Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Revenge at The North Face Endurance Challenge Atlanta 50 Miler

"Racing is pain, and that's why you do it, to challenge yourself and the limits of your physical and mental barriers.  You don't experience that in an armchair watching television."- Mark Allen

After last years debacle at North Face in Atlanta, I vowed to never run that race again simply because it beat me up so badly physically and mentally.  However, there I was Saturday morning at 4:55 a.m. standing at the start line in pitch black darkness, thinking about the events that happened last year and trying not to let them happen again this year.  I wanted my revenge.

At 5:00 a.m. sharp the first wave of runners headed down the open field toward the Pine Mountain trail where we would spend the next 2 hours stumbling through the darkness. Right before we stepped on to the trail, I realized that I was leading everyone. This surprised me as I was running a very modest pace.  After a couple of miles we had established a group of about 5 runners.  It was a great group to run with as we were all chatting and getting to know each other.

5 miles down... 45 more to go!
We came into the first aid station, which was 5 miles in, and I decided to run right through without stopping.  We only had 6 miles to the next aid, and I had enough water and gels to get me through this section.  The trail was lined with glow sticks which made navigation easy so the only thing I had to worry about was not falling over the many rocks that were on the course.  I was concentrating on taking a Clif Gel every 25-30 minutes.  I wanted to stay ahead of my nutrition plan early as I knew it would be difficult for me to take in calories later.  Every time we came to a hair pin turn, I would glance behind to see how many we had in our group.  We had 4 in our group with Jonathan Allen just behind.

Refilling at 11 miles
After a quick bathroom break, which relieved me of my pacing duties, I filed in the back of our group. At the second aid station I refilled my bottle, restocked on Clif Gels and grabbed a pack of Clif Shot Blocks.  Even though it was less than 5 miles to the next aid station I wanted the calories.  I was feeling great and was excited about how the race was going, even though it was early.  When the sun finally broke through the trees I turned off my headlamp and... fell flat on my face.  Are you kidding me!!!!  I make it through 2+ hours of pitch black darkness on this technical trail without falling and within 30 seconds of turning the headlamp off I do a face plant.  Lucky for me, I didn't hurt myself too badly.

Our group of 4 was still together at the 16 mile aid station. As we left, I remembered from the year before that the next 7 miles was one of the harder sections of the course so I wanted to keep a steady pace. Along here our group dwindled from 4 down to 3 and then down to 2.  Not knowing it at the time but Russell Jones and myself would spend the next 5 hours separated by no more than 30 seconds.

Coming into 29.1 aid station
Knowing the 23 mile aid station was just up the trail I stopped to use the bathroom, giving Russell around 30 seconds going into the aid station.  While at the aid station, I ate a few bananas and headed down the trail back in the lead.  After a mile or so there was still no sign of Russell.  I turned onto a new section of the trail and started running up a long dirt road.  I glanced behind me and saw Russell making his way up the road.  I am glad he decided to catch up as it was easier to run with someone than by myself.  Every time we turned the corner, I saw that the trail kept going up; and I would grow more and more frustrated. Finally we turned off the dirt road  and on to a trail. We were then immediately faced with a short but steep climb.  This was a hands-on-knees kind of climb.  I was lucky to have Russell with me as we worked together to stay on the trail.  Some sections were tough to navigate so it was good to have 2 sets of eyes looking for the orange markers.  We finally broke through the trees and into an open field with the 29 mile aid station in sight.  We were running together into the aid station. We made quick work of the stop - refilled water bottles and stocked up on gels.

Up to this point my nutrition plan was perfect.  The Clif Gels were still tasting great and I was able to stomach them.  My legs were starting to get a little fatigued but that's what should happen after running 30 miles on a technical trail.  In the next 6.5 miles Russell and I continued to run together.  If I walked up a hill then he walked.  If I picked up the pace on a downhill or flat - he matched it.  We were making it a point to stay together and if someone caught up to us we hoped we would have the legs to stay with them.

Russell and I coming into 35.5 aid station
As we were nearing the 35.5 mile aid station I started to get really hungry.  Luckily I had some crackers in my race belt so I stopped to eat them even though the aid station was less than a mile up the road.  When I got to the aid station I planned on eating a little bit of everything they had.  I did not want to feel hungry again for the rest of the race.  I ate several bananas, Clif Shot Blocks, potatoes, saltine crackers and 2 gels all while the volunteer refilled my bottle.  To make it go down easier I even had a little bit of mountain dew.  Russell and I left the aid station once again, together. Knowing this was one of the easier sections we decided to run at a good pace in hopes that we could hold off whoever was behind us.

Over the next several miles we were never separated by more than a couple of seconds except when I stopped to use the bathroom.  We were passing 50k racers going the other direction and I was trying to catch back up to Russell.  A couple of the racers stopped to let me by and as I went by my foot hit a rock and down I went.  Yelling words that should not have been said (sorry Mom!)  I stood up and was hit with a cramp.  After a few seconds I started running and finally caught back up to Russell.
39.7 aid station
Coming into the 42.5 mile aid station we were once again together.  We refilled our bottles and went down the trail for the final 7.5 miles.  The problem with running in the lead is you don't know who is behind you and how far back they are.  While Russell and I were staying together, Jonathan Allen was inching closer and closer to us.  We figured he was lurking back there somewhere and it was only a matter of time before we saw him.  We hoped he used all of his energy trying to catch up to us and that we would be able to stay with him. Unfortunately, he passed us around the 44-45 mile mark while we were going up a hill, and I knew I could not match his pace. Russell moved on with Jonathan while I remained behind.  Once I made it to the top of the hill, I tried to put in one last effort in hopes of keeping it close but my legs just weren't able to keep the pace. After a long uphill leading to the final aid station, I knew there was no hope.  They had put a couple of minutes on me with only 2.5 miles left.

2.6 miles left
I made quick work of the last aid station as I wanted to finish in the top 3.  Once again I was in a position of not knowing who was behind me or how far back they were so I pushed with everything I had.  A couple of cramps stopped me in my tracks but I was able to run those out. Finally I came over a small hill and could smell the finish line food.  I looked up and saw the tents of the festival. I took one last glance behind me just to make sure no one was back there.  As I came out of the trail and onto the open field where we started more than 8 hours ago, I was so excited.  I put my hands up in the air as I crossed the finish line in 8:08:05.  I was ecstatic, not only because of my 3rd place finish, but because I got my revenge and knocked almost 1 hour off of last year's time.  I could not believe it.

It was congratulations all around.  Jonathan ran an extremely smart race to finish in 1st with a time of 7:59:20.  Russell pushed Jonathan in the final miles and came in 2nd at 8:03:51.  This was the closest race in North Face Endurance Challenge-Atlanta history, and I was glad to be a part of it.   Below is a quick interview with the overall Top 3 from the race.


Top 3 from North Face: Jonathan Allen, Russell Jones and Me
There were two things that made my race go so well.  For the second race in a row Clif Gels did not let me down.  I cannot express how great these things are.  I ate around 20 gels during my race and not once did I have to force myself to take it because they taste so good.

The second thing that made my race go so well were my shoes.  Thanks to Chris from Fleet Feet in Mount Pleasant for getting me into the Pearl Izumi N1's.  After about 30 miles of trail running the week before the race without any knee problems, I decided to use them at North Face.  With the trail being as rocky as it was I wanted a little more protection than the NB110 could provide, and the PI N1s did not let me down.

I want to take some time to enjoy this race so I am not sure what the near future holds for me. I might take the rest of the year off from racing and focus on the Delirium 24hr race in February, or I might compete in the Mad Marsh 50K or Lookout Mountain 50 Miler later in the year.  Whatever my next race is I hope to build from this race.


  1. 1 hr improvement at any race is awesome. Congrats on running well all day and the podium finish. Glad the N1's worked well for you. And I hope you didn't catch too many spider webs while leading!

    Hope to see you at Lookout Mtn.

  2. Just found this. good read! All runners should do this

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