The North Face Endurance Challenge 50K Trail Race

June 4th, 2011 – Sterling, Virginia (Algonkian Regional Park, Great Falls Park and the Potomac Heritage Trail)

My cell phone alarm went off at 3:30 A.M. and I quickly got out of bed.  I was ready and excited for my first 50K and my first technical trail race.  With 19 road marathons under my belt I was ready for a new challenge and The North Face Endurance Challenge had everything I was looking for.  I made a quick cup of coffee, got dressed, put on my Asics Gel Trabuco 13 trail shoes and headed to the car.  I arrived at the parking area in Sterling Virginia after making the 60 mile drive from Baltimore at around 5A.M.  I then caught the shuttle over to the start area.

Once at the start area I picked up my race packet, attached the bio-degradable North Face timing chip to my shoe and put on my race bib.  The weather was perfect.  The weather was in the 60’s for the start and the sun was rising over the Potomac River with steam coming off the water as we waited for our start at 7A.M.  I doubled checked my shoes and re-checked that I had my 3 GU gel packs and that my 16 ounce Nathan Handheld water bottle was full of Gatorade and sealed so it would not leak.

Just before 7A.M. we were greeted by Dean Karnazes, the famous Ultra Marathon man who had just finished his run across the U.S.  He welcomed us and told us the course was in great shape and to enjoy the run!  The gun went off and 322 excited runners crossed the starting line headed out for the 50K race.

Once the race started I quickly found my pace faster than expected.  I was about 15 runners back from the leader and running sub 8 minute miles (according to my Garmin 405).  The course quickly became technical single track as we headed out along the Potomac River basin.  The single track was very different than any road race as we reached several switch back hills, some of which everyone walked as we were not able to run them.  Then before the second set of hills around mile 8 we had a stream crossing making this race truly a challenge.

I caught up with some of the 50 mile runners that started at 5 A.M. as we made our loop at the end of the course before making our return to the start.  Unlike road marathons, with aid stations every 2 miles or so, this race had aid stations every 6-8 miles.  On the return I ran out of GU brew in my hand held water bottle and began to struggle slightly until reaching the 27-28 mile mark aid station #6.  Once at aid station #6 I was able to rehydrate, fill up my handheld bottle, grab another GU and a quarter of a PB&J sandwich!  I then made my way out of the single track running most of this race on my own without the company of other runners and finished strong in under 5 hours.  My Garmin showed that at I had run 31.8 miles making the course a true 50K (31 miles +).  I was very happy and so glad I chose this race to celebrate my 20th marathon by doing my first ultra as well.  I will certainly be looking for another trail race in the future!

Overall I finished 17th out of 322 runners and finished 8 out of 78 runners in my age group with a finish time of 4:55:34

After the finish with my race medal proudly hanging from my neck I changed my socks and shirt, was given a fantastic hot meal and had a cold beer.  I cheered on other runners near the finish line while I then waited for the shuttle to return me to my car.

The North Face and Gore-Tex put on a truly first class event.  The course was well marked and the aid stations were stocked with everything a runner could want or need.  I was nervous before the race about getting lost in the woods and even though I ran a majority of this race alone, I never second guessed the trail because it was so well marked.  It had lots of ribbons hanging from trees and arrow signs along the ground.  I would certainly recommend this race to anyone looking for a trail race (challenge) in the future!

-Jonathan

Jonathan Bosarge has completed 20 marathons which now includes one ultra since his first marathon in 2005. He has been a marathon pacer for the Baltimore and Frederick marathons in 2010 and recently paced the Kentucky Derby Marathon and the Frederick Half Marathon in 2011. His most memorable marathons include Boston in 2009 and his marathon PR at the Columbus Marathon in 2008.  Currently, he is the footwear manager of City Sports in Baltimore and is also an active trumpet performer and teacher.  He enjoys spending time and running with his wife Jennifer and playing with their dog Brady.

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