Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The North Face Endurance Challenge Georgia 50 miler race report

I don’t really want to make a mile-by-mile race report for the wonderful event that is The North Face Endurance Challenge Georgia 50 mile race. I think I’ll throw out a few thoughts on the event, and then include a few memories and strategies of my race at the end.

· TNF folks do a great job with race organization. The pre-race meeting was nice, packet pickup is easy, they have an awesome start/finish area with good booths, lots of delicious food for the runners (ribs and chicken bbq this year), ice baths, etc. The whole thing was very smooth.

· This was easily the best marked course I’ve ever run, hands down. I never went more than 100 yards without seeing a flag, and some off-trail sections had flags every couple of trees. Plus there were many course marshals at key junctions pointing us in the right direction.

· Aid stations were appropriately placed with adequate supplies and nice volunteers.

· The course is first rate. All singletrack. Some nice views. And technical. Very technical overall. There might be a couple ten foot sections where you can stride out without worrying about tripping over a rock, but that is all. Don’t underestimate the technicality of this trail. It’s not overkill such that it becomes frustrating (I don’t recall many sections that forced me to walk due to all the rocks), but mile for mile, I’d say it’s the rockiest race I’ve ever run.  I had two swollen ankles to prove it.

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Ran 40+ miles on this, twisting both ankles multiple times.  Fun.

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Waiting for the 5 am start

Quick recap- I’m continuing my tour of trail races in the Southeast, trying all of them once. TNF was next on the list. Pinhoti 100 in November was my focus race for the fall, but I decided to do a mini-focus on TNF, too, including a moderate taper. It has some nice prize money, and I just had a good feeling about the race. During the race, though, my strategy was to start easy, pick it up in the middle, then push hard at the end. The race started in the dark and I found myself at the tail end of the lead pack of 5. Not wanting to get caught up in racing yet, I let the group go and generally stayed a few minutes behind them for the first 3 hours. After waiting for the sun to rise and reaching the 1/3 mark (17 miles), I picked up the pace. By mile 20, I caught and quickly passed two runners, Patrick Chamberlain and Alec Blenis, both of whom seemed to be hurting a bit. Now in 3rd place, I was already in a podium/money spot, but hoped for a higher placing. For many hours, I kept getting reports that I was anywhere from 5 to 15 minutes behind the two leaders. I stayed relaxed and tried to run fast but smooth. I enjoyed this section of trail and felt strong. Mile 29 to 35 was very slow, technical, and confusing, though- we kept going in and out of ravines, crossing creeks, and climbing rocks. Very beautiful, but I literally felt like the trail was going in circles and occasionally lost. But, pressing onwards, I reached the mile 35 aid station where I learned I was still 8 minutes behind the leaders.



Midrace (photos from TNF facebook page)

It was finally time to push. With John Denver’s “Take Me Home Country Road” repeating in my noggin, I ran hard. I felt good and charged up all the hills. The next aid station told me the two leaders had said they would tie and split the money, and challenged me to throw a wrench in their plans. By mile 42 aid, the volunteers said I had closed the deficit to less than a minute. I relaxed for a few minutes, preparing for the final push. The two leaders finally appeared ahead of me on a climb around mile 44. I quickly closed the gap and flew by them. Robert Harem, obviously gassed, gave me a congratulatory high five, and Russell Jones stayed behind him. I kamikazed down a rocky hill, wanting to build a lead. A few minutes later, though, Russell came charging up behind me and sat right on my tail. I was excited- this would be a battle to the finish, the way races should be run. He was with me for 2 fast miles, step for step, neither of us yielding an inch. We walked up a brief, steep climb around mile 45, and he commented that he wasn’t sure I was human and felt pain until just then when I slowed to a walk. He then warned me that a long uphill was coming. Feeling strong but also looking for a mental advantage, I gave him a smile and simply said, “Good.” The hill came and I ran up every step of it, increasing my pace the higher I went. Russell battled hard but finally dropped back. I breezed through the last aid station, determined to hold onto the win and realizing that a completely-arbitrary 8 hr finish might be possible (my completely-arbitrary pre-race split chart had me finishing in 8:01). Encourage by the outbound marathon relay runners (including Dean Karnazas himself), I crossed the finish line in first place in 7:59:20. Russell finished four minutes later, with Robert arriving third, followed by Greenville running-buddy Merle in fourth. Many other South Carolina runners also represented the state well, including neighbor Jason Flassing. Good job to all.


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I was very happy with the race. I think I ran a well-executed strategy that resulted in a strong finish against good competition. Wins from behind aren’t always possible, but it worked this day and was enjoyable. It was a fun day on a good trail.

I can’t figure out how to embed it, but here is an interview with the top 3 runners.

Gear-  Pearl Izumi Trail M2 shoes (carried me to wins in 3 straight races), Fly In-R-Cool Singlet, Ultra Split Short, and Fly In-R-Cool visor


  1. Great race report! Congrats! And I can't wait to read your Pinhoti report next.

  2. Way to go, Jon! Congrats on a hard fought win! Your strategy worked!

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