It was a rainy day when the alarm went off at 4 in the morning.

I was up, out of the house, and on the road by 5 making my way to Blue Mountain to take part in the North Face Endurance ½ Marathon.  While the early morning start was a bit of a challenge, it was the extremely low, very dark clouds, flashes of lighting, and intermittent downpours leading the way to the race that really had me concerned.  Fortunately, the sun won out and broke through the clouds moments before the gun went off.

My first stand-alone ½ marathon was completed last year with my cousin Lili. It was her first attempt at that distance and I paced her to a finish just under 2 hrs.  I figured this, being an off-road run with a pretty significant climb, would be slightly more difficult and my time would be around 2:20-2:30. Boy did I underestimate the challenge!

The race started with a slight incline on fire road through a bit of forested area before the switchbacks kicked in and the single track took over. The terrain was slick and slippery thanks to the deluge of rain the night before and the morning of the race.   As the pack began to split, I managed to stay with the first group as we navigate our way up the steep slopes and greasy track.

Soon we were out in the open on gravel fire road, heading ever higher up the mountain. A slight drizzle became a welcome relief and seemed to reinvigorate many of the runners as the uphill shuffle began to take on the rhythm of a run again! I too used the cooling effect of the rain to push myself upward and onward, hoping that the next ascent was the last. At one point, with only one runner in my site another competitor came up behind and asked if this was the front of the race. I had to laugh and then crush her hopes by telling her that there was another group further ahead.

Using the ski lifts as a beacon, I finally made it to the top of the mountain. And now, so I thought, the course must get easier as logically the only direction to go is down. Oh, how wrong I was! The sadistic course designers decided to throw in several twists and turns as we made our way back to the finish, including a very long descent that brought smiles to all until we took the corner and came face to face with a wall of a climb back up to where we came from.

Finally, after 19 grueling kilometers, the end was in site. Now, there truly was only one way to go. Once again though, the Endurance challenge lived up to its name.  The finally 2k were a twisted, treacherous trail of rock, roots, and mud. Slick stone steps and narrow paths lined the final push for the finish. While some, including me, tentatively picked their way through the trail, others barreled down with few rewarded with gained time while many other were left on the side of trail, or worse, off the trail completely.

More the 20 minutes after what I assumed would be my finishing time; I crossed the timing mat that recorded my run at 2:59:24. It was a brutal race!  We covered more than 800 feet of elevation and descended trails that I wouldn’t do on a mountain bike! It was AWESOME!

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