I recently finished the North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Miler at Kettle Moraine State Park in Eagle, Wisconsin, my first 50 mile ultramarathon.
Getting ready for this race required modifying my training to ultra distance and adapting to trail running.
The North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Miler
The race sent out frequent email information and there was a lot of detailed race information on the web site as well as a PDF race guide for the specific distance you signed up for. It was a 9 hour drive from our home to Wisconsin.
We stayed with MTA member Scott and his wife Cindy. One of my coaching clients, Henry, from Indiana also stayed with us.
The North Face offered three different packet pick up locations as well as race morning packet pick up. We went to the North Face Brookfield store to get my stuff on Friday evening and it was a very simple process. I got a tech shirt, bib and balaclava. There was also a panel discussion with Dean Karnazes, Timothy Olson, and Dylan Bowman that evening which was very interesting.
We also saw listener Steve, Laura and son David along with Daniel and Nik Toocheck, a 12 year old runner we’ve had on the podcast.
Race Morning- Saturday, Oct 3, 2015
Before the race I got my gear together—hydration pack, fuels- UCAN for pre-race and the UCAN snack bars for during the race, headlamp, gaiters, trail shoes, jacket, etc. I used Trail Toes ointment to prevent chafing and wore Injinji socks.
The event was held at Kettle Moraine State Park and parking was easy with lots of helpful volunteers. They offered bag check and you could also do drop bags to have supplies at a couple points along the course. I didn’t take advantage of that and just decided to carry everything in my pack. They had plenty of port a pots and fires in the race festival area to stay warm. The weather was cool and overcast–a perfect day for running.
Kettle Moraine State Park is located about 40 miles west of Milwaukee, WI. A large portion of the race course was on the Ice Age Trail. It was mostly forested with some hill climbs of 200-300 feet and rolling terrain. Overall the trail was fairly soft and featured 80% single track with some wider equestrian sections in between. This is the least technical of all the North Face courses. The total elevation change was 6,300 feet. It was dark for first 1.5 hours and headlamps were required for the 50 miler (mine started blinking low battery just as it began to get light).
Once it got light I was able to appreciate the beautiful state park. The course was the same for the 3 races (marathon, 50k and 50 miler) for the first 13.5 miles, then the 50 milers diverted off to another section. I ran with Dean Karnazes for 2 miles. The race had a 13 hour hard cut off which meant that if you didn’t reach three aid stations by specific times that you were pulled from the course.
The course was well marked with volunteers at major roads, signage arrows and ribbon markings. Each race distance had a unique color of marking (orange for 50 miler) so you had to follow your ribbon color. During a large loop there was also a shooting range which provided the constant sound of gunfire for 20 miles.
Pacers were allowed during the 50 miler but only at set locations (28.3 miles and 35.5 mile aid stations) They were not allowed on the course before mile 27. The pacers were required to have a special bib and sign a waiver. They were not allowed to carry anything for the runner (otherwise known as muling).
You could have a race crew that had to follow special instructions such as only assisting runners within a 100 foot radius of the designated aid stations. There weren’t any spectators out on the course—just a few enthusiastic people at each aid station.
There were 11 total aid stations for the 50 miler. At each aid station there was a chalk board telling you which aid stations this was, what mile you were at and when the next aid station was. They were well organized with a variety of food and drinks- water, sports drink, Pepsi, Mountain Dew, broth, chips, pretzels, crackers, M&M’s, Skittles, CLIF fueling products, boiled potatoes and salt, PB&J, oranges and bananas.
For my fueling I used 2 scoops of Generation UCAN pre-race and had half a UCAN bar every hour along with food from the aid stations. I also had a Hammer Endurolyte and Anti-Fatigue Caps every hour. There was a port a pot at each aid station. There were three aid stations where we had to get our bib marked to make sure that we were staying on course.
The Finish LineI started to hurt in my upper hamstrings and hip flexors by mile 25 and got a little mentally discouraged with half of the distance still to go. Soon after, I met a lady named Shirley who was running her first 50 miler for her 50th birthday—she was a real boost and told me about the wonders of Mountain Dew for energy. By mile 40 I was still hurting but not worse than earlier which was encouraging. I walked hills and ran the flats and downhills—but as time went on what I classified as a hill was very broad. I re-met up with Shirley around mile 45 and we ran the final way together and finished strong in 10:05:07 (I was 19th of 57 women).
I was so happy to see the finish line after being on my feet so long and mark off another state on my 50 state quest (Wisconsin was my 30th).
At the finish line village they had free beer, food such as pulled pork, veggie burgers, fruit & veggie salad, potatoes, chilli, cookies, chips, recovery drinks, sports drinks, nuts, and Cliff bars. We went back to the house where we were staying and I got an ice bath and shower and later had a delicious evening meal with great conversation.
The next day Trevor and I drove back home. I walked like a ninety year old woman for two days and then felt great by day three.
Big thanks to the folks at North Face for putting on a fun event. Thanks also Scott and Cindy for hosting Trevor and I!