The North Face Endurance Challenge presented by Gore-Tex? was founded with the goal of helping outdoor athletes surpass their preconceived notions of what is possible. By all accounts, the inaugural 2008 event on the craggy slopes of Bear Mountain, New York achieved that goal, all while showing a sold-out field of almost 900 10K, Half Marathon, 50K and 50-Mile runners a new side of the sport.
The Accelerade 50K: Tougher than West Point
81 Accelerade 50K runners marveled at a grueling Bear Mountain course that some described as the toughest in the East--maybe in the country. Alex Fyfe of New York, NY, took top honors for men, with a blazing chip time of 5:37:17. Susan Nowell, also from New York City, won the women's race, cracking the finish line in the peaceful meadow of Bear Mountain State Park with a time of 7:38:07.
Cadet Corporal David Swanson took on the Accelerade 50K course and came away exhausted and elated about his 15th-place finish (7:29:56).? "I've told my parents and friends that this is the single hardest thing that I've ever done,'" he said. "And West Point hasn't been a cake walk, by any means! I find myself looking with sadistic interest at the September 6 Endurance Challenge event in Washington, DC."
Half Marathon Hoopla
The Half Marathon saw a whopping 218 runners lace up their trail-running shoes (and, for some unwise souls, racing flats) to tackle the relentless 13.1-mile course. Olver Obagi (2:15:37) outran Shaun Chandler (2:22:08) of West Point, NY, for the men's crown while The North Face Endurance Athlete Nikki Kimball of Livingston, MT, won the women's race, finishing third overall with a time to 2:25:33, 26 minutes ahead of her closest challenger. There were 208 finishers.
Half Marathoner Diana Wall of Dalton, CT, placed third in the 40-49 age group and left impressed. "The race was true to its name--an endurance challenge," she said. "I challenged myself, met some great people, and had a really good experience."
A 10K Like No Other
The 10K race enjoyed the largest field of the day, with 296 runners setting the pace up the course's first stiff climb. Kirby Davis from Falmouth, MA, won the race in 51:55, nipping second-place finisher Mario Souza (52:14). Christine Barile (1:03:32) from Verona, NY, beat the women's field for top honors. Emily Kindlon from Brooklyn, NY, clocked a time of 1:07:40 for second place in the women's race.
The Main Event: 50 Miles to Go
As finishers from the 10K, Half Marathon and 50K race mingled at the post-race party, 50-milers battled the highly technical, non-stop course littered with loose rocks, tight singletrack and rivers of mud.
34-year-old Chris Rice, veteran of over 75 ultramarathons from Suffern, NY, outlasted the 50-mile course, finishing seventh. "This was truly a trail ultra," he said. "It put runners up against challenging terrain without adding in road sections... no fluff."
Among the 50-Mile runners, Leigh Schmitt on Conway, MA, reigned as a pre-race favorite. Schmitt, 35, won the 2007 Endurance Challenge regional in Washington DC, and placed third at the Championship three months later in San Francisco.
"I went into this race a little blind," said Schmitt. "I hadn't run the course and had never spent any time in that area--it was all new."