2011 North Face Endurance Challenge Bear Mountain

Yesterday was an ultramarathon day for our entire family. It had been 30 months since Debbie ran longer than 50 kilometers, so finishing the North Face Endurance Challenge Bear Mountain 50 Miler in New York was a big step. She was ready to return to the 50 mile distance, and will work her way back to the 100 mile distance later this year.As a family, it was our first 50-miler with two kids, so it was a hectic fun-filled day of crewing, driving, dressing, camping, eating, diaper changing, potty tripping, photographing, and cheering.

We had a blast, and  today, being Mother’s Day, the job continues! Debbie was excited that her body held up really well. She completed the 50 miles in 10:03:26, was 4th female, and 20th overall. There were 197 starters and 147 finishers, a big improvement over the first Bear Mountain 50 that she ran in 2008. That was the inaugural edition and the course was much harder than anyone, including the race organizers, expected. The attrition rate was extraordinarily high because the cutoff times weren’t generous enough.

The course for yesterday’s race was slightly modified, but it still included a tremendous amount of climbing and a lot of rugged trails. Specifically, there was 7,038 of elevation gain and 14,074 of elevation change when you include the descending. The one loop course through Bear Mountain State Park and Harriman State Park is spectacular. Debbie still “complains” that there are too many road and dirt road sections. She would rather have 50 miles on singletrack with rocks and roots galore. I imagine that she would also rather have the race entirely run downhill, as that would suit her descending strength.

Well, it goes both up and down. We drove down on Friday evening and arrived at Beaver Pond Campground in the dark. We saw 20 deer on the Palisades Interstate Parkway, and on the park roads, so it was slow going. The deer were also in our campsite when dawn broke on Saturday morning, but Debbie was already gone. She arose at 3:45 A.M. to join Shenipsit Striders teammates, Clint Morse and David Merkt for the shuttle to the 5:00 A.M. start.

After getting the kids dressed and fed, we hooked up with the race at the Skannatati Aid Station at the 20.7 mile mark. This was the only time we saw the overall leaders come through. At Skannatati, eventual race winner, Jordan McDougal (7:27:57) was leading Leigh Schmitt (7:42:25) by a matter of seconds. The crazy thing was that they had an 11+ minute lead on the chase group, which included Ben Nephew (7:43:30), Brian Rusiecki (7:51:11), and several other speedsters. Those guys were flying. The hard start made for a long day for many of them.

At the 20.7 mile mark, our friend, Nikki Kimball, (9:36:56) came through as first woman, but she was followed closely by eventual winner, Annette Bednosky (9:09:35). Sophie Limoges (9:48:53) was third. Debbie was with Amy Lane in 5th and 6th behind Christina Carvalho. The sun was shining brilliant off the beautiful Lake Skannatati adjacent to the aid station. All week, rain and thunderstorms had been forecast, but the weather turned out fantastic. It was cool when the sun was behind clouds, but mild when it was shining brightly, which was most of the day. The trails were in good shape and mostly dry, though Bear and Harriman are heavily trod on parks.

We got to see Debbie several more times. We saw her on the way to the Camp Lanowa aid station at 27.7 miles and again when she looped back around to the aid. We just missed her when we left Camp Lanowa and the trail wound along the road. We did see Amy, who had slowed a bit, and we caught a glimpse of David. We headed to the Anthony Wayne aid station at 40.3 miles and saw all of the top women, including Debbie, come through. Deb was looking really good with 10 miles to go and we were hoping that she could move up a bit. She got to the finish two hours later where we rendezvoused with her for good.

The finish line festival was rollicking with music and all kinds of activities. You could even get your face painted, though that was mainly for the kids. We saw Amy Lane finish, which was inspiring because she was hurting. We also saw David Merkt finish on a severely hurt quadricep. At 40.7, he was flying in his first 50-miler, but apparently, he hurt his quad badly at 42 miles and walked most of the final eight. Ouch! Clint Morse dropped at 27, but he knew he was going to struggle. He made it more than half-way and was waiting at the finish to cheer Deb and Dave on.

The North Face Endurance Challenge is a multi-day/multi-race series that has grown in popularity. Also held yesterday were a trail marathon and a 50 kilometer trail ultra. Today, they are having 5K, 10K, and half marathon trail races. The series attracts a lot of newbies, which is great. It gives folks a chance to try a shorter distance and move up to a longer race in the future. The 50K races were won by Traprock 50K champ, Dane Mitchell (4:22:47) and Patricia Bissett (5:59:56). The 50K had 234 starters and 217 finishers, which is a huge participation rate. 162 people started the marathon and there was a marathon relay, so all in all, there were more than 600 people on the trails yesterday and there will be even more today.

Additionally, North Face puts on the Karno Kid’s Races that are normally led by North Face athlete, Dean Karnazes. Karnazes is currently busy running across the United States, so the race was led by a cast of characters including Buzz Lightyear, SpongeBob, Snow White, the “man-horse,” and others. Our 4.5 year-old joined at least 50 other kids for this 1 kilometer test. It was very cool.


North Face Endurance Challenges are wildly popular and they are very different from many of our favorite grassroots trail races, but with Bear Mountain’s proximity to New York City, it only takes a little marketing to get folks to come out and test the trails. In the end, this is excellent for the trail scene. More and more people are “going beyond” the marathon and thankfully, getting off of the dreaded roads. The volunteers were excellent. The aid stations were stocked. We always also thank the dedicated folks who care for trails throughout the region.

Today is Mother’s Day, and I’m certain that Debbie does NOT want to go for a run. I’m sure she will recover quickly and resume her training by mid-week. She had a strong buildup to Bear Mountain without much rest. 7 Sisters last week was probably harder on the legs than she would admit. Heck, I’m still hobbling! With better rest, she can run faster. Regardless, she had fun, is in good spirits, and gain some confidence from covering the distance. Onward!

50 Mile Race Results

50K Race Results

PrintRoom Photos

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