Getting Ready for the Ultimate Day Trip: The North Face Endurance Challenge 50M

We pack and organize the day before a big trip, and then we lay out our clothes to wear in the morning and put our bags near the front door. I make the kids go to bed an hour early, and finally I close my eyes for a few hours of light sleep with vivid, flighty dreams. My internal alarm clock wakes me before 3 a.m, a bit before the real clock is set to buzz. I’d rather get up than sleep more. I pad down the hallway and open the door to my children’s rooms, turn on their bedside lamp in the darkness and say, “Wake up, it’s a travel day!”

These kids who are so slow to move on a school day, who sleep until mid-morning on the weekends, fling back their covers and sit up in bed as if it’s Christmas morning. We all tell each other, “Let’s go, let’s go!” My daughter and son chatter and barter about who’s gonna sit where, who’s gonna do what first. We’re all giddy to be up at 3 a.m, to get to the airport for a predawn flight or to hit the road and drive the first leg of the route before breakfast.

Today—Friday, December 2, 2011—I have that day-before-travel tingly feeling. I’m going to spend all today getting things ready and then wake up at 2:30 a.m.

But my trip tomorrow is only 50 miles long and probably will last just 9 to 10 hours.

I’m packing gear bags and getting all ready to wake up early for the 5 a.m. start of the North Face Endurance Challenge 50-mile Championship.

Elevation profile for the North Face Endurance Challenge 50M

Earlier this week, the prospect of the race did nothing but stress me out. I’m not ready, I haven’t trained properly for it, I don’t know the course, I don’t know what to put in which drop bag, my new shoes aren’t broken in, I’m feeling fat and slow, and my nose is running with the start of a cold. I’ve been a nattering nabob of negativity, as if poor me carries this great big burden of having to run a 50-miler and face the distinct possibility of failing to finish.

And then, my mood changed as quickly and dramatically as the sky above the Rockies when the high-altitude sun and wind push aside slate-gray thunderclouds. It happened as I was looking at the Saturday morning schedule and realizing I’ll need to wake around 2:30 a.m. to eat, get ready, drive to the North Bay and prepare for the start at 5.

No problem, I thought. I’ll tell myself, “It’s a travel day.” Our family routine of waking up on those special mornings filled me with confidence and excitement. More importantly, it re-framed my entire mental approach to Saturday’s event.

It’s not a race. It’s a trip. A special, exciting personal journey that will take me somewhere new. I will travel on trails north of Marin that I never had the chance before to explore, following champion runners I normally only follow in the news.

I will be completely out of my league competitively, and that’s a relief. I don’t feel the need to pace myself to finish by a certain time or to beat anyone. I am still relatively new to this distance, having done only two 50-milers before. I’ll just try to stay steady and be patient mile by mile.

Also, I’m excited to rub elbows with the country’s top runners at the start and take inspiration knowing they’re way ahead on the course, doing battle with each other and pushing through the self-doubt and suffering that we all share in the final stretch. Unlike a low-key local trail race where I have a chance of finishing near the top and taking an age-group prize, this is a world-class event with a $10,000 prize that attracts the very best male and female runners  (see iRunFar’s previews of the male and female fields for details).

The event grew out of Dean Karnazes’s “Endurance 50” project in 2006, when he ran 50 marathons in 50 states in 50 days. The North Face launched the Endurance Challenge series the following year. By 2011, it’s grown to be one of the most significant trail running series around: a two-day event, offering distances from 10K to 50M, taking place in six cities around the country during the year with the San Francisco championship as the grand finale. Hats off to TNF for creating an event that introduces more people to the sport by offering shorter distances, and for allowing average runners to toe the line with the elites rather than keeping it invitation-only or requiring participants to qualify.

Four months ago, I had a great-looking training plan. I was recovering from injury in August and ready to ramp up. Then life got in the way. My weekly mileage went down the toilet in October due to work and family commitments. I managed only three really quality long runs during the last five weeks. I’m a solid four pounds above my set weight (six pounds above where I like to be for racing shorter distances).

But I know I’ll get through it because I have before. I’m feeling deja vu while re-reading a post I wrote last March before the American River 50M, “Your Training Plan Fell Apart And You’re Not Ready to Race. What Do You Do?” The take-away lessons:

  • Do take comfort in knowing you’re not the only runner who approaches a big event with less-than-optimal training
  • Don’t compare yourself to others
  • Don’t cram in miles in the final weeks in an attempt to make up for lost time
  • Do remember there’s more to training than running lots of miles
  • Do adjust your time goal—or drop the time goal all together
  • Don’t dwell on the shortcomings of the past couple of months
  • Do concentrate on what you did well and what went right

I would add to that earlier advice: Think of the race as a journey, and enjoy the trip.

For race-day coverage, follow on its site or twitter feed. Good luck to all the runners out there tomorrow!

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7 Responses to Getting Ready for the Ultimate Day Trip: The North Face Endurance Challenge 50M

  1. olga December 2, 2011 at 11:23 am #

    Good luck tomorrow, have fun, count your blessings.
    olga recently posted..Baby steps.My Profile

  2. John Nguyen December 2, 2011 at 2:37 pm #

    See you out on the trails tomorrow! And I count you as part of the elite field! =) Good luck tomorrow!
    John Nguyen recently posted..2011 Dick Collins Firetrails 50-Mile Race ReportMy Profile

  3. Len Goldman December 2, 2011 at 3:29 pm #

    Good luck, should be a beautiful day, couldn’t ask for better conditions. Enjoy the views and scenery.


  4. Gretchen December 2, 2011 at 4:27 pm #

    Have fun out there, Sarah! Looks like it will be an awesome day!

  5. Christine Cossios December 3, 2011 at 11:18 am #

    Wow! It is so wonderful to read and visual all of you sharing that sense of adventure as a family-so cool. Can’t wait to read how it went.

  6. Sarah December 8, 2011 at 4:57 am #

    How did the race go? I hope everything turned out more than you expect them to be. I miss feeling of being excited to on trip. I have been staying in the same place for a long time. I am happy here though, but I wouldn’t mind going on an adventure again.
    Sarah recently to meet womenMy Profile

  7. Jenna Vandenberg December 10, 2011 at 7:38 pm #

    I hope those 50 miles went okay! It’s always best to go into a run with low expectations, I think.
    Jenna Vandenberg recently posted..Lonely Roads, Aliens, and Broken Tent PolesMy Profile

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