I have some catching up to do! Since I last posted, I’ve completed The North Face Endurance Challenge 50K and Festivus Games, a CrossFit competition for competition newbies. Today I’ll focus on the TNF Endurance Challenge - more to come on Festivus later!
The North Face Endurance Challenge - DC 50K (TNF ECS - DC) starts at Algonkian Regional Park in Sterling, Virginia, and follows the Potomac River on the aptly named Potomac Heritage Trail until connecting with a series of trails in Great Falls Park, before looping back to Algonkian.
My fourth ultramarathon in 8 months, I entered TNF ECS - DC with a nagging concern. Though I had been training consistently, with daily runs and a big focus on hill work, a packed travel schedule had limited my time available for any serious distance. Case in point, my farthest long run (since the last 50K I’d run in February) had been 18.6 miles, and that fell a full 3 weeks prior to race day. Ideally, I would have liked to fit in an additional 25 mile run to prepare my legs for the duration and feel more confident in the distance.
That being said, there were several factors working in my favor. I’d taken some hard-earned lessons to heart after bonking in my previous ultra (Holiday Lake 50K) and was going into TNF ECS - DC with a solid game plan for pre-race and race-day nutrition, hydration and rest. Though chilly, the weather for TNF ECS - DC would be a good 25 degrees warmer than Holiday Lake had been (a major relief). And finally, my hectic life leading up to TNF ECS - DC was calming down at last, and I’d have time to devote to distance again - I viewed TNF ECS - DC as a welcome and much-desired long run to kick off a new season of running.
TNF ECS - DC started on Saturday, April 16 at 7 AM, just after a steady rain had diminished. I joined the third wave of runners to cross the start line into an open field of misty wet grass, moving forward under an ominous steel gray sky toward the Potomac Heritage Trail.
With almost 400 runners on the 50K course, TNF ECS - DC drew the biggest crowd I’ve ever encountered at any ultra or trail run. Due to its phased start and course layout, it was surprisingly also one of the few trail runs I’ve participated in where I did not encounter any serious crowding, even in the narrow sections of single track.
As in most trail races I’ve been a part of, TNF ECS - DC included a nagging challenge for all runners - this time it was mud. After a night of rain, much of the Potomac Heritage Trail began the day as mud and ended as a mucky mess, deep enough to swallow shoes, and slick enough to take down a line of runners like dominoes if not careful. The hill climbs were few but long and steep, affording a fun descent for those brave enough to navigate the slippery mud that day.
Overall, the course was one of the most enjoyable I’ve experienced in Northern Virginia. Running through the woods on a spring day surrounded by budding trees and bluebells in full bloom on either side, felt nothing short of magical, even more so when tiny white specs of hail fell from the sky for a few minutes’ time. It was beautiful, peaceful, and felt a lot like being home.
My concerns about training were warranted, but ultimately unnecessary, as I finished the 50K in 6:56:43, with a clear mind and properly fueled stomach. A solidly mid-pack performance, which felt, to me, entirely exceptional.