Meeting the man who got me running – North Face Endurance Challenge

“It´s not The North Face Endurance Walk in the Park – it´s called The North Face Endurance Challenge for a reason!”. Race director looked at us firmly and continued: “If you feel there´s something wrong with the race and want to vent it, come talk to me – don´t take it on the volunteers. Do we have a deal?”

Somehow I got the feeling we were in very professional hands. Not least because the guy was surrounded by two legends of ultrarunning, Dean Karnazes and Diane Van Deren!

The North Face Endurance Challenge Ontario 2016

Ultramarathon Man was the first book I read about running. For me the author, Dean Karnazes, was the embodiment of an extreme endurance athlete – and for a good reason.

The guy had done it all – running 350 miles in 80 hours and 44 minutes without sleeping, completing 50 marathons in 50 states in 50 consecutive days, running a 320k relay from Calistoga to Santa Cruz alone not once but eleven times and a number of other accomplishments hard to even imagine.

After finishing the book, I never imagined to be able to actually do ultrarunning myself, let alone ever meeting the Ultramarathon Man in person. And yet, there I was – sitting in a pre-race panel discussion in Canada, getting last minute tips from the man himself for the North Face Endurance Challenge 50k trail ultra starting 7AM the next morning!

Before the panel had kicked off, another ultrarunning legend, Dianne van Deeren, had approached me due to my foreign accent. When she found out I was from Finland, she immediately started questioning me of the 100 mile ultra in Finnish Lapland (Rovaniemi 150).

Apparently, she was supposed to participate it earlier, but due to lost luggage on the way there (including her sledge and the mandatory race gear) she had to turn back home and skip the race. I was glad to share my experiences from last February (race report here) and welcome her for another go next year!

Pre-race panel at North Face Endurance Challenge Ontario

Before the race, my biggest concern was getting a proper breakfast early enough in the morning. As the race started already at 7AM, I needed to be finished with eating by 5AM at the latest. Obviously, there was no place serving food that early in the whole village.

Eventually, I gave up negotiating “very early breakfast” with my hotel and headed to the local village market to get it sorted. When the alarm went off at 4:30AM next morning, the “self-served early breakfast” laid out on the floor next to my race gear didn´t really appear inviting.

I sat down on the floor beside my bed and started munching through the bagels and white bread washing it down with Gatorade and cold Starbucks coffee. Luckily, most of my attention was pulled away from eating due to the news of a coup taking place in Turkey. I clicked through the tweets wondering if my flight to Africa through Istanbul would actually take place three weeks ahead.

Early breakfast before the race in ECSON

The North Face Endurance Challenge Ontario takes place in Blue Mountain skiing resort 100ish miles North of Toronto. There are several distances available from “Karno Kids” children´s race to a 50 miler that had already been sent off at 5AM the same morning.

Altogether, this year´s event had pulled roughly 1800 participants and the race village had been alive since 4AM.

North Face Endurance Challenge 50k start line

At 6:50 all the 50k runners were lined up at the start. Weather was nice and cool compared to the 30c+ heatwaves in Toronto earlier the same week. After last motivational words from Dean Karnazes we were set off with a countdown – 50k ahead!

Last words from Dean Karnazes before the 50k race was set off

My running felt surprisingly difficult from the beginning. Uphill start, Mont Blanc Marathon 3 weeks back (race report here) probably still in my legs, time zone difference, a week of conferencing in Toronto behind, and skipped tune-up run on the previous day probably all contributed to the feeling of “stiffness”. I had to work hard to keep the pace up.

The first real climb started soon and to my surprise the guys around me didn´t slow down to speed hiking and instead jogged up the hill. This should have been the first warning signaling “you´re running in a too fast group dude!” but somehow I managed to miss it and tried to keep up.

Uphill running in North Face Endurance challenge Ontario

When we finally reached the top, I somehow got back to my senses and eased the pace regaining control of my dangerously high heart rate. We still had a long day ahead!

Suddenly, I had a vivid flashback from the same morning. At the start line, the race director had asked “How many of you are doing your 1st ultra today?“. A lot of hands were raised. I somehow got the feeling some of those hands were pushing hard ahead of me and I´d see their backs again sooner or later.

Uphill in North Face Endurance Challenge Ontario

Most of the climbing happened during the first half and after 25k mark the trail was mostly rolling ups and downs on the ridge before dropping straight down back to the village at the very end.

Majority of the trail was either single track or skiing path with a couple of short sections on road to get the loop connected.

Road section in North Face Endurance Challenge Ontario

The aid stations throughout the route were the best ones I´ve come across this far! They were set up roughly 9k apart and stocked with so much food and drinks that the race director actually warned us about gaining weight along the way!

The volunteers were extremely helpful. When entering an aid station I was bombarded with questions from all sides asking “what do you need?“, “how can I help you?“, “water, coke, electrolytes?“, “any food you need?“. At the exit there was a volunteer with an informative summary of the upcoming route and the exact distance to the next aid station. What more could a tired runner ask for!

Going downhill in North Face Endurance Challenge Ontario

During the second half I started catching up the people who had escaped me on the climbs earlier. I kept fueling (gel every 30mins, bar every 2 hours), made sure to stay hydrated as it was starting to get hot, and kept my pace constant regardless of the accumulating fatigue.

This time, I found myself excelling on the more technical sections and that doesn´t happen too often as typically I get dropped as soon as the terrain gets tough. Guess most of the trails around here are less technical and I had more experience on running on rocks and roots than the others around me. On the downhills I was overly cautious with my knees and got constantly passed from left and right.

Crossing a bridge in North Face Endurance Challenge Ontario

After 4,5 hours of running I seemed to be progressing relatively well compared to the runners around me and my running started feeling good considering the time I had already spent on my feet.

There were no signs of muscles giving up even on longer downhills (probably due to me being very cautious on descents from the beginning) and the calories consumed as gels and bars seemed to soak in keeping the energy levels up.

The North Face endurance Challenge Ontario

For the last 10k I teamed up with a lad from US (who had just finished a 100 miler 4 weeks back) and the rest of the way went like a breeze chatting and admiring the scenery.

We were both surprised to hear the “1k to the finish!” shouts at the last aid station. “Really, already?” – I quickly downed a cup of coke and electrolytes before starting the final descent down a skiing slope towards the finish line.

The North Face Endurance Challenge finish line

The Canadians sure know how to throw a party! The finish line was packed with people, music was playing and the announcer was on fire! A marathon relay was on and the teams were cheering on runners constantly entering and exiting the transition area.

I crossed the finish line at with 5:42 on the race clock, 9th in my age group. After a good moment of hard breathing (I may have sprinted to finish just for the sake of spectators) I sat down in a shade and started enjoying the fun cheering for other finishers while stuffing myself with calories from the finish line buffet.

Later in the afternoon, the awards ceremony was nothing I´ve seen before! All the category winners were crowdsurfed off the stage including the announcer and Mr. Ultramarathon Man Dean Karnazes himself!

Dean Karnazes crowdsurfed in North Face Endurance Challenge OntarioThe party continued late through the night but the 50k had taken the best of me and I headed to bed early soothed by ibuprofen and a pint of lager I felt I had definitely earned with the day´s work.

Now it´s time to recover and start getting ready for the main event of the season – 260k loop around Kilimanjaro!

Happy finisher of The North Face Endurance Challenge 50k!

4 responses to “Meeting the man who got me running – North Face Endurance Challenge

  1. Loved reading your recap Teema. I was there running the 50k myself. It was my 2nd ever Ultra and I loved it.

    And WOW, you came all the way from Finland for this. Welcome to Canada. That is amazing. I only live less than an hour’s drive from the race start. If you take in those views looking out over the water (Georgian Bay), I’m about 10 miles inland.

    Your photos are awesome. Wish I had a camera with me. And wasn’t the award ceremony amazing? I think it was the marathon 1st place podium winner who had his young girl body surf. It was very touching to watch. The crowd was extremely careful.

    I got to meet Dean Karnazes after the award ceremony at the meet and greet at the Atmosphere tent. It was SOOO cool

    Thank you so much for sharing this. I really relived last Saturday’s race through your post.

    I have given your blog a follow and will look you up on Twitter. I’ll still be a few days before I get my race recap finished! 🙂

    ~Carl Wright~

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Carl,

      you’re lucky to be living in such a beautiful part of the world! Really loved my visit to Canada. Regardless of spending the week leading to the race in Toronto and visiting Niagara falls, the race weekend was definitely the highlight of my trip!

      I typically carry a small dslr (Nikon 1 AW1) on my runs to get some photos from the trail. It’s small enough to fit my hydration pack waist pocket for easy access and also water and shockproof so I don’t need to worry about it along the way. Works well for blogging 🙂

      Looking forward to reading about your experience once you get the recap finished!

      Teemu

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks for this info Teemu. This is exactly the type of camera I would be after. And wow, waterproof and shockproof as well.

        So happy that it has been a great visit to Canada. Hope your flight connections work going to Kenya/Tanzania and the Kilimanjaro Stage Run goes extremely well for you! 🙂

        ~Carl~

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: I Did Not Want To Fail – theoldfellowgoesrunning·

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