Disclaimer: I received a free entry to The North Face Endurance Challenge Utah as part of being a BibRave Pro. Learn more about becoming a BibRave Pro (ambassador), and check out BibRave.com to review find and write race reviews!
Two weeks ago, Sean & I went to Park City, UT to run the North Face Endurance Challenge 50k. This was going to be my second 50k although I was a bit nervous for several reasons. #1 I didn’t train quite as much as I should have & #2 the race was held at much high altitude than I am used to.
I have lived in Florida, Arizona & now San Diego in the last 15 years. With the exception of the times I’ve been in Lake Tahoe, I don’t make an effort to go to places at elevation. I like sea level, lol.
But, I’m definitely up for a challenge and having hiked in Lake Tahoe multiple times this summer, I figured that it would be ok, slow during the climb but that I could finish.
Sean & I flew up Friday morning and arrived mid-afternoon. We immediately went to the North Face store in Murray, UT to pick up our packets. We would have gone later, but Sean wears an x-small/small in shirts and they tend to run out of those sizes early. It wasn’t really an expo, persay, it was more of just a packet pick-up. They also had another packet pick-up at the start/finish area at the Park City Mountain Resort – we were there later in the day :). They had sent over a virtual goodie bag, which I briefly looked at but didn’t see much.
The race shirts were interesting, I don’t feel like they were very representative of the race, they had a saying on the front, Dirt the original proving ground, and I found out later they were made by Repreve and out of water bottles, which is really cool.
Then some carb loading at Olive Garden and we headed off to check into our hotel. We were planning on heading back to the store to see the Q&A with Dean Karnazes & the race director but I had forgotten that Sean needed to get in his streak run. So instead of making the 30+ min trip back to the store, we headed to the course. We weren’t going to go too far since we were racing the next day but since we had to run, we might as well run a mile or so of the course. Now, what we ran wasn’t actually part of our course, but it was a beautiful run.
The resort was really pretty, they had these massive super slides and a coaster and some of the Alpine skiing (giant slalom) and snowboarding events were held here in the 2002 Winter Olympics.
There were a bunch of different races ranging from 5k to 50 miles over the weekend. The longer races, marathon, 50K, 50 mile and a marathon relay were on Saturday with the shorter distances, 5k, 10k and 1/2 marathon on Sunday. Since we were running the 50k our race didn’t start until 7am which meant we didn’t have to get up at the crack of dawn. Yea!
I got my Flat Jenny ready, lots more gear since I was anticipating being out there for a while and then sleep.
We left for the start line around 6:15am, it was a little chilly out, but the forecast was calling for an 80 degree day so we didn’t want to be too warm. So off came the jacket and pants and shorts and short sleeves it was.
We headed up to the starting area, they had a decent amount of port-a-potties, maybe 10-15 and I didn’t ever see a line so that was sufficient for this race. Sean wanted to be in the first wave, so I took his photo and then he went to the start area. I ran into my fellow Bibrave Pros and we got a photo up on the Podium – very exciting!
Then it was time for the first wave to go so I jumped off to get some photos of Sean. And then 2 seconds later it seemed, we were up and away we went.
I started off pretty quickly and was following the crowd. We were going downhill for a bit through the trees and it was so pretty. We got to a spot where you could see the sun rising so I had to stop and take a photo.
I was having a hard time with my breathing so I was letting others go past and started hiking a bit as we went up the mountain. I was breathing pretty hard but just chugging along, trying to make my way through the beautiful course, keeping an eye on the cut-offs for each aid station.
I got to the first aid station and was about 35 minutes ahead of the cut-off. I ate a few oranges and got my water bottle refilled before taking off again. Once on this section, there was a lot of climbing, up a fire road and then a lot of switchbacks as we headed up the mountain. It was so pretty, I know I keep saying that, but it truly was a gorgeous course. I took a bunch of photos, tried to run, twisted my ankle, walked and then ran the downhills, which there weren’t a lot of during the first part of the course.
I finally got to the 2nd aid station at mile 9.7 or so. One of the volunteers was like welcome to 9000 ft. I ate some more oranges, some potatoes with a bit of salt, got some water and then headed out again after asking when Sean had come thru. He was there an hour before I was.
I started off to the 3rd aid station (which would be 6 miles away and another 800 ft or so of elevation). I was heading up and getting really tired, I sat down to catch my breath for a minute, then kept going. I got to another spot and still hiking, I sat down again. I was starting to feel really lightheaded and after sitting down for the 3rd time, I felt like it was time to turn back. So back I went. Going the wrong direction as the last 50k runners passed me and then the marathon leaders (who started 2 hours after us). I finally got back to the aid station and was like, I’m done.
The aid station captain, I believe, an Australian guy, was super nice and got me a chair. The medics asked me how I felt and then if I wanted some oxygen. At first I said no and then they were like, you know, it’ll really help and people pay good money for this stuff. I said ok and they gave me a mask and opened the O2 tank. I didn’t feel like I noticed a lot of difference when I was breathing in the oxygen, it was cold but I did tell the Australian guy, if I am going to do this, you need to take my photo 😉 lol. Gotta document it. He told me that this was altitude sickness and that I wasn’t the first person to have issues or DNF.
As I was breathing in fresh O2, they were talking to me about how I had plenty of time to get to the finish. The sweeper was there and she said that she would wait a few minutes so I could catch up and we could go together for a while so I decided to continue. I would hike up to the top and then I could try to run down from there.
We left and I heard her on the radio telling them she was with the last runner (50k) and then I never saw her again. As I hiked up, I wasn’t going very fast, at some points it was taking me almost 30 minutes a mile or so I thought, according to my nike+ my slowest mile was 23mins give or take.
I made it up to the first peak, not the final one, sat down and chatted with this other runner who tweaked her knee at mile 8 of the marathon. This was probably about mile 13. And then there was a little downhill, but it was pretty rocky so I wasn’t able to do a lot of running until I got down the steepest section.
And then more climbing, up and up again. I finally got to Jupiter. When I got there, one of the volunteers was like, I was just about ready to come find you, he asked me some questions about how I was feeling as we walked together up to the very top of Jupiter. He and another volunteer told me that it was just 2.7 miles to the next aid station and mostly downhill/flat.
I sat on the chair they had up there (a lazyboy style chair) for a few minutes and then I continued on. The downhill section they were talking about? It was soooo steep and sandy. This was my slowest mile of the whole race (even slower than the climbing miles) because it was so steep. I was afraid I would slide down the mountain so I had to go super slow as I searched for deep rocks to keep myself from falling.
I finally got down from there, I tried to run a bit down the hill, then we would climb and I would start to feel not so good. I finally gave up and just walked/hiked the rest of the way. I remember thinking this was the longest 2.7 miles I’ve ever done.
When I finally saw the aid station, I looked at my watch, it was 1:10ish and I knew there was no way I would be able to do another 15 miles in just over 4.5 hours walking, plus I wasn’t feeling perfect, it was hard to get in deep breathes.
So, for the first time ever, I DNF’d a race. It was a hard decision, but it was ultimately the right decision. I was kind of in tears when I told them, but I almost think that was more because I couldn’t breathe well. The medic came and sat with me, he took my pulse, which was 130 and he said that I was cold, which I was, I don’t know what the temperature was but I was cold the entire race. They gave me a bit of water and I asked if I could get some food. I was starving, I ate a few potatoes, some orange slices and a few m&m’s before the husband of another runner drove me down to the finish area.
While I was on my way down, I texted Sean to let him know. It took a few minutes until I was able to get the text to go thru, but almost immediately Sean called me and was like where are you, I’ll come get you. He had just finished his race in 6h 15 min or so. I had gone 17.2 miles (I had to double back a bit to get back to the 2nd aid station) in about 5.5 hours. Looking at it now, it could have been possible to finish, even at the speed I was going, but it would have been tough.
I made it down and congratulated Sean, who gave me a huge hug. We didn’t go to the finish line festival, we just went to go get lunch, I was starving.
We did go back the next day to cheer on the shorter distance runners. Here we were able to get a pair of free Repreve socks (made from water bottles), which they gave out to all runners. Side note: These are awesome socks, I’m definitely going to be getting a few more pairs.
While there, we ran into the Ultramarathonman himself, Dean Karnazes and got a photo. We also ran into one of the main volunteers for the Tahoe 200, who got 3rd place in the marathon!
We watched a bit of the awards ceremony, cheered for some other runners before packing up to go home.
It was super disappointing to not finish the race, more at the time then now, but this was truly one of the most beautiful courses I’ve had the privilege of running.
Now for the nitty gritty:
Race fees: While I received a free entry from Bibrave, I did pay for Sean’s entry – I believe with the 15% discount it was about $85 which wasn’t very expensive for a race this long.
Expo: Not really an expo, but they did have 2 places you could pick up your packet. Either at the North Face Store or at the Park City Mountain Resort.
T-Shirt: Cool idea to have the green shirt, but it’s not the most comfortable of fabric.
Parking: Lots and lots of parking. The Park City Mountain Resort had a ton of parking.
Course: Definitely a challenge course, but so beautiful. There was over 5,000 ft of climb throughout the race, I think in the first 15 miles, Nike+ showed over 3,800 ft (although I did do one section twice). We started off at just over 6,400ft of elevation and made our way to 9,800 or so ft. in the first 13 miles.
Course Marking: They did a great job of marking the course, there were different color ribbons for each race and it was really easy to keep track of where you were. Whenever there was even a question, they had a sign saying wrong way.
Volunteers: Truly amazing volunteers. I can’t say Thank You enough to all the amazing volunteers that were at the 2nd aid station. They were so awesome to help me and keep me moving. And to make sure they were keeping track of me, as I made my way up to Jupiter. I was really touched and grateful.
Finish Line Festival: some of the longer distances would receive a hot meal as part of their registration fee, since I wasn’t feeling well, I didn’t get mine and can’t really speak to it. They did have a tent where you could look up your results, some booths, a beer garden, etc.
Medals: Ok, but not great. Because there are so many events, they did the same race medal for all the races and I believe that all TNFEC races have the exact same medal. The only difference is the ribbon, which was color coded to match the race.
Would I run this race again? I’m not sure about this particular course, just because I know the elevation was an issue, but I would definitely do another TNFEC event. I love trail races and while this wasn’t exactly the same atmosphere as the other trail events I’ve been to, it was a great event.