North Face/Gore-Tex Endurance Challenge 50M, Bear Mountain, NY 5,4

Elevation Gain: 7038' - High Point: 1339' - Low Point: 122'

May 4, 2013 - There are days on the trails when you eat the beast, then there
are days when the beast eats you.  This day was to be neither, as I chose to
make peace with the beast and feast together.  I knew I was a bit "over-raced"
coming into this one, but I purposefully scheduled events in rapid succession to
learn just how far I can push it and see exactly what I am made of in these,
probably some of the last days of my racing career.

What a great venue to race at, however, with perfect weather and absolutely
super support and organization.  Runners from the Big Apple are fortunate to
have such great trails to explore so close to the city.  I arrived late the night 
before and got a good night of sleep in my car before the alarm roused me at
0330.  Feeling fresh and ready to race I caught the bus to the start after going
through the usual pre-event rituals.  After getting my number and making sure
my drop bag was going to the right place I huddled around a space heater in
45-degree temps to await the start while listening to a lot of good Tom Petty
music being blasted across the area to get us in the mood.  It seemed like
thousands were gathered in the large field that served as a staging area for
the start and finish; but all was organized and people, by and large, seemed 
subdued and into their own heads, entertaining what they were about to undertake.  

Dean Karnazes was on the microphone as the minutes counted down, doing his
enthusiastic best to rouse the awaiting participants.  I hadn't realized the field
was any larger than 200 until I learned that we would be starting in two heats,
two minutes apart at 0500.  I wore an old jersey for warmth at the get-go and
was comfortable without shivering.  After the first wave headed out the rest of
the field moved up, then off we went into the early morning darkness to discover
what it is any of us is looking for in these crazy endeavors.

With headlamps bobbing all around there was little need for additional lighting.
I carried a small LCD lamp that was easily stowable a half hour into the run.  
Amy Hanlon came past me after a rocky mile into the run and we chatted a 
couple minutes about our Devil's Path hike next weekend before I took a hard
fall in the rocks, bloodying my right knee. Didn't need that at all. Have never been good at talking and running at the same time. Disgusted with myself for breaking my string of two races without a fall, I told Amy I had no intention of keeping pace with her and wished her well as she sped away. Sucking blood off my left hand I took it easy in the darkness so as not to fall again while assessing the impact. The knee was bruised and sore but appeared it would not be something I could use as an excuse. The real problem would be gluteal muscles that made lifting my right leg extremely painful. Running a notoriously rocky course when you can't lift your leg is not what I dream about before a race. I was stumbling time after time, catching my right toe on anything that wasn't level. Damn. Just had to slow down. I wanted to do this race. I was in shape and I really wanted to see the extent of what New Yorkers call tough. So, I lollygagged down the trail as even little old ladies in sneakers zoomed past. Losing my old jersey at the second aid station I settled into a very easy jog to accomodate the discomfort of the pain in my butt. This lasted through the first 15 miles. Slower runners around me kept asking what time it was as there was a dead cutoff at the 13.9M aid station. Running to beat a cutoff was something I only had ever had to deal with one other time at Bel Monte. Doing my best, I beat the cutoff by less than fifteen minutes in 3:30:54, a 15:11 minute pace in 266th place (don't you love how races are getting more high tech???). Now all I had to do was worry about making the next hard cutoff at 34M, which I managed to do by 45 minutes without much additional strain. After 15 miles my butt was not throbbing as badly and I found a comfortable 4-minute rhythm that would carry me to the finish. From this point forward I enjoyed the event, stopping to appreciate scenery, socializing quite a bit, taking my time at aid stations, and generally not in a hurry, all the while reeling back dozens and dozens of runners who didn't save enough for the back half. In the closing 35 miles of the race, only 2 runners passed me for faster finish times. In that respect I had a good day. The course is rocky and rooty with lots of rolling climbs and some up and down scrambles - my type of terrain. While I truly love to run the rocks this was not the toughest course I've made tracks on. Nonetheless, it was challenging and continued to test one's agility and trail acumen. My knees were good the entire way; I was able to hammer down many descents and leave others behind, permanently. I babied my butt muscles and tried to be as efficient as possible in negotiating the day's obstacles. There were some smooth runways, quad roads, and fire trails that offered some relief, but most of the way required deliberate foot placement. I had only one other hard fall early in the day, but without any further damage being incurred. My ugly bloody knee drew some attention along the way, but I waited to finish to have it cleaned and dressed. My intermediate time for mile 44.7 was 11:39:34, a 15:40-minute pace in 205th place. At this stage everyone still running knew they were well within the 14- hour finish cutoff, so there was a tendency to relax, chat more, walk more, and laugh more - so many of us did just that in the late afternoon sun and warmth. I crossed the finish to rousing fanfare, even this late in the event I was very impressed with the support people gave all runners, in 13:10:26 for 209th place, at an average pace of 15:49 - pretty darn leisurely in my book, but I really enjoyed myself. In fact, on the drive home, I gave thought to approaching the next race in the same 4-minute fashion. In the end, my legs were not even slightly worn out and my form was steady and strong through the finish and beyond. Sure, my finish time was slow, but I can get away with it at my age without making up excuses - besides, I still got an age group award and was the only finisher of age 60 and beyond, as well as the oldest. I'll take it! So, what were the lessons of this day. Because I ran slower to protect an injury, I didn't suffer a single muscle cramp, my energy was good throughout; I didn't bonk; my stomach behaved; and aside from a few dingers here and there, after 24 hours I am ready to do it again. I will have to apply some of what I've learned in my next 50-miler in four weeks in Vermont as it will be a lot tougher challenge than this event, with over 12,400 feet of climbing in 53 miles of rocks and roots. Reminders of some of the views and a great video from 2012 below: