TNF Endurance Challenge 50km - 5th

This weekend I ran The North Face Endurance Challenge event. This race that is organised by The North Face has been held in Chile for a number of years, however, it only became part of the Endurance Challenge series of races in 2012. I started the 80km race in 2011, which was called the Ulramaraton de Los Andes, but did not finish due to injury. This year I ran the 50km.

RunningChile team before the start.

It was a beautiful morning on Saturday and as the race started at 8 o'clock it was already light and looked like it would be a hot day. The start line was at Hacienda Santa Martina which is a magnificently located club in the mountains with fantastic single track for a few kilometers surrounding the start and finish area. I started the race in my RunningChile t-shirt and a pair of shorts as I thought that would be warm enough for the race (I still threw a wind jacket into my UltrAspire pack just in case) and for the greater part of the day it was.

Ready to go!

I didn't start at the front of the race as I have become accustomed to the ridiculously fast starts here that have put me off my pacing strategy in the past. I rolled out of Santa Martina and not surprisingly caught up to most of the fast starters on the first climb. I was feeling fresh and strong after a good taper week and the early pace was exactly where I wanted to be. I held my position in the top ten and enjoyed the awesome trails that surround the club.

River crossing in the Santa Martina area.

Beautiful single track from early in the day.

There were great undulating climbs and the trails led us through a few small river crossings, weaving amongst the trees and over the smaller hills. We also followed a course that led us off the usual trails and cut through some natural areas that I would not normally run on as there was not evident trail to follow. The first 15km of the race followed this pattern and I managed to settle into a rhythm, move up a few places and begin my nutrition strategy for the race.

Feeling strong and running well at 15km,

The next part of the course took us the climb of Huinganal, a small hill that's easily accessible from La Dehesa. I've run this climb before with the RunningChile team and it is a perfect gradient to run as it is not too steep. At this point the field that was quite close around me started to seperate and I felt that I was making progress and moving forward amongst my competitors. I was still feeling strong and enjoying the trails as we climbed and then descended to the lowest point of the race and the beginning of a long and persistent climb.

In my mind we were in the back section of the race, somewhere furthest away from the start and finish, and the trail had become a dirt road that winds along the contour of the mountains and gradually climbs for what seems like forever. I thought that this part of the course was quite ugly and it was certainly not technical or challenging footing as it is just a service road and not a trail. The climb was long with varying gradient that took us from 23km to about 42km - that's a lot of climbing! I maintained quite a good rhythm through this section, catching up a few places and running in my best position of the day which was with the eventual 3rd and 4th place finishers.

Unfortunately towards the end of the climb I started to feel the mileage building up in my legs and dropped off the pace of 3rd and 4th place and settled into the position that I would maintain until the finish. I was within sight of those two places on the later part of the climb but as I turned around a corner on the service road at 42km I could not see them ahead of me anymore. It was strange as there were a good 5 or 6 runners from the 80km race on the road ahead of me (the 80km race started at 4am and our race was timed so that we would finish at roughly the same time), but nowhere could I see the two runners I was looking for. I resigned myself to the fact that I must be dropping off the pace much faster than I thought.

However, as I turned the next bend a marshal told me that I would be taking the trail to the left as I was in the 50km race. So that was where my competitors had gone; I felt a momentary sense of relief that I hadn't slowed too much. It was momentary because I looked to the trail on the left, which was not really a trail, but rather a massive climb that seemed like a wall of mountain to summit. It probably wasn't as tough as it looked, but it was very demoralising to see such a huge climb after running 43km. I fought my way up the climb, my pace dropping as low as 3km/hr at some points due to the steepness, and kept plugging away to get to the finish. As I approached the top there was a magnificent view of the valley below and Hacienda Santa Martina was visible in the distance.

Back into the Santa Martina area as we approached the finish.

Each distance had a different colour tape - blue for 50km.

On the descent I ran a steady pace, much stronger than I had done just a month ago on the K42 descent, and enjoyed using some different muscles to the ones that were hurting on the long climb. The descent was steep and long, but I was feeling quite good and with my GPS I started counting down the distance to the finish. It's always a great feeling to know how much time is left and as I had already run for about five and half hours the final 20mins to 30mins seemed manageable. That was when I ran into the final aid station, my Garmin reading 49km, and I was planning to push and run the last 5mins hard. However, another suprise awaited me as the aid station volunteer informed me that there 6km to the finish (6km!!). This was a second low point after seeing the wall of a climb at 43km, but it was close enough to the end that I didn't lose too much focus.

Only a few more kilometers to the finish.

In that final section of the race I hoped not to be caught and tried to maintain my pace all the way to the finish. In the future I want to be running hard and chasing down positions at that point in a race, but it was not to be on Saturday. I didn't lose any places and it was great to finish up the race and see V and hearing her and Patrick shouting me in. I finished in 6hr33min in 5th place overall and 2nd place in my age group. A good result and fair reflection of the work I put in since the K42.

Very happy to be finishing for the day.

At the end of the day I was happy with my performance as I ran to the level of fitness and strength I currently have. That needs to improve (as always), but I couldn't have asked for any more on the day. It was also great to run a little with Max, who is getting stronger with each race, and Canuto, who has put down some amazing performances in big events this year. Finally I settled down, with very sore legs, and cheered in the rest of my RunningChile team mates. It was a great day.

An interview in Spanish is not so easy after running for 6hrs!

The course profile: a long climb from 15km that ends steeply at 43km.

Running on Easter Island

V and I traveled to Easter Island for a holiday at the end of September. It is a beautiful and calm little island and there's not much more to do there other than see the Moai and other historical sites. The island has one town and the rest is fields and open space which is great for running.

I went on quite a few runs while on holiday.  I went up the famous Rano Kau crater a few times, I did a run to the highest point on the island and I also covered most of the trails on the town side of the island. On the 22nd of September we did an unofficial Rhino Run together to show our support and to spread the word. It was a great break and a good chance to run somewhere warm and tropical as we are just starting spring in Santiago.

Rano Kau crater.

Beautiful trail along the rim of the Rano Kau crater.

On the way to the crater is a cave with Birdman paintings.

There were lots of beautiful sunsets on the island.

V showing a "Stop Rhino Poaching" sign on our Rhino Run.

Team 505 photos on the Rhino Run.

An early morning run with Moai in the background.

From the highest point I could see sea all around the island - spectacular!

K42 Chile - 7th

This year was my second year competing in the K42 Chile Adventure race. Last year I finished 5th after a race with many high and many low moments, terrible blisters and a huge fade at the end of the race that required walking most of easy trail in the final kilometers. I was happy with my run last year, but this year I was hoping to have a better performance due to a good build up to the race, a practiced nutrition plan and a recon run on the route. I went into the race with a simple plan that involved running my own pace, staying consistent throughout the race, and running at the level I have been training at.

In the same style as every other race I've done in the Chile, we started with a sprint and there were 20 to 30 people in front of me in the first 100m! The first three to four kilometers were on level ground with wide dirt roads or smooth single trail. In this first section I settled into a rhythm, overtook a few of the fast starters and enjoyed the company of my friend Max. Quite soon the climbing started, a few people ran passed me, and even though it was tempting I kept my effort level smooth. I was slowing compared to most people who attacked the climb, but I wasn't going to push the intensity too high up in only the first few kilometers as I knew from my recon that there was a lot of climbing to do.

Running easy in the first few kilometers.

With Max in the last flat before the climbing started.

As the climbing continued, I slowly started to catch up with some of the faster starters who had held on for as long as they could. This first section was through a beautiful forest and it was a cool and calm morning to be running a race. I had a plan for this first part of the day so I didn't force myself to run faster. I maintained a run-walk pace right at the limit as the climbing was steep and it felt good. I was making progress and still feeling strong as we approached 15km of which almost all was climbing. The steepness of the trail meant that there were many switchbacks so there were sections that could be run in between the turns and more technical sections and turns that were better walked. By this point I was above the forest and the sun was bright and strong ahead. It was turning into a much hotter day than I had expected. Patrick came into sight above me and he was going well so I hoped that I could catch up with him and run with someone for a while. I caught Pat just before the top of the climb, and past a few other people at this point too, as we entered a plateau with plenty of rough vegetation to run through.

It was a beautiful course and we climbed to the top of that peak in the middle!

The top section of the race was absolutely spectacular. As we reached about 18km we could see over the top of the climb and the Andes stretched across the horizon. This part of the mountain is called "la mesa" because it's a large flat plateau like a table. It was an amazing sight to see and helped lift my spirits. Patrick and I ran along the top together as this helped us find the route a little more easily. It seemed as if the tape showing the way had been placed in a bird's eye view of the course, but the trails on the ground definitely weren't following the tape. We went off course a few times and couldn't really make fast progress as we were spending a lot of time looking and searching for our next orientation point. We took the time to eat some food and enjoy a slower pace. We were in the top ten and the route along the top hadn't seen much traffic yet so it was not always clear and we were half bush-whacking and half running in the little rivers that were less obstructed.

At the 20km aid station we were told to head to the highest point ahead of us, that there was no marked route and that we should just run straight there. There was no one at the turnaround point and we only needed to take a small Chilean flag from the bag attached to a big Chilean flag and give this to the people at the 22km checkpoint to prove we'd made it. Pat and I remained together, although I was starting to feel a little sore and my hamstrings were aware of all the climbing we'd done. As we started descending Pat showed how strong he was and moved away from me with impressive speed. I wanted to go with him, but my legs didn't have what was required on the day.

Making my way back down at a steady pace.

I struggled on the downhills and I know this is from not being strong enough. I couldn't really pick up my speed and even though it was technical, that didn't slow me down any more than my legs were already slowing me. I settled into a pace and kept on running no matter how slow it felt. The descent really would allow for some fast running on straight and slightly technical sections, with slower running in the turns, but I was stuck in a steady pace and decided to maintain that pace for as long as I could. I must have been doing OK, because no one caught me, but I sure knew that I wasn't running as fast as I wanted to be running. By the time I reached the bottom of the descent and the final few kilometers to the finish I just wanted to be done running. I had been out on the course much longer than anticipated and I was ready to put my feet up.

Fast and easy final few kilometers.

I was happy to finish strong and running fast.

However, I also started to feel a little more relaxed and I was able to run in the last three of four kilometers at a good pace. I was very happy to be running hard and have a little left in the tank at the end of the race. To me this meant that I had got my fueling right and that I'm getting much better at pacing for longer distance races. I ran strong all the way to the finish line and completed the course in 5hrs 41min for 7th place. It was a good day for me and I'm extremely pleased with how the race went. There's still room for improvement and a large gap to close to the leaders, but that's all work in progress.

Very happy it's over!