Josh and Robbie having some God time around the campfire Friday morning. Fire had pretty much gone out by this point.
Hidden from view is Robbie violently attacking a defenseless piece of wood. It never stood a chance. We were able to gather so much wood we didn't have to buy any the entire weekend.
What I was to wear and carry the morning of the race.
A few miles into the race. This is what much of the first third of the race looked like scenery-wise.
Just another part of the trail.
I loved running through this forest filled with tall trees like these.
Much of the middle third of the race was run through prairie such as this. It was pretty, but I could have done with a few less miles of this.
However, it was fun to be able to see other runners for quite a ways.
Still in good spirits towards the end.
I had an absolutely amazing experience this past weekend at The North Face Endurance Challenge in Madison, Wisconsin. I was just joined two great friends, Josh Hoerman and Robbie Watson. This weekend was a dream 4+ years in the making for me. I've dreamed of doing this race ever since it's inception, and it finally came to pass.
We left early afternoon Thursday and got to our campsite around dinner time. It was a perfect night for camping, as the temperatures crept to a chilly 33 degrees by midnight. We enjoyed a roaring fire for many hours, and rarely have cheese dogs and brats tasted so good. We slept in Friday morning, and then feasted on a large breakfast of scrambled eggs, sausage, bacon, and coffee. Of course, we got a fire going again too until we were warmed up. We just kind of sat around lazily and enjoyed each other's company, stopping for about half an hour so we could each read our own Bibles.
Eventually we made our way into Brookfield to pick up my race day packet, and also found a store for some much desired cheese curds. And then it began to rain. It rained and rained and rained. The forecast called for 20% chance. but it continued to rain, driving us into the comforts of the tent. It finally began to let up, just in time for us to head back to town for a race panel with professional North Face athletes Dean Karnazes and Tim Twietmeyer. I didn't really hear anything new, but it was still great to see these two legends in person. It was interesting to hear Tim speak on the topic of getting enough rest, not very common among runners. We all know the importance, but I'm not sure how many actually put this into practice very well.
With our firewood being wet, we turned to the wonders of Chipotle for dinner. While it was subpar for our tastes, it was still better than many alternatives. By the time we made it back to camp, Robbie was able to get a fire going so we enjoyed that for a few more hours before heading to bed.
I was actually amazed at how well I slept both nights. This played a HUGE role in how my race played out Saturday morning. I had no plans of running well. My goal was simply to finish under 8 hours and just enjoy myself. I wasn't sure if I had quite put in enough training, and while I did probably half of my miles on trails, wasn't sure how those would compare to the trails in Wisconsin. Plus, I had scratched my foot pretty good Wednesday night, and it was still quite sore.
The weather was crisp Saturday morning, and the rain the day before actually helped firm up some of the horse trails where sand was found. These was a mist over the fields as we walked to the starting area. I can't say enough about how important it was to have Josh and Robbie there. The support they provided was invaluable!
Well, we finally got under way, and I remember during the first mile thinking how shocked I was at how slowly the leaders were going. I tried extremely hard to take it easy at the start. The goal was to conserve as much energy at the start as possible so that I didn't have to limp in at the end of the race. I kept a pretty conservative pace heading into the first aid station. Again, it was so great to see the friendly faces of Josh and Robbie.
Aid station volunteers are the greatest! They make you feel like a million bucks; like they are there JUST for you. But, there's something about having people there that actually know you that just boosts your spirits even more. That's what Josh and Robbie did. I made it clear that I had no problems with them doing their own thing during the race, since neither are runners. But they are amazing friends!
After chatting with them, I darted off to cover another 5 miles or so before seeing them again. These trails were a mixture of single track and horse trails with sand, but came and went pretty quickly. At this aid station I stopped and chatted with the boys some more. I was very happy with how I was feeling at this point, and had kept my pace the same thus far. An interesting side note was what I was craving for food at the aid stations. In the past, boiled salted potatoes has been my go to, with a little fruit as well. But on this day, I was craving Mountain Dew, Coke, and orange slices. That's what I stuck with. I tried a few potatoes but it just wasn't doing much. I partook of a few gels, but only maybe 4. Pop, oranges, and electrolyte drink was the token of the day.
Up to this point I hadn't really spoken with too many people. I was just enjoying the scenery. At the beginning I spoke with 1 gentleman who had run Comrades Marathon in South Africa the same year I had. And I had run behind the same group of runners for a few miles, but really had been silent. But during this middle third of the race I struck up conversations with two gentlemen, Mike and Brent. Mike had done some crewing of other runners in 100 mile races, and decided to give it his own go at a trail ultra. He was having some knee issues, but was giving it his all which was commendable. Unfortunately, it didn't occur to me to pray for his knee until after I eventually left him behind. I'm a work in progress.
Brent has run 4 of the 6 Endurance Challenge stops, and is a doctor from Boise, Idaho. His wife was there as well, running the marathon. He was there just to have fun, and as part of rehad on his foot. He had unknowingly broken his foot during indoor soccer season this winter, and had still run The North Face event in New York earlier this year. He ran that on a broken foot. AMAZING! Trail runners are some of the toughest people I have ever met!
These two guys helped me get through this middle third of the race, and by the time I saw Josh and Robbie around the mile 22 aid station, I was shocked at how good I was still feeling. At this point, I realized that I was going to easily beat 8 hours, and my best guess was that I'd come in somewhere between 6:15 and 6:30. Surely I would begin to slow down at some point. But, for the most part, the only times I spent walking was during uphill portions of trail.
The miles continued to click off with ease. I even called Emily (my wife) and the girls somewhere around mile 24 or 25, and just chatted on the cell phone while I ran. 6:15 was really beginning to look like a possibility, especially considering I still felt amazingly strong. I can't remember exactly when, but somewhere between mile 27 and mile 28 I began to think I might have a chance of breaking 6 hours. The only way I had thought this would happen before the race was if EVERYTHING went right. I didn't even really allow myself to daydream about this.
At mile 28 I finally hit somewhat of a low point, and decided it was finally time for a little mood music. So I put on the ipod, and cranked out some P.O.D., Hillsong United, and Seventh Day Slumber. THIS DID THE TRICK! My next mile went pretty well, and so I texted Emily to ask her to pray for me, as I was going to push to break 6 hours. I had 2 miles left and about 24 minutes. And, wouldn't you know it, the text wouldn't go through. And the next moment I found a huge hill to climb. So I figured that was it.
By the time I got to the top of the hill, I thought I might as well try to get as close to 6 hours as possible, and then a text came through from Emily encouraging me to forget about what how my body was feeling. And that was all I needed! I kicked it into high gear, and a few moments later came upon a long stretch of downhill. I knew once I got to the bottom of that I had about a mile of road left until the finish line, and I just might be able to do it.
Well, I did break 6 hours, coming in at 5:57:21! Never have I had a race go well. I almost always going out too fast at the start, and crash at the end. But on this day, I never really felt weak at all. In fact, I almost felt like I got stronger as the race went on, as my last mile ended up being my fastest of the day!
This was an amazing experience for me, capped by an amazing race! This entire weekend was all I could have dreamt it would be. I can't say thank you enought to my wife, Emily, for okaying the trip, and to my wonderful friends Josh and Robbie, for coming along and spending the weekend camping with me. Couldn't have spent it with two better friends!
As I type this, I'm not really sure what's next running wise for me. I know I'd love to head up to Chicago in a few weeks to run with my Team World Vision friends, as they are doing a 100 miler in conjunction with the Chicago Marathon. The 4 of them are trying to raise up 400 child sponsors for children in Africa through World Vision. They will run 73.8 miles through the night, and finish the last 26.2 with the Chicago Marathon. I'd love to run through part of the night with them, but we will see. I also know of a trail 50k in December in Indiana, that I'd love to try. Other than that, who knows. There's a 30 miler in March in the area. I'll just have to keep my eyes open and do some research.