Monday, July 1, 2013

TNF Endurance Mid-Atlantic 50K - June 1, 2013

Warm Day
Barry, Shirley and Rebecca (l. to r.)
Saturday promises to be a hot day, with temperatures close to 90 degrees for my second North Face Endurance Challenge 50K (TNF).  Emaad B. cites the hot weather as a  reason not to start the race.  I look at the bright side: with hot weather the choice of clothing is very simple.  I just need shorts and a short sleeve shirt. No need to worry about long/short sleeves, layers, gloves, tights or hats.

Barry and Rebecca show up at my house right on time to head to Sterling VA for the parking for the shuttle to Algonkian Regional Park for the start of the race.  Rebecca, who believes that no one should go hungry ever, brings a box of colossal-sized donuts. Barry eats one, or at least half of one.  The school bus shuttle gets us to the park in plenty of time to check our bags, use the facilities and get ready for the day.  We meet Shirley S. at the start and the four of us decide to run together, or at least to start together.  Given the weather no one has a sense of urgency or desire to push the pace.

To help spread out the field for the single track that begins a few hundred yards from the start, TNF starts the field in three waves a couple of minutes apart.  The race is chip-timed so there is no penalty starting in the later waves.  The four of us start well toward the rear of the the third and final heat.

It is a bit warm but not particularly unpleasant at the 7:00 a.m. start.  We are grateful that we do not have to deal with the shoe-sucking mud from last year.  We chat amiably as we go along and make sure to keep an eye out for golfers, and more importantly, golf balls, as the Potomac Heritage Trail makes its way across the golf course at the park.  We cross without incident.  After the golf course, the trail alternates between flat stretches near the Potomac and climbing and descending some hills that move away from the river.

Rebecca and I stick together through the first aid station with Barry and Shirley not far behind. A mile or two later Barry and Shirley catch up with us.  We go on together for awhile and somewhere around mile 13 I unwittingly pull away from them for the rest of the day.

Staying Hydrated
One drawback of TNF for the unwary is that several of the aid stations are significantly further apart than some runners are used to.  The first aid station is 5.7 miles from the start (there is an unofficial one about three miles from the start), and then the next aid station is 6.7 miles farther on. The 6.7 mile section has to be traversed on the way back to the finish as well.

Barry snaps pic of the Potomac
Especially on a hot day making sure one has adequate nutrition and hydration is critical.  Rebecca is carrying a handheld bottle, but the other three of us are all using camelbacks.  Later in the day, on the return, Rebecca will run dry. Fortunately she was able to get water from an emergency medical personnel who she met on the trail between aid stations.

After my experience at the Bull Run Run 50 miler in April where I lost track of when I last ate a gel or took a Succeed! salt capsule I'm determined today to set a schedule and stick to it.  I decide on a gel every 45 minutes and a salt tablet every hour.  I stick to the schedule the entire day, regardless of how those times coincide with the appearance of aid stations.  As an added benefit, Clif Bar is a sponsor of the race, and the aid stations are stocked with Clif Shot gels, reducing the need to start the race carrying a day's worth of gels.

I carry six Succeeds with me.  Someplace around mile 22 or so I spot a small plastic bag on the trail.  I stop and pick it up and it appears to have two Succeeds in it.  I can't be certain of that, but they are intact and certainly look like the kind of thing a runner might have dropped.  When it is time for the next Succeed I decide to try one of the finds.  With no adverse effects over the next hour, I take the second found one.  I hate waste.

As usual, I chat with folks as we run along and observe the runners that I pass and that pass me. (I text the description of one runner with Emaad to emphasize what he is missing, but there is no need here to repeat my observations.)

The first thing that stands out is that there are a higher than usual number of first time trail and ultrarunners than at most races.  Perhaps it is due to the commercial nature of the race and the fact that The North Face is a prime sponsor of the race.  The series is actually managed by Hawkeye, a marketing company that "designs, develops, manages and flawlessly executes experiential programs"  for its corporate clients, including TNF and the NCAA.  From the number of participants who tell me that this is either their first ultra or their first trail run it is clear that as part of "The North Face Endurance Challenge" the Hawkeye "experiential team is planning and executing live programs for clients [like TNF] who want to bring their brands to their consumers in unique, relevant and memorable ways."  If TNF is a brand that is supposed to be for customers interested in outdoor adventures (suitably attired and equipped, of course) they are succeeding in bringing people out to the trail.

The second thing I notice is that the participants are appreciably younger than the usual group of ultrarunners.  There is a bit of a joke in the ultrarunning community that as one gets older and slower one runs longer and longer.  Maybe that is because we have more leisure time or are more patient.  But the TNF clearly attracts a younger crowd.

One of the consequences of having newer and younger runners is that they are not prepared as well for this particular race as veteran runners.  During the long 6.7 mile stretch between the first and second aid stations I catch up with two women running together.  One has a camelback, but the other is running with no bottle or water carrier of any kind. I gently suggest that staying hydrated today will be important.  Fortunately they are sisters so they have already been sharing from the camelback.  But the time is still before 10:00 a.m. and the day will be heating up.  I urge them to be sure to take gels or eat salty foods at the aid stations.

There is Always One of These
Some trail runners are tough. Some are nuts. Some are both.  All three types run trails.

The trail by Mather Gorge of the Potomac
While running the convoluted but well marked loops and out-and-backs in Great Falls Park I spot a 50-mile runner walking with her knee professionally taped up but a hint of blood staining it.

"Close encounter with the ground?," I inquire.

She answers in the affirmative. "I've had it taped twice," she says. "The paramedics told me I need stitches.  I told them I still have 30 miles to go to the finish."

On that note she starts running again.

Trail Discounts
Rebecca and I are going to run Marathon du Medoc in September.  This year's theme is Science Fiction so we have ordered Steam Punk patterned shirts.  I'm wearing mine to try it out.

As I pass a shirtless runner wearing a kilt (see There is Always One of These, above) he asks if it is from  InkNBurn.  When I say it is, he gets excited.

"I'm an InkNBurn Ambassador," he says.  "Take these cards and enter the code "Christoldme" and you will get a discount on your next order at InkNBurn."

He sees me glance at his kilt, decidedly not an InkNBurn product. "I'm also an ambassador for kilts for running," he adds.

Getting Hot
Running in Great Falls Park give us an opportunity to see the 50 mile runners who started two hours ahead of the 50K runners.  They have to run three laps of the Great Falls section, while we only do one loop.  Marathoners, who start two hours behind the 50K runners turn around at the entrance to Great Falls. Leaving Great Falls about 19.3 miles into the race the time is about 11:40 a.m.  The day is definitely heating up.  While much of the race is in the woods, there are some fields to cross and the mid-day sun adds another  ten or more degrees to the heat.  During this 6.7 mile stretch to the next aid station I'm repeatedly glancing at my watch and trying to figure when I'll arrive at it, based on the time it took on the outbound run.  I'm disappointed when an hour and 43 minutes rolls around (the outbound time) and there is no aid station in sight.  It takes another ten minutes to arrive at it.  The pace is almost 17 minutes per mile, barely faster than a walking pace.

The pace to the next aid station at mile 29.3 is hardly better even though most of it is on a flat stretch skirting through the golf course. With the end figuratively in sight, and marathon relay runners now on this section of the course, I pick up the pace to a 12:41 per mile.  Even that feels harsh in the sun, and I take frequent walks on flat, level surfaces that are otherwise easy to run.

I cross the finish in 7:49:19, more than 40 minutes slower than during last year's muddy trudge.  I sit down at a shaded table and An, Rebecca's boy friend finds me and brings me shaved ice cones, which are greatly refreshing.

Rebecca crosses the line in 8:01.  Either she is barely coherent or I'm incapable of comprehension. Neither of us can quite understand each other for a short while.  Shirley finishes in 8:19 and Barry in 8:27.

Nice Guys Finish Last First.  So Do Old Guys.
Reviewing the results the next day bear out my suspicions that the TNF demographic skews young. Barry finishes second in the male 60-64 year old age group.  I finish first.

Barry, Rebecca, Shirley and I show off our medals
(courtesy of Barry S.)
But that is not so remarkable, it turns out.  We are the only two males in the age group.  And at 62 I'm the oldest 50K finisher, male or female.

One other 60+ male runs the 50 mile TNF race. So a total of only three 60+ males out of 482 male finishers ran the 50M and 50K at TNF (0.6%).  Compare that to the 17 60+ males out of 287 male finishers (5.9%) who ran Bull Run Run 50 Miler in April. And there is no 50K option there.

Unfortunately for us, there are no age group prizes, just the satisfaction of knowing that we still are . . . tough? Nuts? Both? Like all runners over 21, we got to enjoy our complementary beer at the finish area, although Barry had to show proof of age to be admitted to the beer area!

TNF50K swag: shirt, medal, Smartwool sox and bib