Ouch. That’s the best way to describe The North Face Endurance Challenge’s Ontario race. Backing up a couple of days – we (about 15 of us from Boston) arrived in Toronto Thursday evening for a pop up November Project workout at 6:30 Friday morning. November Project is currently in 21 cities in the US and Canada, and we’re hoping Toronto is one of the next to join. With about 50 people there, the vibe was awesome. Just the right mix of people there for a good workout and to socialize, as well as to race hard. I spent much of the workout balancing racing hard and trying to remember we had a tough trail race the next morning. The warmup was an easy jog around a dirt track, then an all out 400. I couldn’t help myself, and accidentally dropped a 4:37/mile paced lap, 2nd to Sam, the leader of the November Project pledge group from Toronto. Oops. (#raceeverything) After promising myself that was the hardest I’d work for the rest of the morning, I found myself “racing” a girl next to me who seemed almost exactly my speed. I say “racing” because neither of us said a word about it – unspoken racing is the best. Another reason to love NP (or running groups in general)… There’s always someone to help you push harder.
We ended the workout, enjoyed some breakfast and headed about 2.5 hours north to Collingwood / Blue Mountain Ontario. We stayed in an incredible condo community and I’d absolutely recommend it if you happen to be looking for a vacation in northern Ontario.
Race morning: We walked over to the start of the race – another perk of the place we were staying at. It was hot and extremely humid, and my leg didn’t start until noon. The first leg started at 10am, and the first two racers returned about 70 minutes later, one of them being my teammate. The second leg was similarly paced, and I went out at almost exactly the same time as the leading team. The first half mile was a good warmup, and then it got steep. It started out with switchbacks as we climbed up the mountain. Once we got to the top, there were a couple of drops, followed by some more gradual climbs.
I finally settled in around mile 3 or so, and got into a groove and pace that I was comfortably uncomfortable at. My teammate that went out first told me to be sure to walk a few of the climbs and I’d know which ones he meant when I saw them. As seen on the elevation map above, there were quite a few walk breaks, especially on the 3 large climbs in the 3rd quarter of the race. I liked and hated these nasty climbs all at once, especially since the 50k and other longer racers were out on the same course at the same time. It was both motivating and humbling to feel the need to walk alongside them up some of the steeper hills, knowing that some of them were doing 10x the distance, but at a much slower speed. As soon as those monster hills ended, the route took us back into the wooded part. The last half mile or so was a very slow decent on wet rocks and steep trail that required walking and even some crab walking down some of the steeper parts. It was challenging, and all I could think about was how brutal but awesome it would be to race the opposite route.
I had walked the first half mile of the course prior to my leg, so I knew that after I popped out of the woods, it was a clear shot to the finish. I found a gear I didn’t think I’d have and sprinted the final half mile or so to the finish, and then collapsed after I passed off the timing chip to my partner, who took off, with us now in 1st place.
A while later, Dean Karnazes welcomed and congratulated us on the podium. That was pretty cool – he also asked if we were staying in the same place as last year along the lake, so I half jokingly (although I was totally serious) invited him over for dinner. He probably had another dozen miles to run, so he wasn’t able to make it.
We celebrated that night, and it was cool to learn a bit more about why November Project partnered with The North Face and their races, after being approached by every big brand. As Bojan described it, North Face promotes all the cool stuff its athletes are doing (their hashtag is #NeverStopExploring which is awesome to search on Instagram) rather than pushing their latest product. For a group based on community, fitness and racing your butt off, the human element was what did it for BG and Bojan. Awesome choice.
What’s next? I’m finally getting back onto a hard training plan. After following a loose plan from my coach ever since Shamrock Marathon in March (and then a very short program prior to the Boston Marathon) I’ve basically been in maintenance/offseason mode after training hard for 3 marathons in 13 months, 5 months of that spent focusing on the fast 5k. What I learned was that I like the hurt of a 5k much better than a marathon, so I’ll be getting back to that with the goal of a sub 17 5k later this fall.
I plan on testing again with InsideTracker’s InnerAge plan in the next week or two, as noted in the last blog post. I’ve been working on a couple specific interventions with the goal of dropping glucose, maintaining testosterone level, and improving vitamin D a bit. We’ll see what happens. I’m also trying to improve some of my iron related markers, which will help with endurance. I’ll post an update on that soon, and if you’re curious about how you can improve yourself, head over to InsideTracker.com – we have a live chat feature, and if “Jonathan” pops up, I’d be happy to help with any questions.
Next up: #NPSUMMIT and ECS Utah. Join us – everyone’s invited! I’m excited to sign up for that one as a two person team, rather than four. That’ll mean a half marathon at altitude. Should be fun!
What big crazy goals do you have for yourself this year? I’d love to hear them.