Race Report: North Face Endurance Challenge 10K at Bear Mountain

Back in the Fall of 2011 when I was just getting back into running via a Couch to 5K program, before I had even run my first race, I stumbled across The North Face Endurance Challenge site. I was immediately intrigued. I had no idea at that time just how challenging the courses are, but I knew I wanted to do it someday. All of the running delays in those first few years lead to this race being put off several times. I had no intentions of registering for the North Face Endurance Challenge this year, either. While I felt confident I could tackle the 5K, I had gotten it into my head that I now wanted to race it at a longer distance and would put it off yet another year. Enter Stinkfoot & Chafe.

Trail Twins

I met my trail partner, Mike (sorry buddy, I know you were hoping for a boss trail name, but I am at a loss at the moment), through an online running group. We crossed paths a few times at Fall road races and kept in touch through the Winter sharing race links and checking in on each other’s injuries. During this time, I had been thinking a lot more about trail running–watching lots of documentaries and even daydreaming of moving from the city to somewhere with more access to trails. So when he texted me on November 25th with an invite to a trail race, I really wanted to jump at the offer but was injured with more guarantee races to finish so I had to decline. Flash forward to early February when I was returning from injury and Mike was generous with the race links and persistent on getting me out on the trails. After a reluctant acceptance to an offer to run an easy 3-4 mile in Pound Ridge, I was hooked on trails. By the time Mike had gotten his mind set on the North Face Endurance Challenge half marathon, we were both signed up for several other races in the weeks leading up to it and after it. Needless to say, I was apprehensive about signing up for this race. After 6ish snowy and icy miles during a recon run on the course, it was apparent that the half was a little overambitious. I still wasn’t 100% on adding another race to my calendar, but since he agreed to do the 10K and another friend expressed interest, I registered. So it was officially happening. I was going to race TNEFCS on Bear Mountain.

Trail twins
Same shirt, same hat, jeans, we even have a pair of the same running shoes. It’s like we were trail twins separated at birth.

The North Face Endurance Challenge 10K at Bear Mountain

The course for the 10K is pretty straight-forward. You run 600 feet and change up the mountain and then 600 feet and change back down the mountain. It isn’t a straight climb the entire time nor is it a straight descent, but for the majority of the first half you are climbing and the majority of the backside is downhill. The course is pretty technical in places with plenty of roots and rocks while other parts of the course are very runnable trail. This was going to be the most elevation I had done to date so I was a little nervous, but given I had a few (3) trail 10Ks under my belt along with some solid training runs I felt like it was going to be manageable. Maybe a little challenging and painful, but definitely manageable.

Course information
This is no joke.

Race weekend

We decided that it would be ideal to try to stay up by Bear Mountain the night before. We could grill out, enjoy the finish festival, and hopefully cross paths with some of our pals running the ultras on Saturday. We got lucky and scored two rooms at two of the places right on site. When we arrived, I scored an upgrade on my room so me and my friend, Alicia, got to stay in eye shot of the festival. We setup the grill and popped a couple of beers and took in the atmosphere. We even got to meet up with some of our running group buddies. It was an awesome time. But there was a race the next morning so in addition to being aware of nutrition and hydration, I was also aware of getting enough rest. We retired to our room early, around 8, and were shutting off the lights by 9pm.

IMG_5643
The start/finish festival with our inn in the background.
Run club meet-up!
Run club meet-up!

Before the race

The next morning I woke up with plenty of time to get to the start right outside our inn. Got some coffee, spent some time lounging in the lobby and watching runners trickle in to the festival, and leisurely got ready for the race. At this point, I was regretting a little bit that we had decided against the half marathon. My return to running has gone better than anticipated and the challenge of a longer race was alluring. But we had others joining us, another girl friend and her roommate, and we had missed the window to change distances. So I mentally prepared myself for the shorter, more intense distance and headed out for a nice warm-up loop around the lake. By the time I got back, went to the restroom, escorted everyone back up to the room for some bug spray, and made it back down to the start we only had to wait about a minute to start moving. I looked around at the runners in our wave and made a last minute decision to hop into the wave before. We started at the back of the pack, but I figured since it was a faster wave we would end up with a nice cushion between that wave and the wave behind us.

Warm-up run view
Not a bad view for a warm-up run.

The race

The start was pretty gentle. Run across a field, through a parking lot, and then hit the gently rolling trail. At about a half mile in though, we hit a pretty steep downhill that was also pretty rocky and wet and it was a complete bottleneck. So right off the bat, I started leap frogging passed runners who were cautiously hiking down the rocks. We then hit a good incline which I power hiked part of then a nice flat then another incline and well, you get the picture. The first half of the race was pretty slow going. I tried to power hike up most of the steep inclines to save myself for the flats and more runnable inclines. My friend, Alicia, ran with me most of the time and just before the aid station at 2.6 miles we caught up with our other friend who had come out for the race. I downed a Honey Stinger at the aid station along with some water and was excited to put the first half of the course behind me and fly down the mountain.

Leader of the pack
Evidently I was leading a pack at some point.

It was right around the half that I start I getting an abdomen cramp. I’m not sure if it was my pre-race food choice which I had changed up for the norm, the salt tab I took before the race which isn’t my norm, if I wasn’t drinking enough water, or if just the banging of running up and down hills was the cause, but it forced me to walk for about two minutes before it faded. After that little hiccup, I started attacking the downhills, flying passed runners, and even had a little tail of runners following me down the mountain. The descents were pretty rocky and the rocks were loose so foot placement was key. At one point I realized that I was running so fast with so many people following me that I didn’t think I could stop and if I fell it wouldn’t be pretty. Alicia was more cautious on the downhills, but would catch up on the flats. (She is a much, much faster runner than me!) At 5.65 miles, I felt a very sharp stabbing pain in my abdomen. It hurt so bad that I doubled over in pain and yelled. I had to step off the course and was stopped for a full minute. I knew Alicia was behind me and there was no way I could run so I just camped out for a minute. She came by and I tried to run, but couldn’t. So for the next three excruciating minutes, we walked. It hurt so badly that I was concerned that it was some kind of internal organ issue. I pushed on the pain and mentally prepared myself for the possibility that I was going to have to walk the rest of the course. I was swearing and angry and a little scared. And also very lucky that my friend stuck with me to support me!

Running downhill
Charging down the hills! I was feeling strong and ready to tackle this race.
Running through the mud
Mud makes me happy!

Around 5.85 miles and four minutes after the initial stop, I was able to resume running at an ~8mpm clip fighting the pain. Around mile 6, with just .2 miles to go I had to walk yet again for less than a .1 of a mile. At this point we were back to the parking lot and just had a short run on asphalt to the grassy finishing chute. I told Alicia to leave me, but she refused. Even when we got to the grass and the finish was within our sites and she asked if I wanted to race to the finish and I told her I couldn’t she stuck with me. When we got within sprinting distance, I said, “LET’S GO!” and took off for a finishing kick. 1:15:42 official finishing time.

IMG_5647
Post-race. Ready for a shower and food!
Me and Alicia
Love this girl and so glad she spent the weekend with me! Thanks for not leaving me at the end of the race, Alicia!

Post-race

After the race, we grabbed our medals and headed over to grab our shirts which were being screen printed with our race distance. The inn had a buffet brunch and we had time for all of us to shower in our room so we made a reservation for brunch and dined like kings and queens. It was so awesome to shower and change into clean clothes post-race and so much fun to have so many friends racing with us and join in a celebratory brunch. There were five of us in total. Three were trail race newbies which made it even more special! As we packed the car and started to head back to the city, I couldn’t help but be a little sad to leave the mountains. I’m really looking forward to spending the rest of my long runs through to my July 4th race (excluding the Brooklyn Half) on trails. I definitely feel like I have found my home.

Mountain views
Can I wake up to this every morning, please?!

Letting go

Just after the race, I was happy that I completed the race, but also super bummed that cramps had taken me out twice with the second being during a particularly speedy clip of downhill. I had been saving myself on the first half of the race to race the second half full out and to be taken out and finish with gas in the tank was truly disappointing. I estimate that I lost about 4 minutes in total to my mystery ailment. It’s even more of a bummer given my 1:10:32 finish at VCTC UEC 10K a little over two weeks before. That race had a lot less elevation so to come close to that time would have been pretty awesome and a great indicator of improvement. These thoughts plagued me in the hours following the race despite my elation of having done the race and with friends. I guess old habits die hard. I had told myself that all I care about with trail running is getting out there and finishing, but I can’t help pushing myself to do my best and measuring myself via finish times. I’m not sure whether it was just because this race has been so important to me for so long, but I intend to be more mindful of shutting these types of negative thoughts down in the future. I truly believe that no one cares about your times but you and that it is such a horribly egotistical thing to focus on. I want running to be a joyful experience, not some goal-oriented activity! To that end, I won’t be sharing splits for this race.

Time flies when you are having fun

It’s only been a little over a month since my last update, but it feels like a lifetime. I’ve raced 3 more trail races and run a couple more training runs on trails. I signed up for 16.5 mile trail race and am about to sign up for two more trail half marathons. You may have noticed there has been a healthy amount of trails happening with more in the future. It’s probably safe to say that I am love with eating mountains for breakfast.

Trail runs 3 & 4

Back on March 22nd, my trail partner and I headed up to Bear Mountain to scout part of the North Face Endurance Challenge Series half marathon course. He was convinced that we should do the half marathon and I was apprehensive. It had snowed that week so we knew that there would likely be snow on the ground, but what we didn’t anticipate was for it to be iced over. We also didn’t anticipate some of the route that I mapped to be non-blazed roads which with the snow cover were difficult to track. We put in 6.85 tough miles, postholing for some to get back on route, and over breakfast at a nearby diner decided we should only do the North Face 10K. A week later I hit the trails of Wissahickon Park in Philadelphia. It was gravel road with rolling hills so much easier than the week before so picked up the pace and extended the distance. It was a great time.

Top of the Pines at Bear Mountain
Highest point on our Bear Mountain training run. The trail actually had us scramble up over these boulders.
Snowy tracks at Bear Mountain
It was iced over snow in most spots at Bear Mountain, but there were occasions where we had slight reprieve on melted spots.
Stream crossing at Bear Mountain
Caught my trail partner mid-jump during one of stream crossing at Bear Mountain.

Trail race 2: Van Cortlandt Track Club Urban Enviro Challenge 10K

Two weeks later on April 12th I raced my second trail race. It was in Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx. I didn’t really intend to try to race it hard, but once the horn was sounded I couldn’t help myself. I had run part of this course last year for a cross country race, but this course took us into another part of the park which had more technical trails (read: roots and rocks) and some single track (read: limited ability to pass). It was a nice hilly course that did a double loop with a nice flat, gravel road finish. There were lots of road team singlets and obviously fast runners who were being taken down by the hills–trying to run up them then having to walk at the top to catch breath and cautiously tiptoeing on technical descents–and I felt a bit of pride at my strategic approach to the race. I power-hiked up most hills and was able to keep pace with the runners ahead of me while not getting winded. On the second loop I was able to plan better to pass people before single track and technical descents and made up time by being more aggressive on those downhills. I hopped over logs others were climbing over on all fours and basically just felt like kind of a bad ass. And it all paid off when I ran through the finish in 1:10:35. I felt so great after that I came home and ran a 3 mile tempo run. Two days later my lower back hurt so bad that I needed to take some vitamin I for a few days. Bubble officially popped.

North Brooklyn Runners at Van Cortlandt Park.
Was surprised at how many of my road team showed up for this race. Didn’t see any over trail running group. Probably because of the short distance!

Trail race 3: Leatherman’s Loop 10K

Two weeks later on April 26th my trail partner and I headed out for Pound Ridge for the historic Leatherman’s Loop 10K. This race has been around for 29 years, refuses to take on sponsors, just recently moved to timing chips, and features mud flats with shin deep mud, multiple stream crossings, and a couple of sand hills. Needless to say, we were stoked. What we didn’t anticipate was the sheer volume of runners and the inevitable congestion on the trails. The first quarter mile is run across a grassy field then all 1000 runners bottleneck onto narrow, technical double track. Add to that some mud and streams and runners who for some reason are afraid to get their shoes wet or dirty and you have a recipe for frustration if you aren’t reminding myself about your zen place. After the first couple of miles it did thin out enough that you weren’t forced to walk because of people ahead of you making that choice. The mud flats were fun, but a little concerning–the mud had so much suction that I could feel it pulling off my shoes! Again though, I felt like a bad ass because I seemed to be one of the few okay with getting dirty. I wasn’t feeling 100% for this race because I had done a training run the day before, had a couple of mimosas with brunch after my training run, and didn’t sleep well the night before and only got about five and half hours of sleep. So I felt like I was really pushing myself through most of it, but not keeping my expected pace. I was able to pick it up a bit towards the end in The Pines and was flying through at 9-10:00 min mile which felt awesome. By the end I had made friends with an old dude wearing red pepper shorts and we ran through the finish together. Official time: 1:24:49. And I was officially pooped. Not much soreness after this race, though, which let me know my cross-training and form adjustments were paying off.

Sand hill at Leatherman's Loop
Climbing a sand hill at Leatherman’s Loop. Notice the guy in front of me on all fours. It was steep and slippery.
Mud flats at Leatherman's Loop
Mud flats at Leatherman’s Loop. I felt lucky to not lose a shoe.
Stream crossing at Leatherman's Loop
Final stream crossing at Leatherman’s Loop. Was still muddy after this!

You can see more photos from Leatherman’s Loop on The Distance Traveled on Facebook.

Trail junkie

As I mentioned at the start, at some point over the past month I also added myself to a wait list for 16.5 mile trail race that is taking place on the 4th of July and am eyeing two more trail half marathons–one two weeks after I run the Brooklyn half and one a month after the 16.5 mile race. After the Brooklyn Half I am planning to do all my weekend long runs on trails. At some point I will have to go back to road running for my NYC Marathon training, but in the meantime I am going to eek out every little bit of dirt pounding that I can. I have a shirt in my closet that says “Loyal to the road” that I bought at the 2013 NYC Marathon expo. It’s funny how things change.

Cold Feat 10K Race Report

Just a note, I am writing this three weeks after the race. For some reason I just haven’t found the motivation to write out a report for this one despite writing up a report for this past Saturday’s road race the same day. I think this pretty much epitomizes my attitude towards structure in regards to trails and why I am beginning to love them so much.

Props go to my trail running partner-in-crime, Stinkfoot & Chafe, for encouraging me (read: harassing me) into doing this race. At the time of registration, I had been on exactly one real trail run in the snow which happened two weeks prior and was as challenging as it was fun. I was reluctant to toe the line so early in my trail career (haha, I said career), but after viewing an entertaining video of the course about 10 times and ordering some legit trail shoes I decided I was in. My shoes arrived the day before the race after yet another eventful couple of days trying to actually receive my delivery (#nycproblems) and I was worried that they were going to be a little too big. Other than that, I felt pretty prepared for the 20 degree (12 with wind chill!) run in fresh snow.

 

New trail shoes
New trail shoes! Unfortunate that the turned out to be a full size too big. Anyone need a Women’s size 8?

 

The course was just off a golf course on Staten Island. We got there early so we could pick up our bibs and swag (fleece cap and NUTELLA!) and make a pit stop at the clubhouse. The one thing I really hate about winter races is how cold you are in the corrals at the start so I was very happy that we were able to hang out in the clubhouse until just before the start. We made friends with an older fellow who told us lots of interesting history about golf courses on Staten Island. When they announced five minutes to start we started out towards the start line for a course description and then wandered over to the start. No corrals, no colors or numbers dictating pace, just line up and then head out. In less than a minute, we had left the signs of civilization behind for the of the snowy woods.

 

Swag
Swag score! Embroidered fleece hat AND a jar of Nutella?! This is my kind of race!

 

The course was great. It was fairly packed single track and we had placed ourselves fairly well in the pack so not only were we not getting passed, but we didn’t do much passing throughout the duration of the race. Stinkfoot and I stayed pretty close throughout the course with him getting away from a few times which was expected as he is a faster runner. We eventually ended up behind an older gentleman who I nicknamed “Crazy Tights” because of his graphic print tights. We had picked up another in our small pack, a woman who easily and readily added to my and Stinkfoots meandering convo. At a certain point we all needed to pass Crazy Tights which became interesting as I think he may have been hard of hearing. This was made evident when overly excited snowshoer almost ran him over after making all kinds of witty remarks for him to move on his approach. I ended up finding a little run-off single track and we passed him without incident.

 

Jumping
I love snow running!

 

Approaching the half mark and only aid station, I knew I needed to do three things: Tighten my shoes, blow my nose, and eat a Honey Stinger. The aid station volunteers were super nice and luckily one of them had a tissue. She was kind enough to not only give me one, but shove a spare in my hydration vest while I fiddled with my laces. We continued our pause with a quick photo and Honey Stinger then started back on the course. It was around this time that I noticed that my water had was starting to freeze in my hydration pack tube! I tried to keep sipping regularly so it wouldn’t freeze completely.

 

Aid station
Looking good at the halfway point!

 

The second half of the race seemed more challenging than the first. The elevation profile didn’t change much, we picked up the pace by about a minute and my heart rate followed. By the time we got to 5 miles, I was feeling it but pushed through. We managed to pass a few people in the last mile or so of the race which felt oddly satisfying. By the time we got to the final stretch and saw our exit from the woods I was ready for the end, but also bummed it was almost over. The last stretch of the course was covered with patches of ice which made for a pretty anti-climatic finish excluding the man in a gorilla suit that was cheering us on and the other runners who were hanging out in the cold to cheer us in. After our finish we returned the favor for a few more runners.

 

Running the snowy course
Running the snowy course.

Splits   Elevation and pace

 

The finish was the same as the start so we were back by the clubhouse which was awesome. We were able to grab our bags from the car and get some warm gear on and have a beer in the clubhouse! After the beer we headed for our now traditional post-trail run diner breakfast. Hot food after a long, cold run is so amazing!
I ended up placing 7th in my age group out of 17th which translates to front half of pack which I have never been! Not bad for my trail race debut, if I do say so myself. But it’s not about placing or pace for me and it never has been. And that is part of the reason why I feel myself enjoying road racing less and less. It is awesome to do a supported, uninterrupted run in which I push myself for no other reason than to check my training progress, but all that goes along with that–the cost, the crowds (oh dear lord, the crowds), the PR-driven post-race chatter, all of it–is just so unappealing to me. My heart feels free and happy on the trails and the community is so, so wonderful. My “A” race for this year is the NYC Marathon so I will continue to focus on road through 2015, but I fully intend to keep sneaking out to the trails whenever possible!