2012 TNF Endurance Challenge Madison 50K

“Great job Papa!
You’re an ultramarathoner!
You’re also the best Papa in the world!
XOXO Gaigai”
(from a card she made me after the race)

For my first ultra, The North Face Endurance Challenge in Madison was an inspired choice—gorgeous course, thorough and professional race directing, outstanding volunteers and, for a relatively remote trail race, a large, loud and supportive mass of spectators. The fact that we could camp several hundreds of yards from the start/finish line made this a complete weekend, a true immersion into the ultra experience.

The morning of the race dawned cold and misty, with a beautiful fog rolling through. To pick up my bib, I wore arm sleeves and gloves, and was still chilly. Having forgotten the antibiotics I needed to take while on the course, I walked back to our camping spot, for more time with the family and the appealing warmth of the RV. Knowing the day was going to warm up, I decided to jettison the warmer gear and head to the start with minutes to spare.

2012 TNF ECS Madison

Not long after returning to the festival area, I ran into Kim (Ilax Studio),  who was to be my running partner for the race. Almost immediately, another runner/blogger, Rachel (Running in Real Life)  approached Kim and introduced herself. She brought along Matt and Kim (of Life in the Twin Lane,  who was pacing Julia of Pain, Pride and Perseverance,  who was running her first 50 Miler). Since Rachel was planning a similar pace to Kim and I, she ran along with us and, subsequently, Matt and Kim popped up at so many of the aid stations and along the course to cheer us on, which was really inspirational. Just before the start, Laima brought all the kids down, which was a great way to set off!

True to something needing to fail on race day, my Garmin turned on and then immediately off, which was both good and bad. Without the watch to fall back on, I could not look at my wrist every few seconds to gauge our pace. Kim and Rachel were both wearing watches though, so I kept track through them. Beyond the Garmin, I wore my Brooks PureFlows, Compressport calf sleeves, Brooks Sherpa 2-in-1 shorts, a Brooks tech tee, Ryders Eyewear sunglasses, a Compressport visor, and a GoLite hydration waist belt. Everything excepting the Garmin worked really well and were good choices, though there were times I wished I had a sleeveless shirt (it got warm!).

Kettle Moraine is comprised of endless hills, prairies, and beautiful wooded areas. We ran on an incredible variety of surfaces, ranging from mown grass to soft sand to ostrich-egg sized rocks (and bigger!). It kept things interesting and on our toes. Well, most of the time–we all took some tumbles, stubbing toes on exposed roots and rocks, falling ass over teakettle.

The first 13 miles of so were a pleasant interlude, as we got to know each other and enjoyed the incredible scenery we were running through. At one road bend, I ran into Brian of New Leaf Ultras, who I had never met before, but recognized from Facebook—he was there to support his wife Kelly, cheering her on with his son. Heading into the second third of the race, I developed a pain in the ball of my left foot. At the 16 mile aid station, I re-laced my shoe, took my antibiotics and pain reliever,, and hoped for the best. It temporarily seemed to do the trick, but the pain soon returned, adding some sharp knee pain as well. Not good. By the 22 mile aid tent, I was alternating running and walking, and the pain went from knee to calf to ball of foot, just a dull ache that would not stop. I continued alternating running and walking, allowing Kim and Rachel to get ahead before running to catch them—after awhile, it hurt just as much to walk as run, so I ran as much as I could.

There were times I really felt like stepping off the course and not finishing. Knowing that Laima and the kids were waiting for me at the end of the race was one of the things that kept me going and I didn’t want to disappoint them. I also felt like I owed Kim and Rachel a full effort, as we had supported each other so much during the early stages—they were so strong, really impressive! The other thing was that, apart from the leg pain, I felt really good, somewhat tired, but not struggling. At the aid stations I ate bananas, brownies, and potato chips, with some water, Nuun, or Gu Roctane, so my fueling and hydration seemed to be okay. So, on I went, and we all finished together, which was as it should be, having started together.

2012 TNF ECS Madison 50K

We got back just in time for me to watch Tazer, Gaigai, and Munchkin run the Karno Kids Race, a kilometer long fun run with a variety of children’s characters running alongside, including Spongebob Squarepants. The child who could beat Spongebob won a North Face backpack! Tazer got third on Saturday and then second on Sunday, when they reprised the race—so close!

While waiting for the Kids Race to finish, I started feeling lightheaded, so I walked over to the Medical Tent, where they gave me a bag of ice to put on my neck and a chair in the shade. Not long after, I threw up some water, ate a banana, and felt a lot better. Laima and the kids collected me, we walked back to the RV, and I lay down for a while until it was time to make dinner—well, collect dinner, as we had pizzas delivered to the campground gatehouse. It was a nice celebration.

If you had asked me if I planned to run another ultra on Saturday, either during or after the race, I probably would have answered no. By Saturday evening, I was starting to reconsider. In a bit of serendipity, I am reading Ed Ayres’ book The Longest Race, about ultrarunning and human endurance (among other things, a great book, a must-read for aspiring or current ultrarunners, review forthcoming). The knee and leg pain may have been just bad luck, but I believe it was more a case of not having enough deposits in the bank, not enough miles in my legs to actually run this race. I think the Smart Marathon Training Plan  was a good one, I just did not execute it to its fullest, and will definitely use it going forward.

I can see the appeal of ultramarathons, at least the ones run in beautiful surroundings, with the testing of oneself and the conditions received. Next year Laima and I are planning on the Chicago Marathon, so I will make sure to get in plenty of longer runs before then. Healthier eating is also a must, as is weight loss – at about 40 pounds overweight, I ran this ultra as if I was carrying an extra toddler! Really displaying grace and endurance, Laima ran an amazing half marathon on Sunday at The North Face Endurance Challenge, her first trail race! Read all about it at Women’s Endurance Gear!

2012 TNF ECS Madison Finishers Medals

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19 thoughts on “2012 TNF Endurance Challenge Madison 50K

  1. It is amazing what having someone waiting for you at the finish line can help you through. Great job on the race (to all of your family). Isn't it funny how many times in races you think to yourself, “I'll never do this again” and within a day or two – you are trolling web sites looking for the next one. 🙂

  2. A huge congrats to you! I'm sorry it was so painful at points, and not the good kind of “I've been out here forever pain.” That had to make it tough.

    I love that you had the typical endurance athlete's experience–never want to do it again immediately post race, but within a couple of hours your wheels were turning!

  3. Congrats Kovas! You did amazing on your wonky foot (then leg, then hip… then ear?) and I feel bad that you felt lightheaded after! That is a sign you truly pushed it to the limits, right? Thanks for sticking with us! I love our finish together. I can't wait to get the official photos because I think there is a great one of us. Did you see the one that Brian took of you? http://photos.newleafultra.com/Run/Race-Photography/2012-North-Face-Endurance-50K/25401261_Jgb74v#!i=2090385044&k=JZSKsgh You don't look overweight to me!!!

    I think it would be easy to undertrain for this (I feel like I did). But you were awesome! I hope you are proud of how well you did!

  4. Kovas, had I not read this recap, I never would have known that you were struggling out there – you looked so strong! It was so great meeting you and Kim; I hope we get the chance to see each other at another race soon. Congrats on an amazing accomplishment!

  5. One of our partners, Coach Trent, participated in Ironman Wisconsin a couple of weeks ago and loved Madison and the surrounding area. Beautiful place. Congrats on the finish!

  6. Congratulations! You are amazing. I am training for my first 50k – it's a little less than a month away. I'm nervous but really excited to see what happens.

  7. I was so impressed with how you pushed through the pain and always managed to catch back up with us! I was so glad to have you along and it was great meeting your family. Your wife and kids sure are wonderful people!

    I hope your recovery is going smoothly! Rest up and enjoy being an ULTRA MARATHONER!

  8. congrats kovas! i think it'd be hard to say “i'm never doing this again” (seriously). i said the same thing right after my first marathon, clearly that didn't stick 🙂 sounds like you and laima have some exciting plans for next fall! congrats to laima and the kids too for their races.

  9. Congrats dude! It is amazing how around mi22 stuff seems to start falling apart, this seems to happen to everyone doing ultras!

    Way to push through the pain and cross the finish line!

    Very cool your family was able to be there with you!

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