The North Face Challenge WI - 2019
Race: The North Face Endurance Challenge - WI
Distance: 50 miles
Date: September 14th, 2019
Official Time: 9:42:35
Location: Kettle Moraine State Forest, Wisconsin
I have developed a 13-week training camp method over the past couple years. I base my goal(s) and structure my plan using a Self Journal from Best Self Co. This approach enables me to be relatively calculated about how I tackle preparing for a race. I have never been into journaling, so I was a bit surprised when this technique worked for me, but I have been absolutely loving it. I’ve found that a “grand scheme plan” to training is beneficial, yes, but you’ve got to be able to adjust dependent on how your body is responding to the increased levels of activity. I try to keep a loose-leaf picture of how the 13 weeks will go and then plan my activity schedule week by week, taking time every Sunday evening to reflect on the past week of training and set new goals for the upcoming week.
I physically prepare for my races in two separate ways: running and yoga. With the increased distances that I’ve been getting into lately, I’ve found that practicing yoga just as much as running is absolutely pivotal in regards to keeping my body in-tune, in-shape and injury-free. I’ve also found that in the peak stages of training, where weekly mileage exceeds 50 miles, running only five days a week rather than six works better for my body. For a long time I thought it was important to put miles in as often as possible, but I’m learning more and more to be calculated and choosy when it comes to planning long mileage days.
-Break 10 hours
I was feeling great going into the final countdown to race day. My 50 mile training camp came directly on the heels of a training camp for a 50K back in April 2019, so it’s safe to say I was likely as fit as I have ever been. I traditionally taper for about 2.5/3 weeks pre-race, and had done so with great discipline this time around. My body was in shape, rested and ready for an awesome day of running.
2 days before race:
Thursday morning, I woke up with a touch of swelling and tightness in my right knee. This was strange because I hadn’t been running much, and had only practiced yoga relatively gently a couple of times over the past few days. I scoped out my knee a bit and found that the swelling was concentrated in one little area, a little lump just to the right of my patellar tendon. I wasn’t too worried about it, but it was a bit of a curious occurrence.
1 day before race:
Friday morning I woke up and had a short 2-mile run planned before I hit the road for my 6 hour road trip to Wisconsin. As I stretched out and hit the pavement for a quick sweat, I was feeling swelling in my knee again and it was even starting to affect the functionality/mechanics of my knee a bit. Definitely no pain, but something was up. I hit the road without a hitch and got to WI after a beautiful drive. As the sun began to set in the campground, dinner was cooking and I was beginning to get nervous. Nerves and anxiousness for the race of course, but something was up with my knee. After a long day in the car, the swelling had increased and really flared up. Had I gotten bit by a spider? Did I have some sort of infection? After such a successful training camp that was completely injury free, I was pretty low and worried about what was to come.
Saturday morning I woke up at 3am and… swelling was way down, still there, but a bit of ice and rest from the night before had paid dividends. I was ready, and with my knee feeling ok, it was game on.
The North Face did a great job with this event. Things were organized and it was extremely chaos-free at the starting line. I strapped my headlamp on, got my hydration pack tightened, and was ready to rock. 5am rolled around and we were off. This was my first race that started before the sun was up. Honestly, it was amazing. So much fun and I found that it was a great way to help compartmentalize the extended mileage that comes along with running ultras. You get to run in complete darkness for just over an hour and then you get to acclimate to the light slowly as the sun comes out,. As light started to peak over the horizon, it was pretty neat to watch all of the dew rise up off the forest ground. Until about 9am, everyone got to run through a lush foggy trail with cool temps and leafy trees galore.
Miles were banking easy until I stopped at an aid station at 22.5 miles. Station 22.5 was crew accessible so I took a couple minutes to hydrate, regroup, and enjoy myself. I was feeling great and was staying patient, executing my plan perfectly, knee was chill. These positive thought processes proved to be some sort of jinx because immediately after I left the aid station I started having major knee issues. I began to feel sharp pain inside my knee with each step. The extended stop at the aid station had allowed my knee to cultivate some serious swelling. I hadn’t noticed and now there wasn’t really anything I could do to reverse this. I still had 27.5 miles to run….
I arrived at station 28.7 in bad shape. I was getting mentally defeated by the status of my knee, as it had really blown up. There were two areas that were tough: running downhill hurt badly but even worse was transitioning from walking to running. It would take about 15 seconds of pretty harsh pain for my knee to level out and be bearable. I talked to the medics about what could possibly be going on and they figured spider bite and told me to keep an eye on it. After about 5 minutes of refueling I hit the trail again.
Station 34.9 was a turning point. My knee was still hurting but I realized that I was stressing myself out by worrying about it so much. I needed to calm down and gather my composure again. This station was the last crew accessible stop and that proved to be absolutely clutch. I changed shoes and socks and my crew designed a makeshift knee sleeve for me by cutting the toe area out of some spare socks. I refueled and understood what needed to be done in order to leave this experience properly!
At station 40.9, I was starting to run a bit low on fuel and I could feel it. However, my knee had started to numb out and wasn’t absolutely miserable, it was just something I was dealing with. I consumed about 1500 calories in 3 minutes, drank about 40 ounces of water, and hit the trail analyzing my 4th quarter approach. I had been running for just over 8 hours and I had 9 miles to go--single digits!
I executed the final stage of this race with as much precision as I have in my running career. My patience early on had paid off and my body was in a pretty good place. Cramping was slowly approaching, I could tell, but it hadn’t set in yet. With each mile dinging on my Garmin, I was getting closer to finishing. One mile at a time. I crossed the finish line with 17 minutes to spare before the 10 hour mark.
-I felt pretty great
-I almost cried, but only right after I finished
-I drank a 16oz IPA from Sierra Nevada and it got me quite tipsy
-It was hard to walk to the car
-I was happy
My knee ended up not getting any better Sunday, so Monday morning I went to urgent care to get it looked at. The doctor ended up telling me that she didn’t think it was a bite, but rather an infection of sorts. I received an antibiotic shot in the rear end and got prescribed an oral round of antibiotics. They also cultured my knee to send in for labs to confirm the correct antibiotics had been administered. Pictures in timeline form below:
DISCLAIMER: Pictures are gnarly
Other than my knee taking about ten days to settle down after race day, my body felt pretty great. I traditionally take 3-4 days off directly after a race and then slowly introduce gentle and recovery-based yoga for the days to follow.
This race was amazing and very well organized. Beautiful area and scenery the entire time. 95% of the race is on trails and they’re all wonderful. I would highly recommend to anyone out there considering future participation. Thank you, North Face!