Tuesday, October 13, 2015

tnfecs - wisconsin: a recap

Disclaimer: I received a free race entry into The North Face Endurance Challenge Series - Wisconsin to review as part of being a BibRave Pro. Learn more about becoming a BibRave Pro (ambassador), and check out BibRave.com to review, find, and write race reviews!

Packing for the weekend.

I've procrastinated writing this recap, because there's just so much to say, and yet, there are no words for what an amazing weekend it was. However, you will see as I blabber on, I have plenty of words ;)

I originally passed on the opportunity to race, since the Chicago Marathon was the following week. I'm not always the most graceful person, and thinking about doing my first trail race just a week before only my second marathon seemed like a bad idea. I was thinking about heading up to cheer and meet up with friends, but when the opportunity to race came up again a few months later, I couldn't say no. I decided on doing the 10k, since it was one of the shorter distances and seemed a safer bet. Other distances included 50 miler, 50k, marathon, marathon relay on Saturday, and a half marathon, 10k, and 5k on Sunday.

The race began with packet pick-ups at different locations on Thursday and Friday, and then at the race on Saturday and Sunday. You were also able to register for the race at packet pickup or at the race site. You could have gone to The North Face - Brookfield Square, John Hancock Center, or Hilldale Mall on Thursday, October 1 from 10am–9pm, or Friday, October 2 from 10am–6:30pm.

Now, when registering, you chose where you planned to get your packet. I completely forgot about this fact until I met up with Jeremy on Friday at our hotel. And then of course, it took me a while to search and find my confirmation email. I had chosen race site pickup. I was going to be hanging out with my pals anyway, so figured I would just ask when I got there if pickup was available early. We had guessed that they ask where you're going to do pickup is to try and figure out how many shirts and bibs to have at each location as a general guideline.

Luckily, when we got to The North Face Brookfield, they were totally cool with me picking up my bib and shirt. Yay. It was only Jeremy and I at this point, and I hadn't eaten anything yet, so we ended up stopping quickly for some food (for me) and coffee (for Jeremy). We got back to the store in order to hear the speaker panel. 

Backing it up a little, it took me about two hours to get up to Delafield, WI. I met Jeremy at the hotel around 2:30/3ish. I got settled at the hotel, and we chatted for a bit before heading to packet pickup. Ok, back to The North Face store.

Speaker panel above.
Jeremy, Larry (of Sweat Tracker fame), and I.

So, Angie made it there around 6ish. We met up with Kim and chatted a bit, and then Laura made it a little before the panel discussion. We all went up to the race director Nick Moore to grab a photo and chat a bit. He was extremely nice and was asking us what distance we were racing and where we were all from. At 6:30, the panel discussion began, called 'Countdown to the Wisconsin: Pre-Race Panel Discussion.'

I also had the opportunity to meet Larry, founder of Sweat Tracker, the coaching program I'd been using for the Chicago Marathon. I had emailed with him a bit, so it was great to meet in person.

The panel consisted of The North Face athletes Timothy Olson, Dylan Bowman, Dean Karnazes, and Challenged Athletes Foundation athlete Sarah. The moderator did a great job asking questions specifically to each athlete, rather than asking each athlete the same question. They were also great questions, that made the athletes think a bit before giving their answer. It was really inspirational to hear all of them speak, about some of their best moments in running, to what's helped make them stronger, to the fuel they like to use. Nick discussed the trail, what we could expect, and specific details such as course markings (there were approximately 40 markings per mile). He mentioned that they had done a test run on the course at 3am to check on the trail, and that they had don't multiple ones in the past few months to work with rangers on places on the trail that needed clean up from storms. It was great to hear about how detailed and meticulous they were about all of it. You could tell they really wanted to have a great race for the runners, and for the runners to enjoy their time. 

Sneaky selfies with the athletes - behind is Timothy.

Nick also mentioned that if there were ANY problems out on the trail, to come talk to him about it - not to take it out on the volunteers. With all of the people I met that weekend, I couldn't imagine anyone complaining about anything about the race itself. They did an amazing job. It is true, though, that there are some people that take their frustrations out on volunteers, who are just out there to help. I don't think many of those people are trail runners, though. They were some of the most easy-going folk I've ever met. Loved every second of it.

After about 30–45 minutes, they opened the floor to questions from the audience (it was standing room only - pretty packed store!), and then they dispersed to allow the runners to speak with the athletes, get photos, etc. The lines were a bit long, and poor Angie needed to eat and get to bed, because her 50k started at 7am the next day. We headed to a local pizza place where Jeremy, Laura, and I shared a pizza, and Angie ordered what she calls pasta (aka noodles) with grilled chicken and a salad. We stayed there a while chatting and laughing like old friends, even though it was the first time most of us had met in person. I think that happens a lot with runners - it's so easy to talk to each other and it's like we've been great friends for years. I love it.

A collage of photos from the evening.

We headed back to the hotel to get some sleep, but shenanigans won and we stayed up a bit later than we should have taking photos, talking, and laughing (lots of this). Sorry Angie. We got up around 4:4ish to get ready and head out. Unfortunately, we went to the wrong location at first. Not one of the three of us could find an exact location for the start/finish line area. All we could find was start and finish at Kettle Moraine State Park, Eagle WI. It was supposed to be 12 miles away from the hotel, but we all came up with the same location while doing our research, which said 18. We ended up at the South Headquarters, but lucky for us, there was another car there crewing for the 50 miler that told us to go to Ottawa Lake Recreation Area (which isn't Eagle, but Dousman). This info ended up being in the parking part of the website, but too bad for us, none of us looked there. I would just suggest to the race to change their website to have that address at the top rather than just the generic Kettle Moraine State Park (or at least update the city to Dousman, WI). 

We gave ourselves ample time to get there, so wasting about 10 minutes wasn't too big of a deal. We found the place ok on the second attempt, and as long as you were running, you got a parking sticker for your car (not sure if just spectators needed to pay?). There were plenty of volunteers to help direct us to a parking space. We weren't too much of a hike from the festival, either, which was nice. The 50 miler started at 5am, 7am for the 50k, 9am for the marathon, and 10 for the marathon relay.

We met up with Bradford, another BibRave Pro, who was running the 50k. We got some photos of the gang, and then cheered both Angie and Bradford on as they began to tackle their 50k. Jeremy's race (marathon relay) didn't start for a while, so we went back to the car to stay warm and to take a nap.

Angie and Bradford beginning their 50k journey.

Soon, Jeremy's relay teammates showed up - pals Dylan and Julia (around 8:30 or so) and they started to get ready for their race. Jeremy was the first and last leg, with Julia second and Dylan third. While getting prepared for their relay, we had the opportunity to meet Brogan Graham, co-founder of November Project. He was so friendly and gave us all hugs. 

Staying warm by the fire with Laura.

When we weren't standing over by the start/finish line, you could usually find us huddled around one of the four fire pits they had set up. It was a pretty cold and windy day, so even in all of my layers I was a bit cold. Thank goodness for my hoodie, vest, and beanie. They helped keep me warm. Poor Jeremy, who lives in Arizona, was shivering when he wasn't out running. It was great running conditions, but for anyone standing around (especially if you ran, got sweaty, and then had to stand around), it was a bit on the cold side. The race did a great job helping to keep everyone warm, with the option for coffee, if you drink it (I don't), and the fire pits. There were also some tents (like the one set up for checking race results) which could keep you out of the winds – it was a nice break to go in there and warm up a bit.

With Jeremy and Julie before their marathon relay.

Hey - that's me on the screen!

I was getting tracking updates for Bradford and Angie, who were out there doing a fantastic job. I cheered for my pals doing the marathon relay, and for anyone else that was coming into the finish line. It was so amazing to see those coming in from their 50 mile or 50k race, with huge smiles or tears in their eyes. What an inspiration.

Jeremy starting leg 1 of the marathon relay.

Julia getting ready for leg 2.

Dylan off for leg 3.

Jeremy coming in strong to finish.

Quickly, the BibRave marathon relay had completed (they ended up 6th place, which I think is amazing), and we hung around waiting for Bradford and Angie to come to the finish line. Bradford came in first, with a new PR (super exciting), and then Angie came in, also with a new PR because it was her first completion of a 50k. Both finished so strong, and I was so proud of them. We got some more photos together, and then we headed for some beer. 

Bradford and Angie both coming into the finish! Whoooo!

And wouldn't you know, behind Jeremy and I in line was TNF athlete Dylan! We grabbed our beers and then talked to him for a bit. He was so nice, laid-back, and seemed like a very down-to-earth kind of guy. He told us how he had got lost on the trail for about 45 minutes, and the fact that he came in second place knowing that he had a mishap is just amazing. What an incredible athlete. I also love that he had spoken with Nick, the race director, about how he got lost, but that it was all his fault, on not that of the race itself or its markings. We bugged him for a photo, which he kindly agreed to.

Julia, me, Dylan, Jeremy, and Angie.

The BibRave Pro gang on Day 1.
Jeremy, Kim, me, Angie, Bradford, Julia.

Angie found a race director for her other 50k trail race she had attempted (poor girl was so sick for it and wasn't able to finish it, which is why this was her redemption race... and she CRUSHED it). We also had the chance to see Larry from Sweat Tracker finish his first 50 miler (also crushed it). It was really an inspiring and motivational day. I honestly got so excited for everyone, and might have teared up a bit myself thinking of how they all pushed themselves so hard to get to that finish line - not just that day, but training for it as well. Amazing.

Anyway, soon, we all parted ways and Angie, Jeremy, and I headed back to the hotel. They both showered and we headed to Water Street Brewery for dinner, which was close to our hotel, for dinner. At this point Angie's husband Josh and their friend Teresa joined us (post-Iowa game that was in Madison). We all ordered a beer and I had a cheeseburger + fries. We chatted and laughed, then headed back to our hotel. I showered and hit the hay around 9pm, since we had been up so early and I had to rest up for my trail adventure the next day. I was very thankful we didn't start till 9, but we wanted to get there before 8 so we could meet up with Cass and Laura, who were running the half marathon.

We got to parking with no problems on the second day, and ended up with some pretty sweet spots not too far of a walk from the festival area (a bit closer to than the previous day). There were plenty of porta-potties, and also (two I think) indoor bathrooms with running water. Yay. 

We found Cass and Laura pretty easily, took some photos, chatted, and then went over to get some photos of them starting. Josh and I tried to keep warm before we started our 10k at 9. Then it was our turn to start. I was in Wave 3, which was the last one, and I figured starting at the back was a good idea for me, so I could start slow and go at my own pace. (As you'll see, I don't have as many fun photos from Sunday).

Josh and I before the 10k start.

Cass (L) and Laura (R) all smiles at the start of their half marathons.

The first approximate mile was on the grass leading us to the trail entrance. It was a bit wet, and then I ended up stepping in a huge puddle, getting my shoes and socks wet, but it didn't bother me. I had on trail shoes, which for me, I think was a really good idea. Not everyone would agree that trail shoes were necessary, as it isn't a super technical course, but I'm about 80% sure I would have fallen that day without them. They have a better grip, and with some slippy areas and steep hills, I think they helped me stay upright. Nick Moore was helping direct the runners and traffic at one of the street crossings that took us onto the trail. I thanked him as I ran by and he thanked me back... it made me smile.

What the course markings looked like.

I was going to try to do 1/1 minute intervals, but found with the way the hills were, I would just run when I could and walk up/down most of the hills. They were WAY more steep than I was imagining, as everyone had just said they were rolling hills. I wasn't imagining they would be how they were. I doubt others thought they were as bad, I'm a bit of a baby when it comes to hills. I did love the challenge, though. Some of them seemed to never end... they just kept climbing, and I kept my legs moving. 

A few runners were coming back from their half marathon already, and so I greeted them with a 'nice job' or 'looking good', and most said similar things back (or at the same time... I love runners). There were a few 10k runners in my vicinity, so I did my best to keep with them. Eventually, though, I was on my own. I paid very close attention to the markings on the tree. My bib was red, and therefore was following the red ribbons. Most of the markings had multiple colors, so you just had to be looking to make sure you were following the right ones. That could sometimes prove difficult, as you can be so focused on looking down so you wouldn't trip on rocks or tree roots, but I found the markings to be very clear and easy to follow, thankfully. At forks, there was usually a sign with an arrow and ribbons to let you know which way to go, and then there would be several ribbons on tree branches close together so you knew you were going the right direction. They did a fantastic job with the course markings.

I didn't hit an aid station until mile 4.2. I was doing ok, so just passed it up, and kept moving on. There was a guy there to direct me - this way if I need the aid station, this way to get back to the finish. And as I moved away from the aid station, who would come up behind me? Laura! We ended up doing the last 1.8 miles together, and it was so great to have someone to chat with when I was getting tired. She helped me push myself more than I think I would have if I was by myself. We did some walking and some running and chatted the whole way. It was great getting to know her that weekend. We finished together, and I love our photos at the finish line.

After, they had bagels, bananas, potato chips, Clif bars, Clif electrolyte drinks, and water. We met back up with our friends and hung out for a bit. Cass had to leave, so Laura, her husband, Josh, Angie, and T grabbed some beer, sat at a picnic table, and chatted. Bradford was there and did the kids race with his kids. I think some of his other kids (and wife) did the half and 10k race, too.

Dean, me on the trail, the BibRave Pros after their races, me and Josh.

Josh took 1st in his age group in his first trail race... so proud! He got his Hoo-Rag and sticker as prizes. And then I noticed it. I found it weird that my ribbon didn't say a date or location, which I had noticed on other ribbons the previous day. I thought maybe it was just because of the shorter distance, but Josh's had the date and WI on it. It's quite silly, but I was a little sad mine only said Endurance Challenge 10k. I went over to ask about it, but all the other medals hanging on the rack were the same ribbon as mine. Oh well.


The difference in the ribbons.
We did some more photos, I changed into dry clothes, and eventually said our goodbyes. Well, I mentioned stopping for lunch on my way home, and Josh and Angie thought they would too, so we started looking at a map and found a place to stop so we could eat together, where neither car was going out of its way. We just weren't ready to say goodbye yet. We ate at a place called Coyote Canyon, all eating until we were stuffed (I had some delightful nachos and some of Angie's fries, and a few Cokes which I hadn't had in 2 days... too long for me haha). The Bears game was on, and they were actually winning, which was nice. Didn't talk about it too loudly, as we were clearly in Packers territory.

Before parting ways. Running friends are the best!

Finally, we did say our goodbyes. I headed to Kenosha to pick up some New Glarus beer for my husband (and honestly, myself), filled up on gas, had a bathroom break, and got a bottle of Coke (yeah, I have a problem). 

It was seriously one of my favorite running weekends, and not only because it was such a well-organized event, but because of my friends (new and old). I have SO many awesome photos from the weekend (like, hundreds of photos - way too many to post here haha), and there are so many inside jokes we now share. I'm still gushing about how awesome of a time I had... and I'm missing it! I could have spent a week with them all and not gotten tired of it. 

I would definitely recommend you checking out this event - maybe use it as your break-in to the trail running life, or maybe you've done a bunch already, but are looking for a new challenge. I love how many different distances they offer - gives everyone a chance to race. It is so well-run and filled with amazing runners. I'm a big fan of trails, as I find I have less pain in my knees from it. I'm hoping to work my way up the distances in the trail race world, and I think ECSWI is where I'd want to do it. Check out my more succinct review on BibRave.com, along with everyone else, and look into running any of their events in the US and Canada (they have a bunch of different locations!), as I'm sure they're pretty awesome too.

Connect with The North Face Endurance Challenge Series:

What the other BibRave Pros had to say about their race/weekend:

2 comments:

  1. Sounds like a fun event. Even if you didn't run it. I bet it was still nice to be a part of it. It looked pretty cold so I'm sure you were just as happy cozying up at the fire. I heard Dean speak at Big Sur and he was great. I bet it was fun hearing the other North Face team members.

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