Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Return to Bear Mountain

The North Face Endurance Challenge at Bear Mountain, NY kicked off my weekend nice and early Saturday morning. A 4:45 alarm woke me from a restless sleep and after flashbacks to Crew practice in college, I rolled out of bed and into some comfy clothes. Elyssa was snoozing on my couch so I flicked on the coffee maker and woke her up too. We slowly came to life as we drove down to Harlem to pick up fellow volunteer, Tracy and headed north on the Palisades Pkwy. The sunrise was beautiful as we rolled down into the Festival area at 6:30am, knowing that the runners started at 5am and we're already well into the race. I signed up to man the same aid Station as I did last yr, Camp Lanowa which sits at mile 27.7 in the middle of what is probably a bustling summer camp in the summer months. As the crew got things set up, a course sweeper arrived and told me about the vandalism he encountered while running the course earlier. Unbelievable, someone had gone out of their way to remove course markings from a 6 mile stretch of the trail in the middle of the night. Again! It happens every year, and I am blown away every time I hear about it. The sweeper had started running at 2:30 and spent hours running and re-marking the course. After he helped out all day, we broke down the aid station and he then ran the rest of the course and took down the markers! Wow. On top of his athletic abilities, he's also just a really, really nice guy. If I were organizing a race, I'd definitely want Russell on my team. Honestly though, the entire North Face team, headed up by Nick Moore, is like the Dream Team of race organizers. It is such a well run event, and I hope to at least run the half marathon on Sunday one year after volunteering at the 50 miler on Saturday.
The day went very smoothly at our station with the exception of terrible radio communication with the race directors, something we had to remedy by texting and calling for most of the day. We were lucky enough to have some pacers at our station who were all really great and helped us out tremendously until their runners arrived. One of them was pacing one of the lead men, so we lost him early but not without getting the scoop on what it's like at the front of the pack. The leaders were very spread out this year, and the lead runner was minutes ahead of the next guy, but by the finish #2 guy was almost 15 minutes ahead of previous #1 guy. That kind of uncertainty doesn't happen in road marathons. I had to keep track of each of the runners (all 195 that started)  and was able to tell the leaders how far behind they were. Just like last year, families and crews gathered at our aid station, making it a busy and fun place to be. I recognized Nikki Kimball's crew (one older man in a wool sweater) from last year as he lined up her bottles of water, coke and other mysterious concoctions. Nikki wasn't in the lead this year though, Annette???? came through before her and ended up winning the women's race. I was happy to see that there were 4 women in the top 20 finishers. The trails are the ultimate levelers of the playing field.
Plenty of bloody, beat up runners came through during the course of the morning, most of whom were having a good time despite the crazy hills, rocks and technical trails. A few dropped out at our station after an injury or just plain undertraining knocked them down too many times. I was impressed by everyone who made it that far! 28 miles on a very difficult course is worth being proud of. I hope they're able to walk normally soon.
Thanks to everyone who made the day a success, I love this event and I'm grateful for my friends who came along at the crack of dawn for this adventure. Congrats to all of the finishers as well, wow that's an awesome accomplishment.
You ought to think about joining me next year!
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