This race course will not only start at the highest elevation within the North America series at 7,000 feet but it will also climb to the highest elevation of 10,000 feet. The North Face Endurance Challenge cruises along the Wasatch Back, part of the Wasatch Mountain Range in the resort destination of Park City. Athletes will navigate this world-renowned ski destination using a mix of double and single track trail, ski runs, mountain bike trails and various dirt access roads. Bring your lungs and legs and be prepared to be awe struck.
Originally, TNF ECS Utah supposed to be my last long run before Grindstone 100, because I thought it would be a good last long run before the race weekend. Also it was my birthday weekend, so it would be a good idea to treat myself. But the issue was, I calculated it wrong, it was actually a week before. Luckily, after I talked with the race organizer, I could dial down my distance from 50 miles into marathon.
We flew into Salt Lake City the day before picking up our race package. I was pretty chill about this race, since I had no agenda for the race. Other than not to get injured, since it was my ritual these days, and also I would have a hundred miles race the following weekends. My plan was to have fun on the race day, and enjoy the beautiful Utah scenery.
In the morning, I got there a few hours before the race was started. I helped volunteering with the registration while I was waiting for my gun time. The work was pretty slow until the Marathon Relay people came in. And it was at the same time when I needed to get into the starting line. When I got into the starting line,the temperature was perfect, it was much warmer compare early this morning.
The course started with a short downhill, which was not a good way to start the race. I ran it too fast and with no time I placed myself o the fifth person within a minute. I was definitely a bad idea. Especially when I hit the uphill after a sharp left turn. I did not want to follow those fast kids pace, but at the same time I was stubborn enough to not giving up, where I should have. After the right turn that went into a single trail under a pretty lush trees, I started to feel my muscles and lungs burned. Running seemed like a bad idea at that time, I wanted to puke, stopped and ran back to the starting line at that moment. But after a few minutes, I guess my body started to remember this running activity and I started to enjoy the run, the pace, and passing the trees into a blurry line. Actually I did have fun jumping, turning, and huffing puffing in this fresh air. Around mile 3, where the course had a continue rolling hills, I rolled my right ankle pretty bad. It sounded like the scariest bone creaks I ever heard. I was on the ground for a while since I could not put weight on it. I was so pissed since there was nothing on the trail that could be blamed, I was just careless from not paying attention.By that time I had lost 4 or 5 positions, they passed me pretty fast, when I was hugging the tree earlier, tried not to shed tears. Then I found a sturdy branch and started to use it as my walking stick so I could start to move again. After a few minutes, gradually I started from limping, slow walking and finally I could do a slow jog with my walking stick as my propeller. Just before the aid station 1, I threw away my walking cane and tried to run in normal form.
I grab a small snacks and continue my race. The course started to run on the steady uphill, flat uphill, which was run on the back of the mountain. This section between aid station 1 and 2, it felt like running over a long switch back of the mountain, with 2 a couple of switch back on a steep hill. At the second sharp turns after the aid station 1, I saw 3 figures moving fast running up the hills. I suddenly remember that this course had moose lurking around. So I stopped and yelled at the runner (I think it was the second female at that time), that we should be careful. And it ended up a bunch of elks was running around. By the time I got into the short steep switch back, I started to catch up with guys, but I let the second female behind me to pass, my ankle started to feel funny.
At the second aid station, I told them my situation but I also let them know that I would like to finish the race. And they were okay with it with a grimace face. I guessed I might had been running like a walking death. They also told me the sweeper of 50 miler just in front of me, and if something goes wrong I could let her know, since the sweeper had radio. I passed her right after the first turn, She encouraged me with the old saying “you are looking good”. I hate when people saying that on the race, when I know I am on the brink. But I did know she meant good, so I thanked her. After a mile or two, I got out from the shades of trees. After a sharp turn, the course became more expose and running on the dry all wheel drive road. It was a little uphill, but at that point I could not put more pressure on my ankle, so I just walked it up. When I got to the end of uphill, on the edge of the turn where it faced an amazing scenery, I met a couple of youngster who was enjoying the view with brews. They were cheering on me, and offered me a beer. So I drank with them for a minute, I could not run anyway, so why not. Then the course was getting more rocky, and I had a big problem with every step. When I get into the top of the mountain, I saw the race crew there. I told them I am done that I could not put weight on it. They asked me to sit down at the sofa (oh yes they had sofa at the top of the mountain), and one of the crew started to wrapped my ankle so I could make it to the aid station. In normal day, I would be howling over this technical downhill, leaping over a rock one after another like a kid in the kindergarten. In this real life, I was barely walk normal, I just wished it would not be a broken bone. On the other hand, it was kinda funny that leaping it down faster felt easier. When I hit the bottom of it, it was a smooth dirt trail, less a mile from the aid station.
I stopped my journey on that aid station (15.6 miles), I was trying to be smart not to make my ankle getting worse for my next weekend Grindstone 100. It was very upsetting but at least I did get the best part of the race. And I got a chance to volunteer after the race. I had been a fun birthday weekend, though without a finisher smile