Race Report: The North Face Endurance Challenge NY Bear Mountain

finisher photo

The North Face Endurance Challenge (ECS Series) New York was not my goal race.  I have wanted to try a more technical trail race and run the 50 mile, but I wasn’t sure about how I would do with the cutoff times since I am not used to that kind of elevation here in flatland midwest.  The stars aligned and #ECSNY happened to be the weekend of my big long run in my training plan to prepare for the Kettle 100k: 5-6 hours, so I signed up for the marathon distance.  My goal was to get in my training run, take it easy, and see how I would perfrom on the technical trail without it being my goal race.  Perfect, right?  This course is no joke, though.  Maybe I have foggy brain over how difficult it felt in the thick of it, but the verdit is that I’d race it again.  50k next time?


Getting ready to race: a premonition of the hills to come

The race was held in Bear Mountain.  They had a pretty nice setup with plenty of water, comfy chairs/hammocks/bean bags to relax, and Hammer Nutrition.  I was on #Whole30 day 13, so no gels or energy drinks for me.  There were two things about race planning TNF could have done better: pre-race panel event and hotel accomodations.

The pre-race panel event with Dean Karnazes was originally on Friday night before the race and I booked my flight to get in early afternoon Friday.    One month before the race they announced that they were changing it to Thursday.  So that pretty much leaves out anyone who didn’t wait until the last minute to book their flight, and I was bummed about missing that event.  No explanation or anything to make up for it on their part either.

For the hotel accomodations, the host hotel was a Holiday Inn about 20 miles away, even though Bear Mountain Resort is right there on the grounds of the race.  They planned the race the same day for when there were two weddings being hosted at the resort and so there were no hotel rooms available.  Wouldn’t it have been better to check with the resort ahead of time and adjust the race date so participants could stay in a better hotel on-site?


Since I was on #Whole30, I couldn’t have any added sugar, which ruled out my normal Nuun hydration and GU gels.   I had been practicing with real food in my training and this race was kind of the ultimate test of that nutrition.  I started with half coconut water/half water in my hydration pack.  ECS was a cupless race, which wasn’t a problem since I knew I’d have my pack (and a HydraPak cup ECS supplies).  Halfway through though I didn’t think about needing more coconut water since I was out there much longer than planned.  I filled up with water and thankfully the aid stations had plenty of ice.  I really could have used some more salt and feel it left me a little drained not to have my normal electrolyte drink.

real food nutrition

From a training run – bacon is also a great source of protein and salt on a run

For energy, I brought a baggie of mixed nuts, a couple dates, and a couple energy bites (Run Fast Eat Slow recipe).  I had some oranges and 1/2 banana from the aid stations.  At the last aid station, my lack of electrolyte was taking a toll – they had boiled potatoes and a little plate of salt.  I dipped a potato in the largest clump of salt ever and that really hit the spot.

Overall incorporating real food is helpful in an ultra (or a really long race even if not officially an ultra), but it didn’t quite hit the energy need I had for the length I was out there.  I am grateful that I will be back to incorporating Nuun and GU for Kettle.

My Race

My road marathon time is on the average of 4:40-4:50.  I had it in my head for some reason, that I would still be able to keep an easy pace and finish in 5-6 hours.  So naive…  ECSNY is rated a 5/5 difficulty and 5/5 technical terrain.  Besides the elevation that I knew would be way different, I’m used to trails where there is a large portion that’s runnable versus hiking.   I did way more hiking than running.  The course limit was an 18:00 mile or a 7:51:56 finish time.  Judging by some of the official finish times I think they extended it a bit.  I finished with a final time 7:40:35.

another climb

Making myself smile to stay positive, going up another climb

Along the course I figured out how to run over the smaller rocks, putting more of my weight on my forefoot, which helped.  There was such a considerable amount of climbing that really slowed me down.  By the time I got to the mile 14 aid station, I had fallen on my right wrist (the one I fractured 3 months ago) and was just over 17:00 pace.  I was thinking I should probably drop as it was a training run anyway.  Several runners dropped at that aid station.  But after I sat down with the medic and got my wrist wrapped with some ice I had gathered myself and decided I wasn’t quitting.  I might as well see what I had in me and they could pull me from the course if need be.  I stayed at a fairly consistent pace for the rest of the course and am really proud of myself for not quitting when it got rough.  When I race Kettle in June I’ll be able to use that grit to my advantage.

The Course

This course, for those that aren’t used to running over mainly rocks and climbing boulders, is mainly “hikeable”.  Here’s a glimpse of the course:

first climb

1st climb of the race



Rock minefield – not off to the side, many portions of the race were running over this terrain



A nice, runnable portion


hilly road

Looks deceptive, but even the road portions were fairly hilly



boulder climb

Climbed to the top of this boulder overlooking a campground


follow flags

Followed the flag that matched your bib color – was easier to find the flags than I thought it would be



Stream crossing & climb near the end of the course


Normatec Recovery

Normatec Recovery (and updating my daughter on the race) – these are added to my Christmas wish list


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