I imagine that no race likes to hear that it was second choice, but to be brutally honest, I only signed up for the 2016 The North Face Endurance Challenge (TNFEC) GORE-TEX 50 mile race one week before race day. I held out because I was hoping to get into the Bull Run Run 50 mile (BRR 50) race that same weekend.
Nothing against the TNFEC 50, it was just that I had run this race last year and was interested in trying something different. Unfortunately, I waited too late to sign up for the BRR 50 and ended up on the wait list. On the deadline to move off the wait list, which was about a week before race day, I was only two paid spots away from entry, but alas it wasn’t meant to be. But it wasn’t all bad news. I was still motivated for the TNFEC 50 because now I could try to beat last year’s time of 9:10:14.
All I had to do to beat that time was go up against a little weather. And by a little weather, I mean ALL the weather. Starting with rain, then hail, then more rain, sun, more rain, some light snow, and to top it off, about four inches of mud. All this in the 30 and low 40 degree temperatures. And people wonder why we runners do this. They just don’t get it.
Since I ran this race last year, I will skip the course details in this report. If you’re interested in that, be sure to check out my previous report on last year’s race.
My goal for this year’s race was 8.5 hours. I felt pretty confident I could do it. I knew I wasted time the previous year fumbling around with my drop bag, not having a plan at the aid stations before I arrived, and so forth. Fixing those things and the fact that I felt more prepared this year, 8.5 hours seemed entirely within reach. At least that is what I thought going into the race.
The rain started early that morning. Before race start, it poured as many of us huddled under the small canopies and tents at The North Face start and finish area. The rain let up just before the 5 AM race start, but started again around mile 8, not too long after daylight. And when the rain started again, it was actually kind of nice. I don’t know how to explain it other than to say it is sometimes just fun to run in the rain. So there I was, around 6:30AM, running through the woods alongside the Potomac River, the temperature was dropping, the rain was pouring, and I was smiling.
The temperature continued to drop throughout the day so eventually that rain turned to hail. The hail started while running the three loops at Great Falls Park. Thankfully, it was small hail. More amusing than painful and a nice change from the rain. The white pellets bounced off my hat and jacket and started collecting on the ground. It was at this point I encountered about six deer who were just staring at me as I ran past. I’m not positive, but I am pretty sure they were wondering what all these crazy humans were doing running in this crazy weather.
And despite the rain, hail, and nearly freezing temperatures, I was still on pace for about 8.5 hours, maybe even a little better, until about 10 miles left in the race. This area of the course, north of Riverbend Park along the Potomac Heritage Trail, is known to get muddy after a good rain. And that is before a few hundred runners come trampling through. To put it simply, the trails were a complete brown and muddy mess. With each step, my feet would slip, slide, and sink a few inches in the unavoidable mud. I don’t think it mattered what type of trail running shoes you had. We were beyond running at this point. This was just slogging through to the finish, putting one foot in front of the other, fighting the mud sucking suction to lift your foot again, and trying, unsuccessfully at times, not to fall. Even going up the small hills sometimes required grabbing onto tree trunks and branches to keep from sliding back down. It wasn’t pretty.
Finally, about a mile from the finish, the course turns onto a gravel road before turning into Algonkian Regional Park for the finish. It was like a breath of fresh air being on that gravel road. Despite having run 49 miles, I felt light and fresh not having to fight to lift each foot and not slipping each time I placed my foot down again.
I crossed the finish line in 9:00:05. Running (if you want to call it that) through the 10 miles of mud slowed my pace down by about 3 minutes per mile. So while it was slower than my goal time and a mildly disappointing finish, it was still 10 minutes better than last year. You can’t control the course conditions or the weather. And it felt great to be done, put on some dry clothes, and warm up by the fire pits at the finish line.
A few other things to note. The finish line food (free for 50 mile runners) was better this year than last year. But the race swag was meh. Previous years they stamped your shirt at the finish line with your race distance. This year, the shirts were pre-stamped and included all the distances (5K, 10K, 1/2 marathon, full marathon, and 50 mile) Maybe it’s just me, but if I run 50 miles, I would prefer my race shirt to make it clear that I ran 50 miles. I can’t be the only one that feels this way.
But overall, I enjoyed the TNFEC GORE-TEX 50 mile race. I do like the course. Running (or hiking) on the River trail along the Potomac River gorge area in Great Falls park is a must-do if you are in the area. And the Potomac Heritage Trail is always enjoyable. Well, maybe not always, but definitely when it is not covered in several inches of mud.
I hope this race report was both interesting and informative. Feel free to leave any comments or questions below. Thanks for reading.