Have you ever showed up to do something, say some sort of competition, and then right before it started someone comes up to you to discuss how this event is highly technical, challenging, and shows you video of the course before hand? Well that happened to me right before the North Face 50K outside Boston. I looked into the race and realized it would be more "challenging" but I had to do it regardless. My points for UTMB's OCC had expired and in order to enter the lottery for the 2019 year I needed to pick up some points.
I knew it was going to be tough weekend just by the way I got there. Susan was my crew and it took us about 9 hours to get from DC to Westminster, dodging traffic all the way. With the race not starting until 7am, I counted myself somewhat lucky that we only checked into the race hotel around 12:30am day of. Plenty of time for some shuteye. With the short nap we got to the starting line by the mountain where I did some basic warm ups and stretches. We ran into a guy from Connecticut who wanted to show us some pictures of the trail he took the day before when he was doing a quick jog. My eyes, fell out. I knew it the course was technical but I didn't know it was going to be "technically" barely a trail. As I learned more about the course from him, I was taking it in since I knew I was clearly in over my head in terms of training for basic trails rather than alpine style trails. Regardless, I took it in stride and it helped me mentally prepare for what was to come as I toed the start line.
Throughout the whole race, I honestly loved the trail. It was challenging with some surprises here and there and a nice 8+ mile flat dirt road around mile 22 or so. The rest of the trail was honestly spectacular. Take a fast downhill turn a corner then immediately boulder up a giant hill. The first time I thought, no big deal. The third time it happened, I was resilient. However, by the time I hit the home stretch with 3 miles to go I realized I had to backtrack up and down and up and down some pretty gnarly mountain trails. I knew what had to be done and my mind was all for it. My body on the other hand was telling me, "Dan, I know you love pushing yourself up hills but I can't run hills for 10 hours". Knowing this, I took the necessary precautions in listening to my body, stretching, and performing some triage here and there to keep me going physically. Luckily for me, I have run plenty of complex races in the past and if I didn't listen and understand how my body performs and how it adapts the race would have been much more difficult.
There were really 3 best parts of the race. 1. Having Susan there to help crew me and volunteer at the aid stations really helped me mentally knowing that there was someone who knew me and can assist me in a more one-on-one way in the middle of Massachusetts. 2. The people I met on the course were awesome, colorful, and full of humor as always. Running for long periods of time on the trails you form these close-knit short term friendships with folks and it is always amazing getting more involved with the trail running community. And 3. The views were quite amazing. The trails were simple, complex, that take you up and down close to 1,000 feet, and being able to see from the top of one mountain to see in the far distance another mountain which one of the aid stations was at, was well, quite an eye-opener.
Lastly, this was Susan's first trail-ultra marathon event that she has been to. I know that she enjoyed it and maybe she will run a 50k or 50 miler or more at some point now since she has gotten a feel for the community and everything that goes into the event. Unfortunately, she had to see me trudge along the trails and learn about all of the side-effects of the running: twisted-ankles, DNF's, other physical injuries, and some others.
I preach "always be prepared" and "train for everything" but in all honesty I was probably 80% ready for this run. I think the only thing that got me through this run was having a good crew, Susan, and also having many marathons and ultras under my belt which gave me that extra 20%. If this was my first ultra experience, I don't know what would have happened. It was moderately hot, somewhat humid, sunny, drastic elevation change with extremely technical trail portions. I was happy to finish and even happier that I only received a small blister on my toe. At least now, I know if I face significant technical terrain, I know how to better prepare myself physically.
If you are looking for a challenging ultra-race in the North Face Endurance Challenge Series, I recommend this one near Boston. It is as the name suggests, a "challenge", and myself and others overcame it.
Next one on the docket is the Vermont 50 which I hear is similar to Wachusett.