Not a Race Report: North Face Endurance Challenge 50k

About, oh, six months ago? Maybe five? My friend was on the fence about signing up for the North Face Endurance Challenge in DC. She had just finished an awesome half marathon and was looking for the next challenge. But a traditional marathon was not really the challenge she wanted to go for–she had recently discovered trail running.

So over the course of many, many g-chat sessions I basically pressured her into signing up with the ULTIMATE promise that I would pace her for 8  miles if she did it (I certainly believe that my 8 mile promise must have done it).

For the past few months, this girl has (literally) trained her butt off. She gave up drinking for two weeks. She didn’t even come to my totally ridiculous Ocean City extravaganza because there was a 26 mile training run on the books. Yeah. She’s been dedicated. And crazy.

Friday, the DC area was treated to a monsoon and some tornadoes. So I’m sure you can imagine what the trails were like on Saturday morning. Rather muddy.

Leading up to Saturday, I was getting increasingly nervous about two things:

1. Pacing was not allowed for the 50k. I’d never run part of a distance race with someone for this purpose so I didn’t know if this was going to be strictly enforced or if all races say this or whatever. I didn’t want to get my friend in trouble though (or myself).

2. Trail running in general. I wasn’t a trail runner. I hadn’t trained on trails. The most “trail running”  I do is running in the dirt next to Beach Drive in Rock Creek Park. I didn’t want to hold my friend back because I was inexperienced and therefore slow.

I made her swear up and down that she would leave me behind if I was hindering her. And then I decided to let it go and try to get into a “what will be, will be” mindset. If I missed her, I missed her. If  I couldn’t run the course, I would be the best spectator she had ever had. And if I slowed her down…well, I would let it go and cut through the trails to head back to the park entrance.
I got to the park around 8:35am, already running five minutes late. Her half marathon PR is 1:40 and the Great Falls loop started 12 miles in, with a 7am start time…I was cutting it close. LITTLE DID I KNOW! Trail races are waaaaay slower than road races. Okay, I had heard this. I just didn’t realize how much slower they were! Panicking, I ran to the aid station while relieved to see plenty of normal people on the same trail marked Gore-Tex (good sign for being allowed to run with Ashleigh).

I waited around and secretly planned my attack. And then in distance, in a sea of runners, a bright pink tank top! It was her! So I of course start screaming and whooping and embarrasing myself no doubt. I’d like to think her face brightened when she saw me, but that could have been her seeing the aid station.

After the tank top I noticed, her legs were mud. Maybe some skin showing but from upper thigh down, all mud. Well, aren’t we going to have a fun time.

So I  run around to the part of the trail past the station and we were  off! I had the advantage of not having run 12 miles already, or slogged through streams and rivers and muddy trails so I was kinda hyper. The atmosphere was also intoxication–it reminded me of why I love races. We fell into the run and I did my very best to be an understanding, helpful pacer. Like, talking a lot to be distracting. Making random observances. You know, typical me stuff. Ashleigh was great and answered all my questions about how the race was going, why she was covered in mud, whether there were attractive men about. You know, typical her stuff.

We were going slowly but you didn’t really notice because there were some pretty wicked hills in that loop. When we hit the aid station on the loop, Ashleigh took off her shoes to get some rocks out and I noticed that her white socks were, well, brown. And WET. So I made her take my slightly sweaty socks. That basically made me feel like I had actually contributed to her race somewhat, as opposed to just being an annoying chattering presence.

And then, sooner than I would have guessed, I was done. We emerged from the loop and I had to head back to my car.

The Takeaway: a few weeks ago I was mentally drafting a post about losing my love for running. How after Frederick every run felt like a complete battle and hurt every part of my body and started hurting my soul. But, honestly, the past couple of weeks have been…amazing. Something about running those seven miles on the trails made me love running all over again. Trail running might be my new favorite thing and I can definitely see myself participating in the North Face Endurance Challenge in a more…official capacity next year.


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