Race Report: The North Face Endurance Challenge Park City 50 Mile 2014

I went into the 2014 race season intending on taking it easy and stopping early.  After two straight injury-plagued years, I figured it would be good to have a “play it safe” year.  My plan was to stop racing after a local 50K in mid-August and spend the remainder of the year hiking, peak bagging, and running for fun.  Unfortunately, the local 50K got cancelled and my plans along with it.  Wanting to find an alternate event, I signed up for the inaugural (for this location) The North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Mile in Park City, Utah.  This story doesn’t necessarily have a bad ending per se, but is simply meant to reinforce the theme that things don’t always go as planned.

TNFECS UT 50 Mile Course Map 50 Mile Course Map

The race was shaping up to be a fantastic day.  5am start with cool and dry.  I was in pretty good shape, minus a minor groin muscle strain that I have been running through for the past five weeks.  Still, I tapered off quite a bit and it wasn’t bothering me leading in to the race so I didn’t anticipate any issues.  The race started with a motivational speech from The North Face athlete Dean Karnazes and then we were off!

The race began with the longest (but not steepest) climb of the course.  About 3600 feet of gain over the first 12 or so miles.  I am happy to say that I stuck to my plan and ran the entire thing without walking.  I even did so at a very controlled an comfortable pace…a good sign.  When I came in to the second aid station, they told me I was about 15 minutes back of the leader…right where I wanted to be.  I continued on to Jupiter Peak, the highest part of the course, before starting a descent.  Shortly after this was when my race turned sour.  As I was coming down the left side of the service road and looking down at the ground, I missed a right hand course turnoff.  About 3/4 of a mile downhill, I realized my mistake and had to turn around and head back up.  This ended up costing me about 30-35 minutes, but more than that, I was emotionally devastated.  After starting off so well and hanging out front I was suddenly forced to play catch-up, which was not something I was prepared for.  Truthfully, I was mostly mad at myself as the course was really well marked.  It took me a while to dig myself out of this hole mentally and I am still dwelling on it as I write this the day after.  Regardless, I needed to cruise on and see what I could do with the rest of the race, so I did.

A bright spot in my race was knowing that my running group, the Wasatch Mountain Wranglers, were manning the 5-Way Aid Station (miles 21 and 45).  I knew if I got there, I would get a mental boost from some of my running friends.

Wranglers at 5 Way AS TNFECS UT 5-Way AS Wranglers (Photo by: Canice Harte)

Unfortunately, about a mile or so before the aid station, that groin muscle strain finally decided I was pushing it too hard and went full blown pull on me (and yes, it is sore as hell today).  I trotted gingerly in to the aid station where I took some painkillers and fueled up.  I knew the Wranglers wouldn’t let me give up without a fight, but knowing that, I didn’t even need to ask them to talk me into continuing on.  Instead, I sucked it up and got back on course as quickly as I could.

To be honest, the rest of the race was pretty uneventful so I won’t get too detailed.  The rest of my body felt fine and my energy levels were good most of the day.  The painkillers helped get through it, but the reality was that I was forced to cut my stride length in half for the last 25-30 miles of the race in order to prevent more serious injury.  After tearing my calf muscle a couple years ago, I know how long THAT road to recovery is and with my big plans for 2015, I didn’t want to jeopardize it.

In the end, I finished the race.  My time wasn’t great, but given the circumstances I consider it a huge mental toughness win.  The course was actually much harder than I anticipated, with more vertical gain than I thought (on top of the extra 500 feet I added on).  At the same time, it was one of the most beautiful races I have ever run, which also helped me along the way.  The race organizers did a fantastic job in all aspects, especially for a debut race.  So back to my original point; things don’t always work out as planned, especially in ultras.  What is important is that you still make the best of it and enjoy what you are doing.  We partake in an amazing sport with an even more amazing community.  I am constantly surprised with the people I meet and the things I see along the way.  Now I am on to get healed up and do some off season strength work before I start looking forward to next year.  I will leave you with a great picture of the course.

TNFECS UT View Stared around at this scenery all race long!

Now time for thanks.  Thanks to my family for being so supportive during my training and racing.  Thanks to Orange Mud and Injinji for their support.  Thanks to all of my Wasatch Mountain Wrangler friends.  Your support on and off the course helped me immensely!  Thanks to all of the race staff and volunteers for their support and in creating an awesome event!

What I used:

  • Orange Mud HydraQuiver Single Barrel hydration pack
  • Injinji Trail 2.0 socks
  • Gargoyles performance sunglasses
  • Salomon Sense Mantra 2
  • Garmin Fenix 2 GPS watch
  • Tailwind Endurance Nutrition mixed with water
  • Headsweats race hat
  • CEP compression calf sleeves

If you like this post and would like to stay up to date on other running related stuff, please follow my Facebook page at Ultrarunner Joe!

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