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Race Reviews • June 11, 2011

2011 North Face 50 Mile Endurance Challenge Recap

The North Face ChallengeIf you want to be challenged, go run a 50 mile race.  If you want to make sure it isn’t easy, try the North Face trail version.  Road races are fun but trail ultras are a special experience

Race Detail

Race day, there are only 250 people allowed to register.  In addition, there are two other races on the same day, 50k  & a Marathon which hosts 350 people each.  North Face staggers the starts so the 50 milers start at 5 AM, 50k at 7 AM and the Marathon at 9 AM.  You can either pick up your packet right before the race starts or do packet pick up at the DC at the North Face store.

I went down to DC looking for good gear, race discounts and to get some of the pre race excitement that always starts at packet pick up.  The staff distributing race items had everything in order but there was no extra benefit to going to the store.  No deals, no special gear and I had to fight the Friday evening DC traffic.  TNFC changed the gear from last year where you got a race bottle, shirt and socks.  This years goodie bag included a shirt and arm warmers, not ideal to get arm warmers in the summer but ok.   Next year, I will skip packet pick up and go directly to the race, I advise others to do the same.

Race plan

To be honest, I don’t plan much so the extent of my planning came with packing for the race the night before.  The obviously things needed were supplements, gear, headlamp and some sweet shoes.  When preparing for a 50 mile race, some pre-planning is required.


Shoes – The North Face Double Tracks

Shirt, hat and socks– North Face – snug fit and UVA protected for the shirt, the standard hat and socks that allowed for breathing

Shorts – compression – road runners sports version

Race water pack – Nathan Hydration pack 

Nutrition/supplies – GU Chomps and Roctane, tube of baby Vaseline 4.0 oz, Band-Aids and anti-chaffing stick

Also, had a backup of everything for the race.  Depending on weather, etc. needed to prepare for shoe/sock changes, clothing and hat was ready to go.

Race day

Anyone who races understands the dynamics of getting up early to get to the race.  Ok, ok, 5 AM start, yeah, that was early even for me.  I got to the start of the race around 4 AM, started getting ready.  While waiting I got to meet up with Steve and Ally Speirs,  nice treat seeing them before the  start.  While hanging around, you started seeing all the headlamps getting turned on and the attitude of the race was very related.  At a trail race there is significantly less anxiety and everyone that is around loves to run (my type of crowd.)

The race is broken into 2 sections:

  1. Out and back to the Great Falls
  2. Great Falls Loop

Time to race

Starting off was pretty darn cool, seeing all the headlamps taking off at once was fun.  Every step was a surprise because it was so dark and the branches, holes, etc. kept jumping out at you.  While running I chatted with many people, it really helps make the time go past as you start and running up the mileage.  Everyone had stories and those stories get you through the run.

Section 1 – running out to Great Falls was easier than expected.  Needed to keep the mindset “take it easy, don’t rush, slow down”, otherwise later in the day fatigue would set in.  Most of the section was flat but 7-9 miles into the run some hills started popping up.  I always find it funny the hills don’t seem that bad going out but coming back… I will get to that later.  As the sun started to rise, the beautiful landscape showed itself and made the run all the more enjoyable.

Section 2 – once you get to Great Falls, there is loop that has hills, rocks and trees.  It becomes significantly more technical and challenging.  Also, it is debatable because when you run the 50 mile race, you have to run the same loop 3 times.  Some people like the loop and others don’t.

When running this distance you need to find ways to stay motivated.  During the first loop I got to see Steve Speirs flying through the trails.  It was fun cheering for him as he ran past me.  Then I got to run into Bart Rein (another Baltimore runner) as he was cranking along.  Randomly, I would run with strangers and have a lot of fun cheering for them and keeping them going.  At the end of the first loop, Darryn Waugh was standing there cheering the runners on, great guy and always good to see him.

By the third loop I had a good fall right before the rocky section.  I got up pretty quickly but could tell I damaged my toe and hands.  Once that loop ended, I was looking forward heading back to finish the race.

Section 3 – you head back the way you came out to Great Falls so there was no real surprises.  At this point there are many more people because the 50k and marathon runners are all blended in.  After hitting the 42 mile mark, I was feeling good.  I would get to the aid station and yell out “who’s ready to start running?”  Some would chuckle others would give me dirty looks.  By mile 45 my legs finally got really tired and I slowed down a ton.  At this point in the race you toughen up and push forward, always need to believe.

The Finish

Within the last mile I lean forward and power through, knowing my family is at the end I take off and start running hard again.  There was nothing like running through the finish line and feeling the satisfaction of completing this race.

The Aftermath

As I have said before, trail ultras are a special experience.  A gentleman who ran the 50 miler comes up to me with his family and said “I don’t know you but you got me through the race.  Thanks for cheering for me.”  His family took a picture of us and he thanked me again.  It made me feel good that I could impact someone’s race in a positive way.  I also got to meet two great Dailymilers at the race Andrew and Larry.

Like anything, there is so much to learn with every experience and … always believe!

About the Reviewer

Brodie W:  I just run, I run a lot!  I am a high mileage runner that runs over 170 miles per month and averages sub 8 min mile pace on the road.  I have tried many shoes and limit my shoes to motion control/stability options which support my extreme pronation issue with my flat arch and I require custom orthotics.  I don’t have issues with weight maintaining around 170 lb.   Over all, I am a heel to inner roll foot striker but my arches collapse when I run.  I have been a long distance runner for over 11 years and have completed 6 marathons, 1 ultra, 1 Olympic triathlon, and many other shorter races.


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  1. Heather Jespersen says:

    Wow this is incredible!  Would love to experience an ultra…and I will too.ha!  Thanks for the inspiration!

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