The North Face Endurance Challenge Series – Wisconsin

A view from the Endurance Challenge Series – Wisconsin course, 2019

An ideal course layout for elite speedsters and those taking their first strides in the world of ultra trail running, The Endurance Challenge Wisconsin course is run-able from start to finish, provided that you’ve trained properly. A large portion of the course takes place on the renowned Ice Age Trail located 60 miles southeast of Madison in the southern reaches of the picturesque Kettle Moraine State Forest.

The North Face, https://www.thenorthface.com/get-outdoors/endurance-challenge/wisconsin.html

A few days post-race I’m back to zooming down the stairs and walking at a normal pace without a hobble or two giving away what I did on Saturday–running from morning ’til evening through the woods of Wisconsin. It’s been three years since I last crossed a 50 mile finish line and what a difference that lapsed time has made!

There are a few North Face Endurance Challenge Series trail races throughout the US and each location hosts a variety of race distances (ranging from 50 miles to 5K) in a weekend. I’ve had my eye on the Wisconsin one for a few years since it’s near my hometown and this spring I decided, this is the year I finally sign up for it. The confidence came from reigniting my love for running (I’ve run over 900 miles already this year, compared to around 400 miles for all of 2018) as the new year started, signing up for two half marathons in Washington (because they were priced two for one!), and serendipitously ending up with a running coach (I won a free month of coaching while at a running shop event) when I’ve often thought, “nah, I don’t need a coach”–which, technically, I still don’t need one, but I sure feel lucky to have a great one. My TeamRunRun coach, whom I’ve only met in person once, prepared me for both of those half marathons, while carefully incorporating the miles and training I needed to cross the Endurance Challenge Series Wisconsin (ECSWI) finish line. The past several months have consisted of running workouts (hills! speed!), plenty of easy miles, long trail runs followed by a not quite as long run the next day, and strategically placed rest days. Diligently getting in those miles–always preceded by a warm-up routine–kept me healthy and happy ’til race day. An old overuse hip/glute issue appeared about two weeks before getting to the start line, but with a few body work sessions and backing off training a bit, it was barely a second thought come race day.

I woke up a few minutes before the 3:30am alarm went off, brewed some coffee, took a shower (I always shower before a race and I think it’s more mental preparation than anything–a way to officially start the day and feel fresh) and stepped into my race outfit and gear I had set out the night before. Jen and I drove off around 4am (my sister and folks drove separately from us) and a half hour later we could see the start/finish area tents and fire pits lit up across a field. We arrived with just enough time for a portapotty stop, drop off gear bags (one for on course, one for the finish), a quick hello to my sister, and a brief warm-up. A typical day at that hour I’d likely feel drained, wishing to still be sleeping, but at a race, it’s nothing but exciting and energizing–runners and spectators and volunteers, all anxious for their special task of the day. The announcer counted down 3, 2, 1 for wave 1, quickly followed by instructing wave 2 (that’s me!) to approach the start line. At that point I spotted my mom and ran over for a quick hug (she would’ve been in tears either way, but at least I inspired the happy/relieved ones by catching her before the start) and then over to my dad and jumping back into the starting pack as the announcer counted down to 1 again.

Our headlamps and the moon lit the way as we started our day’s trek. My goal for these first several miles was to keep a comfortable and consistent pace, so as not to wear myself out before the real [challenging] fun started. Racers around me were chatting away and I pretended it was like listening to a podcast, while I kept to myself, focusing on the easy pace and not tripping in the dark. As instructed by my coach I walked up the hills (as did everyone around me) and first spotted Jen shortly before mile 2 and my whole family at the first accessible aid station. Race day brings out the best in me–genuine grins because I feel happy and grateful, more thank you’s than usual (to all of the amazing volunteers and encouraging spectators), confidence, and as my sister calls it, a signature wave (it’s consistent and crooked) I do when I see a familiar face.

Everything was feeling pretty good ’til around mile 10. Only a fifth of the way through the race and I was feeling sleepy and already feeling the miles on my legs. The beauty of a race though, especially a long one, are the little milestones along the way. Sure I thought about the miles run vs. the miles to go, but I tried to set my focus on the upcoming aid station–filled with snacks and smiles. My calories of choice were little boiled potatoes on a toothpick ready for dipping into a bowl of salt, washed down with a tiny cup of Coca Cola (part of the race swag was a small, lightweight reusable HydraPak cup that was easy to carry and fill up at each aid station).

Several of my long training runs were at Afton State Park in Minnesota, which provided a lot of similar terrain to ECSWI. Some mud, lots of dirt, roots and rocks to step over, hills (and more hills), prairie, and gorgeous Midwest nature views. The North Face describes this race as an ideal one for “elite speedsters and those taking their first strides in the world of ultra trail running” and after spending all day on the course, I wholeheartedly agree as someone who falls more in the middle of that experience range (years of road and trail miles under my feet, but not the quickest moving ones).

Running at ECSWI, 2019

The bag drop aid station, McMiller, made its first appearance at mile 22.5 (and repeated at mile 34.9). As I ran in, one volunteer filled my water flasks while another brought me my drop bag (a dry bag filled with chips, Tailwind packets, socks, and sunglasses). I hung out for around 10 minutes, refueling and chatting with Jen, Cristina, and my folks and their new friend who was running his first ever race. From here I took off for the turnaround point at mile 28.7 and as I got closer to that aid station, the first real challenge was setting in–feeling a bit discouraged that so many 50 milers were already on their return trip. We all said “good job!” or “way to go!” to one another as we passed going in opposite directions, while I thought to myself “it’d be nice if you could move a little faster, legs and feet.” This part of the course was also home to many, many hills. “Fast” forward to running back through McMiller for another visit with my family, a couple more bites of Lays potato chips and Snickers bar, and I trotted off for the final 15 miles.

Here we are at the next big challenge of the race. Only 15 miles of 50 to go, but that meant at least 3 more hours of running, when 7 or 8 hours had already passed. All day I thought about random things–what we would name a kitten we’ll probably never actually get … training plan brainstorm for Jen … why is there a noisy gun range bordering such a beautiful area … how’s Eleven doing at my parents’ house … I wish Eleven were waiting for me at the aid stations too … Eleven would get so bored as an ultra spectator … should I eat something … wish I had some lemonade … THIS FLY BUZZING AROUND MY HEAD IS DRIVING ME INSANE … don’t trip (I tripped to the point of nearly falling at least a half dozen times that day) … keep moving … keep moving … nope don’t walk … okay good job on at least shuffling forward … just. keep. moving.

Once I hit single digits–9 miles to go–I felt a little more energized. And although it was undesirably warm, I downed a little packet of maple syrup that I honestly think gave me a boost a half hour later with 3 miles to go. I even passed a few other racers. My legs suddenly felt far less fatigued, and for the final speed boost my GPS watch flashed “low battery” so I dropped MINUTES from my pace in the last two miles to ensure I could record the whole race.

Crossing the finish line!

The last half mile (maybe more, but directions/remembering a course layout are not my strength) or so was along the same stretch of country road we had started on several hours earlier that day. I finished with a smile (typical!) and genuinely happy to have crossed the line in under 12 hours–over 4 hours faster than my finish at Zumbro a few years ago (harder course than ECSWI, but still a mighty improvement). Jen was proud of me, my parents were proud of me, and after having pushed myself through months of training and running far more steps than walking to that finish line, I was proud of me too.

Bonus feature: My sister shot and edited this video of the race!

Gear

  • Hoka Speedgoat trail running shoes
  • Balega socks
  • Patagonia trail running t-shirt
  • North Face men’s 2-in-1 running shorts (long spandex under regular shorts)
  • Lightweight floral print running hat from a local run shop in Colorado
  • Patagonia houdini jacket (stuffed into my vest & eventually tossed into my drop bag)
  • Salomon S/Lab Sense Ultra 5 vest
  • Two HydraPak 500ml soft flasks (one for water, the other for Tailwind Lemon)
  • Sunglasses from a Shell gas station
  • Garmin Forerunner 230 GPS watch
  • Chapstick & eye drops
  • Old iPhone SE (without data) to take a few pictures

Burger Dash

20 mile Burger Dash route, June 29, 2019 (map credit: Strava)

I like burgers. I like traveling to places on foot. I like random running challenges. So, a few months ago I thought, “What if I ran to all five of the Dick’s Drive-In locations in Seattle and ate a burger at each one?” Some may have realized moments after thinking that how terrible of an idea that was–it took me until the first bite to realize the mistake I had made. Spoiler alert: I actually enjoyed the run. And didn’t get sick.

Here’s how it Burger Dash played out.

First, I mapped out the five locations on Google Maps. Nothing fancy, just point A to B to C to D to E. 16 miles. Leave the biggest uphills for the last two miles. No problem.

Second, I told my running coach about this crazy idea I had come up with while kind of joking with friends and assured her burgers weren’t part of my regular diet. She fully supported it and even dubbed it CRUSH SOME DICKS [Burgers] in my training plan.

Third, I selected one of the busiest weekends of the summer–move out of my Seattle apartment/crash with friends/Pride weekend. It was my last Saturday in Seattle and it seemed fitting to run through a few neighborhoods to celebrate my last two years living in the city.

Fourth, there was a slight hiccup with my route–the starting point was the first of five locations. But obviously [to me, eventually] I couldn’t just walk or bus to the first stop–I had to run there. So the 16 mile route turned into a 20 mile route. No problem, mostly.

Fifth, Burger Dash day! After some coffee and a granola bar (light breakfast before an absurdly large lunch), Lydia, Csenka, Remy, and I walked to Volunteer Park, the unofficial official starting point. Some might feel overwhelmed by the idea of running 20 miles, or eating 5 burgers, but my biggest worry was getting lost. I hadn’t really studied the route, and like any tech-headed millennial figured I could 100 percent rely on Google Maps (it worked).

This turned out to be one of my most favorite runs! Right up there with Ultra Birthday, especially because friends joined in on the fun. Lydia and Csenka met me at every stop; Abi ran to stop 4 and 5 with me; Jess met us at stop 4; Hilary met us at stop 5.

I posted Instagram Stories along the way, and you can check out the video with some commentary (“Wish I had made this lemonade dash…”) and take a look at the journey in the photos below.

Sometimes a silly idea can feel pretty rewarding!

The Great Ferry Race

Running off the ferry!

Last weekend I ran down the street from my apartment and boarded the ferry to Bainbridge Island for The Great Ferry Race half marathon.

I went into this race uncertain of my goals–would I be faster with more training since the San Juan Island half in May? Slower because of the steeper hills? Trip on a tree root or two and fall on my face during the trail portion? The knowns though were I put in the training and I’d again get to start the race with my friends Csenka, Abi, and Hilary, with Lydia designated as official cheer crew.

Pre-race, on the ferry! (Left to right: Hilary, Csenka, Abi, me)

It was such a neat experience to be on this 7:55am boat, sailing across Puget Sound with a bunch of runners! Upon docking, all the cars/walk-ons/bicyclists were let off the ferry, while the runners huddled on the lower deck. After a few announcements, we walked as one large mass off the boat, counted down from 5 all together and took off running to the sounds of the ferry horn (it was loud startling). And then we saw the start line–I’m not sure why they didn’t have us all start at the start, but no complaints from me on a bonus .1 miles. A few moments later I spotted Lydia (I love having a cheer crew!) and the route weaved through the Bainbridge Pride Festival area where we were greeted with cheers and signs and “way to go!” Within the first few minutes I knew I had started a bit too fast, but I decided to just hold on to the pace as best as I could, for as long as I could.

Finishers!

It was such a [kind of surprisingly] beautiful course! Most the race was on roads open to traffic (the route was sectioned off with orange cones on the side of the road), but the volunteers were amazing at stopping traffic for groups of racers to cross the road. The trail section was an absolute blast! Rolling terrain, tame from a trail running perspective, but there were trees and dirt and some rocks and roots.

Around mile 6, I thought ‘well, that was a great 10K race for me, since I was still pushing the pace hard knowing there were more hills waiting for me. Soon after the trail section, I spotted one of Abi’s friends and even though we had just met on the ferry, any friendly familiar face along the course is the best encouragement. A few spectators and fellow runners complimented me on my jersey (a bold striped rainbow tank top I purchase the day before the race; yeah, I live dangerously and try new things on race day).

The finish line!

I think it was around mile 8 that the longest climb made its appearance. I barely felt like I was moving up and forward, but little by little we trudged up that never ending hill and took off again once we hit the top. All in all, I really felt like I raced this race–pushed the pace outside my comfort zone and did my best to not let up. It worked out–I ended up 10th female overall and 1st in my age group. Lydia was at the end to capture each of us crossing the finish line on video–both Abi and Hilary ran a PR and Csenka, feeling pretty fresh at the finish after a good run, immediately set her sights on a PR goal for one of the next Orca Running half marathons.

The Great Ferry Race was a great event for my last one as a Washington resident.

San Juan Island Half Marathon

The race course featured beautiful views of the Salish Sea, Olympic Mountains, trees, and an abundance of green. Thanks for the photo, Csenka.

A couple weeks ago I ran my 14th (maybe 15th?) half marathon. This one was different from all the rest though–it was the most scenic of ’em all, thanks to its island location in Washington. A few friends and I had been training for the San Juan Island Half since we signed up in January. Although a few of us only ran together once, we often encouraged each other in our ‘Run Club’ texting group and traded stories of our big wins (hitting that longest run ever mark week after week) and little wins (got outside and ran a bit) and the setbacks too (injuries, travel). I have another entire post in mind to talk all about community, but let’s just say signing up for this half (in tandem with another half in June) with some friends was just the boost I needed this year to get back into consistent training.

We arrived on San Juan Island by ferry Friday night before the race to avoid an excruciatingly early departure from Seattle Saturday morning. This gave us time to settle into our little vacation rental and pick up our race bibs, reusable water pouch (kudos to Orcas Running for eliminating needless water cup waste!), and t-shirt at packet pick-up, plus enjoy a nice waterfront dinner together.

Pre-race group photo, South Beach inside San Juan Island National Historic Park

Conveniently, our accommodations were just a few blocks from one of the shuttle pick-up stops, so we could sleep in a bit Saturday morning, grab coffee and baked treats from a local shop, and meander our way to the bus. Most runners know the day to try something new is never race day, myself included, but I typically like to rebel against that tip, so for this race I opted for a delicious pre-race blueberry lemon scone instead of eating the oatmeal I brought along and ate before most of my long training runs. I figured it was comparable to the harvest muffin I’d gotten a couple times in Minneapolis before a long run or two (you’re right–there’s no logic in that, but it worked out). We arrived at the start area with plenty of time to snap a group photo in front of the ocean and for me to get in a pre-race warm-up. A few minutes before the start, my friends and I wished each other ‘good luck’ and settled into our preferred starting line spot. The buzzer sounded and off we went, up a hill. 

My goal for this half was to run a somewhat consistent pace, avoid crashing mid or late race from starting too hard, and finish somewhere within the realm of my fastest half finishing time (taking into account my fastest time was a few years ago on a flatter course). So, I took it easy up that first hill, and didn’t worry too much about passing other runners, yet. Around a mile and a half into the race, everyone turns back around to run in the opposite direction for the remainder of the race, so I got to excitedly wave hello and yell something along the lines of “GOOD JOB!” to my friends. For the first 3 or 4 miles, I was the 3rd place female. As expected, there weren’t many spectators for the 13.1 mile stretch, but around mile 5 I spotted my wife (who flew out to WA from MN to spectate–which I suppose sounds strange if you don’t know our current life/living situation…) and another friend, plus the aid station volunteers were decked out in costumes and good cheer.

I love race day!

The absolute highlight of this race were the spectacular views–the Salish Sea! Beaches! Mountains! Healthy cows! I once ran a hilly, rural half marathon in Minnesota, and this course profile felt comparable, except that the San Juan Half was beautiful. 

Around mile 9 I felt myself dragging a bit; I think there may have been a long, gradual incline at that point, and this was when my GPS watch came in handy–I kept telling myself to push a little harder so I wouldn’t go slower than a certain pace. Before the next race I need to listen to music beforehand so that I avoid repeating a few Purple Rain lyrics I could barely remember, over and over. With a few more Skratch Labs chews (the best chews in the world!) I felt more energized going into mile 11. The final stretch of the race is a fantastic downhill, which I pounded down for an overall place of 25th. I ended up finishing within minutes of my half marathon PR, 3rd of 25 in my age group, and an average pace that I had practiced in training, so I considered it a race well-run. Many thanks go to my Team RunRun coach and to Seven Hills Running Shop for giving me the opportunity to try out having a running coach (which I’m completely sold on, even as a middle of the pack runner because we all have goals and could use some encouragement and advice to achieve them).

Finishers, Jackson Beach

My friends did super well too. For one it was her very first half marathon finish, another finished within seconds of her last half marathon time, and the third actually walked most of the race at a pace I cannot fathom being possible except by running. As runners continued to cross the finish line, we all enjoyed the free pizza and ice cream, while sporting our fancy wooden finishers’ medals in the gorgeous sunshine.

Up next for me is a mid-week 5K in an urban park and then for all of us in June is The Great Ferry Race half marathon on Bainbridge Island! Another half, another ferry, steeper hills.

Green River Marathon

I ran the Green River Marathon in June 2018. The only post I started to write last year never ended up completed or published. Here’s my recollection of the race, many months later and a bit of social media to jog my memory.

A few months ago I came across a FREE marathon happening in early June a half hour south of Seattle. Sold! Over the past couple months I’ve been going to physical therapy to work on an overuse running injury, doing a short but presumably effective strength training routine a few mornings a week in my living room, and getting in little runs with Eleven and longer runs on my own over the weekend.

Fast forward many months later–looking back on this marathon, it was an accomplishment in that I got to the start line. It wasn’t until late the morning of that I was 100 percent certain I’d run this race. Work had kept me up late for a solid couple weeks, including until midnight the night before my 5am pre-race alarm. Ultimately, I’m stubborn when it comes to crossing finish lines, and with many years of many miles on my legs, I figured they could trudge through another 26.2. It was…tough…really tough, and I was admittedly embarrassed with my finishing time. But I don’t regret it! The volunteers were energetic, the course was interesting, and although there weren’t really spectators, it was entertaining when a random passerby would ask us, “Is there a marathon going on or something?” Crossing that finish line, finally, definitely increased my appreciation for a well executed training plan and plenty of rest–maybe I’ll go that route this year.

Free race, $20 hat–totally worth it
The race start in Kent, WA
Excellent running conditions, particularly for an open course
I’m one of those people that drinks maybe two sodas in a year, but this Pepsi was the most amazing beverage I had all year. I needed the caffeine, the sugar, the carbonation–it was a dream come true at mile 18 right along the marathon course.
Whew! Made it to Seattle, from Kent, on foot.
So close, yet feeling so far from the finish.
Nothing like friends greeting you at the finish line!!! It sure took me a long time to get there, but they didn’t complain.

The Enchantments

If you’re a very strong hiker, you can make it in and out [of the Enchantments] via either trailhead in a single day, although seeing all of the lakes this way is so grueling it borders on the impossible. –WTA

As 2017 wraps up, I was thinking back to my favorite running accomplishment of the past year. With moving to Seattle in July, I thought, ‘Perfect! I’ll grab a couple of race finishes in a new-to-me part of the country!’ But, apparently leaving a state I called home for several years, starting a new job, and navigating life in a new city is time-consuming, and adding the cost of races on top of moving expenses just didn’t add up. So, my most memorable running accomplishment of the year wasn’t really a run at all, instead a thru-hike in one of the most beautiful places in Washington and also one of the most challenging endurance events I’ve done to date ranks highest on the 2017 list.

At the start of the work day one morning in late September, a co-worker asked if I’d be interested in joining him and a few buddies on a grueling 18+ mile hike through the Enchantments, a gorgeous area located within the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, not far from Leavenworth, WA. Of course, I said absolutely! Sure, my legs had dabbled in a few ultra-events, but at the time of the invite I was averaging a few miles a few days a week. Probably most helpful though was spending a day or two a week bussing to a new neighborhood to run and explore, then walk several miles home. In other words, I was in “great” shape for hiking 2,200 feet in less than a mile through a mountain pass.

We left Seattle Friday afternoon and set up camp at Eightmile Campground. My co-worker’s Mountaineer friends arrived later that evening and not long after we all settled into our tents for a few hours of sleep before our 4:30am wake-up call. As bad luck would have it, my co-worker ended up with food poisoning and I can’t imagine how miserable that must’ve been overnight, in a tent, and even worse, having to miss out on the big hike. Fast forward through car logistics, a quick breakfast in the dark, and driving to the Stuart Lake Trailhead. Headlamps on, outhouse utilized, I started what would end up taking 12 hours to complete with three people I had just met the previous evening and who each seemed far more experienced for this type of endeavor. Confidence on hold, a more pressing issue emerged: my vision was blurry. I tried in vain to adjust my contacts, swapping back and forth thinking I had made in error in the dark, loaded my eyes with drops, but nothing worked. The group offered to stop while I swapped the contacts for glasses (luckily, I had decided on a whim to bring them along, although I’d never done that before for a hike). Already feeling like the weakest link, the eyewear issue didn’t help, but glasses on, the blurriness disappeared and I fully enjoyed viewing the early morning sun seep through the trees as we made our way through the easiest part of the day.

And here’s one reason why making a career out of writing race recaps or hiking adventures is out of the question for me—I’m awful at remembering the details. What I did know at the time and what I remember now is how beautiful the Enchantments are and how grueling the hike was! The combination of elevation gain (Aasgard Pass alone was 1,900 feet in less than a mile), difficult terrain, and speedy hiking partners pushed my body and mind in ways reminiscent of the couple ultras I finished, but with the bonus of working through an issue with my confidence, since this was only 20 miles. I recall the brief altitude sickness, the intense change in temperature (hello, snow and ice), and a scary moment when screams were followed by a boulder barreling down Aasgard Pass as we were climbing up.

So, here we go with a few photos from the day in chronological order, with a few details that I do know and a few others that the Washington Trail Association is awesome enough to provide.

The Enchantments
I was mesmerized from the start!

The EnchantmentsThe Enchantments

The Enchantments
Colchuck Lake

The Enchantments
Hiking buddies, onward and upward through Aasgard Pass

The Enchantments
Up and over Aasgard Pass

The Enchantments
Feeling nauseous at this point after the steep and quick climb over Aasgard Pass

The Enchantments

The Enchantments
Post lunch/nausea

The Enchantments

The Enchantments.jpg
Hiking crew

The Enchantments

The Enchantments Thru-hike Stats: Sept. 30, 2017 / Colchuck Lake -> Aasgard Pass -> Snow Lake 12 hours, 28 minutes / 20.64 miles / 5,189 ft elevation gain / 7,845 ft max elevation

 

From lakes to mountains

View of boats sailing on Union Bay
My first run as a Washington resident, Foster Island via the Washington Park Arboretum

I’m no longer a runner in Minneapolis–now I’m a runner from Minneapolis. That swap of a single word is packed with hoards of change. Two months ago, I flew with a one way ticket to Seattle–my new home. Minneapolis houses some of my closest friends, a weekend drive to my family, familiarity, and even my wife and our dog. After weeks of solitary hills and walks and hikes and any combination of those things with the few friends I have in the PNW, Jen and Eleven will soon make the trek and join me in our recently acquired new space. So much newness in the past couple months; job, apartment, running routes, friends, neighborhoods, co-workers, grocery stores, routines, travel, roommates, and simply adjusting to a new home that can be so similar to Minneapolis it unexpectedly intensifies occasional homesickness.

Selfie among greenery at Carkeek Park
On the run at Carkeek Park

Running has been my best friend through this transition. It has taken me to several group runs, impromptu conversations with fellow midwestern runners I’ve encountered at a taproom and a trail running shop; an awkward introduction to a well-known ultra runner and local run specialty owner whose voice and face I recognized from a podcast; incentive to try out new urban trail routes like Seward Park, Discovery Park and Carkeek Park; $1 mediocre tacos; an interesting story or two to share about myself with a new acquaintance; the lungs and legs I needed for hiking at altitude in Colorado; incredible mountain views with the promise of more trail runs this fall and beyond; and a comfort in making the physical move out here, alone, for now.

The beauty of running, aside from the landscapes it reveals, is that it still connects me to my beloved first home as an adult. On a recent trip back to Minneapolis, one of my first stops was to pick up a dreamy pair of Altra Escalantes from the shop I used to work at and running into so many Marathon Sports friends at the shop and even unexpectedly the next evening at a tap room (I suppose craft beer is a great friend too ha). Running provided a fun meet-up with some of my favorite Mpls buddies around one of those 10,000 lakes.

I suppose with that in mind–just as running is with me emotionally just as much as it is physically–there’s comfort in knowing that my Minneapolis roots may manifest as an ever-present companion too.