Sunday, March 25, 2018

Sandhills Ultra 50k

Andy and I
Waking up at 0300 is not something that most people do willingly.  Waking up at 0300 to drive for five hours and then run 31 miles takes a special kind of crazy, but that's exactly what I did yesterday.
My buddy Andy and I met up at 0400 and headed west for North Dakota and a day of ultramarathon running.

The Extreme North Dakota Sandhills Ultra Run Experience (END-SURE) is a 25k, 50k, 100k, or 100 mile race on the North Country Trail in the Sheyenne National Grasslands in North Dakota.  Big skies and flat terrain punctuate the wind blown first half of the 50k course.  Rolling "sandhills" and pockets of forest keep the second half interesting.

First Half: Start to the Aid Station

"flat" prairie
The first half of the END-SURE 50k is marked by wind-blown prairie that looks flat, but actually has a decent amount of roll to it.  My plan was to take it easy and go with the flow of the back of the pack runners.  Recent snowfall meant harder running and I also wanted to let the fast runners pack the trail for me.  I set out at what I thought was an easy pace, 10-11min/mile.  This turned out to be more of a moderate pace.

Running for the first 15 miles felt pretty good.  I took a few walking breaks, remembering to take it easy, and snapped a few photos  to document the run.  Mostly though, I enjoyed being outside and running, even if the wind was somewhat nasty, sustained at 20mph.  When it was at my back, the wind was awesome, when it was pounding me from the side, or in my face, it was my worst enemy.  Mile 16 marked an out and back on road, the reprieve of gravel road was balanced out by the gale-force head wind on the back part of the out and back.  Fortunately though this brought me to the only Aid Station on the route.

Second Half: Aid Station to the Finish

The second half of the race got me out of the wind, but I traded wind for rolling hills and snow that was like " mashed potatoes that had been put under a heat lamp for hours and formed a crust on top," to quote another racer from yesterday.  The snow was a major hindrance, to say the least.  If I wasn't punching through the top and post holing, I was sliding on semi-loose slush that never provided a good push off.  This slowed my progress a LOT.  Even though I had planned to walk the uphills, the snow slowed my ascents even more than I had planned, and made my descents more difficult, making it harder to make up for the time I lost on the climbs, as well as totally sapping my energy.

Another surprise the the second half held for me was the sun.  Normally, running in the sun and soaking it in is a great thing.  This time however, it was different.  I was dressed for cold, cloudy and wind.  I heated up FAST and as a result, my water went away FAST.  Trudging through the snow for the last 5 miles, without water, I was really feeling drained and, when I finally saw the finish line and the end, I was happy to see it!

Overall Thoughts:

END-SURE was definitely more of a challenge than I was expecting.  From unpredictable weather, to having only one Aid Station, I definitely got more than I bargained for with the race.  The dramatic shift in weather made it difficult to dress appropriately, so I need to keep that in mind for my next races.  Also, I need to plan better for the possibility of not having access to aide.  Running out of water was no fun, and I know that it contributed to my difficulties in the end.

One good thing I realized though, is that, despite the difficulty, I never thought about the dreaded DNF.  I just kept telling myself that I was getting comfortable being uncomfortable.  It might have "only" been a 50k, but it was definitely a learning experience and one that will help me be a better runner in future races!
Happy at the finish

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