Disclaimer: I received a free entry to The North Face Endurance Challenge Series: Wisconsin 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!
This is my personal recap of the race: to read just my overview of the more technical race details check out my review on Bibrave.com!
SO if you have been following my training journey you probably know that I was supposed to run the 50 miler at this race and dropped to the 50k at the last moment. I wasn’t ready for the distance and some health issues were keeping me from feeling like my training was going well enough to try it. That said, the first thing I have to applaud The North Face Endurance Challenge Series for is how easy they made it to change the distance I would be running. This was the first time I have ever had to change a distance and I was worried it was going to be far more difficult. I was pleasantly surprised by how easy it turned out to be.
The night before the race I flew in and got dinner at a little Italian restaurant…because garlic bread (with real Wisconsin butter) and spaghetti are pretty much mandatory before a long race right?
I was staying in Milwaukee so I had about a half hour drive in the morning and I assumed there would be lines for packet pick up so I left by 5 am. There were exactly zero places open that appeared to serve any variety of coffee so I was a little nervous. Upon arriving at the race site, the Kettle Morain State Park, there were a plethora of volunteers directing traffic and getting runners and spectators parked. The 50 miler started at 5 am so they were long gone by the time I arrived and the festival area was pretty much empty. I walked right up to the table to pick up my bib number and shirt AND they had coffee! If I have to be up before the sun this is one way to make up for it 😉
In the festival area there were also big jugs of water to fill up your bottles and several fire pits. Though it was supposed to get pretty warm later in the day, it was pretty chilly before sunrise. I chatted with several other runners, mixed up a packet of UCAN and drank that half an hour before the race start.
I had not come prepared with a bag big enough for gear check (rookie mistake) so I ran most of my belongings back out to my car and just checked my keys with the wonderful gear check tent volunteers.
Lining up for the race start was a piece of cake and very well organized. There were three waves starting a minute apart. I was in wave two and that minute gap gave the first wave plenty of time to clear the trail before we got started. It was a much better way to start out than being all bunched up at the beginning! Not that I am particularly fast, but the bottleneck at the start can get pretty frustrating fast.
The first section of the race felt amazing. For the first ten miles or so I was wondering why I had dropped from the 50 miler because I felt so good. The weather was nice and cool, the footing wasn’t very technical and the hills were totally manageable.
Then the sun came out and it got warm.
Then we came out of the woods to a prairie section and it got hot.
I was keeping a really good pace through the first half marathon and even towards the 15 mile mark I was thinking I might PR by over an hour. Once the weather got ugly those dreams died a quick quick death.
It might have been the general fatigue of the run, but I am also convinced the second half of the race had significantly steeper climbs. My legs were just not prepared and I ended up walking up some of the hills backwards to take some of the strain off the front of my hips.
That said, the aid stations were amazing and the course volunteers were so enthusiastic. My watch battery croaked with about 10 miles to go and having volunteers that knew what mile we were at and how far it was to the next aid station was life changing. So were the oranges. I don’t know what it is about running that makes oranges taste like the greatest thing on Earth, but I think there has to be some scientific explanation. Even though I would have happily eaten just oranges the whole time, I also knew my body needed some other fuel. PB&Js did the trick and at one aid station they also had vegetable broth. I think they had ways of heating it up if the weather had been cold (like it was last year) but they served it cool since it got so warm. Even though it meant breaking the “nothing new on race day” rule, I tried it and it was so worth it. It might be my new favorite way to get salt in my system quickly!
Fun fact about Wisconsin that I didn’t know: they have sand. Yup. I was very much not prepared for sand and keeping it away from my feet. By mile 20 I was doing the pain shuffle and had blisters on the bottom of my feet for the first time ever. I have very resilient feet so having them fail me like that was a blow.
Despite all the not so awesome stuff going on, the scenery was gorgeous! I loved these trails and would love to come back and run them again. The hills were worth it when you got the view from the top. As hot as the prarie stretches were, it was pretty awesome to be running on a trail cut between grass and plants taller than your head! And really, the importance of the view along the way cannot be overstated when it comes to ultras. At least I don’t think so. When everything hurts you can get pulled out of your pain by the amazingly beautiful world around you!
As with any long distance run, the last few miles seem to take a lifetime so I was beyond thrilled to see the finish line and festival area just around a corner. There were photographers along the way and quite a few spectators that were cheering for everyone (rather than just the runner they were with) and I have to say I don’t think there is anything that compares to that feeling as you get to the finish line. I was obviously wayyy towards the back of the pack, but the announcer was calling out every name like you were the winner.
In addition to a medal (which is heavy and solid and amazing) you also got a reusable water bottle with the race logo and ‘Finisher’ on it. I really appreciated this more sustainable twist on the usual disposable plastic water bottle at the finish.
At the finish festival there were a few vendor/sponsor tents, a free beer, a hot meal, and big buckets of ice water (with chairs!) to soak your legs in. Oh and lots of grass to flop on! I took advantage of all these things and it was heaven. I got to drink my beer sitting with my unhappy feet in an ice bath and it appeased them at least for a little while!
I also got to meet up with a few of the other BibRave Pros that ran as well…which is always a blast!
Overall I HIGHLY recommend The North Face Endurance Challenge Series: Wisconsin. I would hazard a guess that the rest of the race series is equally as amazing. The race was so well organized from registration to finish line. The trail was beautiful and well marked. The volunteers and race staff were amazing people. I could not have asked for a better experience and hope to have the opportunity to run this race again in the future!