The North Face Endurance Challenge (NFEC) Series is a group of trail races spanning 50M, 50KM, Marathon, Marathon Relay, 1/2 Marathon, 10KM, and 5KM distances. I can only speak for the 2010 Midwest Regional event held between Madison/Milwaukee, WI as this is the first of these events I have attended. The event was expensive for a trail race ($65 entry fee), but the organization, atmosphere, and "swag" made it worth the price of admission. Entrants were given stainless steel water bottles, a North Face brand technical t-shirt, North Face brand technical running socks, multiple gear bags (I think I ended up with 3), key chains, sunscreen, lip balm, etc, as well as copious food, drink, and even a free beer (oh and there was a race also). Race bibs were personalized and timing was handled with disposable chips on the race bib (always nice).
Weather was cool (mid-high 50's), overcast, and just on the edge of raining throughout most of the race. It did rain lightly during the last 1/2 of the race which added some difficulty to the trail conditions. The start of the race was at a local state park which made it nice for camping (as we did). We could easily walk back and forth from the race to our camper and not have to worry about parking.
The 1/2 marathon started at 8:00 am. We began lining up around 7:50 am and were given a greeting by Dean Karnazas. At 8:00 am sharp, they turned us loose. About 100 yards out of the starting gate, the whole group was squeezed into a clearing between bushes that caused a small jam, but that only held up folks for a few seconds. Once we were through the bushes, we turned onto the edge of roads that took us out of the park. I used to think these portions of "road" detracted from what was supposed to be a trail race but have since learned that good course planners put them in to allow everyone to "find their place/pace" in the group without a lot of congestion. A few hundred yards of pavement is a small price to pay.
Once out of the park, we made a turn onto trails that were fairly wide (6-8 feet) and nearly all "double track". The turn onto the trail also presented the first sustained climb of the day. About 1/2 mile of constant, low grade climbing. I ran most of it, but power hiked some of the steeper portions. Once we crested the high point (about 1.5 miles in total), we were treated to about 1/4 mile of gradual downhill. Course conditions at this point were damp, but still solid. I had a safe goal of 2hr30min and a reach goal of 2hr10min and was keeping track of my pace throughout the race. At this point I felt pretty good and was slightly under 11 min/mile pace.
At the bottom of the downhill we met the aid station, but were not given the chance to use it (we were only 1.75 miles into the race so no one should have needed it). We made a left turn onto more defined "double track" and began the first of two loops that would define most of the 13.1 mile course. This loop had it all; rocky sections, steep uphills, steep downhills, straight, flat pine covered sections, grassy sections. At this point, I started feeling well warmed up and was finding my groove. I ran this section at just under 11min/mil pace. The thrill of the start had warn off and I was just running. I took walk breaks as needed on the steep uphills and about 1 min of each mile. Mind you, these "hills" were not that great, total elevation change for the race was only about 1100 ft over 13.1 miles. You people in the mountain states do that just getting out of the parking lot.
About mile four in I decided to eat 1/2 of my PB&H sandwich for fuel. These had worked great on training runs and I thought they would work at the race. I was breathing harder during the race than on our longer breaks during training runs and so it was much harder to eat. I did manage to choke it down and hit a few swigs of water and was on my way again. That walk break was a little longer than 2 min while most of the others were in the 1min or less range.
At mile 6.7 we were back at the aid station and I caught a slight burst of energy (from the PB&H). I filled up my handheld with lime nuun (drink of choice) and headed back out. From the aid station we were directed onto a different out and back loop. At this point the trail started to get muddier and the rain picked up a little. The flat sections were quite muddy with some standing water, but trails had been made on the edge or around these spots so it wasnt too bad. There was one large bog that I was able to pass but was getting deep. It was at this point that I could start to feel my legs getting fatigued. I think it was mostly from having to use more "control" muscles due to the muddy conditions. IT bands were more fatigued than on previous long trail runs.
About mile 7.5 was where I started meeting some of the elite runners who were returning from the second out and back. All the while I had found my "pack" and was playing leapfrog with them. I would pass them on my run sections, they would pass me on my walk breaks, etc.
Miles 8 and 9 were probably the hardest of the race. It was raining a little harder, the course was muddier, and I felt the most tired. I realized that I needed to try and get in some more calories. I was also starting to get a little unsettled in the stomach area. Nothing bad, but not 100%. I tried to eat the other half of my PB&H, but one bite in and I couldn't do it. Breathing was too hard and mouth was too dry and it was taking too much time. Luckily, I had a Hammer gel (w/caffine) in my race pouch. I took that and washed it down with copious amounts of water/nuun. I'm a heavy sweater, so I was not too worried about electrolyte overload (I only had about 45 min left).
About mile 10.5, the Hammer kicked in and I felt good. There was also something mental about having <3 miles left. I ended up picking up my pace a little and started passing some people. I knew the aid station was due up again just after mile 11, then it was up the hill and a nice glide to the finish. About 0.2 miles before the aid station I met back up with the huge puddle I skirted on the way out. I decided to take it on my side (the right) but quickly found that this side was where all the water was. I tried to hop around but managed to find a calf deep puddle to plant my right foot in. No biggie, I had run in these shoes soaked before. Sloshed around a bit, but got back to high ground and was off again.
Back to the aid station at mile 11.4. I filled my bottle with a few more cups of nuun, but didn't really need them. My next goal was to just get to the top of the hill. I could not wait for the gradual downhill on the other side. Everywhere on the course the gradual downhills had felt really good.
Getting up the hill was hard, but I felt pretty good. I only had to walk a couple of sections and walked more than I thought I should have. Once I crested the hill though, I felt like I was flying. Breathing was good, legs were good, the hill was steep enough that all I really had to do was pick up each foot and let gravity do the rest. The only hard part of this section was it was more pounding that any other section, but I tried to minimize it the best I could.
Once at the bottom of the hill, it was about 0.75 miles of road back to the finish line. I turned left and decided I didn't want to get passed on this section and would pass someone if I could. I kept my pace fast, and still felt good. I passed two people during that last 3/4 mile but could hear footsteps behind me most of the way. With about 1/4 mile to go, I was met by a guy I had passed on the downhill quite far back and had been playing leapfrog with for most of the race. I was starting to fade and he had caught me after 1mile of tracking and with about 200 yards to go so I congratulated him on his way by.I turned right one last time and passed through the finish line in 2:21:52 (chip time). I felt a great sense of accomplishment, especially for beating my safe goal by more than 8 minutes. It was a great race on a challenging course.
Montrail Mountain Masochist
Was a little unsure about these when I first got them, but they turned out to be the best shoes I have run in. Excellent performance in anything I have thrown at them, ankle deep water, dry sandy trail, sloppy mud, loose rocks/gravel, climbing, steep downhills. They have always kept me extremely sure footed and comfortable.
Fuelbelt handheld water bottle strap with Camelbak Podium Chill water bottle
Love running with a handheld, the Fuelbelt version is good, but many others would also be good. Love the Camelbak Podium Chill bottles with bite valve; secure, no leak closure option; and insulation to keep ice in them longer without freezing your hands.
FitSok CF-2 Cushion - Quarter socks in black
Plenty of cushion, dark color does not show trail stains, breathe well and dry well when wet.