The North Face Endurance Challenge: Pine Mountain

The North Face Endurance Challenge can be summed up in one concise thought:

 
As my 44th half marathon, it was hands-down the hardest race I have ever completed – and by far my favorite race to date. 
 
In honest reflection I know that I did not necessarily choose this race for the right reasons. When you are running 52 races in 365 days – often trying to do weekend doubles –  factors like date and proximity drive the decision making process. 

Needing a Sunday race, this weekend, that worked with my Saturday half in Darlington, SC had left me with limited options. 

My budget required that I stay about an hour away in the small town of Newnan- making the drive to Pine Mountain early in dark of morning. 

I had posted these race directions to my Facebook page a few days before the race when I was getting ready – I commented on the first aid station being at mile 5.3 – and drew attention to the final line of the instructions: “This section seems to be the longest and never ending 2.6 miles. The last .25 is in the field of the event site so keep some juice in the tank to kick in at the field where everyone will be watching.” 

Funny, I thought. Little did I know what was coming. 

 
The shuttle location was in a dark parking lot, on an unlit road with a VERY small sign.  I passed it twice before I saw another car pull in and took a gamble that anyone else out here at this time was also headed to the race.  I do not like feeling rushed on race morning, and knowing I needed to both get my packet and check a bag, I was nervous about time. 

The waiting school bus quickly took us to the start and the anxious nerves instantly dissipated when I reached what we reached the very impressing start line village. A large circle of tents set up for vendors and services sat in the glow of the start/finish gate. Nestled in the middle were multiple fire pits. The welcome brisk morning invited the early arrives to huddle around them, trading stories of how they came to the decision to run this race.

The packet pickup and bag drop were at the same location and took a matter of seconds.  The high quality North Face technical shirts could be screen printed on sight with the race distance and date – while I skipped this option I was perused those which had been dropped off the previous day and was impressed with the work. 
 
Wandering the runners village I was drawn to the recovery tent.  Packed with pre and post race nutrition – I imagine this had been a fascinating place to be the previous day when the full marathon, 50k and 50 mile races had taken place. 
 
Immediately next to this was an Ice bath station.  I should have known when I saw this what I was in for. 
 
With the sun now up and the crowd growing my excitement began to build. Not only was this my first double of the season – we would be sent off by the encouraging words of one of the greatest men distance running has ever known – the ultramarathon man himself, Dean Karnazes
Hurrying to put my phone away after we took off – I accidentally snapped this shot. It was a happy accident, because with the time clock looming over me and the difficulty of this course, I did not take out my phone for the duration of the race.  Needless to say – no pictures could have done this course justice. It was breathtakingly beautiful.

The beauty however is not the only thing that took my breath away, the massive climbs and rough terrain quickly separated the pack, and throughout the race a handful of us pushed forward with every bit of endurance we could muster. 

Running most of the race with a woman named Heather – we traded stories of success and challenge, discovering that we have been at many events together – as well as future races we have planned. Even though this race was handing our egos to us on a silver platter – there was talk of training for the 50K race a year from now. 


I fell twice, hitting my hand hard both times, ripping the knee of my running pants and taking a good about of skin off my right leg. After the second fall my hand began to swell – I commented to Heather that I was just happy it was my hand and not my knee. As long as nothing happened to sideline me from future races.

The reality that my shoes were not made for this terrain was painfully obvious.  Not a seasoned trail runner – I had worn my road shoes on this trail – big mistake. I asked Heather how many pairs of North Face Trail Shoes they sell from runners that are battered and bruised after they complete this course. 

The route was IMPECCABLY marked. At any moment where we even began to wonder if we were on the right path we instantly saw the multi-colored ribbons answering the unasked question. The three aid stations were filled with gels, chews, and fluids. The volunteers at these stops made us feel the victory of our accomplishment with their encouraging words. 
 
The words from the instructions echoed in me – those last 2.6 miles were the longest I have ever run… I knew I was pushing the 4 hour time limit and I ached with every step.  My feet were wet my hand was throbbing – but as I crossed that field, the announcer was there – microphone in hand to congratulate me by name.  Finishers medal around my neck – I went directly to the medical tent to get ice 


I made a lot of mistakes before this race – and I paid for it the week following. 

There are a few things I know for certain – I will be back, I can’t wait to see how training right will impact my performance on my return. 

My new shoes – already ordered from the North Face Website, as we speak should help greatly. 

As fate would have it… they coordinate beautifully with my brand new Half Fanatic Diva shirt!

 The history of this event, as described by its founders is to “build lasting relationships with runners by creating an authentic experience with the North Face brand”. For me they have done exactly that. 

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