Monday, October 12, 2015

2015 Racing Season: The North Face Endurance Challenge Series: Wisconsin, (TNF ECS WI), 50K, October 3, Eagle, WI + Bonus Review

Almost there! Capturing a 71 second PR at TNF ECS WI 50K!

Disclaimer: I received a free entry into The North Face Endurance Challenge Series Wisconsin 50K as part of being a BibRave Pro.  Learn more about becoming a BibRave Pro (ambassador) and check out to review, find, and write race reviews!

Running a 50K the week after helping put on and direct my ninth race, (first trail race), the Hardin Hill Run, was something I was dreading just a bit.  Three years ago, in October 2012, I ran and finished my first 50K but the following year, DNFed the same event, my first DNF in 13 years of competing in endurance sports.  I knew that race directing, something that I love, could also drain me of much needed energy for the 50K.  As October 3rd approached, I wasn't so sure this was the smartest idea, but realized in the last days, that I needed to go forward, especially as some in my immediate family would also be competing in their first "official" races.  As one of the main runners in the family, I needed to set a good example and kick the weekend off to a good start.  I was also one of many BibRave Pros who would be attending the races over the weekend in Wisconsin, and I wanted to represent them well and thank them for their faith in me.  Little did I know, that in the end, it would be quite a surprise.

I elected to do packet pick-up at the race this year instead of driving into one of the North Face stores. This worked out well as we arrived at our hotel later than we had originally planned and getting caught in rush hour traffic between Madison and Milwaukee was not something I really desired travelling in two vehicles with several of our kids.  Packet pick-up took less than a minute pre-race and I had plenty of time to get ready for the 50K.  

The 50K race course is essentially a 10Kish loop at the beginning and then the rest of the marathon course, which I had done the previous two years.  North Face always does a great job of marking, and as long as you are looking for your ribbon color, which matches your bib color, you are set.  The aid stations are each about 4-6 miles apart and fully stocked with all types of Clif Bar products as well as candy, chicken broth, soda, boiled potatoes and chips.  

During the Summer, over my sabbatical, I was able to train a lot of elevation in the mountains of Colorado, Wyoming, South Dakota, and Montana.  Runs at elevation included a lot of hard, determined hiking mixed in with running the flats and downhills as possible.  (I fell descending into Hell Canyon while in South Dakota and this made me a bit more tenuous when descending technical terrain in the mountains.)  Essentially, I employed this same technique for the 50K in Wisconsin.  

As the first several miles went by, I felt as if I was running fast, but actually when I checked, I was already right around what I had hoped might be my best overall pace of around 12 min/mile.  So as I went through the first third of the race, I settled in my mind that probably my race would be most likely what I had expected as a more realistic result of somewhere between 6:45-7:15 overall, (instead of a faster sub-6:30). Typically my overall pace slows during the latter parts of a long run/race with the exception, occasionally, of the last few miles if I have some energy left to shave off a bit of time. This time range would then be just off my only other 50K result from 2012 of 6:38:48, which was on a much flatter course.  In reality, it was about what I had really expected would probably be the case going into the race.

On the singletrack at TNF ECS WI 50K around mile 15.

This might seem as if I was giving up and settling for second best, but when doing a race marathon distance or longer, one needs to have several different goals covering a range of variables, so finishing in the 6:45-7:15 was fine with me.  I shared my goal with another guy that I ran together for a while when we were running one of the longer stretches of single-track maybe one-third of the way into the race.  He was from Indiana and that goal sounded good to him as well.  Eventually he pulled away from me and then a few miles after that, the lead marathon runners started to catch up to me as I neared what was about the mile 16-17 aid station.  

I knew the next section included a series of short, not too steep, but continuous rolling double-track hills.  This section takes determination to push through and just be consistent.  As the next aid station draws near, around mile 22 for the 50K race, (around mile 17 for the marathon), the course flattens out into prairie and pulls you closer as you can see all those gathered at the checkpoint.  At this point into the race, a woman looked at me, and after doing a double-take, asked me if I was the guy who helped put on the Hardin Hill Run the week before in Steamboat Rock, IA.  That was pretty cool!  

Somewhere between mile 22 and 27 along TNF ECS WI 50K course.

The previous year, I PRed in the marathon by basically running miles 17 to 26, 10 minutes faster than in 2013.  This section is also one where between the tiredness in your body and mind, and the variety of terrain, including more prairie running, hills, and even sand, can take it's toll if you again are not consistent.  As I continued to estimate my finish time mentally in my head, I seemed to be on target still for between 6:45-7:15, very possibly just missing a PR by a handful of minutes.  I decided I wasn't really going to push it, but just continued to be as consistent as I could, being glad that I was out there in God's creation and actually completing another 50K, especially when I had pulled out in 2013 after 10 miles.

As I got to around maybe 4K left, I caught up to my friend from Indiana again and we talked about how things were going.  I said I was close to and could possibly still PR, but I wasn't really going to push myself to go after it.  (Secretly, I didn't really want to put myself into a situation where I would push so hard and then just miss it.)  Eventually I moved on ahead of my friend and made it to the road crossing and final aid station, (which is not really an aid station, but exists there because it is from earlier in the race and possibly part of the relay marathon), at around 1.8 miles to go.  I knew I still had a PR possibility, but I also had several tenths of a mile uphill to hike.  There was no way I was running uphill and potentially blowing up to totally running out of gas right before the finish.  But, having trained hard in the mountains over the summer, God had prepared me to hike fast and consistent.  So I did.  And then as the downhills and flats to the finish came, a decision was made...I had about 1-1.4 miles to go and enough time to still catch a PR.

The last two years in the final mile(s) of the marathon at TNF ECS WI, my legs have actually started to seize up, spasm, and generally not like me.  So, as I chased a PR, running in the grass along the roadside in the final mile, they did once more and I grimaced and bit my lip.  The finish line seemed to come closer, yet stay too far away.  Time was close, but was there enough?  It looked like it should be, but could I keep running the whole thing?  I had actually had to walk parts of the final mile in previous years.  Not this year.  I was too close.  I could fall on the ground in pain and muscle seizures after the finish line I told myself.  I made the final turn, pushed through the little dip, across the road, and past the crowds as I crossed the finish line.  I let out a yell of excitement and received my medal, calculating in my head that I had PRed with about two minutes to spare.  Later, when I checked my records that afternoon before dinner, I realized I had done it by a mere 71 seconds.  Wow!  That was close!

Pushing to the end in 2015 for a new 50K PR.

As runners, we went through the corral line to receive some quick snacks and water before being reunited with my family and friends.  My family and I found one another and I told them of what had just happened.  Then I got a chance to find some of my fellow BibRave Pros and celebrate with them too!  It had been a cool, windy day, not too bad during the race, but once finished, I started to get cold and was glad when one of my kids got my sweatshirt from my Jeep.  Then I went and got my hot meal so I could sit down and begin to refuel.

I also had the distinct pleasure of meeting two ultra running pros afterwards and sharing about my new PR. It was pretty cool to meet North Face athletes Dylan Bowman and Timmy Olson.

The shark tent makes an appearance again as some of the kids huddle in it during the windy afternoon!

Someone was a bit cold at TNF ECS WI 50K!

Dinner after TNF ECS WI 50K.  Well deserved!

We are calling this BUFF Head, after wearing my Buff all day during an ultra!


As a BibRave Pro, there was also a discount code for runners wanting to race TNF ECS WI and I used that for four members of my family who ran the 5K & 10K.  So, Sunday, they set out early and I followed shortly thereafter with our two youngest.  I got to see my middle son from the road as he ran the early part of his 10K and was heading towards the trails.  

My son, in the blue to the far right, in the early miles of TNF ECS WI 10K.

Another one of our BibRavePros was also in this race along with the spouse of still another pro.  We were well represented.  Then, just after I parked the Jeep, me and my two little ones saw my wife and two oldest girls head out on the 5K.  This would be the first official race for two of the three of them. Meanwhile, there were also BibRave Pros in the half marathon race going on that had started earlier.  

My son came in just under an hour for the 10K, shaving off over 17 minutes from the previous year. My two girls ran in together just a few minutes in front of their mother who totally rocked the course coming in much faster than she had thought she would.  In fact, so many family members and BibRave Pros were coming in from all three distances near the same time, I couldn't keep up with it all!  

After all this, my two youngest ran the little kids run along with me and one of their older sisters.  I'm glad it was only about 1K after the day before as my legs were a bit sore!  Some more pics are below! Praise God for a great weekend!  Thanks to my family and fellow BibRave Pros for their support and a great time too!

From L to R: Laura, Cass, Kim, Heather, Angie, and me on the second day of TNF ECS WI.

The RD giving out instructions for the kid's run on day 2 of TNF ECS WI.

The family stands upon the podium!  Great races by all!

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