On May 6th I participated in my 4th North Face Endurance Challenge half marathon in Bear Mountain, NY. The North Face races take place over 2 days with the longer races taking place on Saturday and shorter ones Sunday. There is only one word to describe the course...grueling! It is hilly, rocky and constantly challenging. A week of rain added slick and muddy conditions to that description. I had success in this race the last 2 years, finishing 9th and 10th overall. This was my “A” race for the spring and I hoped to improve on those results. Unfortunately a tough Boston Marathon a few weeks earlier and a hectic everyday schedule left me less than confident.
I arrived at the Anthony Wayne parking area around 7 am on race day to catch the shuttle to the start area. The North Face puts on a nice race environment with many vendors, food & other things to occupy you in the start area. I got myself ready by reviewing the course in my mind. I knew the first few miles were hard and I reminded myself not to push too hard at the start. With 10 minutes before the start, everyone began to line up. We received our pre race instructions / pep talk from ultra runner Dean Karnazes.
The race started and we were off along a paved path, thru a parking lot then finally to the dirt. I position myself near the front, one runner quickly pulled away from the group and he was the eventual winner. At this point the trail was rocky with a short uphill and the pace was harder then I wanted but I hung in there. We came to a short rough downhill and I let loose, passing all in front of me. At the bottom I eased off to let another runner take the lead to set the pace. The group reformed and the speed was fast. At this point I started to feel some tightness in my chest. During the Boston marathon I had breathing difficulties and wound up in need of an inhaler for a week. I was starting to feel the same symptoms, I needing to concentrate and take deep breathes in order to get a half breathes worth in. The breathing difficulties forced me to slow down which caused me fall to the back of the group (about 10 runners). My legs started to burn and I lost contact with the group as I slowed further. My mind was a panic, I couldn’t stop but had trouble continuing to run at a decent pace, I decided to slow up more to work on taking deep breathes, I can’t believe all of this was happening and I still had 10 miles left to run.
When I came to the Anthony Wayne aid station I was beginning to feel a little better. I found a rhythm to my breathing and was settling down into a decent pace. I could see the runners who had dropped me, they were closer then I had thought. I spent the next miles chasing the runners ahead. The trail was constantly challenging and my legs ached. I was passed by 1 runner on a tough climb. It was rocky (as always) and required walking up it. At the top I tried to bomb the downhill but leaves on the trail made it very slippery. A few sections of tamer fire road followed as I still sought the out of sight competitors who I knew were ahead.
I caught up to 2 runners on a section that resembled an old stream bed, soon I was past them. This gave me confidence to chase down some more. Another runner came in sight as we came to the final big climb of the day. I power hiked it (as I seem to go faster than running it) and looked forward to the technical descent on the other side. I unleashed myself down the trail and soon I caught and passed him. The course then returned to an up and down fire road. I tried to settle into a good pace for the final miles.
A right turn merged the half marathon with the course of the 5 and 10k’s, suddenly I was surrounded by many runners. I picked my way around them, trying to stay ahead of the last runner from my race I had passed. He soon caught me and took off, I attempted to stay with him but my legs did not cooperate. I pushed with all I had left, I made it to the finish in the time of 1:57:37. I finished 13th overall and 2nd in my 35-45 age group. My fiancé & I relaxed while we waited for the awards ceremony. Overall and age group award winners were given their prizes by Dean Karnazes.
The race did not go as I had hoped, my legs never truly felt great the whole race. My results were below my previous year’s results. But it was still a good race because I was out in the woods running over rocks, through mud and with nature. Anytime you get to be out on the trails you have to call that a success, no matter what the results. I can’t wait to see what happens on attempt number 5.