Race Report: The North Face Endurance Challenge – Wisconsin

Race result: DNF at 41.5 miles. You can see my race data on Strava.

The North Face Wisconsin 50 miler did not go the way I wanted, but it’s nothing to be ashamed of. In the end, it was a great learning experience, and that’s exactly what I need right now. They say it usually takes a few ultras before you get the hang of them. I’ll start by walking you through the race. At the end, I’ll provide my overall analysis and what I learned.


Mark Thompson and I departed Iowa City around 2:00pm, and we picked up Joe Lahart in Cedar Rapids. During the car ride, Broccoli came on the radio. Mark got real excited because he heard a song that talked about broccoli, salmon, bagels, and capers. Then I told him what the song was really about. Haha! While driving into Madison, I alerted Mark that I could really use a pee stop. Next thing you know, we hit a traffic jam with a 25 minute delay. I barely survived. In Madison, we picked up our packets and grabbed supper at Great Dane Pub. My pre-race meal was meatloaf, mashed potatoes, and green beans.

We got to our hotel in Delafield around 8:00pm, and Brett Rosauer showed up shortly thereafter. After getting everything ready for the race, we settled into bed around 10:00pm. Alarms were set for 3:00am. I tossed and turned until midnight. It was miserable.


I woke up at 3:00am, showered, and ate oatmeal from a coffee cup. We departed the hotel at 4:00am and arrived at the race site at 4:20am. We put on our shoes, adjusted our headlamps, made last second bathroom trips, and went to the start line.

Miles 1 – 11.5

Scott Gall took off at a quick pace as expected. I hung back and eventually connected with two runners: Travis Lavin and Steve Lawrence. Within 3 miles, they had already saved me from taking a wrong turn. (Red and orange look very similar under headlamps.) That scared me. They were running slightly faster than I wanted to, but I settled in behind them. I figured I would back off once we finished our small loops and headed for the meadows. At mile 10.5, Gall popped out of the woods and joined us. He pulled Steve away, but Travis hung back with me. I hit the 11.5 aid station at a 7:02 pace. That was too fast! In the end, if I was averaging closer to 7:30 here, my race could have gone way differently. I should have listened to my own advice. Remember, when I said I couldn’t have any miles under 7? Well I did that 5 times.

Miles 11.5 – 21.5

During this section, I began to settle down. But first, I had to endure a painful mile. The terrain here was rocky and full of roots, and I got lazy. I tripped once, but saved myself with my hands. Within a quarter mile, I stubbed my toe and tripped again. This time, I completely fell. My headlamp went flying, I scraped up my leg, and I was covered in dirt. After limping for a quarter mile, I finally got back into a rhythm. But as soon as I got in that rhythm, I stepped wrongly on a rock and rolled my ankle. I have pretty good ankles, but this was a nasty roll. I limped for a quarter mile, but then I was fine.

Around mile 13, I finally hit the meadows. This is what I had been waiting for, and this was the terrain I was incorrectly expecting for the majority of the race. Here, I got in a really good rhythm. My breathing was controlled, and my legs felt smooth. However, I could begin to feel the buildup in my legs from the first 10 miles. Toward the end of this section, I slipped past Travis into a comfortable third place. Unfortunately, he would end up dropping with an ankle issue at mile 29.

Getting into a rhythm.

Miles 21.5 – 26

This section got a little rough. The trail had a lot of quick, steep up and downs. I was smart on the ups, but I hit the downhill hard. I prefer to let gravity pull me quickly down the hills, which usually gives me an edge. Unfortunately, all this pounding was beginning to add up in my feet. They began to kill at this point. They hated the downs. Instead of wearing trail shoes, I had to chosen to wear racing flats. My feet didn’t approve of this. I need to roughen up my sensitive feet a little more.

Miles 26 – 32

This section was part of an out and back with the turnaround at mile 31. This was my chance to see how I fared with the competition. At the turnaround, Gall was 20 minutes ahead of me, and Steve was 18. Gall looked good, but Steve appeared to be in rough shape. Mark was 10 minutes behind me and looked great. I cruised through this portion and felt like I was in a great place mentally and physically. When I met Joe, he alerted me that I was only 10 minutes behind 2nd place. This meant I gained 10 minutes on him during this section. I felt really good here, and I thought an all Iowan podium was going to be a possibility.

Sweet picture posted by TNF. I could barley tell it was me.

Miles 32 – 35

This is where things started to go downhill. I took an extended stop at the mile 32 aid station to refill my bottle with Tailwind. Then, I had to hit the rough stuff again. I was just trying to survive this section. My miles got slower, my feet hurt even worse, and it was starting to get warm out. My morale started to get low, but I wasn’t out of it yet.

Miles 35 – 41.5

Brutal! Mark caught me at the mile 35 aid station. We ran together for a mile. He was awesome and tried to keep me going after the all Iowan podium, but after a mile, I couldn’t keep up. The sharp up and downs were destroying my legs and feet. I rallied for a bit, but my legs just wouldn’t go. Even though I was in fourth, I thought the podium was still in play. I just needed to keep moving forward at a decent pace. However, I couldn’t even maintain “decent”. The terrain turned to rocky gravel and sand. Pretty soon, I was walking gingerly. My legs had nothing left. This is when a drop become a real possibility. I told myself I couldn’t drop if I was in fourth. Between miles 39 and 40, I was finally passed. When I was passed, I gave one final effort, pushed on, and ran behind 4th for a quarter mile until he slowly slipped away. Next thing thing I know, I “ran” a 17:26 mile. My day was done. I dropped at 41.5 miles. My average pace had slowed to 8:41 per mile.

The final portion to the 41.5 aid station was miserable. We opened up in a meadow, so I could see the aid station in the distance. I knew I was going to drop, but the aid station was still a half mile away. It took forever to reach. It was tough to control my emotions at this point. And of course, a photographer was on the course right before the aid station.

Could I have finished? Yes. Would it be worth it? Not for me. I wasn’t going to gain anything by finishing. I would have won an age group award and kept some pride, but by dropping, I saved my legs and probably shortened my recovery by a week. It was a pretty easy decision. I never had a goal to just finish. I was out there to race. If you know me, that’s my personality. In the end, I made some early mistakes that jeopardized my race. I just need to be smarter.


After dropping, I quickly got a ride from race officials back to start. (Thank you!) The worst part about dropping was sending the text to my parents. When I got back to the start, I called Brett, who I knew would have already finished his 50k. He was surprised to see my call, and he asked me if I had seen my surprise at the finish line. I was confused. It turns out that my parents had driven 6 hours and planned on surprising me at the finish. I ruined their surprise. I found them and shed a couple tears. They gave me a hug and were the supportive parents that they always are. I appreciated them coming.

Race Results

Gall won in 6:32. Major props to Steve who rallied and finished 2nd in 6:46. Mark hit a low point after 41.5 but was able to finish in third at 7:04. Joe finished in 11th and won his age group. In the 50k, Brett came away with 2nd place.

Bottom left to bottom right, clockwise: Mark, Brett, Me, and Joe

Race Night

Mark, Joe, and I stayed the night in Madison. I got to enjoy my first Airbnb and my first time in Madison. We hit up State Street Brats and found an awesome craft beer bar named HopCat.

My sports world had a rough day. I had my DNF, Notre Dame lost, SDSU lost, and Iowa lost. I also suffered my first ever bee sting after the race.

Final Thoughts

I obviously went out too hard. Mark is a veteran at this stuff, and I should have hung back with him. I still think I could have challenged Gall, but that chance was lost in the first 11.5 miles. The course was also much more challenging than expected. I was expecting smooth trail with long, gradual climbs. This only ended up being about 10% of the course. Instead, we had rough trail with short, steep hills that definitely slowed things down. I should have adjusted my expectations when I realized this. I also think I should have worn trail shoes because of how much my feet hurt. On the bright side, I felt that I fueled pretty well. I took in my nutrition as planned and didn’t bonk. I felt like

I went into the race well prepared. I just didn’t execute. I feel very fit right now, and it sucks to have not taken advantage of my training. I will learn!

Fun Facts

  • Ages of 1st, 2nd, and 3rd: 42, 38, and 38. Experience matters.
  • Despite running 8.5 less miles than Mark, Strava estimated that I still burned more calories than him. That’s what happens when you are 6’3″ and weigh nearly 40 more pounds.

What did I learn?

  1. I need to be patient. 50 miles is a long way. Just chill.
  2. I need to be confident and trust myself. I shouldn’t have worried about getting lost.
  3. Did I say I need to be patient?

Did I accomplish my goals?

I didn’t run 6:15, but I did have fun! 1 out of 2 isn’t bad. Despite the DNF, I still had a smile on my face. The overall experience was great, and I still had an awesome time.

How do I feel now?

It’s been three days, but my legs feel great. However, my feet still kill. The big toe that I stubbed is black and blue. The forefoot of both feet are bruised, and my ankle still hurts. Once my feet get better, it should be a quick recovery.

What’s next?

Good question. I have some ideas, but first thing is first: recover. Once I recover, I’ll make a plan of action. I need some revenge!


  • Nike LunaRacer 4
  • Thorsday Singlet
  • Nike Aeroswift Race Shorts 2″
  • Thorsday Trucker Hat
  • Stance Crew Socks
  • Nike Trail Kiger Vest
  • Suunto Ambit 3 Peak Watch
  • Petzl Tikka+ Headlamp


  • 600 calories from Tailwind (orange)
  • 100 calories from Clif Shot Energy Gel (citrus)
  • Roughly 100 ounces of water
  • Sips of Mt Dew from a few aid stations

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Goals and Strategies for The North Face Endurance Challenge Wisconsin

You don’t run 50 miles without a plan. (If you know me, I don’t do anything without a plan!) Therefore, I have two main goals for The North Face Endurance Challenge – Wisconsin 50 miler:

  1. Finish in 6 hours and 15 minutes
  2. Have fun

How am I going to accomplish these goals? Check out below.

Scott Gall and I in Colorado

Finish in 6 Hours and 15 Minutes

When running an ultra, strategy becomes very important. It doesn’t matter how fast you can run. It matters how you pace yourself and how you fuel.

6 hours and 15 minutes is a 7:30 min/mile pace. The trail has rolling hills but no big climbs. Talking with Mark, we have estimated that to be a 7:00-7:10 effort on flat roads. I think I can do that.

I’m sure we will talk strategy on the car ride to Wisconsin, but I would love to run the first 10 miles with fellow Thorsmen, Mark and Joe. I would like to ease into things and run around a 7:30 pace for those 10 miles. I don’t want to start out slower, but I definitely don’t want to let adrenaline push me below a 7:00 pace. After 10 miles, I need to find a good rhythm. I think that rhythm can be around a 7:15 pace. From there on out, it’s about staying in a rhythm and finishing strong. For a perfect day, I’ve got to be able to put in a push between miles 40-50.

Do I think I can run faster than 6 hours and 15 minutes? Absolutely. However, for that to happen, pacing and strategy will have to be on point. As you just read, I do plan on starting out a little faster than goal pace. I want to give myself a chance. If I die a little bit and lose pace towards the end, that’s okay in my book. If I crash and burn, then I really did something wrong.

Fueling will be key. They say an ultra is not about how fast you can run. It’s about how much you can eat. The goal is to fuel early and often. I will be wearing a hydration pack with two 16oz bottles. One bottle will hold water, and the other will hold water with 4 scoops of Tailwind (100 calories per scoop). I will carry 4 more scoops of Tailwind in my pack, so that I can refill once near the halfway point. During my last 20 mile run, I took two drinks of Tailwind every two miles, which worked very well, so I will continue that during the race. I will carry Clif Shot Energy Gels (100 calories) on me. I plan on taking at least two. As I’m sure I will want real food at some point, I will also carry two Honey Stinger Waffles (150 calories). If I accomplish my fueling goal, which is easier said than done, I’m looking at 1300 calories. Lastly, I plan on refilling the bottle of water at each aid station.

Placing depends on who shows up to the race, so my finishing time is more important. In past years, 6 hours and 15 minutes would get 2nd. I just found out that the 3-time defending champion, Tyler Sigl, will be running the 50k. That leaves the podium wide open for Iowans. Scott Gall (pictured above), who I travelled to Colorado with this summer, is a nationally known name who will be the favorite. There is the definite possibility of another fast person, but without an entrants list, I think I fall in line next. Of course, I would definitely like to be on the podium. Mark and Joe will be challenging me too. Last ultra, Mark snuck up on me during the last 5 miles. Furthermore, I can’t forget that if I run a great race, I could challenge Gall near the end. Anything can happen in an ultra!

Finding out about Sigl definitely changes things. Knowing that I have a shot to win (it’s not a big chance, but it’s there) certainly makes pacing more difficult. I know my heart will want to go out with Gall, but I have to let my head rule. I cannot let myself start too quickly.

Lastly, I have to be flexible with this goal. I must be willing to adjust along the way. I haven’t seen the course, so I don’t know what I’m truly capable of running. I’ve talked with previous runners, examined the elevation chart, and read about it online, but I won’t know what I can do until I’m on it. There is also supposed to be rain leading up to the race. If the course receives a ton of rain, it could get sloppy and slow things down.

What do I think is going to be the most challenging part? Mile 35. The mental aspect of an ultra is huge. I’m in new territory after mile 35. (However, I can tell myself I’ve ran for 5 hours before, so maybe that will get me to mile 41.) When I reach a low point, which will happen, I have to do four things:

  1. Think of my other goal. Have fun and smile!
  2. Remember running up and down Pikes Peak with Gall.
  3. Remember grinding out those long runs during my big weeks.
  4. Think of all the awesome support you guys have provided!

I tried to prepare myself for the low point. That’s why I ran 124 boring laps around a track. That’s why I purposely ran long runs on legs that wanted to collapse. If I stay positive and patient, I can get out of the low points quickly.

Have Fun

This goal is not flexible. It’s easy:

  1. I’m going to smile.
  2. I’m going to cheer on fellow runners during the out and back sections.
  3. I’m going to chat with aid station workers.

If I can following the strategies I just laid out, Saturday will be a great day. I can’t wait to see what happens!

If you want to follow my progress, you can sign up for live updates here.

If you missed it, check out how I spent my summer training for this race.

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Preparing to Race 50 Miles

On Saturday, I run my first 50 mile race. Am I crazy? Nope. Am I ready? Yup! Let me tell you how I prepared for The North Face Endurance Challenge – Wisconsin 50 mile race. Then, you can make the decision if I’m crazy.

Let’s rewind to the spring. After learning more and more about the ultrarunning world, I began to get the itch. I had finished a 50k in February, and despite falling from 2nd to 5th in the last five miles, I was ready to go further. Before I could plan my big fall race, I needed to concentrate on my second marathon. Once I happily ran a 2:39:44 in rain and wind at the Illinois Marathon, I knew I was ready to train for something different throughout the summer.

Mark Thompson, a fellow Thorsday member and veteran ultrarunner, and I began making plans. First, we joined a trip to Colorado to run up and down Pikes Peak in July. Then, we signed up for TNF WI in September. My plan was to spend early summer on hill work so I could handle Colorado. After Colorado, it would be time to build up the distance. Here is how our ‘Summer of Field Trips’ went.

Week 1: 79 miles. I started summer with a killer 15.6 miles at Lake MacBride. It was on one of the first hot and humid days of the year.

Week 2: 90 miles. Twelve Thorsmen attacked Swiss Valley Nature Center, which includes the largest hills in Iowa: a measly 250 feet. The run was 17.1 miles with 2,500 feet gained.

Thorsday looking like trouble after Swiss Valley

Week 3: 80 miles. Four Thorsmen hit up Wildcat Den for 18.7 miles with 2,200 feet of elevation gain.

Weeks 4 and 5: 72  and 70 miles. These two weeks included a last second trip to Wyoming and Colorado. Fellow Thorsmen, Brett Rosauer, his roommate Nick, and I spent two days in Medicine Bow National Forest in Wyoming, four days near Denver, and two days in Fort Collins. We ran places such as Medicine Bow Peak, Mount Evans, Golden Gate Canyon State Park, and Magnolia Road. The seven run trip ended with 80 miles and 13,000 feet gained. In Colorado, I learned that I handle altitude very well. I even did multiple 2-mile repeats at 14,000 feet on top of Mount Evans.

Battling snow on my way up Medicine Bow Peak

Week 6: 80 miles. Five Thorsmen visited Lake Darling. While there, we got in 19.5 miles of mostly flat trail. I needed that after Colorado.

Week 7: 112 miles. Three Thorsmen ventured to Colorado Springs. Mark, Joe Lahart, and I joined an adventure trip led by Scott Gall and The Runner’s Flat. It just so happens that Mark, Joe, Scott, and I are all running TNF WI. Since Scott was originally from the area, he knew the best places to run near CO Springs. The highlight of the trip was a run up and down Pikes Peak on Barr Trail. The up, which is 12.6 miles with 7,300 feet gain, took 3:08 running time. Running back down was a quick 2:00 (Strava).We even got to meet Zach Miller at Barr Camp. Pikes Peak was a huge confidence booster. By the end of this trip, I learned I run up hills pretty well for an Iowan. My 72 hour stats from CO Springs included 68 miles with 16,000 feet gained.

Thorsday on top of Pikes Peak

Week 8: 62 miles. Colorado destroyed my legs, so I backed off until the weekend, which was a trip to Decorah. On Saturday, we did 18 miles on the beautiful trails around town. On Sunday, we ran 17 miles at Yellow River Forest. These two days added another 3,600 feet of elevation gain to my legs. This concluded a 30 day stretch where I ran for at least 2 hours and 20 minutes on 9 of the 30 days. I was hurting.

Week 9: 55 miles. At this point, I’m just trying to recover from Colorado.

Week 10: 70 miles. I’m still hurting but ran a hilly (for Iowa) trail half marathon called Mines of Spain. It included 13.1 miles with 1,300 feet gain. The hills felt great, but I couldn’t keep up with speedster Devin Allbaugh on the flats. I finished 2nd in a little slower time than I wanted. Colorado still wouldn’t go away.

Weeks 10, 11, and 12. 86, 89, and 85 miles. I called these my BIG weeks. Even though they weren’t peak mileage, they include my longest runs at peak time. These weeks were a struggle to get my legs back, but the main goal was hitting the long runs. In a 15 day stretch during these three weeks, I went 25, 31, and 26 miles. The 50k was a Thorsday event done on the track. We called it mental training. The last 44 laps (11 miles), were challenging. I ran the 26 miler on my 26th birthday at the end of these three weeks. Through these long runs, I learned how to get into a rhythm and fight through my dead legs.

Approximately lap 100 of 124

Week 11. 60 miles. This was the first week of my taper. A 20 mile run in the Black Hills at 6,000 feet altitude was another big confidence booster. That run on the Mickelson Trail gained 1,500 feet.

Week 12: 53 miles. I decided not to do a long run this week. I probably tapered more than usual for an ultra, but my legs were on the edge. They needed all the taper they could get.

Week 13: Race Week. I’m ready!

My Final Analysis: Overall, I’m very happy with my training. The mileage wasn’t crazy high, but I’ve only been running seriously for 1.5 years, so I need to be careful. Also, the two Colorado trips were invaluable, and the elevation gain only made me stronger and put more time on my feet. I also successfully completed my key long runs. If I could make one change, I would have added more tempo runs. However, I’m not sure my legs could have handled it, and the long runs were my top priority anyway. I can’t wait for Saturday!

Check out my race strategy and goals!

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