Northface Endurance Challenge Race Report

I wish I could just sit down with you all over a cup of coffee and tell you about yesterday.  It’s going to be a challenge for me to string all the images and impressions from the race into something coherent.  Perhaps you should think of this post as one-sided, rambling, caffeinated chat rather than a report.
Ok, so here goes:
I’d spent a lot of time trying to figure out what to wear for this race.  The temperature was supposed to be in the 50s and there was a good chance it was going to rain.  I worried about getting too cold.  I got a lot of good advice, worried some more, brought lots of options, and ended up in shorts and a t-shirt and arm sleeves.  This is important information if you want to understand the look that passed between me and the fellow next to me at the race start when a girl stepped in front of us wearing a sports bra and small shorts.  It was a look of complete understanding and agreement between strangers that said: Wingnut.  It turned out the girl was Jenn Shelton and she didn’t need to worry about layers because she was  going to be running so darn fast.  I got to talk with her in the first few miles of the race.  I lived in Virginia Beach for a few years, so we traded lifeguarding stories.  It was a bit surreal talking to someone I’d read about in a book about Virginia Beach lifeguarding politics — while running uphill in the dark in California.  It was a brief conversation.  I was too busy concentrating on sucking in air to talk much — and Jenn disappeared up the hill soon enough.  It was fun to watch her fly up the hill.
Amazing runners:
That was hands down the best part of this race: Watching great runners run well.  It’s awesome to see people move effortlessly over humbling terrain.  There was a 5 mile out and back stretch to the halfway point and I got to see the lead pack of male runners come flying downhill towards me.  You couldn’t help but cheer.  The women were a bit more spread out, so I got to give more individualized praise. I felt like a spectator at a NASCAR event.
The cheering session made the rest of the uphill run through the gray rain to the turnaround a lot easier than it would have been otherwise.  I also got to see my friends T. & J. during this stretch.  They were both having great races too.  It was their first 50 mile race and I was hoping they’d want to run more ultras after this experience.  (Except 100s, not these crazy 50 mile sprints.)
Another great old friend crewed for me.  It was wonderful to see his familiar face in all that unfamiliar territory.  I’d given him a list of things to remind me about each time I saw him.  I was pretty emphatic that he needed to have tissues ready so I could blow my nose.  I will not soon forget the image of him standing in the rain with a package of baby wipes in one hand and a water bottle in the other.  At some point I told him to have some extra Gu’s ready at the next aid station– without thinking to tell him what Gu’s are.  He wandered around the aid station for a while trying to find something that looked like a gu before he spotted a giant Gu banner — and read it.
Lost in translation:
I spent a lot of the race leap frogging with a woman from Chile.  She was a great climber and she’d pass me on most of the hills and then I’d catch up in the downhills and flats.  I wouldn’t see her for a while and then she’d pass me again.  She didn’t speak any English and I discovered my Spanish is nonexistent while running hills in a 50 mile race.  We had a hysterical broken conversation about how much farther we had to run towards the end of the race.  I found out the course was longer than 50 miles about 30 in.  A nice fellow from Juneau told me it was something like 52 miles if you added up the distance between aid stations.  This is not information you want to hear mid-race in case you’re wondering.  I’m happy to run more than 50 miles; I’d just like to know before I start.  Seems polite.
Anyway, I managed to tell strong-Chilean-gal that we had something like five miles left.  “Kilometros?” I looked to the guys around us for help.  We did some quick 5k, 10k math and came up with 6k.  She seemed deflated by the news and she didn’t pass me again.
The rain made the hills at the end of the course a muddy slip-n-slide.  I almost took out another runner during one downhill slip.  The mud slowed most everyone down, but it was kind of fun too — in a Type 2 kind of way.  (Type 1 Fun: Fun at the time; Type 2 Fun: Fun to talk about later).  I smashed into some bull nettle around this time too. Type 3 Fun.
The end:
The last 2ish miles of the course were wonderfully downhill.  Meghan Arbogast passed me about a mile or so before the finish.  I was surprised she hadn’t passed me long before. There wasn’t any question of giving chase.  I don’t run that fast yet.  Maybe when I’m a bit older.  :). And it was just fine getting passed that late in the race.  She was flying.
I had fun watching the finish area scene from a folding chair in one of the tents — munching on Jelly Bellies.  And, yes, I did pester some folks for autographs.  I was on a long-run-the-world-is-a-good-place-filled-with-fine-people high.  And why the heck not?  Nobody seemed to mind.  So now my Government Canyon bandana has more signatures.
Last story:
A friend of a friend sitting next to me at the finish wondered whether wearing his medal out on the town would help him get lucky with the ladies.  I’m thinking NO.  But then I don’t know the San Francisco bar scene.
I’m still listed as a DNF on the results page.  No one from North Face has returned my e-mail, but they’re busy running another series of races today, so hopefully it’ll get straightened out tomorrow.  It’s a bit of a bummer to be listed as a DNF when I’m definitely a sore and happy 7th place F.  And poor Eliot was really worried about me.  AND I want to stop thinking about TNF 50 and think about Bandera, which is now the USATF 100k championship!!  (Update:  Everything was cleared up and I’m official.  Thanks North Face folks.)

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14 Responses to Northface Endurance Challenge Race Report

  1. Julie says:

    I kept trying to check the results yesterday and the North Face site was down. GRRR..
    Congratulations on a great race! 7th female amongst that field of top women=AMAZING. I saw your DNF on there and was hoping you were ok..glad to hear it’s just a glitch with the results. Hope they get it corrected soon so you get the credit you deserve.
    Good job, Liza!!

  2. Pingback: Quick Update Northface Endurance Challenge | Lizahoward's Blog

  3. lizahoward says:

    Thanks so much Julie. I feel like I put in a good day’s work.

  4. Liza,
    I really enjoyed your attitude and presence in the race, even though I didn’t know you yet. I was also bummed to see they hadn’t got your finish – like your chip died or something. If there is anything I can do to help, let me know – at least I can say I witnessed you finish and you were before the woman from Santiago.

    Looking forward to seeing you again at Bandera!


  5. Sarah says:

    Congratulations on a great race! I’m glad you did fininsh. I was sad when I saw your name on the dnf list in the results. Perhaps you’ll be going to WS then?

  6. Martin says:


    Congratulations on your run Saturday!

    I helped put on a local 30K trail run earlier this year, in May. The snow melt was late and the trail had some muddy sections. This was our first year for chip timing. It seems that mud is capable of interfering with chips, making them unreadable at the finish line. Not sure if that’s an explanation for your omission from the results, but sounds like a possibility.

    5 miles is more like 8K. Your Chilean friend was probly thinking that last 6K (3.6 miles) sure seemed long! Either that, or she’s not impressed with your math skills. Or both…

    Helena, Montana

    • lizahoward says:

      She is not the first nor the last to be unimpressed with my math skills. 🙂
      Thanks for your thoughts about the mud and the chip. I certainly had a good coating.

  7. Chris Mottola (Marcello, well ,1/2) says:

    Good job Liza! You’re a 100 specialist, so be healthy for western next year and drop the hammer! I’m proud to have you in my blood line.

  8. Norma M. Arias says:

    Congratulations, Liza – had you in my thoughts and prayers on Saturday! Awesome job!

  9. Pingback: » TALON Dirt and Distance: USATF National Trail Running Championships – EC 50 Championship

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