ENDURrun Stage 3: 30km Cross Country

You have a choice. You can throw in the towel, or use it to wipe the sweat off your face. – Gatorade Ad

I met Lloyd Schmidt, the ENDURrun race director, in early June of this year, at the Mud Run. I’d already signed up for the ENDURrun, and it was cool to actually meet the mastermind behind this event. He was saying to me that the race is tough. The first two days (marathon, 15km time trial) are fairly flat, on roads, and lull many runners into a false sense of familiarity and security. Then comes Stage 3, and it’s a real “kick in the gut”. At the time, I laughed, not realizing how true those words were. Today I got to experience it first hand.

This stage consisted of a 5km trail run, mostly on grass and wood chip and dirt trails, which we had to run 6 times in a row. The route was made up of hills of various sizes; some small rollers, some steep. Doing it once, is one thing. But 6 times? Crazy, sadistic, and just plain TOUGH.

My plan going in was to survive. There are still 4 stages after this one, so no sense blowing myself out of the water. I hadn’t done nearly enough hills or trails in my training, so I knew it would be hard. The other problem was my legs were still sore from the first two stages, despite massages, ice baths, protein smoothies, and just plain rest. I wasn’t sure how they would take the pounding of a total of 48 hills.

We arrived at Bechtel Park at 7:00am. Temperatures were nice and cool, for a change, but the humidity was still up there. The forecast of intermittent showers didn’t appear to be accurate, as we had blue skies. I knew as the race continued that it would be hot hazy and humid.

My race plan was a conservative one. I figured I could probably hold on to a 5:30min/km pace. I would walk the water stations, which were positioned every 2.5km (start and half way points of the loop). Again I opted to use the supplies on the course (Gatorade and water), rather than carry my own bottle. I’ve done that the previous two stages, and it seemed to work well.

As the other runners started arriving, everyone was in good spirits, although there was some tension I think; people weren’t so relaxed as the previous two. Many of the existing runners are repeat runners, so they all knew what was coming. That alone was giving me cause for worry.

We assembled at the start line at 8am, got our final instructions and course directions from Lloyd, and he sent us of with his usual “Mark, set, GO!” The front runners immediately tore off, while I settled into my pace.

A huge component of this run, for me anyways, is mental. How do you get through 6 very hilly stages? At the beginning, it seems like forever; that I’m going to be basically running for the next 3 hours. My legs were sore from the first step; they’d felt like I’d run a full marathon on them already (well, uh, I have… almost). I think I worried and fretted for pretty much the first 2km or so. I settled in behind my friend Steve, who was also doing 5:30, and got into a rhythm.

The trail section was great, because being shaded meant it was much cooler. It was also pretty dark the first time through; I had to take off the sunglasses. The trail featured ups and downs, some steep parts, both going up and down. I managed the first loop in 28 minutes, pretty much on pace.

To my surprise, my legs weren’t getting worse; the pain died down to a dull throb which was manageable, and I just kept it going. The uphill parts were tough, but I used my arms to propel me up the hill. Coming down, I tried the technique that many of the elite runners do in basically “falling” down the hill; opening my stride and just going with gravity. I found that it was easier on my quads and calves than trying to brake while running.

And so it went, for loops 2, 3, and 4. In the 4th loop, my legs started to hurt more, as did my glutes. My strides became shorter, and going up the hills became much more painful, and required more slow “jogging” recovery. It was also getting super hot and humid. The stretches in the open grass were unbearable. It was like running in a big sauna. I desperately craved the trail parts which were shaded.

Loop 5 was okay, as long as hills were not involved. After lurching up the first one in the loop, I resolved not to be a hero, and walked the rest of the uphills. Lap 5 was when all the mantras came out. I spend some time the night before reading everyone’s comments on the previous stages, and they really helped to get me through this part mentally.

The final loop was a blur; I was essentially on autopilot, willing my legs to finish. As I came up the final hill towards the finish, I still had some gas left, so I turned on the jets and finished strong. I was ecstatic to have beaten the 3 hour mark, the time goal I’d put into my head. It’s great having all the elites, who’d finished almost 40 minutes ago cheering you across the line.

The rest of the morning was spent replenishing by eating the awesome spread the volunteers had provided. It was Middle Eastern Cuisine, with subs, wraps, and salads. It was great seeing the happy faces of those that finished, and cheering on the competitors through the line.

Tomorrow’s stage is an evening run, which doesn’t start until 6pm, so a well deserved sleep-in is in order. I didn’t get to take many pictures in this stage, but when the official ones get posted, I’ll provide the link.

  • Distance: 30km ( 6x5km loops)
  • Time: 2:53:52 (loop splits 0:28:12, 0:27:44, 0:28:33, 0:29:14, 0:29:43, 0:30:26)

Official results are on the ENDURrun website