Claire’s been busy with everything since Boston, so we thought it was the perfect time for a guest post on my recent trail race in upstate NY. Enjoy! — E

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When people ask me why I love running on the trails, it usually comes back to the same answers: simplicity, beautiful scenery, softness of pine needles and earth under your feet. There’s nothing quite like an oasis from the relentless miles of pavement that plague being a runner in an unforgiving concrete city like New York.

What a sweet and beautiful delusion.

Back in the real world, the mountains devour their young, feet first, followed by the legs…with plenty of room left over for dessert. The North Face Endurance Challenge is one of the tougher race series in the U.S. While reasonably accessible to the trail novice due to the lack of high elevation, these courses make up for the comforts of sea level by blistering ascents and quad crushing scrambles. Bear Mountain, in upstate NY, kicks off the 2013 series and as expected, the race did not disappoint. Even the half marathon distance was a gnarly, toothy beast that left many a runner bloody, broken and wondering why they didn’t just stay in bed that morning.

This man is delusional.

This man is delusional.

I knew something was wrong the minute I got to the race site. The transportation was flawless, the weather was perfect, and the facilities 1st class, including internet stations, post-race ice bath/massage tents and even a gas fireplace to keep you warm before the start (sadly, no smores). There may as well have been a trail of breadcrumbs leading all the way to a pot of boiling water. Sure enough, at 8AM, 700 runners started up the side of the mountain to one of the more rocky starts I’ve ever seen.

ice baths!  ok - let's do this thing!

I’m pretty sure if there was a rock, boulder, or pebble this side of the Appalachian Trail it was left on Bear Mountain that Sunday. It seemed like every time there was a section that was runnable, I would turn a corner and the shards would poke out of the ground like gophers at an amusement park, slowing my pace to a stagger.

The stakes kept on going up. Every step increased the risk for a turned ankle, face plant, or branch in the face. Fatigue made that all the more likely. Navigating your way through the rocks required a heightened sense of awareness. It’s an unfortunate maxum that you run better when relaxed and in a rhythm – alas, there was no taking your eyes off the road and no room for complacency.

mile 9 why DO you mock me so....

mile 9 why DO you mock me so….

The race profile really doesn’t do justice to the complexity of the course. It really had everything: roots, low hanging trees, downed trees you had to climb over, steep ups, steep steep downs, wooden bridges that worked, wooden bridges that buckled like a trampoline, stream crossings, road, scree, dirt, mud, pavement, scrambles, slab, and grass. A punishing course to be sure, but it was still a lot of fun and well worth the price of admission.

Just a few scratches...

Just a few scratches…

Here are a few more highlights and insights:
– Dean Karnazes, again. I think that guy is stalking me. He was at Boston, Chicago and now here. Leave me alone, ultra-skinny man.
– Hot day. Why must we always over-dress for the heat? Admitting you have a problem is the first step to solving it – get with the program, son!
– I must have kicked several rocks during the race and knew it would be trouble later; didn’t slow me down but two days later: it’s black toe city.
– Had a major trail shoe failure – Brooks Cascadia are awesome, but they just didn’t do the trick this time around – blisters 2 miles in. Too much lateral shifting.
– If your blisters don’t pop, then ride it out – two days later and all healed without doing anything other than applying some patience.
– Hydration vest new gear success – Ultimate Direction AK pack; real helpful for the balancing act over uneven terrain to have both hands free and enough fluid for close to 3 hours on the trail.
– Still loving Tailwind Nutrition. Also incorporating SHOT blocks with extra salt and once again, zero crampage.
– Ok, let’s climb over a tree. Now under a tree. Now over a tree. You get the idea.

Come on everyone - the beer is THIS way!

Come on everyone – the beer is THIS way!

– People still wear iPods; I really don’t know why TNF doesn’t ban them. Yet again, my calls for “passing on the left” were ignored. Just say No to music in the woods (I hope the Bear ate ‘em ).
– Even walking the ascents (hands on legs), I still placed in the top 35%; think that’s more a comment on the challenge of the terrain over my leg-speed.
– I could really see the difference in technical skills on the descents; I had the afterburners on for the ride downhill, screaming past people that were faster than me on the ups – so walking the uphills didn’t really make a difference.
– One section was at a 45 degree sideways slant; destroys the ankles and the spirit.
– Lots of roots, a few river crossings – and even some bog to make me homesick for the UK.
– Lots of bloody knees at the end of this race. I didn’t see any casualties; maybe they left them in the woods as a peace offering for The Bear.
– By the end, I was begging for asphalt and ashamed for saying it out loud. So sad I have forsaken you, noble forest!
– There were more than two sections of road/pavement – more than I would have expected. However, it did mean an outhouse if people needed to pit stop; I didn’t use it but talk about 1st class accommodations – I wasn’t kidding.
– Two words: false summit – talk about tricks on the mind. These false summits just kept on coming – no way to run it out; think I counted 5 consecutive monster hills in the last 2 miles – there was just no stopping the bear…

OMG - What did I do?!?!

OMG – What did I do?!?!

I finished in just over 2.5 hours and felt pretty good about it even though my road time is now approaching 1:48 ( the sprint finish with a 61 year old probably didn’t help my ego, but still ). Road runners will be shocked at just how slow one travels off-road, but it is “good thing” to be humbled by the environment. The elements cough you up like a Jonah and this experience will pay dividends in the future. Given how many sections were so treacherous, I was going to be happy with any time that put me ahead of the cut-offs and out of harms way.

The true measure of any race is not the time it takes to get it done, but the quality of the experience. Running the trails is a great way to keep perspective and hopefully bring it back with you to the road. TNF Bear Mountain was a great experience and I expect to do many more in the future. I’m almost positive that by next year the bite marks will heal.

Barefoot Victory!

Barefoot Victory!

Links:

TNF Endurance Challenge

Ultimate Direction Hydration Vest

Brooks Cascadia

Tailwind Nutrition Products

CLIF Shots – Margaritas w/Con Mucho Sol

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