race report: north face 50K

On Saturday, I tackled my second-ever ultramarathon as part of the North Face Endurance Challenge. I’m actually kind of glad my first 50K back in Nov. 2011 was a really challenging course. I was expecting much worse!

Starting in Sterling, VA, over an hour’s drive away, I was glad a couple friends and I decided to get a hotel the night before. We had to be on shuttle buses by 6:15 am. We would have had to leave home at 4:30 to make sure we didn’t cut it too close. Ick. So much nicer to get a hotel in the same business park where we picked up the bus in the morning!

We drove to the hotel Friday night after traffic died down, checked in, and (gasp!) went out for a beer. One of the girls, running the marathon distance (her first!) had a race night tradition, and we just had to join her, right? I’d been hydrating well and wasn’t worried about one drink. (It was delicious.) We didn’t stay out too late, and tucked ourselves into bed around 11pm.

After a usual pre-race restless night’s sleep, we got up at 5am and started preparing for the day. We ran into some friends at the shuttle stop, and some more at the start/finish area. A nice group! We had about an hour to kill, but time moved quickly. Plenty of time to hit the port-o-potties a couple times. They had food and coffee available, but I stuck with my water and peanut butter sandwich.

And then we were off! I started with a friend, but a few miles in she started to pull ahead. We train together, but she’s faster. And competitive. Meanwhile, I knew it was going to be a long day. I couldn’t start too fast!

I figured I wouldn’t see her until the end, but I caught up at the first aid station. I didn’t need to refill my hydrapack yet but grabbed a potato and dipped it in salt (yuck — potatoes were a bit undercooked!). I made the stop quick so I could run with her again.

It was short-lived, though. She was running faster than I wanted to, and I watched her slip away again. Just as well — we’d both be happier if we ran our own pace!

It surprised me how runnable and flat the course was. I was actually almost looking forward to some hills to climb so I could take a walk break …

Oh yeah. There was some walking.

There were some steep climbs … but the were fortunately not too long. I felt like I was doing OK, and the miles were ticking by. There was a long stretch between the first and second aid stations — they said 6.7 miles — and I was happy to finally get there to refill my pack. I also grabbed a Clif Shot Gel (vanilla! yum, tastes like pudding!) and some Shot Bloks, and headed on my way.

There was an open (real!) restroom with no line shortly after that rest stop. I thought it would be crazy not to stop! This was a good call, otherwise I would have had to make a pit stop in the woods later on! I also took the opportunity to splash cold water on my face and neck.

We had a couple out-and-back sections from miles 13-20, which looped us through Great Falls Park. There were 50-mile racers out running too. They started two hours before us at 5am, but one of the big differences from their course and ours was that they completed THREE loops of the Great Falls area, and we were done after just one. Phew!

It happened to be the most challenging section of the course, including lots of incline and rocky paths. I was glad to “only” be a 50K runner during that loop. It was beautiful, though. I wish I wasn’t too lazy to take my phone out of my pack and take photos. It’s not like I was moving all that fast!

After the Great Falls loop, we headed back the way we came. One more aid top to top off my water and I was headed back to the finish!

I took a lot of long walk breaks. At first it was just on the inclines, but I did hit a patch where it seems all I did was walk. I wasn’t alone. People would pass me, but then I’d decide to run for a bit and pass them walking a few minutes later. Lots of leapfrogging — but it was also fun to keep seeing the same people and start chatting.

That aid station that was 6.7 miles away? On the way back it seems like it moved a mile farther. Everyone I talked to kept looking at their GPS, wondering why we weren’t there yet.

But finally, I got there. And they assured me they hadn’t moved! One more refill, some more Shot Bloks, and a bunch of orange slices and I was off again. They said we were 5.4 miles to the finish, and we’d hit another aid station in about 4 miles. Excellent.

I feel like I might have been moving a little better after that aid station. Maybe not necessarily faster, but I needed that mental break!

By the time I hit the next aid station, my Garmin said I had already completed a 50K. I wasn’t surprised the course was long — I had been warned by friends who had run it before. I stopped one last time and grabbed a drink, got cold water dumped over my head, and ate some potato chips. 1.65 miles to the finish, they said!

Even though I was so close, I just couldn’t run. The gravel road (my least favorite!) seemed to be ever-so-slightly uphill, and my legs wouldn’t have any of it. So I walked. I joined another runner who had the same idea, and we chatted for a while.

My watch beeped as it hit mile 32. I looked at the time, calculating how much should be left based on what the volunteer told us. And I looked at how much time had elapsed. I realized I could come under the time I estimated when I registered, but only if I started running again.

So I ran.

I wasn’t breaking any speed records, but I wasn’t walking.

The gravel road ended, and the course rounded onto an asphalt path. I was getting close. I started passing spectators, and then I could see the parking lot.

And then I was done.


Nope, not at all surprised by the mileage. I estimated it would be 33 around the 20-mile mark. I hoped it would be lower, but I wasn’t surprised. Most of my friends tracked closer to the 32.5 mark on their watches, so I’m not sure where mine thinks I ran?


Official Time: 7:42:31
Overall 281/430
Female 83/166
Age Group 15/27

I’m usually a below-average trail runner, coming in towards the back of the pack. It makes me very happy to be much closer to the middle! I also put 7:45 as a finish time, thinking that would be a long shot (seeing how my first 50K took 9 hours). I was very happy to beat that, too!

Yes it was a long day. It was hot. It was hard. And my feet hurt. But it was also so beautiful running along the woods. And so nice to spend so much time running/walking on the shaded trails …

When can I do it again?

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