Elizabeth Azze's 2012 The North Face 50 Mile Race Report "The Pain in Gain"

In past years the North Face 50 has been a goal race for me but not this year, typically I do not use races as training but since this was in my backyard I said what the heck. I showed up tired and without a taper trying to keep my eye on the bigger picture of my season. The goal was to use this as a training run and to experiment with new hydration and nutrition techniques in a race setting. Yes what I have been doing within the last couple of years has been working but you never know if you could tweak things here and there to figure out a true magic formula. 

Joe and Sam dropped me off at the start I quickly began to look for fellow teammate Laura Swift. After about 5 minutes I found Laura, Mike Dixon and friends. I wanted to make sure Laura knew that she could rely on Joe and the rest of the team for help if she needed. Her training and racing has been going well and I wanted to make sure she had everything she needed to make this grueling race easier. The spring weather here is very finicky: generally you could expect morning rain, but this year it was extremely humid due to the past couple days of rain. I remember in 2008 we actually started in a thunderstorm. There is something about putting a number on and starting on the skillfully set, exciting atmosphere the North Face creates.

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5, 4, 3, 2, 1, off we go! Laura and I stayed together for the first 2 miles. I already knew the pace was too quick for me given my unfresh legs, plus even when I completed this race feeling good in 08 & 09, I made it to Anthony Wayne (mile 4.4) in 42 minutes. I also knew the dangers that may lie ahead if you start out too fast given your fitness level. I got to Anthony Wayne in 44 minutes which I still thought was a little brisk. I slowed my pace a bit heading into Silvermine I caught up to a friend Cheryl Yanek she was going through a tough time and not into chatting. I kept on having brief conversations, one person said “hey Elizabeth what are you doing back here with us” and felt obligated to explain my intentions. Thoughts already started to creep into my head about the pressures of racing and others expectations.

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I tried to keep my mind focused on my own race while out on trails but this seemed to become difficult as the time went on. I quickly blew through Silvermine thanks to Joe who handed me a water bottle and gels. I know pretty much every inch of this trail so what lied ahead held no mystery: the push up the long path through rolling technical sections that would eventually lead to Arden Valley. During this section the battle within my mind was already fulltilt.

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I ended up leading a group of runners from from Silvermine to Skanatati - some had individual time goals and for others it was their first time and wanted guidance. The last thing I needed today given my issues was to have the race goals of others become my responsibility. Any other day I would have loved it, but not today.  Into Skanatati mile 20.7 although my Garmin showed closer to 22. At Skanatati I started my new sport drink combo that I have been experimenting with, almost immediately It wasn’t sitting well. My body found it hard to metabolize. I pushed on to Camp Lanowa, one person from the group was still with me, a man by the name Erland Miller who came all the way from Puerto Rico to participate in this race. This had an extreme effect on me, you see, it was the anniversary of my mother’s premature death and my sister and I had gone to Puerto Rico last year to spread her ashes at one of her favorite beaches. I felt as though she was in his body talking to me, and this just threw me for a emotional loop - I got into Camp Lanowa in very low spirits.  I was not having fun and really just wanted to walk home but my fellow teammate Julian Vicente was graciously waiting to accompany me to the finish.  My rational thoughts and logic of intentions of having a nice mellow training run were being lost the fact is that at the moment I was not enjoying having a number on. Poor Julian, little did he know he would really have his work cut out for him.

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Long story short Julian would say “come on push, take this, do that; I would say “Julian I’m going to walk home now”. When you get to Anthony Wayne tell Joe to pick me up I’ll be walking home. Its not like I didn’t have the energy to move forward, I just didn’t have the desire. A long walk down seven lakes drive without a number, with just a chance to reflect sounded much better. The funny part for Julian was we have had plenty of stronger training runs together ranging from 50k and 50 miles than this. Plus by this point I realized my new nutrition strategy didn’t help my psychological well being, as many of you know a steady stream of the right amount of carbohydrates, electrolytes and water is very important in keeping from having extreme energy ups and downs.

As we were approaching Anthony Wayne (40), I started to snap out of it, and I said to Julian, ok we only have 10 miles, I’m dropping my mind games here and I’m just going to enjoy what’s left of this race and that’s what we did.

Its funny, and I know I always say this, but Ultrarunning is so much more than just running long distances, it is a very introspective sport. No matter how long you have been participating in this sport you will have bad days, bad moments, but perseverance never fails.

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Thank you to my Mountain Peak Fitness / Campmor teammates, my husband Joe who’s been supporting me through these adventures for the last 6 years, Julian for pacing me and to the North Face and all of their volunteers for once again organizing this event. 

Oh and to whom it may concern, respect the trails and please do not litter, I know you have to hold on to those heavy empty gel packets but you can throw them away at any aid station along the way, thanks! Also, announce when you are passing and don’t forget to be nice!

Elizabeth Azze