Race Report: Northface Endurance Challenge
Its been quite the race season for me. My miles have piled up at a rate I didn’t think possible a few years ago, and I’ve fallen even more in love with a sport I have every intention of participating in for the rest of my life. Thus, it was fitting that I finished up my 2012 race season with my third ultramarathon of the year. Not only did I start the year with an ultra, but I accepted my second Northface endurance challenge, which is where my ultra-history began (I make it sound mildly epic, despite the fact that my “history” started last year, and I’ve now run a total of 4 ultramarathons).
The Northface Endurance Challenge 50K in Kansas City, MO is the second to last race in the series, and the only road race on the calendar. After finishing my first 50-miler a few weeks back, I didn’t so much train for this 50K as I did taper after the longer race. This quasi-organized training schedule left me a bit anxious, but I’ve also been pretty busy in other areas of my life, so I luckily haven’t had as much time to obsess over my schedule either. In addition, since neither the beautiful epicurean or I had spent any significant time in KC, we decided to turn it into a mini-vacation, which added to the stress-free nature of the race. In all honesty, this was probably the least I’ve thought about any race this season. By in large, this didn’t prove to be an issue, as my endurance is quite high at the moment (go figure, right?!). However, my lack of observation did catch up to me in what appears to be the theme of my entire year- HILLS!
Friday Afternoon: We arrived in KC around 3:30PM, which gave us plenty of time to head over to packet pick-up. As luck would have it, I ended up booking our hotel is pretty much the ideal location for both the race and the rest of our weekend activities. Packet pick-up was within walking distance, and was relatively well-organized as I expected. Northface contracts with a company to provide “virtual race bags” in order to save both on costs and environmental impact. I’m quite a fan of this, since most of the handouts you receive in your race bag end up in the garbage anyway. We picked up my bib, shirt, arm-warmers, and water bottle, and headed back to the hotel to drop everything off before dinner. The swag for the race alone almost makes the registration cost worth it, so I was quite pleased! We had dinner at Waldo’s Pizza, which had incredible pies and an enormous craft beer selection- I highly recommend it!
Saturday Morning/Race Morning: The starting line was located at Frank A. Theis Park, which was only a few blocks from the hotel, so we left the room around 6:15, getting there in plenty of time for the 7:00AM start. Northface had to change the starting times for all of the races due to city restrictions (I believe), so it was quite a whirlwind as the 7 o’clock hour approached. This is the only race in the series without any participant caps, so the numbers were perhaps a bit higher but still not overwhelming. They had fire pits set up at the starting line for folks to keep warm, which was really nice. It was 38 degrees at the start, and I knew it was going to get a bit warmer, so I opted for shorts and s sleeveless running shirt, along with gloves. I was wearing a new pair of Smartwool compression socks (review forthcoming) which served the additional role of keeping my legs warmer at the start as well. They lined up the runners based on the race they were running, with 5 minutes separating start times for the 50k/marathon/half marathon/10k/5k. This made things a bit crowded but still manageable. Things ran right on schedule, and about 150 or so runners took off at 7:00AM for the full 50K experience.
It didn’t take long for me to realize that Kansas City was a hilly community! For the next five hours, it seemed as though I was either going up or going down one hill after another. Had I read the race description more carefully (or perhaps just not blocked it out of my memory?), I would have remembered the words “surprisingly hilly” as they described the eb and flow of elevation change from 720 feet to 1020 feet, which seemed to be repeated so often that I felt like the needle of a record player moving back and forth over a broken record. We wound our way through downtown Kansas City, through the University of Missouri- Kansas City campus, and in and out of historic neighborhoods with grand old houses. One of my favorite areas was down along the Missouri River which we reached after descending what seemed like thousands of stairs down into the Mines of Moria. The banks of the river were a calming respit from the more active scenery of the city, and there are some amazing bridges crossing the river. Alas, going down stairs meant we also had to make up that elevation decline, and I was ready to hurl my water bottle into the fires of Mount Doom when I got to the top.
Luckily, the aid stations were very well placed along the course, and nicely stocked with fluids, GU, and fruit. In all, it was a very visually stimulating course, which definitely helped the miles go by that much quicker. They had countless intersections blocked off so I had plenty of opportunities to thank KC’s finest for their help, some of them more pleased to be out there than others. At one point, after the marathon and 50K participants followed the same course, we split so that the 50K runners could get in the extra distance. These 5 additional miles may have been the hilliest of all! After the last ridiculously steep hill, I got to the top and was greeted by volunteers congratulating me for making it to the highest point in Kansas City. You don’t say?!
Despite the hills, the race seemed to go by rather quickly, and when I reached the 26-mile mark, I realized that I had maintained a pretty consistent pace and was actually at or near my marathon PR time. So much for slowing down a bit, eh? I kept on pushing, and at mile 28, I was fairly certain that the race organizers had made a mistake. We couldn’t possibly be going up this hill, could we? Alas, we did, and I pushed through! Luckily, the knowledge I gained from reading ChiRunning proved very useful and the angled stride strategy probably saved my legs on all of the hills.
In the last mile, we finally received a bit of rest as we hit some nice downhills on our way back to the park. The last half mile was all down hill, which gave me an extra burst of energy (or was I just falling forward at that point?) and I pushed hard into the finish. I crossed the line in 5:06, which almost seemed ridiculous to me when I saw it! I had been shooting for a time somewhere between 5:30 and 6:00, so I was ecstatic. The beautiful epicurean was there to greet me at the end, having arrived extra early after missing my finish in Sioux Falls…I guess she knows me pretty well 🙂
All said, it was a fantastic race, and a wonderful weekend. We stayed in KC a few extra days and did some shopping, visited some museums, and ate some great food…all within walking distance of our hotel. Did I mention that our hotel was on a hill?