Good day race fans! Well, here we are. We find ourselves at the first race of the summer racing season for ActiveSteve. To start things off with a bang, I decided to sign up for the 50k North Face Endurance Challenge Series event in Bear Mountain, NY. This race is a mere hour from the Big Apple, but you’d never know it from the rugged terrain and superb park that serves as the race setting. In an effort to be a little more ‘punchy’, I’m going to try to make my race reports a little shorter and more readable from now on. (Avoiding the TL;DR syndrome).
Deanna and I decided to make this a long weekend of camping and road-tripping. I was racing the 50k on Saturday, and she the 10k on Sunday. Faced with an 8 or so hour drive both ways, we also decided to combine brewery visits on both legs of the trip, managing to stop in to 3 different breweries and squeezing in a super weekend-ending meal at Dinosaur BBQ in Syracuse. For lodging, we also opted to camp in a nearby campground, which, in spite of the rain both nights, was quite nice! Between new sleeping bags and a new thermarest, we were very comfy.
So, why ‘rocking and rolling’? Well, the title is quite apt, given that a large portion of the race is covered by kleenex-box sized rocks strewn all over the place, and posing significant injury risk to runners trying to keep at the front of the pack (i.e. to ME). In fact, the ‘rolling’ also refers to the fact that no less than 3 times during my race, I rolled my ankle severely enough that I had to hobble long stretches and tape up my left ankle for the last 15k of the race. Want to get a sense of the terrain? Here’s an excerpt from another blog post from the 2012 event:
“This section is the stuff nightmares are made of. They probably had prisoners from 50 states break rocks for the last 10 years and then dumped them on the fucking trail. There were rocks on the uphills, rocks on the downhills and rocks on the flats. All loose, about the size of a Kleenex box. When there’s no rocks, wait … there are ALWAYS rocks. Actually, we get to this trail that is nice and soft, EXCEPT IT’S AT A 45 DEGREES ANGLE and you have to run with a leg a foot higher than the other and your feet angled sideways. My ankles want to fucking explode. It’s impossible to run on that. Then I think it starts going up. The surface is back to loose giant ankle bruiser rocks. We go up, and up, and up. All this shit is happening on a 2.5 miles section, for fuck sake. And we’re not done. We go up some more and finally get to the top. We run a short distance and reach the gates of Hell itself. Hell is a downhill that looks to me like it’s a mile long. It’s steep. Very steep. Obviously, it’s covered with rocks, with a stream meandering though the trail, for added fun. Every single one of those rocks has a picture of my big toe on it. I start to go down. I will spare you the details, but I nearly have a nervous breakdown going down.”
So yeah, it had a few ‘tough’ sections. In spite of the early season race, I had managed to get in some pretty good endurance training, so my concern wasn’t the time or distance so much as the speed that I’d need to place well. James Galipeau was down for the race as well, and we decided to start out together. We were slated for ‘wave 3’, but decided to start with wave 2, as there was no way we would be that much slower than those ahead, and would have to weave our way through many people to get to the front. This was a good call, as we were clearly moving much quicker than our peers. In a short period of time, we’d passed a ton of people and found ourselves in what we figured was the front pack of the race.
From here, I was keeping an eye on my heart rate and really didn’t think I could sustain the current pace for the full 50, so I gradually let James put a gap into me, while holding the other racers at bay. I later learned that I was sitting in 11th overall, with a good shot at top 10! Unfortunately, lady luck wasn’t about to let me have that glory on the way to the finish :-).
For the most part, the course was very enjoyable. Lots of wide singletrack sections, and only a couple little bits of road to get through. There were a number of climbs to tackle, but again, relatively tame to get through. Aid stations were well spaced out and VERY well stocked. I kinda wished I hadn’t played mule and packed so much of my own food with me. The aid stations were also nice as you got a little mental boost from people cheering you on, and on 3 occasions, it gave me a chance to see Deanna. The first 2 times all was going well. However, by the 3rd time, I had encountered a bit of bad luck.
Bad luck is the only way to describe rolling over hard on my ankle. The first time was on a grass-covered descent where there were also rocks lurking in the foliage. That time, I was being [relatively] careful, and didn’t have my full weight on the ankle. I hobbled a bit, then slowly picked back up to race pace. However, the 2nd time things weren’t as good. I caught a glimpse of the aid station down below from where I was on the trail, and momentarily lost focus. Not noticing a slight dip, I rolled my ankle hard, with full weight. This one was VERY painful, and I stopped completely in the trail.
Unsure what to do, I even hung on a tree branch to take weight off the ankle and stretch. That’s when the first of a few people passed me. Boo. Seeing no other option, I cautiously walked forward, knowing I had the aid station coming up to decide what to do. Upon limping in, I had a ton of support. People offering taping, shortcuts to the finish, food, etc. However, as I was still mostly mobile, I did the obvious, and waved off all help, and said I was going to press on. They took down my number just in case, knowing the trickiest section was actually next (reference the blog passage above to understand which section I’m talking about…).
I popped a couple ibuprofen, which, mixed with the endorphin, seemed to be doing the trick. Until I rolled my same ankle a 3rd time. 100m further out. On the grass. It was the stupidest spot, as it looked like a grassy field, but there was a giant hole that I didn’t see! I was pissed, and made it very clear to those around me with my loud cursing. I started to think the fates were against me. However, as usual, I was well prepared, and had a speed brace in my pack that I [finally] wrapped my swollen ankle with. Although awkward to run with, I’m pretty sure it is the only way I got through this mess.
Knowing my pace would drop, I decided to just focus on a clean final 15k. And clean it was. The previously-referred to mega-shitty section was one of the last sections in the course, and with my fragile ankle, I took my time on both the climb AND the descent, avoiding any bone-shattering risks. It paid off, as I didn’t get passed again by many racers for the remainder of the course. Apart from the ankle, I felt really good. Hydration and nutrition seemed solid, and I wasn’t too destroyed at the finish line. When I finally crossed, I was happy with my result (18th overall, 6th in category), and turned my focus to food, beer, and icing the ankle (in that order).
Deanna and I enjoyed the rest of the day in the sun watching and cheering other racers on, then headed back to the campground before having a meal in a nearby town. It rained most of the night, so we had a lovely night communing with nature from our tent. Had a great sleep, and woke up refreshed to cheer on Deanna and her 10k race, which she nailed with a great run. She was smiling from ear to ear and glad she did it. Back in the car, and long drive back to Ottawa to get back to recovery, training, and getting ready for the next race. Next up? Raid Pulse 8 hour adventure race on May 17th. Looking forward to that one! To wrap things up, if you haven’t seen it yet, here is my video review from the NY race: