The North Face Endurance Challenge is held in six locations, Washington, DC (trail), Madison, WI (trail), Atlanta, GA (trail), Kansas City, MO (road), San Francisco, CA (trail), and Bear Mountain, NY (trail). This review is for the Washington, DC event.
The Algonkian State Park in Sterling, VA is a beautiful setting for a trail run. Most of the run takes place in the shade of a lush canopy of leaves, along side tributaries heading to the Chesapeake Bay. Temperatures and humidity can vary greatly at this time of year (June) in this region. The heat and humidity can make a real big difference in an endurance event like this. Two years ago the event took place with temps in the 90’s F with almost 100% humidity. It made for a audaciously challenging day. This year the race temps were ideal for a June day in Northern Virginia. The only weather related issue was the torrential rains the night before created miles of shoe sucking mud to run through.
The whole event is a well oiled machine. Pre-race there are informative emails and PDFs instructions and guides are clearly laid out. Packet pick up at The North Face store in Georgetown was amply staffed and went smoothly. I prefer to have everything ready to go the night before the race. Bib pinned on etc. If you are less anal than me I would recommend picking up the packet race day at the event. The 50 mile race starts at 5 a.m. so get there by 4 a.m. if you want to pick up your packet there. The North Face gave you an option of having your TNF tech tee with your distance. This was a great addition to the swag package which included a tech shirt, a water bottle, and arm warmers. In previous years they just gave you a blank t-shirt with no indication of the distance. The amount of runners on the course was also well planned. I enjoyed seeing the 50k and marathon distance runners as they joined in on the course. The staff and the volunteers did a great job manning the aid stations. The aid stations were fully stocked and had a good variety of both liquids and solid foods to choose from. Beautiful trails were clearly marked and groomed. The finish line village was stocked with plenty of water. The runner’s recovery tent is located in a great spot and the signage is visible from every where inside the finish area. They actually had good beer at the finish, there were real choices not just a light beer. The meal included with your registration was also tasty. Then again, after 50 miles anything might have tasted good.
The worst parts of the event were out of the race director’s control. Virginia got slammed by pounding rain the night before the race. This created a muddy mess that made for a challenging run. Besides creating a ridiculously slippery trail the mud clung to your shoes adding weight to every footfall. At times it was an effort to just keep your shoe on. The other item out of the race director’s control was the long distance between a couple of aid stations. There is no road access for about 7 miles or more between one of the aid stations. I did not notice it so much on the way out but in the way back I was sure glad to come up on the oasis. If you are going to run this event, make sure your hydration pack or water bottle is full before you leave the loops at Great Falls. I am not sure if this next comment should be in the bad section or not… The course runs you out about 14 miles and then you do three lollipop loops as one loop, then you run it two more times for a total of three combined super loops. It get’s a little repetitive, but on the other hand I kinda liked it because it is where you see the most runners as you loop around each other. It is also nice because you loop past the Great Falls aid station where all the spectators are. While the medal is nice, it is the exact same medal I received 2 yrs ago. The medal doesn’t even have the year on it. The only customized piece is the ribbon which has the event distance, location, and the year. I like a medal that has all that on it. Maybe they could offer engraving similar to the way they offer the silk screening.
I trained for this event with the help of two people. As much as running is an individual sport, nobody does it by them self. I have a great coach in Caleb Masland, who took all the thinking out of training for a 50 miler. I just had to follow his weekly plan and trust the training he provided. I was also fortunate to train with my friend Stein Langlie that has a similar pace as I have. We ran many training runs together leading up to the main event. At the event we stuck together and finished side by side. I think Stein is actually becoming a stronger runner than me and should start pushing himself a little more which should leave me in the dust. For this race I was glad to have his company, I wouldn’t want to do one of these runs without a good running partner. 50 miles is a long way to go by yourself.
This run was about the mud. It was bad. There was no way to prepare yourself for the mud. It was tough to stabilize yourself as you ran on uneven terrain with four inches of shoe sucking mud squishing out of every step. The mud seemed to cover miles too. I am sure it is my mind exaggerating a little bit, but man the mud was bad. The flip side of the coin, I love knowing I was able to conquer the 50 miles with an added obstacle. I would recommend this race for someone looking for the 50 mile distance challenge. They do a great job with this event.
I tried out a new product that I had used only a handful of times before the run, Skin Strong Slik. This may be my favorite find this year. Skin Strong sent me some samples to check out, so I used the Slik spray on the areas I typically have issues with chaffing. I applied it once before the start of the race and I had NO chaffing issues the entire time I was out there, 10 hrs and 28 minutes. This stuff works great. I also used their powder “Slik Dust” on my feet, good stuff. The aid stations were fully stocked with nutrition choices, but I also carried my own flasks of EFS Liquid Shot Kona-Mocha. Any time I even thought about food or calories I sipped a little to make sure I was properly fueled. The Kona-Mocha flavor has caffeine and EFS has electrolytes already in the gel so no need for sport drinks or pills. Steve Speirs saved me from making a poor shoe choice, I almost opted for regular running shoes. Steve told me that he would probably go with the same shoes I wore at The HAT 50k, Inov-8 RocLITE 285. Since Steve kicked this course’s butt last year, I decided to heed his advice. With the muddy conditions and the climbing the cleats on the 285 saved the day. The one item I was disappointed in was my Salomon Skin S-Labs Hydration Pack. Both gear pockets ripped from the pill purse on one side and the HydraPak SoftFlask in the other. The elastic on one of the pockets even snapped. The fit of the pack is awesome, I love the insulated reservoir and the bite valve is my favorite on any hydration pack I have ever tried and I have tried quite a few. I couldn’t believe with all the other quality features on this pack, the pockets would be so weak. I use Hammer Nutrition Daily Essentials and during the race I popped an Anti-Fatigue pill every hour. On longer runs I have come to value calf sleeves, for this race I chose 2XU because they feel like they hold in less heat then some of the others. I was happy to have them just for protection as we ran through high grass and weeds. My favorite running shirt remains my GORE Running Air Zip shirt, I went with CW-X for shorts paired with my Ruez. I trusted my skin to Mission Athletecare sunscreen. I tracked the run on the Garmin 910.
Download the 50 mile course information including maps here
Congrats to Juda, Bart, Rodney, Johnny, Stein, Ray, and Mike. What a great day right?!