart, which I thought was perfect. They were well stocked with food and goodies. The volunteers cheered us on and attentive to our needs. One volunteer took my pack, refilled my bladder and then assisted me with putting the pack back on. I had some difficulty moving my shoulders the way they needed to go in order to put the pack back on, as they were becoming stiff.
The difficulty of the course… Yeah… It is marked at 2/5 stars for difficulty on TNFEC website (NY being much more challenging). This was my 4th 50 miler, I was challenged. The middle portion of the trail was rolling hills, literally one after another. With about 12 miles of this, we all wondered when it would end, as it felt like it was taking forever. The 86° F temperature seemed to slowly suck out our energy as the race continued, the majority of the race, especially in the exposed prairies. I found myself saying, “I HATE PRAIRIES.” Suffering is a part of ultras. We love suffering.
Runners were covered in sweat, the trail dirt stuck on top. Some runners were sun burned. Some runners’ faces were coated in salt, which resembled sunblock. We witnessed many runners drop and DNF. There were plenty of medical personnels available, prepared to help those who were in trouble. We heard that due to the higher than normal temperatures, TNFEC had extra emergency staff on hand. With only a few miles left in the race, we observed a man who appeared to be overheated and very much out of it, get put on a stretcher and then into an ambulance. Fortunately, we were able to stay hydrated and well fueled.
My favorite part of the race, the aid stations were handing out ice cold buffs and towels for our enjoyment.. well, safety. We got ice for inside of our hats, which lasted a few miles and slowly melted down our heads and necks. Unfortunately, one time the water ran down my face, causing salt to go into my eye. It stung. Like I needed anything else hurting. My muscles were a little fatigued and hurting, I guess my joints, too. I managed to pick up my pace, especially on downhills, which helped to lengthen my stride and stretch my legs. I stretched my calves as we hiked the larger uphills.
Running downhills and picking up the pace became a late in the race strategy to pass people, even though they would catch up with us at aid stations. Those around us were running about the same pace. We made small talk and exchanged encouraging words with the runners of the similar pace. They were a fun bunch. With about 4 aid stations remaining, I began a countdown, as I was ready to finish the race. Usually, I’m a run-by-feel person and don’t like looking at the mileage on my GPS watch, but sometimes you’re kind of mentally and physically done. We ran the majority of the course, but adopted a run/walk, go as we pleased method.
About 2 miles away from the finish line, I was all business and full of finishing thoughts. “Keep moving forward,” I thought… Similar thoughts throughout the long day. We could hear the finish in the distance, what motivation! We finally came off of the trail and back onto the road. Volunteers were pointing the way and cheering. We could see the final turn and party that awaited. We kicked our pace up a few notches as we ran towards the finish line. We were in grass. Everyone was cheering. The last of us 50 milers were finishing. The announcer announced our names and where we were from as we ran across the timing mat. The photographer took pictures of us running over the mat and of us standing by the race arch. We received congratulations. It was an overall positive race experience! More challenging than I expected, but I love that I learn something new at every race! I really enjoy The North Face Endurance Challenge races, this was my second experience with them (the first being the D.C. trail marathon).
We wobbled to our rental vehicle to change out of our sweaty, smelly clothes. -As a fun side note, throughout the race, runners, spectators and volunteers were complimenting me on my fringe shorts and outfit in general. Mom got me the shorts for my birthday. It was pretty much the first time I have ever put forth effort in my race style. Walking towards our rental vehicle to change shoes and clothes was as much labor as running, we were stiff and sore. At the finish line party, we enjoyed refreshing Sierra Nevada beers and watched the very last runners come in.
F25-29: 3/4 ***