The North Face 50k Endurance Challenge 2015 "Rotten" by Amy Hanlon
Each year one of my favorite races is The North Face Endurance Challenge at Bear Mountain, NY. This was to be my fifth year participating in the event, but my first attempt at the 50k. The previous 3 years I’d ran the 50 mile, and before that, the marathon. I have family friends; Sue and Cris Golde, who live nearby, and they have been coming every year with my parents and my daughter, Abby, to watch me finish. I don’t often have the luxury of having my loved ones there supporting me, so it’s very special to me personally. And it’s just a fun course--rugged, but with many runnable sections, lots of aid, and a big party at the end.
This winter was a little tough for me--I hadn’t been feeling nearly as strong as I had in the past. One 8 mile group run in Pound Ridge proved so hard for me that I couldn’t keep up with even the slowest runner, and ending up losing my group and getting completely lost. I worried about Boston. I worried about casual group runs. I worried that I would never do a cartwheel again. Thankfully, I went on 2 strong rounds of antibiotics in February for a tooth infection caused by a faulty root canal and I began to feel better. My strength was coming back and I was thrilled! Not really sure what the connection was, but I was able to pick up my training and feel more like myself again. I did nothing in the speed work department and just did what I love to do, long, slow runs and hikes in the trails with a few road runs mixed in for Boston Marathon training. (Read Amy’s Report from the 2015 Boston Marathon)
Fast forward to the week before Bear Mountain. Unfortunately it was one of the worst in my life. Someone I love very much did something that hurt me terribly. I lost a lot of sleep, cried, and even missed some work. On Friday, I didn’t have any appetite, which is very unusual for me. Despite all of this, I couldn’t wait to run Saturday morning. It really is my best therapy. When my alarm went off at 3:45 am I was happy to get out of bed and get myself ready and head to Anthony Wayne Parking Lot. I chatted with some friends I saw at the starting area and before I knew it, it was 7 am, time to start.
I felt really good the first 14 or 15 miles or so. The sun was shining. I was enjoying socializing with other runners. I felt good and strong. I was enjoying a good pace on the flats and gentle downs, and I was hiking the steep uphills and technical downhills. And then I ate a potato with salt. Usually during trail runs I can handle solid foods well. But that potato just sat in my stomach. I guzzled water and that also began to churn around in my stomach. I could hear it sloshing around with every step. The next few miles were very tricky. I walked a lot when I should have been running. People were passing me left and right. I tried to go to the bathroom in the woods but that didn’t happen. I was sweating and really struggling and wished I could curl up in a ball.
At mile 18.5 I saw Julian at the Owl Swamp Aid Station. I really couldn’t have seen a friendly face at a better time! He refilled my water, gave me lots of well wishes and a hug, and I continued on, feeling much more hopeful. I thought: If I hurt, I will walk. I will finish if it takes me 10 hours. I will enjoy the sun, the camaraderie of the runners, the trails, and I will try to put my stomach issues out of my mind. That lasted about 5 minutes and suddenly it was like I was being punched in the gut. I thought about walking back to Owl Swamp and dropping. And then the best thing happened. I threw up and felt great! I picked up my pace and made up some time. Not that I had a real goal time, but in optimal conditions I think I could run a 6 hour 50K at Bear Mountain and I was hoping for 6:30. And since I was feeling so much better, it was well within reach.
When I passed the Anthony Wayne Aid Station, I felt thrilled. The last three years I’ve been hitting that aid station after 40 miles with ten long ones to go. Today I felt really good and energetic--like I could really tackle the rest of the race and finish strong. I saw some friends who also helped restore my positive attitude. I felt nervous about eating, but decided I couldn’t go another ten miles--the hardest ten of the day--without some fuel. I ate a honey waffle, drank quite a bit of Gatorade, and headed out. This was the first time I ran the entire parking lot to the trail from the Anthony Wayne. And then my stomach lurched. I didn’t let it get me down. I didn’t let doubts about not finishing creep in. I just walked slowly. And then I threw up again. This one was not quite as rewarding as the first one. The next ten miles were much of the same. I didn’t eat anything else – but I drank consistently and kept moving forward as steadily as I could. I vomited a couple of more times, even without taking in any more food, which was a little disconcerting. My stomach wanted me to stop moving, but the rest of me wouldn’t listen. I just about crawled up Timp Pass. I didn’t have much left, and I didn’t feel like talking to anybody, which for me is rare.
The last three miles after Timp Pass are downhill. I know them well: very technical at first and then the last 2 or so very runnable. I threw caution to the wind at this point knowing I was very close to the finish, seeing my loved ones and my MPF RNR team. I could probably finish under 6 hours 40 minutes if I just focused on those people waiting at the finish. So that is what I did. I didn’t even pause at the last aid station. I told myself I was strong and tough and my family was waiting.
As I made my way to the finish I saw my daughter and my parents and my friends cheering for me--I was teary eyed but couldn’t stop smiling! I crossed the finish line in just under 6 hours 40 minutes, good enough for a prize for 3rd in my age group and 25th woman overall.
Elizabeth and Joe Azze were there at the finish and other members of the team all with hugs and pictures. It was really cool that my family and my team got to meet each other. Finishing a rough day with so much great support feels so good! We spent a fun few hours hanging out at the festival on what might have been the nicest day weather wise of the year.