Laura Swift's 2012 The North Face 50 Mile Race Report

With the encouragement of my Mountain Peak Fitness Campmor Teammates, I registered for The North Face 50 Mile endurance run. It was our “home” course after all! With guidance from teammates I was able to run on the course a few times before the race, but I had really only seen the first 12-15 miles. If I had only known what was in store – R O C K S!

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I was unusually calm before the race. I ate my breakfast, put on my shoes, dropped off my drop bags and went to the washroom 3 or maybe 5 times! My teammate, Elizabeth

spotted me just before it was time to walk to the start line. She reminded me that her husband, Joe would be on the course with anything we would need. This was reassuring. So was having my incredibly experienced teammate by my side. We let everyone take off at the start and continued our own pace up the first climb of the day. It was my first experience racing in the dark with headlamps. It was kind of cool, but I didn’t like the feeling of not being sure of my footing. It wasn’t long though before the sun came up.

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During the first 4.9 miles to the first aid station I began feeling overwhelmed and not ready for the long day ahead of me. I dropped off my headlamp at the aid station and continued on my way feeling unsettled. Rolling into Silvermine I saw teammates, Joe and Julian snapping pictures and cheering me on. I was also able to meet the wonderful Randy and Mara who would be amazing support for me for the remainder of the day. I was still feeling off, but friendly faces forced me to smile and sometime after seeing them I started to settle in and enjoy myself a little bit. It wasn’t long before I would see these friendly faces again and Mara would remind me to get some aid at the upcoming station. Thanks to her reminder I forced myself to stop, eat some PB&J sandwiches and drink a cup of Gatorade. We made a right hand turn on the road and I was officially on unchartered territory. I wondered if perhaps ignorance was bliss. Had I seen what was coming would I actually have registered? I honestly don’t know the answer to that.

It was this long 7 mile section that I met Patrick. A fellow Canadian, he traveled from Montreal to attempt (and later finish!) his first 50 mile race. He was a terrific companion and knowing that he was following my walk the uphills, run as soon as we’ve reached the top pattern gave me the confidence that he needed me to lead (he may not have been thinking that, but even if I made it up in my own head it was helpful to me (and hopefully to him!).

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We began to climb rocks. Huge rocks. Hand over hand, not sure if I could get my body up and over these kinds of rocks. I made a comment to those running with me that my Mom would have a heart attack if she knew I was out there doing something like that. We all laughed, but I was (and still am) serious!

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The aid station at mile 30 was like a party! Mara and Randy were there, they found my drop bag for me while I took a pit stop in the porta potty. Zsuzsanna was there to give me a delicious jelly sandwich and refill my pack. Julian, Joe, and Sam were there too and it was so wonderful to be surrounded by all of them. I was all smiles when I left the station and full of energy (even if my legs were feeling pretty tired)!

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Patrick and I got back into a rhythm until I stopped at some point to go to the washroom. I told him I would catch up. When I reached his side again he was walking so I said, in his native language, “Allons-y” (let’s go). He laughed and began running with me once again.  We stayed together until just shy of the 34 mile aid station. He was taking more walking breaks, but my legs were tired so I had to push ahead. During the long section of road that followed I was fatigued and my mind was giving up, growing frustrated with the fatigue in my legs, my stomach didn’t want any more gu, PB&J, nuun, etc. At the end of the long road section was Joe. I’m sure he could tell by the look on my face that I wasn’t feeling as happy as when he had last seen me. His advice was simple, but I carried the words with me the entire rest of the race: “Stay focused, Laura”. I said it to myself over and over again.

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The tears eventually started, as they always do. I quickly realized I wasn’t able to see the ground (rocks) in front of me when my eyes were filled with tears so I forced myself to not cry unless I was hiking up  one of the many climbs. Just before the aid station at mile 40.3 I saw a red shirt. I was convinced it was my friend Tom. When I got closer I started to cry because it wasn’t Tom. And then he turned and looked at me and smiled in recognition. It was the happiest I have ever been to see a familiar face. I quickly hugged him and continued my attempt at a run (more of a shuffle) to get to the aid station. I kept telling myself that by the time I reached the aid station I would be in single digits and I would make it. I was in rough shape. Joe and Mara were there, talking me through the tears. Joe reminded me not to stand there too long. I did anyway. Mara urged me to eat some cookies which I was surprisingly able to eat. She then walked with me 100 metres or so until I was ready to start running again.

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Randy, Mara, Joe & Sam!

I’m not entirely sure how I made it through those last 10 miles. There was a lot of cursing, and I was just plain shocked that of the 200+ miles at that park they had to choose those ones to take us on. When I reached the final aid station, I leaned against the table and pointed in the direction that I had come from and asked the volunteers “What the hell was that?” They laughed and urged me on. Telling me that there was nothing left compared to what I had just done. 2.8 miles felt like eternity. I knew that my friends were waiting (and waiting, and waiting) and I knew they would be concerned that I hadn’t yet arrived at the finish line, but I honestly felt like I was moving as best I could at that moment.

About 3 quarters of a mile from the finish I saw the always smiling Dave Allara asking why I was walking the last uphill section (covered in you guessed it – rocks!). I had to refrain from verbally lashing out at him because I was so exhausted. He ran by my side (after already running the marathon distance in a blazing time of 4:11) and urged me to smile, which I refused to do until I was able to see the finish line. It was there that sweet Mara gave me a high five telling me she knew I would make it. Joe, Sam, and Randy were all there cheering as well. It was a wonderful moment knowing I had finished. I changed out of the disgusting clothes and joined my teammates to cheer on my teammate, Elizabeth as she finished her 50 mile training run in preparation for the Laurel Highlands 70.3 Mile Ultra. I learned so much from the experience, but above all, I learned more about the amazing team that I am so honored to be a part of! Thank you Mountain Peak Fitness!

Laura