Once in a while, you just need a low pressure fifty mile trail run right?
I had signed up for the North Country 50 miler nearly a year before the race since it a) got great reviews and b) was known to sell out quickly. I had already had a busy month in August having finished my 2nd 100 mile run at Burning River at the beginning of the month and then paced my friend Jason at the Leadville 100 miler the week before North Country.
I have another 100 miler scheduled at the end of Sept at Mountain Lakes in Oregon so I was looking for North Country for a good supported training run.
With no pressure for a specific pace or race result, I was just looking forward to a nice day on the trails and slept like a baby. The race has a 14 hour cutoff and I was confident that barring injury, I would be able to finish within the allowed time while checking out some new trails.
The race started at 6:15am (eastern time) and was approximately 30 minutes from the hotel so it was a bit of an early morning. The race also offered runners the option of a marathon and half marathon distance so the start area was fairly crowded with runners who would be starting at different times.
The 50 mile race consists of running the same ~25 mile loop twice. The trails are fairly well groomed with no major technical sections other than a bunch of roots/rocks that were easy to kick if you were not paying attention or lifting your feet. The 25 mile loop had approximately 2,200 ft of elevation gain/loss but there were no major or sustained climbs over a couple hundred feet. The course also offered a decent amount of sand which slowed runners a bit with the softer/looser terrain. In general, it was a pretty course with constant rolling terrain and pretty foliage to look at.
Loop 1: We started out with the fast runners darting out the front as if they were running a 5k. Some would hold pace and most would end up either dropping or fading. I ended up with a nice group in the middle of the pack and we spent the first five miles chatting about race plans, experiences, gear and more. Before I had really even noticed it, I had already covered 9 miles and was still feeling very fresh.
Approximately 18 miles in, I caught up with my friend Cathlin who was running the marathon. The marathoners had started 30 minutes before the 50 milers. We chatted about our race experiences and covered some miles as if we were back running along the lakefront in Chicago. Cathlin had been coming back from an injury so she was taking our time and I pushed on with her encouragement. I finished the first loop in approximately 5:10 (according to my garmin) still feeling very fresh. I was running in with a bunch of marathoners who held up their arms in celebration having run a great race. They then kind of apologized to me since I had to run the course again. No worries – just a nice long day on the trails.
Loop 2: I grabbed some nutrition (mainly Lara bars for this race) and headed back out. I could hear the spectators cheering for runners as they were finishing in the background and just settled into a groove knowing that I had another 5-6 hours of running ahead. The course did get a bit more sparse at this point with all of the half-marathon and full marathon runners being finished and many of the 50 milers either spread around the course or dropped from the race. I put in an ear-bud (never two ear-buds while running trail) and started a new episode of Marathon Talk which would offer me nearly two hours of entertainment.
Passing the 50k mark, I was still feeling good though slightly sore. August had already been a big month mileage wise but I figured this was good ‘ultra-training’. The hills felt a bit sharper on the 2nd loop but nothing terrible. Around mile 48, I could hear the finish line music/entertainment again and decided that I would push a bit for the finish.
I finished the race in 10:19 having essentially even split the 50 miles (5:10 / 5:09) and run a consistent yet conservative race. It was good enough for 11th place out of nearly 100 starters (many dropped).
Upon finishing, I saw my friend Carolynn who I had met at Burning River several weeks prior. She had been there crewing several friends in the race and had quite the setup at the finish line including a cooler with dozens of flavors of jello shots and beer. Best…finish…line…ever. I had a five hour drive so I couldn’t overindulge but I did sample a couple of the flavors.
After a quick hobo bath (wet wipes and clean clothes) in the parking lot, I was back in my car headed home.
North Country 50 miler is a great race and one to include on the race schedule if you can make the time. Its well organized and tons of fun!