North Face Endurance Challenge DC 50k: RACE RECAP

FINALLY – I’ve gotten around to writing my race recap for my first ever 50k at the North Face Endurance Challenge. As many of you know, I did not have a good lead up to the race. After my last 20 miler in my building phase, I developed perineal tendonitis in my right ankle. I had to take off for the remaining three weeks leading up to the race, except for a few attempted runs sprinkled in there. I went for a lot of walks (as long as they were not painful), started physical therapy, and I also ran on an underwater treadmill a few times to keep my legs moving.

Eventually race weekend approached and I needed to make the decision whether to attempt racing or not. I saw my orthopedic doctor the day before the race and he gave me the go ahead to race, as long as the pain didn’t keep getting worse as the miles piled on. So, the day before I made the decision to go pick up my race packet and give it a try.

Here’s how it all went down!

DAY BEFORE RACE: Friday

On Thursday night, Erin surprised me by flying in to see me race! I knew my mom was coming, but I had no idea Erin would be there until she walked through the door with Dave. It was a surprise for my mom as well, and we all had a really nice dinner before heading to bed early. I did a little bit of packing for race day but I was trying not to stress too much about what I was going to need. Race day promised to be hot and humid – it was supposed to get up to 92 degrees midday. I knew my hydration and nutrition plan needed to be on point.

After my doctor’s appointment, Erin, my mom and I went to the grocery to pick up last minute snacks for race day. Afterward, Erin and I went on a short and slow shake out jog for about 3-4 miles, and I was excited to not have any pain in my peroneal at all. We stretched for a bit and then headed to packet pick-up to get my bib.

On the way home we made a quick pit stop at the running store so I could buy my mom some new running shoes for her birthday (yay!) and I could grab some extra gus, even though I already had PLENTY. Once we got home it was around noon and Erin advised I stay off my feet for the rest of the day. So we all just snacked, watched TV and finished getting my race bags ready for tomorrow.

I drank PLENTY of water all throughout the day and made sure to include extra electrolytes for the hot forecast the next day.

RACE DAY:

My alarm went off at 3:45 AM, but I was already awake. Surprisingly, I felt more excited than nervous even though I had no idea how the day was going to go. I prepared all my tailwind mixtures (filled my 70 oz bladder in my Nathan race vest) and made an extra Nalgene full in case I needed it. I stuffed some ankle braces into the back of the pack in case I needed them out on the trail, got dressed and we were off for Algonkian Park!

I took a salt pill first thing after waking up and Erin told me I should plan to take another right before start and then every 45 minutes until I finished. The first time I ever took salt pills was during our ultra Ragnar relay and they helped me A LOT, so I completely trusted Erin’s plan. She’s an Ironman after all and has raced in 100+ degree heat, so I knew I was in good hands and felt so much more comforted having her at the race.

We got to the start a little earlier than I expected, but that’s okay – earlier is always better than late. Erin and I walked around a little bit to get my ankle warmed up and the sun rising over the Potomac was incredibly beautiful. Everything felt surreal. Even though I was unsure how far I was going to get/if I was going to finish, everyone else believed in me. I hardly felt nervous – just ready to get the day started.

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pre-start!

As we neared start time, I got my vest situated on me, sprayed myself with bug spray and sunscreen and lined up. It was a 7 AM start, so the sun was still coming up and there was plenty of cloud coverage. I wore a hat anyways because I knew it was going to get sunny later and I didn’t want to forget to put one on during transition.

My start was slow. I had no idea what pace to go out at and I didn’t want to pull my peroneal from pushing it too fast. The race director let us know the path would single track early on, but I felt comfortable with the group surrounding me. My breathing felt very easy even though it was incredibly humid, and my ankle felt fine. I carried on with them for a few miles until the trail abruptly narrowed and I realized I should have gotten myself out much faster.

For a few miles I got myself stuck in this long line of runners with no ability to pass. It wasn’t until one of the first uphills when everyone started to walk was I able to speedwalk/jog past them. It was around these first hills where I could see all the runners ahead of me zig zagging up the next hill in the cover of the tall trees, and I felt this overwhelming sense of happiness. I was doing it!

Around 5-6 miles into the race I finally settled in to a pace comfortable for me. I have no idea what it actually was because the tree coverage definitely screwed with my Garmin, but it felt between 9:00-10:00 min/mile. At this point the trail was familiar to me from the many, many times I ran here before. It was pretty muddy but not unbearable and I was happy – I seriously couldn’t stop smiling.

Going out to Great Falls, the hills didn’t seem so bad. I power hiked most of them and because I had run them so many times before, I knew exactly what was coming next. When we detoured around Riverbend Park, we had to run alongside this road before hopping back into the woods. It was here, right around mile 11 that I hit a tree root hard and stumbled forward for a few violent steps before I caught myself with my hands on the ground. I didn’t fall all the way, but the jolt was hard on my bad knee/ankle. I started jogging tentatively after I brushed my hands off and was surprised there was no pain. I told myself not to think about it anymore and I carried on until I made it to Great Falls Park.

Mile 13 was the big aid station where Erin, Dave and my mom were allowed to wait with my bags and help me. From some of the slipping and sliding on the trail, my shoes were rubbing me the wrong way and I could feel blisters starting on the inside of my heels. Even though I had did all my trail runs in these shoes/socks, I decided to switch out of my shoes at the aid station and put on a brand new pair I just got the week before. They felt amazing. I decided it had to be my shoes giving me the problem and didn’t change my socks (IDIOT!). Other than the shoe change, I took a few more gus from Erin and hurried on my way. I still had PLENTY of tailwind in my Nathan even though I had been sipping it every mile and drinking with the gus/salt pills I took every 45 minutes. My quads were starting to feel a little fatigued but I knew I was going to feel it early, given I hadn’t run for 3 weeks prior.

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around mile 18!

Miles 13-19 were several loops in Great Falls. It started off with a pretty big hill and I walked most of it, taking some time to hydrate and eat a Gu. My feet felt much better and I didn’t have rubbing on my heels anymore so I thought I was all set.  Around mile 17, I felt my perineal starting to hurt a little bit so I slowed it down. There were a lot of rocks on this part of the course so I focused instead on not turning my ankle instead of going fast.

 

Mile 19 put me right back at the big aid station and I stopped to eat a clementine, drink some tailwind and take a few more gus. I decided not to change my socks because I thought the problem was gone…and I really regret this. I was feeling pretty good mentally/physically – I was hydrating well, eating well and my legs felt as good as they could for not running 3 weeks beforehand. I said good bye to my fam and told them I’d see them back in Algonkian Park. The sun was fully out at this point and I was started to feel hot, so we squeezed some ice sponges on my quads, neck and back before I headed out.

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making sure I have everything I need…wish I changed those damn socks!

Miles 19-31 were challenging. And it’s not just because of fatigue in my legs – honestly I didn’t feel NEARLY as bad as I thought I would – it’s because of the mud and blisters I developed. I think the two go hand in hand, honestly. The mud was SO BAD that I couldn’t run at all, let alone walk without almost wiping out. My blisters fully formed on the inside of my heels and it was so painful every time I took a step. I fantasized about taking my shoes off and running in my socks. But I kept my spirits up – kept smiling and told myself to just get to the next aid station.

At one point, probably around 25 miles, I felt this building sensation in my right heel and then it was FIRE. I think the blister popped. It hurt for the next 5 minutes or so but then the pain went completely away. About 20 minutes later the same happened on my right heel and even though it hurt like a bitch, it made the rest of the race so much more bearable. If it wasn’t so muddy, I think I could have made it through this part of the course 5x faster.

There were a few other runners around me and we were all so frustrated with the mud. I saw a lot of them wipe out, and then we would commiserate together with how shitty the course was left for us. It wasn’t until mile 28-29ish that we finally steered away from the flooded trail and got some better footing. But it took us out into the sun and it was BRUTAL. I didn’t realize how hot it actually was until I had the sun bearing down on me and I got frustrated I had to walk again from the heat, especially since I had finally got through the mud.

As we neared the finish, I didn’t even know how close I was until I was practically upon the end. In my head, I visualized having to run the same loop in the field next to the finish line that we made when we started in the AM. It wasn’t until I saw Erin and Dave and they let me know it was right around the corner, and then I got super excited.

When I made the turn and saw the finish line right there I had so many emotions. Excitement, pride, and gratefulness. I was so happy as I ran across that line and was handed my medal. Half of me couldn’t believe I was able to do it. I think the other half always knew I was going to make it to the end, given the tendonitis or not.

I tore my shoes off right at the end of the chute. It was instant relief. I have pretty calloused heels and it looks like all the slipping and sliding in the mud created friction against my heels and caused the inside to blister. I’ve never once gotten a blister on the inside there, even wearing the same sock and shoe combination on the same trail. Oh well.

POST RACE:

After enjoying a much deserved beer, me and my fam headed home to relax for the rest of the day. I thought I was going to be crippled my tendonitis, but I was actually walking fine and the pain didn’t flare up like I feared. Actually, the worst part was when we got home and I sat down after my shower and my knees were throbbing constantly. After some icing of both my knees and ankle, Erin and I went for a little walk and it helped my legs feel a little better.

So, there you have it! It took a little longer than I would have liked to get this post up, but that’s how it always goes for me. These past two and a half weeks have been very easy going for me as I’m still dealing with a little bit of peroneal pain. I’ve started running up again, but it’s very slow and careful. I know it’s time to start ramping up my training again, but with the tendonitis still there in the shadows, I’m trying to incorporate more cross training in than usual. Hopefully it goes away soon!

Once my training is more consistent, I’ll definitely start some weekly training logs. My goal now is to get to my 57 mile run healthy and happy, so I can make the most of the day and make my donators proud!

As always, if you want more consistent updates on how my training is going, you can always follow me on Instagram @amd022.

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All done – YAY!
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