Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Beating the heat at the North Face Endurance Challenge

It was going to be a hot one. The forecast for the weekend was for low 90's, and, of course, the wonderful humidity that the DC area is known for.

But, that was one of the last things I was thinking about when a friend of mine asked me to join her marathon relay team for last weekend's North Face Endurance Challenge, two days of trail runs ranging from a 5k all the way up to 50 miles.

My first triathlon of the year (Philadelphia) is only a few weeks away. So, heading into the event my mindset was to treat my leg of the marathon relay - a quarter of a marathon, or 6.55 miles - as a litmus test, much like I did for Cherry Blossom. Only this time the distance was more specific to what I'll see up in Philly, which will be a 10k (6.2 mile) for the run part of the triathlon. 

The exciting part about the race was that it was something new - a trail race. And even though the forecast was for hot and humid, I was shooting for six minute miles. It wasn't too long ago I was playing multiple soccer matches over the course of a weekend in the dead of summer when temperatures were well into the mid 90's. The heat would be tough, but I knew it wasn't anything my body hasn't experience before.

The start of the marathon relay wasn't until 11am, which meant a fairly regular morning. I was able to sleep a little, wake up at a decent time, and have a pretty normal breakfast (and of course coffee - which I usually don't have before early morning races, though there is some pretty strong evidence suggesting a performance benefit from consuming some coffee before exercise).

This was my first experience as part of a relay team and one of the hardest parts was simply the downtime. Having to arrive for the start of the race, but then wait two and a half hours to actually run was something very new. Though, I couldn't complain about spending some quality lounge time in the shade, just relaxing at the park where the run was held. It sure would've been nice to have a book though.

Every so often I would stand up to move around a bit and loosen my legs. After about 90 minutes since the race started, I made my way closer to the start/finish line (which also served as the transition area for the relay teams) to keep an eye out for our first runner, James, who was doing the first two legs. He came in a little under two hours (not bad for his first race!) and our second runner, Kim, was off.

Now it was time to get focused.

After some short warm-up efforts, I finally felt my mind had switched from relax mode to race mode. I didn't want to overdue the warm-up with the heat, but a solid 15 minutes and I felt ready. I kept anxiously checking my watch, counting down the minutes until the approximate time I thought I'd see Kim come towards the transition area.

And before I know it she rounded the corner and comes into the transition area. We quickly exchange the timing chip strap fastened to her ankle, and I'm off...

I race out onto the course like I was trying to win. The first mile was all about getting accustomed to running on something other than pavement. I make it onto the trails every now and again, but not often enough to remember how much extra energy you need to focus and stabilize yourself on the uneven ground.

The next 4.5 miles was a mixture of paved pathway, packed gravel pathway, and packed dirt trails through the woods. Though I was trying to keep as fast a pace as I could, I really didn't have much of an idea what it was - I was just going based on feel. There were no mile markers, and I don't race with a GPS watch. The aid stations provided some guidance, but there were only two of them, spaced about 2.5 miles apart.

So, I decided to not even look at my watch and just run. There's something about running through the woods that feels so natural, so pure. I blew by the first aid station without taking anything and was really just trying to pass as many people as I could. I felt my pace slow just a little bit, which I wasn't too worried about because of the heat. I knew it would happen.

I ran at pretty close to max effort. I figured, it's a short race, why not push it. (Though, I wasn't thinking about how I might feel the next day, which I spent completely wiped out with zero energy -  something that I've never experience after a race).

I felt myself getting hot and thirsty, and thankfully I came up on the second aid station. I grabbed two cups, threw them back, and kept on going. It was all about getting to finish line at this point - as fast as I could. I tried to take in as much of the scenery as I could, but before I knew it, I was closing in on the finish area. To make things more fun I had a nice dual with someone to the finish. It's always fun to sync up with someone at some point during the race. Rarely are any words spoken, but you're both taking jabs trying to go a little faster.

I crossed the finish line and my hands immediately went to my knees. I quickly grabbed one of the ice-cold water bottles and squirted about half of it on my neck. Man that felt good. I took a glance at my watch and saw 39 minutes - not too bad at all! I'll take a 6:06 in 90 degree heat any day!

Our relay team did pretty well - finished 22nd out of 81 total teams.

I was also really happy with how I ran, especially considering the heat and that it was my first trail race. I was even more stoked when I actually saw my chip time results, which were posted Sunday evening. I, of course, kept my time with my watch, but I was shocked when I saw how my time stacked up with the field. I compared my time with those who ran the stand-alone 10k.

With my pace, I would've placed first in my age group had I run the 10k, and fourth overall.

Well, I guess I'll just need to put that race on the calendar for next year...

No comments:

Post a Comment