North Face Endurance Challenge 50k Race Report

Marathon Maniacs at the KC North Face Endurance
Challenge 50k/Marathon
The final race on my 2012 schedule had finally arrived.  I've worked hard this year, especially this fall.  I've documented in plenty of previous posts, but for those of you that have not been reading my blog up to this point I'll fill you in.  This would be the 7th race in 35 days; two 5k, one 8k, two marathons and two 50k.  I was exhausted mentally and physically as race day drew near.  i had my concerns about running 31 miles on pavement, especially with all of the races I've done leading up, but I was not going to let it intimidate me out of completing my goal.  My friend Erica Carper (fellow Trail Nerd/Mud Babe) decided we'd run it together since we have both been struggling a little lately.  We decided that the pain and anguish involved would be easier to handle together.  Also, our friend Mel (another Trail Nerd) lives right on the course so she decided she would meet up near her house and spend some time running with us to keep us company and bring us some snacks.  I love having great running friends, and these two certainly are!!

Last week's Pilgrim Pacer Marathon took quite a toll on me and I was feeling it as this final race got closer.  The Pilgrim Pacer was Saturday the weekend before this race and it left me with a sore left knee and right foot.  I was worried my knee was a real injury; it didn't feel like a tight muscle issue.  I've found since I started going to Wisner Chiropractic for ART that most things really do end up being muscle tightness issues rather than true injuries so I decided I'd wait until after my Monday appt with Dr. Jared Wisner to worry too much.  He found that my quads were VERY tight and that was causing the pressure on my knee and my calf was causing the pulling on my foot.  After my appt my foot still bothered me a little, but my knee was fine.  I felt good at that point that I could survive the race one way or another.  It would be slow and painful, but I could get through it without major injury.

The race was on Saturday so I decided to take Friday and Monday off from work.  Necessary?  No, but after all of these races I sure was looking forward to a few days off.  Kristy & I went to packet pickup Friday evening, then there was a small pre-race dinner planned with a handful of fellow Marathon Maniacs.  The dinner was at the Beer Kitchen in Westport just about 1/2 mile from packet pickup so we walked over.  We had never been to this restaurant before and we hadn't met these Maniacs before so it was sure to be a fun evening!  We got there and met Perky Garcia, Lianne Griffin, Kathy Davidson & Nicholas Juskiewicz.  We had a great time and they were all VERY fun people.  The restaurant was amazing!  I had a "build your own Mac & Cheese" with ham 7 caramelized onions.  It was AMAZING!!  The service was great and they had plenty of options (including options that my vegan friends could enjoy).  After dinner we headed home to get our stuff together for the race and get some sleep.

L-R - Ron Ruhs, Erica Carper & I just
a couple miles in
The weather was going to be tricky for this one.  It was forecasted to be in the mid-30s at the start and warm up to close to 60 by the time I was done.  That makes the logistics of planning my gear for the race tough.  I decided I'd kind of take my chances with the morning cold and hope it would warm up quickly once the sun came up.  I wore my Team RWB shirt (which is rather warm), American flag calf compression sleeves (not much for warmth, but it was going to get too warm to wear tights), dry fit shorts, Marathon Maniac arm sleeves (my warmest sleeves), North Face gloves, ear warmer headband, 40oz Nathan fuel belt and Marathon Maniac hat.  I'm not going to lie, I was too cold at the start, but it really did warm up quickly.  We had a MM group picture at 6:30 then I headed over to the start area.  I found Erica and saw a number of other friends.  I had lots of friends running in this event.  We got up to the start area and they started the race.  We kept a fairly steady but conservative pace.  We both knew this one would probably get painful quickly so we just took it with a slow but steady attitude.  We were seeing friends periodically and just trying to keep conversation going to keep our minds off what we were feeling.  Within about 4-5 miles my right quad and hamstring were already tightening up.


Me & Erica just a few miles in

Most of this race was just about progress.  Keep moving.  At one point we were running by a dog park and it led to a funny moment.  A couple ladies running next to Erica & I were talking about a Husky they saw and said they'd always wanted one.  I told them about how much I've loved my Huskies and we chatted for a moment about that.  As Erica and I got away from them, Erica made a comment about how this used to be her and Elliot's dog park.  My friend from Omaha, Lindsy, was running by us right at that very moment and she looked over and said "are you talking about Elliot Snickerfritz?"  Erica looked over at her with a bit of shock and and commented on how Elliot is famous.  He's Erica's awesome dog, he is know around the world as a great friend to her foster dogs and a great ultra runner.  Everyone knows and loves Elliot!!  As we got to about 10 miles Erica and I were both hurting pretty bad already.  By right foot that had bothered me since Pilgrim Pacer was coming back with a vengeance, my quad & hamstring tighten up that I mentioned earlier were causing my right hip to get tight and my left foot was joining in the fun.  Our conversations were getting less frequent and shorter; mostly we were just running.  We were walking uphills and running downhills and flats.  At one point around 11 miles we had to go down a couple flights of steps and that was pretty rough on my hip.  We were counting the miles at this point to when Mel would be joining us around 14-15 miles in.  Having her show up wouldn't make the pain go away, but anything that is a change will take your mind off the pain even if only briefly.

My picture of a rock climber on Cliff Dr while
Erica takes a picture of the view behind me
Mel joined up with us at about 14.5 or 15 miles just before we got to Cliff Drive.  This is a very nice little area that I ran my 8k just a couple weeks before at.  As we ran down Cliff Dr Mel pointed out to us that there are clips & hooks on the rockface next to the road for climbers.  Not long after that we actually saw a guy climbing so we stopped to take a picture of him.  Erica and I were both really hurting, but we kept plugging along.  Mel had brought me a couple Nutella wraps which really helped but with energy and with my mental attitude.  I don't know what it is about a Nutella wrap, but it's just SO good while running an ultramarathon!  It was great to have Mel & Erica along with me.  By the half way point I was hurting bad and really struggling.  Conversation with the two of them really kept me moving and kept me positive.  It's hard when you go into a race and you are as tired mentally and physically as I was at the start of this one.  It only get worse as the miles tick off.  As we got to 20 miles I was starting to realize I just wasn't going to be able to keep up with Erica much longer.  Every time we ran I fell a little behind, when Erica and Mel stopped to walk up a hill I would catch up and walk with them, but I knew that couldn't last too long.

Perky's picture of me at the 23 mile mark
It lasted until mile 23.  Right at the start of a hill was the 23 mile marker and I could hear Perky (fellow Marathon Maniac) behind me yell at me to stop at the sign so she could get a picture of me.  I stopped, leaned on the sign, and made my best expression of complete exhaustion.  It was a joking expression, but not very far from the truth.  I had energy, but mentally I was spent and physically I was feeling beaten up.  I was starting to worry about the last 8 miles.  Could I make it through another 8 miles?  It's been a long time since I questioned my ability to at least finish a race, but I really was.  As we moved up the hill, Erica was moving strong and Mel went with her.  I tried my best to keep up, but I fell further and further behind and it wasn't too long before they were out of sight.  I just kept my focus on putting one foot in front of the other.  The ultrarunner's creed: relentless forward progress.  That's the beauty of long distance running.  As long as you keep putting one foot in front of the other you will eventually get to where you are going.  I just had to keep reminding myself of that fact.

Just after the marathon point; 5 miles left
I was alone for a couple miles, but around mile 25-26 Mel came running back to find me.  She said Erica was doing well so she she wanted to come back and make sure I was okay.  I was SO happy to have company again.  Mel tried her best to keep me positive and keep me moving and I tried to keep my sense of humor.  It was a long struggle, but we kept moving.  It was hard working but I was finally feeling like I could finish.  The last 5 miles were spend with Mel & I joking about how many times she'd told me there were no more hills but then around the next corner would be a big hill.  It reminded me of how I kept telling Katie that at the Kansas City Marathon just a few weeks before.  I don't know how I would have kept moving without Mel to talk to.  I joked at one point that even as I was running I was barely able to break a 16 minute mile, but she quickly reminded me that after all of the races I'd done in the last month & a half even a 16 minute pace was pretty impressive and strong.  That really was helpful to me.  I had to keep this race in the perspective of everything I'd done leading up to keep myself moving.  Long & slow; feet hurting, legs hurting, hips hurting, arms tired, back slightly stiff, thirsty, hungry, exhausted.  Ironically, the one problem I didn't have was the biggest thing I'd been worried about going into the race; that left knee pain had never come back!  That was certainly a good thing.  I think taking the week off from running and just doing lots of stretching helped it.

Finally finishing the last race of 2012
As we came down along side the Nelson Atkins Museum of Art I was very happy knowing I was merely a couple blocks away from the finish!!  I was running at a decent pace again glad to be getting close to the finish.  I got a very nice surprise as I got to the finish there was an announces there calling out people as they finished.  I had done all of these races as a fundraiser for Team Red, White & Blue; an organization that was founded by and supports our wounded veterans.  I was wearing my Team RWB shirt in support of the organization as well.  Apparently the announcer knows about the organization because as I came around the corner I heard "and running for Team Red, White & Blue, here comes Bryan West from Gardner, KS!!"  It's always great to hear your name at the finish, but especially so if the organization you are running for gets a plug as well.  I finished the 31 miles in 7:16:34 (14:05 avg pace).  Not as fast as I would have liked had this been a stand-alone event rather than the end of a long, tough stretch of races.  Considering everything I've run in the last 6 weeks, I was VERY happy with that time!  This was my 3rd official 50k and it was almost exactly in the middle time-wise between the other two.  I was done and it was time to hit the beer tend for my free beer and some free food from the food trucks.  I had a very nice craft beer (I forget what it was called), some red beans & rice and some gumbo from one of the food trucks.  It was great beer & great food!!  I sat down to eat with Ron, Lindsy, Lee, Christy, and Kristy.  After I finished eating Kristy & I took off and that was that for my race season.

Mel & I on the news
I also had a brief brush with fame thanks to this race (not really, but I like to put it that way)!  I did not know it at the time, but a local news station (channel 5) was doing a story on a lady running her first ever 50k at this event.  Tuesday morning a few days after the race my mother-in-law texted me to tell me she saw me on the news.  I was able to track down a video of the story (you can watch it here) on their website.  At about 2:09 into the video they show me and Mel as we are about 100 meters or so from the finish line!  Luckily I was running well and (sort of) smiling at that moment.  I remember seeing a camera and waving, but I didn't realize it was a news crew.  That's my brush with fame.

Awards/medals from this 6 week stretch
I had finished it.  7 races in 6 weeks (35 days).  Here's how it all shook out:

Pumpkin Run 5k; 3.12 miles in 24:41 (new PR) for an avg pace of 7:54

Mother Road 5k; 3.11 miles in 25:28 for an avg pace of 8:06

Kansas City Marathon; 26.36 miles in 5:06:31 for an avg pace of 11:38

GOATz Trail Run 50k; 32.86 miles in 7:36:42 for an avg pace of 13:54

Cliff Hanger 8k; 5.03 miles in 44:26 for an avg pace of 8:50

Pilgrim Pacer Marathon; 26.7 miles in 5:36:32 for an avg pace of 12:36

North Face Endurance Challenge 50k; 31 miles in 7:16:34 for an avg pace of 14:05

It also earns me 3 Stars with the Marathon Maniacs (4 marathons/ultra in 28 days).  Although I'm not really one to chase stars like many of my fellow Maniacs, it is nice to have that recognition.  I'm now done with my schedule for the year and for the first time I'm ready to have an actual off season.  I'm not training for anything right now.  I'll just run when I feel like running however far I feel like running.  The focus is now on strength training, yoga and getting my eating habits back under control.  It's so hard to get those habits going again while training and racing so I'm taking this opportunity to get these habits back so when I do start training again I will stick with it.  Around the first of the year I will either begin training for the Free State 40 Mile, the Free State Half Marathon of the Garmin Half Marathon.  I'm not going to decide until the start of 2013.  It's been a fun ride in 2012 and I do look forward to writing my year-end summary.  It's been an interesting one!!  Thanks for every one's support and lets have a strong finish to the year!!

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