The weekend of May 4-5th brought The North Face Endurance Challenge back to Bear Mountain in New York. I was competing in Sunday’s half marathon for the fifth time. This race has been my spring goal for the last few years. I have enjoyed high finishes and went into this years race looking for more success.
I arrived on race morning at the festival like atmosphere with my wife and son in tow for support. The early morning temperatures were perfect. It was going to be a nice day. As I stood in line for my race packet, I heard the P.A. announce they had over 800 entrants and starts would be in 4 waves. When I got my number I was informed I was in the 2nd wave. I asked to be switched to the 1st wave as I didn’t want to be held up on the narrow, twisty trails. I was happily obliged.
At 7:50 we lined up for prerace instructions (given by Dean Karnazes). The signal was given at 8am and the racers started down the paved path, through the parking lot and onto the trails. From past experience I know the first few miles were tough with some leg burning hills. I always start to fast so I made an effort to hold back. But I could not resist the 1st rocky downhill & blew past almost all the other runners. After having my fun; I eased off back to my intended pace. Being familiar with the course, I felt the real racing didn’t start until after the 2nd aid station around mile 4. I kept a comfortable pace until then. I was running with a group of about 8 racers as we crossed a long flat section through Anthony Wayne parking area. I still did not want to push too hard and lost contact with the group. I was not worried. I knew once we hit the technical trails again I would dance my way back to them. Soon I was back in the dirt. It was up-down, flat-rocky, smooth-rooty & straight-twisty; Bear Mountain throws everything at you (which is why I love running there).
I soon caught the group on an uphill, blasted away on the down only to be caught on the flats. This cat & mouse game continued for miles. I had just gained some ground on some steep technical downhill. I was flying along an easier downhill section when my toe caught a rock. It felt like slow motion. I hit the ground hard. I took a moment to shake the cobwebs, checks if my water bottle was still there & then I was up on my feet running (after being passed by 3 runners). As I ran, I assessed my wounds: Bloody knee, scraped arms & a sliced up hand. I ran on as I tried to wipe the blood away. I was nearing the last part of the race. I knew there were a few hard climbs left. I power hiked my way up them. Another rocky downhill had me gain position on a few more runners. I soon past the last aid station (I never stopped) and was onto some rolling fire roads. I came upon a right hand turn where the race joined with the 5 & 10k runners but as I was putting an empty gel pack in my pocket it dropped to the ground. Quickly - what do I do? I stopped and went back to pick it up. Unfortunately 3 competitors passed me, followed by 2 more. I pushed hard the last few miles to get back the spots I lost. I could not close the gap. I ended up finishing 16th place overall, 4th in my 35-49 age group.
I have put a lot of effort into this race the last few years. I think though that I have had enough of the half marathon. Next year 50k here I come!