North Face Endurance Challenge NY: Bear Mountain Course Recon, take two
Last week, my wife Monika and I found that we could both use a vacation day. Luckily, neither of us had busy Fridays planned at work, so we got the okay from our respective bosses and spent a nice full day together. That’s been a rarity since the bouncing baby boy was born six months ago, so we relished the opportunity to spend some time with one another. Of course, we wanted to run trails. Perhaps that sounds silly to some of you, but the fact is that Monika and I actually designed our honeymoon specifically so that we could run on breath-taking trails together every day for one week, such is our love of running on dirt. In fact, on the last day of our honeymoon, we ran a trail race together on Angel Island in San Francisco Bay, and she ended up winning the women’s category. But that’s a story for another day.
On Friday, we went back to Bear Mountain so that I could combine our run with some additional course recon. Monika wanted to do about 12 miles and I wanted a little more, so we decided to keep things simple: we’d run the North Face Endurance Challenge half-marathon course (minus The Pines section), then I’d drop her off at the car and head out to recon the 10k course. I will be running the 50k course on May 9, but the first few miles and last few miles of all courses are the same, so for me it was a chance to really memorize the start and finish trail navigation and hills.
Friday was the first day of spring, but you wouldn’t know it at the time we woke up, because it was snowing outside. Beautiful, soft flakes floating down gently on our back patio. It was too warm for accumulation, but it was very pretty nonetheless. When our little guy’s sitter arrived, we headed north on the Palisades Parkway, gazing at the fresh coat of white snow on the trees and shrubs. It was snowing so hard that you could not see across the Hudson River, a temporary white out. By the time we got to Bear Mountain however, the sun was coming out and there was no trace of snow. Sigh. I love running in snow squalls, but Monika probably had a more rational take, “I’d rather not run all those miles while soaking wet.” Good point.
I noticed earlier in the week that the printed instructions in the 50k participant’s handbook did not match the map published therein. Hmm. Looking over the packets for the other distances, it seemed to me that the printed instructions trumped the map, so I went with those. I think they might be updating the map in the packet, because I noticed it was missing from the race packet recently.
The trails for the half-marathon (and especially the 10k) are mostly wide enough to run two-abreast, so passing your competitors in either of those events should not be a problem. There are many sections that are rocky; I think the trails were once carriage roads with cobbles, but over the years the erosion and freezing cycles have dislodged the stones and made the footing a bit tough. Even if you are running the 10k only, I still recommend fairly sturdy shoes or those sharp, loose rocks are going to hurt. The 10k course is a little more wet and muddy than the others, and there is one stream crossing where the footbridge has been washed out, those of you running that distance should have some fun with that. The half-marathon includes some steep climbs in the last 4 miles, the same uphills that the 50k and 50 milers will face in the final miles of their races. Be prepared to walk a little, especially right before you get to the Timp Pass. I dare anyone to run that last uphill … it’s hard enough just to hike it.
After the Timp Pass, there are only 3 small uphills remaining, but they are going to feel like mountains at the end of a long trail race. Luckily, none are very steep or very long, so you should be able to just plug your way along. Me, I just tried to keep up with my lovely wife as she hopped, skipped, and jumped up those hills on her first long trail run since the baby was born last September ... I could tell she was loving it.
When all was said and done, we both had wonderful runs and even managed to locate a Dunkin Donuts afterward (she for coffee, me for the decadent frosted treats). For us, it was a perfect day together, and we were home in time to play with the little one the rest of the afternoon.
I’m scheduled for the Mudders and Grunter’s 5 mile trail race next Sunday (March 29), and with rain predicted later this week that should be a delightful slop fest. That race seems to get more crowded every year, as more and more runners recognize the fun and adventure of running off-road (and crossing a chest-deep, ice-cold stream about a half-mile before the finish line). After that race, I’m going to refuel and then head across the river back to Bear Mountain to run the middle 17 miles of the 50k course. When I'm done, I will have seen the entire 50k course, which should give me more confidence and peace of mind going into the event. Now, you might say that racing a five miler and then heading out for a 17 mile trail run is a rather nutty plan, and you are probably right. But I’m sticking with it because I feel strongly that I need more long trail runs in order to be successful on May 9 in the 50k. I’ll post information about the middle 17 on this blog next week.