Only four weeks after running Boston in 2010, one of my friends sent me an email about an upcoming event just two weeks away, The North Face Endurance Challenge.  The two-day event included 50-Miler, 50-K, marathon, marathon relay, half marathon, 10K, and 5K races. I immediately decided to enter the marathon despite telling the Cruisers that Boston might well have been my farewell marathon. The location for the Endurance Challenge was in near-by Algonkian Regional Park and I took the closeness of the location as an omen that I was meant to run it.

Race morning I woke up bright-and-early for Bill to drive me to the race start. We easily made it into the park with no traffic problems. I picked up my race packet in about two minutes and suddenly realized that I had an hour and a half to kill until race time, so I started out by wondering around the athletes’ village taking pictures.

The 9 AM start-time annoyed me because it meant the race would be really hot. I decided that I needed to get out of the sun and found a covered picnic area near the Potomac River to wait it out. I made friends with my fellow shelter-dwellers and we started talking about our race histories, the course, where we were from, etc. I quickly realized that a lot of the runners were running their first marathon, and I was surprised that they would pick this difficult course as their first.

The older gentleman in the photo below had just run Boston as well (his 12th Boston), one of the guys was running his first marathon and the other was running his second. The newbie marathoner had run the half-marathon course last year and we all listened intently to him as he described the course.

As we waited, we noted that there was never a line at the porta-potties.  North Face did a great job of having plenty of porta potties, but this was a two day event and I’m sure there would be a lot more runners hanging around on day two during the half marathon, 10K, and 5K.

We also noted how relaxed and laid back everyone seemed. As race time approached we walked up to the starting line and self-seeded ourselves. The field of runners was very small, maybe 200 people in all.

After a few announcements and a little pep-talk by Dean Karnazes, we were off!

We ran on grass for about a mile and I was passed by person-after-person and starting to get a complex. We had our first tiny little stream crossing and then we went into a single dirt lane lined on both sides with grass and stinging nettle that was often taller than me.

I quickly realized that this wasn’t an ordinary race. We had color-coordinated ribbons to follow to stay on our (marathoners followed pink). Early on, another runner and I made a wrong turn and the other runners called us back (I went off course at least two other times).

The course was beautiful and interesting as we ran through muddy lanes, jumped across creeks, scurried across fallen trees, climbed up incredibly steep hills, and ran back down switch-backs.  Much of the time we had the beautiful Potomac River within our sight.

Around mile 8, my Cruiser friend Chuck surprised me by being along the trail waiting to run with me. Chuck mentioned that he hadn’t seen any female runners that looked my age or older in front of me and that I might be in a position to win or place in my age group. That really went a long way in encouraging me to stay strong. Chuck ran with me for about 8-10 miles and then stopped when he got back to his car. He said he’d be at the finish line when I got there. I turned my iPod back on and continued my journey, picking off runners one at a time and feeling quite strong.



Halfway point!

With what I thought was two miles to go, I was pleasantly surprised to see Bill and Chuck at the fourth and final aide station.  And Chuck wasn’t just there to cheer me on; he was there to run me in!


Photo courtesy of Bill

Unfortunately, I’d been given wrong information at the previous aide station and I still had four miles to go, not two. Chuck talked and kept me entertained as we made it toward the finish line, picking off a few more runners as we trudged along.


Photo courtesy of Bill

I was able to finish strong with a time of 5:32:38 (12:41 pace)and with my arms in the air shouting, “I loved this course! It rocked!”


Photo courtesy of Bill

We were able to meet Dean Karnazes right after the race. He signed our copy of his book Ultra Marathon Man and chatted with us for a while. He said that he had gone out earlier in the morning for a short run (probably 30 miles).


Photo courtesy of Bill


Photo courtesy of Bill

While I was munching on my post-race burrito, we saw Dean and a group of kids run by doing their fun run. It was amazing to see his muscles ripple as he ran by so easily.


As we were leaving, we checked the board to see if I’d placed. At that point, I was the only person in my age group that had finished, so I was excited to see that I’d finished first. Luckily, I was able to pick up my award (North Face hat and water bottle) before we left, because we were so tired we didn’t want to drive back two hours later for the awards ceremony. In hindsight, I wish I had attended the award ceremony because it would have been so cool to go up on stage and receive my award from Dean Karnazes.



I was the 12th female to finish and finished 33rd overall.  I was also the oldest female to finish, and the only one in my age group. It’s not hard to win your age group when you’re the only one in it!

Race shirts and socks weren’t given out until after the race was finished which proved to be a problem for me.  I was so sweaty and gross that I didn’t try on my shirt even though they said I could.  I didn’t realize it was a compression shirt until I got home and it was way too small for me.  Oh and the socks… they were way too big for me!  At least the bag fit.  Ha!

The finishers medal was pretty basic with a different colored ribbon for each of the different race distances.

I had no idea when Bill suggested I go stand in front of the Potomac River so he could take a picture of me that it would become one of my favorite photos, and one that I would use on Deb Runs, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest. I’m still holding out on my Facebook page and using a picture Bill took of me at the beach at sunrise…


Photo courtesy of Bill

If you’re looking for a well organized trail race, I highly recommend The North Face Endurance Challenge!  There’s a distance for everyone, and the atmosphere is really great.  I can’t speak for the other locations, but the DC course is beautiful, challenging, fun, and it rocks!

  • Questions:
  • What’s your all-time favorite race?
  • Have you ever run a North Face race?
  • Which running celebrities have you met? ~ Jeff Galloway, Bart Yasso, Katherine Switzer and Dean Karnazes for me.