Monday, October 27, 2008

Northface Endurance Challenge Race Report

This past weekend I did my first ultramarathon, the Northface Endurance Challenge 50k. I know for most ultrarunners a 50k (31 miles) doesn't really count, but it is my longest to date and kind of a big deal. So here is the race report of a day that went from good to bad to worse to pretty ok.
Friday Sam and I left Kansas City around 7:45am and headed back to Wisconsin. We had to stop in Brookfield (a suburb of Milwaukee) for packet pickup. By the time we picked up the packet and made it back to my parent's house it was 7:00 pm, a long day in the car. We ate dinner with my parents and grandparents and got to bed. The 50k race didn't start until 8:00am so I got to sleep in until a reasonable 5:30. The day started off in the mid-40's, cloudy, and 15 mph winds.
This endurance challenge took place in southern Wisconsin at the Kettle Moraine State Park. It is rolling hills created when the glacier stopped, leaving behind all of the debris and creating kettle-shaped depressions across the landscape. Also left behind were lots of round rocks about the size of your head.
Sam and I ran the Kansas City half marathon a week earlier, I was well-rested, well-fed, and ready to go. The only indication of things to come was I had noticed my hip-flexors were tight and a little sore from the drive. It was cold enough that no amount of stretching was going to limber them up, I just hoped they would warm up in the first few miles.
Goals for the race. Since this was my first longer race goal number one was just to finish, my second goal was to break 6 hours. An 11:30/mile pace would put me under 6 hours, which assuming nothing went wrong was a doable goal.
Start to aid station #1, 0 to 1.7 miles: The first 0.7 miles was on the road shoulder and everybody went out FAST. I had the GPS and really tried to pace myself knowing that I would need to energy later. It is hard to pace yourself when people you know are aren't in very good shape blow by you. Either way the first mile was way too fast, closer to a road race time. Once we got into the trails and spread out a little I slowed back down and settled in for the long haul. No one stopped at the first aid station, I just thanked the volunteers. The course was an elongated clover leaf so I passed through that first aid station another 3 times throughout the race. It was cold and windy at the start and many people were wearing too many layers. Initially it was warm in the woods and many people shed lots of layers at the first station, I only had a t-shirt and light jacket which stayed with me the entire race.
Aid station #1 to AS#2, 1.7 to 6.2 miles: The terrain was flat wide snowmobile trails and fire lanes through the moraines. Slightly rolling hills with a few greasy and sandy sections. There were a few groups of guys with too much energy and wouldn't stop talking. A half hour of incessant chatter about work, promotions, and people I don't know or care about was all I could take. I ended up going faster to put some ground between. Once I was alone it was a very nice day for a run. The birds were talking, wind blowing in the trees, an occasional rattle snake bothered by the people. My pace was right on, heartrate a little high from being sick the previous week, and some tightness in my hip-flexors. Since I am a salty sweater and prone to cramping, s-caps were the name of the game. The plan was one per hour along with some salty snacks at the aid stations.
Aid station #2 to AS #3, 6.2 to 11.1 miles: The terrain was more of the same slightly rolling hills with a wide course. The hills were covered with round rocks and leaves, but at the pace I was running I didn't really have to worry about falling. Everything went well except for the growing tightness in my hips. Mile 10.33, one third finished, I treated myself to another s-cap. Sam walked out to the main aid station to see me come by a few times during the first half of the race. After I came through at mile 11.1 she stuck around and helped at the aid station for the half marathon and 10k runners. It was a long cold day to hang out waiting for me and I couldn't have done it without her.

Aid Station #3 to AS #4, 11.1 to 16.5 miles: After leaving AS#3 the course went into a hilly single-track section for a couple miles. This was my favorite part of the day and my pace picked up a little from the similarity to where we normally run in Kansas. Somewhere around mile 15 the course dropped into open prairie. The wall for me came early and lasted a long time. Not so much of a wall as my hip-flexors were on fire and every step made me cringe. I couldn't take a full step and settled into a pseudo-shuffle. When I stopped at AS#4 I noticed my right quad was cramping, I hadn't noticed before due to the pain in my hips. I popped a couple s-caps and took off again.

Aid Station #4 to AS #5, 16.5 miles to 22 miles: The course was in open prairie, wind was blowing, and hunters were shooting. Not in the distance, hunters were shooting within 100 feet of runners. I was wearing a yellow jacket so only the drunkest hunter would mistake be for game. After a few hundred gun shots it became background noise. This section seemed to take forever. My hips hurt and every step brought me farther from my goal time. There was a period of time I seriously considered taking the sag back. I couldn't face the nerds after dnfing a 50k so I kept going. Towards the end of this section we climbed the largest hill on the course and I could see for miles. There was a bench at the scenic overlook that was very inviting, I just gritted my teeth and limped to AS#5. I took a little time at AS#5 for a few glasses of water and food. Those boiled potatoes did not look good all day.
Aid Station #5 to AS #6, 22 to 27.3 miles: I walked for a few minutes and then the clouds parted (figuratively, in reality it was getting colder and windier), the pain in my hips was a dull throb, my head was clear and legs ready to run. So for the first time since mile 15 I took off. I wasn't breaking any records and it didn't look like I would break 6 hours, but I was having fun again. I even started passing some people. AS#6 I just grabbed water and was off again. By this point the sky was getting really dark, the wind had picked up, and I was really glad and end was near.
Aid Station #6 to finish, 27.3 to 31 miles: I felt pretty good. My hips still hurt but my legs still had energy. The S-caps I had been taking throughout the day must have worked because any slight cramps never developed into anything bigger. The finish was a good sight to see. My mom had driven out to see the finish and was waiting with Sam.
So here's the aftermath. 157 people registered, 118 started, and I was 76th in a time of 6:10:09, averaging 11:51/mile. While it wasn't blazing speed it was good to fight through everything and finish. So, my feet were in great shape with no blisters and I didn't fall down or sprain anything. Afterwards my hips are still sore but muscle-wise my legs are in good shape.
One the way back to KC we stopped and picked up a selection of beers. This week will be stretching and holding 12oz ice packs on my recovering body. Octoberfest is my favorite time of year.


Samantha said...

Congrats John!! Excellent job. I know first hand how those race tear ya down.....WTG!

Couldn't think of a better way to recover but with beer!!!

jerad said...

Congrats, great recap on the race.

Ben, aka BadBen said...

Great job, ultrarunner!

- Ben

seth said...

I have been considering doing the race this year, but haven' signed up yet because I am a little nervous about the aid stations and terrain. Your blog and the pictures have done a lot to ease my mind. I'm pretty sure I will be signing up now. Thanks! and congratulations!