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Rock/Creek race team member Dane Mitchell won the North Face Endurance Challenge 50k

Rock/Creek team member Dane Mitchell is crushing it in the Northeast so far this season. Here’s his report from his run of The North Face Endurance Challenge, where he won the 50k race.

We made the jaunt down to Bear Mountain in Yew York this weekend for the 50k leg of the North Face Endurance Challenge. It was a family affair with my older sister (Amanda) and her 5 year old daughter (Leah) joining me for the trek. We stayed the night in Rhinebeck with some friends, leaving a 1.5 hour commute for race morning.

The Bear Mountain northeast regional races consist of two full days of races, with the 50 mile, 50k, and marathon on Saturday and the half-marathon, 10k, and 5k on Sunday. I originally signed up for the 50-mile, but switched to the 50k once I grasped just how rocky and technical the course is… I wasn’t real sure if my trick ankles would hold up to the longer mileage. Though I was looking forward to testing myself against the great distance guys I knew would be in the longer race, I didn’t want to chance a potentially crappy experience, especially after an injury and DNF at Mt. Mitchell. Given all that, I knew either race would be a good opportunity to work on technical trail running skills, especially since most of the trails in northern Vermont are still covered in snow.

The 50-mile race starts at 5 a.m., followed by the 50k at 7. We got there in plenty of time, taking the 5:30 shuttle up to the start area. The sun was out and it was obviously going to be a beautiful day, a bit on the warm side but with enough breeze to keep it cool. We started promptly at 7 with a countdown from the M.C. The pace began pretty mellow after an initial rocky decline that a bunch of guys bombed down. I settled in with a group of 5 or 6 guys as we spread out along a nice double track section.

That led into a few miles of rolling singletrack, where our group whittled down to 3 or 4. As usual, I found myself getting passed on the downhills and then re-passing on the ups and flats. We eventually hit a short section of pavement, where I found myself pulling ahead without really surging. I maintained the rhythm into the trees and onto some nice grassy doubletrack. After a mile or so, this led into some short steep singletrack.

I thought a gap had opened up, but was soon rejoined by Ben Nilsestuen on a rocky decline. Something clicked at that moment, as he started to pass me and I realized I was being too cautious on the tricky sections. Past issues with creaky ankles, crampy quads, and the Mt. Mitchell spill were getting in my head. I was trying to pick out my steps and was applying the brakes in the process. So I followed Ben’s example and tried to trust in instincts and was able to open up a little.

We then hit the second aid station, where Amanda and Leah were shouting encouragement. I didn’t expect them to make the aid stations and it was really nice to share the fleeting moment with them. Some more easy footing followed, where I started to pull away from the couple of guys behind. That was the last time I would have contact with them, though I never really knew how far back they might be.

For some reason, my hand held water bottle was leaking and I was a little concerned that I was only getting a portion of the water down. I was forced to take a little extra time at the aid stations and down the GU electrolyte drink while I was there. The first half of the race proved to have the best footing. The latter half became more rocky and technical. I had a couple of near falls, but stayed upright for the most part. Amanda and Leah continued to pop up at the aid stations, which gave me something outside of myself to focus on.

There are really no major climbs until the last miles of the race. Even those aren’t very long, but they are pretty freakin steep. The last incline is a power hike. I can’t imagine anyone ran that portion, but you never know. Those sections plus a few lengthy stretches of boulder strewn paths and creek beds made for some real slow going toward the end… and lived up to the gnarly trail hype.

With about a half mile to go, I came to a T-intersection where there were markers going both ways, but with arrows pointing to the left. I headed left but had a bad feeling about it. After about half a mile, I passed some real familiar terrain and realized I was retracing the first part of the race!

I turned around and kicked pretty hard back the way I came and just hoped I hadn’t been passed in the meantime. Fortunately, I wasn’t passed and just lost a chunk of time and was able to enjoy the final stretch into the finish. Spectators sitting on the hillside, festivities around the race tents, and the M.C. over the speakers made for a nice finale.

Though it was a pretty grueling course for a 50k, it was the kind of race that was rewarding to finish. I definitely feel that I gained some experience and confidence in running over technical terrain… especially on descents. It is a major component of trail running and a skill that I’ll continue to work on.

My hat goes off to the 50-mile racers. It takes some serious focus to watch every step for that long. There were plenty of wounded warriors after the race to prove the repercussions of any missteps.

Thumbs up to the Rock/Creek Patagonia race jersey. It was my first race in the new uniform in warmer temperatures and it felt really unobtrusive. For nutrition I used GU gels and Succeed S-caps for electrolytes. Hallelujah, cramping wasn’t an issue. Now it’s just a short wait for the eventual Vermont snowmelt (please God) and access to some Green Mountain singletrack.