Len Huffman's 2014 The North Face Endurance Challenge, Bear Mountain 50k Race Report "Sticking it to Bear Mountain!"

Hey Bear Mountain - shove it! Yeah, you heard me. Yes I am pointing 2 appendages your way. You always try to thwart us with your rocky and rooty paths. Your climbs often make us want to curl up into little balls. This year you added streams of water where there shouldn’t have been and mud. Lots of shoe sucking, pace slowing mud. But I beat you. I took all you threw at me and powered on for 50k to finish near my goal with a time of 6:03:44.

For the last 5 years I have competed in the ½ marathon at the North Face Endurance challenge at Bear Mountain. This year I decided to up the ante and give the 50k a try. A new baby and a harsh winter made training a chore. I managed to get my miles in and even got a few runs on the course with my Mountain Peak Fitness Campmor teammates. I arrived on race morning feeling confident of having a good day on the trail. My only concern was nutrition. I am still trying to find the right combination of food to eat during my ultras. I wound up getting sick in my last 50k. For this race I planned on consuming cliff gels along with some solid foods at the aid stations. I wanted to make sure I took in enough electrolytes if it was hot.

The race started to a beautiful morning. The first few miles to aid station 1 flew by quickly. It was nice not to run this section all out with its rolling hills as I have had to when racing the half. The trails were very wet and muddy. Any thoughts of keeping dry feet for later were quickly forgotten. At the aid station I grabbed a gel and some pretzels and was on my way. Another muddy section of trail gave way to some road and then dryer fire roads. Soon the course turned onto the rolling single track and the hard work began. I was feeling good. I had run this part of the course before so was able to temper my efforts to what I knew lied ahead. I was keeping my pace to within my goals, passing some people and being passed by others. At one point I found myself behind some crazy singing bunch. Before long I was thru to the Arden Valley aid station. I again took some solid food from the table and started off.

The next section I knew to be tougher, with some challenging climbs. There was also stretches of bogs of water and mud that reduced the pace to a slow slog. I picked it up where I could but tried to stay at my planned effort. The run was still feeling great but was sure to consume my gels on schedule. When I finally emerged from the woods to the next aid station, it was dishearten to see it was up the hill on the paved road. Here I did a full stop, refilling my Nathan hydration vest and eating more. This next section of the course I had never run. I did not like it. The terrain was easy but the trail was thin (grown thick) with lots of logs to hop over. The sun was out and starting to get hot. I made sure to drink. Amazingly I was still feeling real good. I was getting a little nervous because you never know when things can change for the worse. And they soon did.

At the Anthony Wayne aid station the second time, I filled up on salted potatoes, chips & pretzels. I knew the toughest part of the course was coming and wanted to be fueled. As I ran through the long parking lot section back onto the trails, I started to feel the fatigue set in. My stomach also started to sour. I was forced to a slow walk. There were still about 8 miles to go and I needed to finish strong if I was hit my goal of 6 hours. This is where the mental side of ultras kicks in.  I repeated a few of my mantras and thought of my new baby daughter at home and most importantly just kept moving. Soon, for reasons unknown to all who have experienced it, my energy returned and stomach felt better. I picked up the pace where I could. The last 2 climbs were tough but I gutted them out. I was in the final miles and according to my watch I had about 15 minutes to finish in 6 hours with about 2 miles to go. I shared this with some runners around me and we rallied to push to the end. I ended up with an official time of 6:03:44. A little off my mark but very happy. The North face course at Bear mountain is one of the hardest ones they put on. The mud and water made it tougher this year. But I did not let it defeat me. I fought it hard and had a great race. I wait for next year’s battle.