Run Safe

Friday, September 21, 2012

The North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Mile 2012- Madison, WI

When deciding, at the end of last year, my goals for 2012, the Ultra Marathon seemed like the next logical or maybe illogical step. Even the thought of running anything beyond the 26.2 distance seemed insane! Hell it wasn’t that long ago that I swore I would never even run a marathon and now here I was, only a short time later, and 3 marathons behind me, considering an ultra marathon.  It's funny to think back about how much anxiety and doubt I experienced each time I considered upping the distance.  But each time I conqured a new distance I've found satisifcation in overcoming my doubt.  I think part of the enjoyment comes from proving myself wrong each time I've succeeded in doing something that seems absolutely unachievable.

 Once I decided I would take the plunge, the next step was figuring out which race to do. I wanted something challenging but not too crazy. I found the North Face Challenge series and learned there was both a 50k and 50 mile in Madison Wisconsin. It was being marketed as the least challenging of the NF series but it still boasted a six thousand foot elevation change!  Perfect!  I signed up for the Sept. 15th 50k soon after registration was open. Reading through the information I discovered runners could choose to upgrade or downgrade their distance prior to the race itself. I began reading up and learning as much as I could about running longer distance. The amount of information I read, combined with the experienced ultra runners I spoke to, turned out to be priceless in the end. It wasn’t too long after signing up for the 50k that I decided to change to the 50 mile. The main reason was due to the fueling strategies that came into play with the longer distance. It seemed the 50k (31 miles) wasn’t too much different from running a marathon and I figured if I’m going to do this I might as well embrace the full experience.  How does the saying go? It's better to regret something you've done rather something you haven't done.

As I began my training, in late April,  I made a commitment to steadily increase my long runs to include consistent trail running. I also increased my hill training on the advice of a friend who has been and is still a very successful ultra runner. I would say above all else, the long runs (20 plus miles) and training on terrain similar to what my race would be were the two of the most important parts of preparing for the distance. I experimented with different types of food to eat and hydration options.
Working my way to 40 miles.
Compliments Brian Gaines of New Leaf Ultra Runs
Whether to carry a hydration pack, one water bottle or two, etc., etc.  I had been told that what works for one person might not work for another so I knew trial and error was part of the process. About three months prior to my race I made the decision to sign up for another ultra as a training ground for the 50 miler. The event was an 8 hour ultra consisting of a 3.29 loop. The event is hosted by the Kennekuk Trail Runners. I could dedicate another entire post to just this race based simply on the  hospitality shown by this club but we'll keep that for another time.  Basically, Each runner/walker pre-determined their goal mileage for the 8 hour event.  My goal was 40 miles and I completed 40.48 miles.  Had it not been for my cousin pacing me during the last few hours of this run I would have never made it to the 40 mile mark. I learned a lot from this race. I struggled with debilitating leg cramps and muscle spasms for the last 12 miles, similar to what I had experienced at the end of  my first two marathon runs.  It was very frustrating but we learn from our failures and while this run was not a complete failure my fueling certainly had proven to be.  I made some changes to my supplementation which ended up being a wise decision.

Sitting in front of my new found friend (the can), after 40.48

Some of the new found friends from NLUR, showing off our bling.

The days prior to the 50 miler I took the time to type out my plan. What time I expected to arrive at each aid station and what I would consume at that aid station.  I used a time window rather than an exact time.  I was pretty sure of my pace based off of all of the long trail runs I had done.  I kept this piece of paper with my while I ran and it was reassuring, throughout the day, knowing that I was arriving at each aid station, on time. Another piece of advice I utilized was to have a secondary watch. Some GPS watches (including mine) may not last as long as you will on these runs. Having a simple watch can be used to keep track of how far you’ve gone or the timer can help keep you stay consistent with your fueling.  At the end of the post I've provided a list of everything I used (or took along) the day of the race.

The early stages of organizing my supplies

Every respectable blog should have an official race photo

The morning of the race I was rather calm, relaxed, and feeling confident. I had been telling myself the whole week, “You’re not gonna win, so you might as well take your time and enjoy it.”  I arrived at about 4am and got out of my car wearing nothing more than a short sleeve shirt, shorts, socks and shoes.  It was about 43 degrees Fahrenheit outside and patchy fog. I grabbed a windbreaker out of my trunk and figured I'd leave it in my first drop bag, which was at aid station 1, 6.7 miles into the run.  With only 171 runners starting the race, the atmosphere at the start line was rather subdued as most of us had chosen one of 4 portable heaters to huddle around.  When the start was announced I was still standing at a heater and ended up starting more towards the back of the pack.  Almost immediately I ran into some fellow New Leaf Runners and struck up some conversation.    We stayed as a relatively tight group up until the first aid station.  I have to say running with that group, in the dark, with the headlamps was a pretty cool experience in and of itself.  As the run progressed I stayed consistent in my pace and kept reminding myself of all those long training, trail runs I put in. This was just another one of those runs (just a little longer). I met so many cool people throughout the day which accounted for hours of good conversation. A guy named Rob and I were running together at mile 13 and we laughed about our first ½ marathon and how stressed we were at the time but on this day it was just on our way to Aid Station 3 (of 8). People often ask "Don't you get bored running for that long?"  I probably had conversation with 8-10 different people while on this run, from all over the country.  Each person entirely different from the last but all working towards the same goal- the finish line.

The area between aid station 4,5 and 6 was probably the toughest of the run.  From a/s 4 we ran 7.1 miles to a/s 5.  The terrain in this area was a combination of hills and open prairie.  It was also the longest stretch from between any of the aid stations.  Once to a/s 5 we turned around and headed back to a/s 6, which was the same location as a/s 4.  On the way to 5 I felt like it was all up hill and kept thinking I would make up some serious time on my way back.  But low and behold, it was all up hill on the way back, too!  So the next time someone tells you they had to walk to school up hill, both ways....maybe they really did.  At mile 35 I picked up my pacer, my cousin, and got a chance to see my wife and daughter. I was feeling pretty good and knew, at this point, I would finish. I hadn’t had a single cramp and while I was tired, I wasn’t completely drained. The last 15 miles presented it’s share of highs and lows. At times I felt like I was taking too many walk breaks but again reminded myself of goal #1, finish.  The last couple of aid stations I really started craving oranges.  It's all I wanted to ea and they did taste unusually delicious.  I was feeling a little blah and didn't really want to eat anymore.  Around mile 48 we hit a nice little down hill section about a .25 mile long.  We went into an all out sprint!  How neither of us fell or tripped over a rock, I'll never know.  But it was kind of cool to be able run that fast, that late into the race.

Scenic view around Mile 26
Somewhere along the course.
Compliments of Brandi Henry
(although she's doesn't know I stole it for this post)

My first 50 mile race which started at 5 am on September 15th, 2012 came to an end when I crossed the finish line 10 hours, 15 minutes and 25 seconds later. The temp at race finish was about 75 degrees Fahrenheit.  Once I crossed the finish line and got all of the hugs I needed and was suddenly, and unexpectedly, overwhelmed with emotion.  All the months of preparing, learning and improving had paid off.   And while technically this was now my second ultra marathon, it was my first successful ultra marathon.  This experience did help me to grow as a runner and as a person.  On the surface many people look at this and think "Who the hell would be crazy or stupid enough to run 50 miles!?" but for those of us who have run any distance beyond what we thought we were capable of have a better understanding of the "Why".  Running offers so much not only physically but it does wonders in developing your character, patience, confidence and appreciation for life.  According to the race report 148 people completed the 50 mile run on this day.  I placed 91 overall and 31 out of 58 in my age group.  So as predicted, I didn't win but I did most certainly enjoy the run.

I don’t know if I’ll ever make the jump to a 100 mile run but I have learned to never say never.

Crossing the finish line at 3:15pm CST

This alone made it all worth it!


Nike Visor
Midwest Misfits Race jersey  #MisfitNation!!!
Black Rebook shorts w/ pockets
Nike compression shorts
RoadRunner Drymax thin, tab, no show socks (grey)
Asics Gel Fuji Racer shoes
Garmin 405
Little cheapo second watch with count down timer
Ipod (DMB, Voo Davis and Grateful Dead other music is worthy)

3 Drop bags- 2 dropped at aid stations & one left with the
                      support crew (Wife, cousins wife & children..couldn't have done it with out them)

Each bag contained-
Band Aids
Hammer Nutrition Perpeteum
Hammer Nutrition Heed
Oatmeal cream pies
Hand wipes

The crew bag also had a change of clothes & shoes.

I found a deet free 8 hour bug spray which was applied prior to the race start. 
I carried S-caps, Ibuprofen, Pedialyte and two GU Gels.

Each aid station consisted of potatoes, chips, pop, oranges, bananas & PB & J.

I took one S-Cap prior to the start and drank 16oz of Heed. I took 1 S-Cap each hour.  Each aid station I alternated between water and Heed to refill my water bottle.  At Aid station 1 and 5 I consumed the Pertpeteum mixed with 10oz of water.  I ate 2-3 small items at each aid station and drank 1 or 2 small cups of whatever I didn't fill my water bottle with.  I drank the 8oz of Pedialyte (powder mixed in water) at mile 19 & 35.  The GU's were used in between aid stations and I just ate them a little at a time and then replaced them at the next aid station.  The Oatmeal cream pies were my special little treats throughout the day.  I ended up eating four of them.  And I honestly couldn't say which tasted better, those or the Mountain Dew at the aid stations.  I also took two Ibuprofen at mile 11 and again at mile 40.

The combination of consistent fluid intake, S-Caps and perfect weather were key in keeping the cramps away.


  1. FRig'n awesome man! I was there at the Howl, my first ultra, albeit much lower mileage, 32.9 (10 laps). I was aiming for 50k, got it! :D So my next ultra I will aim for 50 miles. Great writeup man, and hope to run into you out there on the trails, the atmosphere and the folks are second to none! :)

  2. Great job! And nice RR! Lots of pictures and detail! Like you, I am sucking up all info and personal experiences of people and their 50M runs beforehand. Mine will be in November.
    Congrats again!!

  3. Unk- You are completely right on the Kennekuk trail runners group. Everyone we met that weekend was very cool. It was a great place to achieve personal goals.

    Stacey- Glad you enjoyed it. I know when I was in search of info it sometimes seemed hard to come by. I've linked the New Leaf Ultra Run page in the article. You will not find more experience and help from a group of ultra runners than you will with this group. Send them a request to join and best of luck in your 50. If you do a write up let me know, I'd love to read all about your experience.

    1. Sorry about the profile thingy, I've updated it. ;)

      Camping on the race course was a blast too at the Howl, I know other races aren't like that but if the people are very similar, I'm so in.

      How long of a training plan did you have to get to the 50 miles? Did you start at a base mileage that was already pretty high? I wonder because I have been training for the MCM (Marine Corp Marathon, October 28, 2012), and since the Howl I have backed off my mileage a little (long runs at 20 instead of 26-ish). I am wondering if after the MCM I try to keep my base and try to do a May 50 miler, although I was considering taking a month of easy low mileage, maybe focusing on the 5k to increase some speed there. I'd be interested in your thoughts.

  4. Before I say anything, keep in mind my ultra experience is VERY limited. I can tell that runners in general are awesome people. I can't think of another subculture of people that is so diverse and so accepting of others. Ultra runners seem to have a greater desire to party. Which I'm good with. So I would count yourself in because Howl was a pretty good representation of what I've been around so far.

    The plan I used was a combination of different plans I had found. I customized it to fit me schedule, ability etc. I was running 4-5 days a week. I would increase my long run or total Sat/Sun mileage for two consecutive weeks and the third week would be a recovery, for example;

    week 1- 5 days running 8 Sat- 8 Sun total miles 30
    week 2- 5 days running 10 Sat- 8Sun total miles 32
    Week 3- 4 days running Bike Sat- 10Sun total miles 26 (not include bike)
    week 4- 5 days running 10 Sat 10-Sun- 34 miles
    week 5- 5 days running 14 Sat 8-Sun 36 miles
    and so on and so on....

    I built up as high as 56 miles. The 40 mile I did the month before helped me to realized the long runs were the most important. Next time I think I would try to have more 25 plus mile training runs

    I would also improve my core training and be more consistent in cross training (weights, swimming, biking)

    I would totally try to keep your base after MCM. Look at MCM as a training run rather than a race.

    And as I said in the posts train on terrain similar to your race. Trails, Hills, open prairies, etc.

    As far as speed training, most of what I read or was told was forget about speed training. Accept that the distance is going to make you slower than what you've grown accustomed to. I think as you gain experience in running longer distance you can probably add more speed work in but not many people are running 50 miles fast, although there are some.

  5. My first ultra was the 50K at TNF EC in Madison -- really a great event for a first-timer. Thanks for sharing your report!

  6. Late reply, but this sounds like a great experience. I don't how ultra marathoners do it, but they are awesome.

  7. Wow! This is certainly inspirational to me as I contemplate my first 50K. The 50 miler is my goal but I want to try a 50K before I attempt it. :) Thank you for all this information, especially your list at the end. I know I will be referring to it often. Great photos and details! You are a ROCKSTAR and I'm so happy to share/exchange information with you on FB!! (Rachel from Life in the day of a runner)

  8. Super late reply but congratulations! Great race report! Oatmeal cream pie, loving it! My first 50 miler TNFEC Wisconsin! Trying not to get too freaked out. Just want to cross that finish line and get that orange ribbon medal! I did the 50k in Washington.