Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Race Preview : North Face Endurance Challenge @ Bear Mountain

Readers Note : Since I am registered for the 50-Mile event, this post will focus mostly on that distance, although portions of this post will also discuss elements of the 10K, ½ Marathon, and 50K.

Saturday, April 12 marks the start of the 2008 North Face Endurance Challenge, “a series of five running events, each designed to provide a venue for outdoor athletes to test their personal and physical limits”, located (in order of occurrence) in Bear Mountain (NY), Seattle (WA), Washington DC, Madison (WI) and San Francisco (CA). The event in San Francisco will act as the so-called Championship event. Each regional event (NY, WA, DC and WI) consists of varying race distances (10K, Half Marathon, 50K and 50 Miles), and are intended to be qualifiers for the 50-Mile Championship event in San Francisco on December 6. According to North Face, the winners of the 50-Mile Championship event will receive the largest single prize in trail ultra running ($10,000 each). The 2007 edition of the Endurance Challenge consisted of 3 regional events (Washington DC, Des Moines, IA, and Seattle, WA) leading up to the championship in San Francisco. There was a 4th regional event scheduled in Connecticut that was cancelled, supposedly due to lack of interest. Uli Steidl was crowned the men’s champion and Lizzy Hawker was crowned the women’s champion.

The Bear Mountain, NY regional event is described as “a serious, hardy test for trail runners of any level” and takes place in Bear Mountain State Park. The course consists of “technical terrain and rocky footing. . .with some trails heading steeply uphill rather than zig-zagging at a gentler grade.” The course has difficulty ratings as follows : 4 out of 5 stars for “elevation change”, 5 out of 5 starts for “technical terrain”, and 5 out of 5 stars for “overall difficulty”.

Each of the four events have finish cutoff times – 13 hours for the 50-Mile, 9 hours for the 50K, 4 hours for the ½ Marathon, and 2 hours for the 10K. In addition, the 50-Mile event has 2 “hard” cutoff points – runners must reach mile 15.7 within 4 hours, and mile 39.2 within 10.5 hours. Each of the events will be timed using the ChampionChip timing system.

The 50-Mile course (which is actually 49.2 miles) looks to be a “Bear”, with significant elevation changes and steep climbs. The course map can be found here : 50-Mile Course Map. The course description uses phrases like “this is an aggressive climb”, “the trail is extremely steep”, and “extreme caution if it is wet”. There are 9 segments (each leading to an aid station) with distances of 5.3, 5.2, 5.2,5.7, 5.1, 6.7, 6.0, 6.1 and 3.9 miles. Considering the rocky and hilly terrain, and the distances between aid stations, runners should plan on carrying their own fluids. Portions of the 50-Mile course are shared with the other distance events, but a staggered start will help to alleviate any congestion (5:00 AM start for the 50-Milers, 7:00 AM start for the 50K, 9:00 AM start for the ½ Marathon, and 9:15 AM start for the 10K).

Elevation profiles for each distance can be found here : Elevation Profiles. Course maps for the other events can be found by clicking on the designated race distance : 10K......½ Marathon......50K

For the 50-Mile, each of the 9 segments are described as follows :

Start to 1777 Aid Station: The total distance on this portion is 5.3 miles. This section is likely the most difficult section of the course. After a 2 mile warm up, this leg quickly turns vertical. There is an aggressive climb up the Yellow Trail, then a descent before climbing up The Timp Trail. Once you reach the top of the Timp Trail, it’s an easy run to the first Aid Station, 1776.

1777 to Lake Welch Dr. Aid Station: The total distance of this portion is 5.2 miles. Runners will set out on the Blue Trail and descend the South side of The Timp Trail. Runners will need to use caution as the last part of the descent is a rock staircase (extreme caution if it is wet). The Red Cross Trail follows this section with a climb over The Pines. Circumnavigate Pingyp Mountain as the descent on the South side is too dangerous. You’ll be following Pines Rd, then a newly marked route along Stillwater Brook which will lead you to the shoulder of the Palisades Parkway. Remain on the shoulder down to the police-assisted crossing and wait for the police to signal you across. Once across Palisades Parkway, runners will hit the Lake Welch Dr. Aid Station.

Lake Welch Dr. to Camp Lanowa: The total distance of this section is 5.2 miles. This leg includes several moderate to hard climbs as you ascend Pound Swamp Mountain, Irish Mountain, Jackie Jones Mountain, then up to Big Hill. This section is mostly single track running. Use caution on the final descent into the Camp Lanowa Aid Station as the trail is extremely steep. This is, also, the separation point for the 50 Mile and Accelerade 50K course.

Camp Lanowa to Woodtown Road: The total distance of this section is 5.7 miles. This leg starts with a climb back up the steep trail to get to the Camp Lanowa Aid Station, followed by another descent down the other side of the ridge. The rest of this section has a lot of very rocky trail and running at full speed will be difficult. There are only a few areas opening up to run at a full pace. There are a few smaller climbs on this section, but no extreme ups or downs.

Woodtown Rd to Italian Village (Grove Road): The total distance of this section is 5.1 miles. This section is very hilly. Runners will climb up through a saddle past the Dutch Doctor and then enjoy some old jeep trail before turning back into the woods to face two mountain ascents up Dater Mountain, then Pound Mountain. Both are difficult climbs but reveal great views once you’ve made it. You’ll then turn and begin your descent to the Italian Village Aid Station. The final part of this decent is extremely steep.

Italian Village to 106: The total distance of this section is 6.7 miles. This is the longest segment of the race and has plenty of climbing. Runners will follow the Yellow Triangle Trail all the way up to Parker Cabin Mountain. There is a short, tricky descent down rocks off of the view point followed by more downhill single track and even some old road as you turn onto the Victory Trail. Another climb awaits you at Tom Jones Mountain before you descend to Aid Station 106.

106 to Tiorati: The total distance of this section is 6.0 miles. This is one of our favorite sections. The trails are much friendlier and there are great views from the top of Bald Rocks. Runners will connect back in with the Long Path and pass between Lake Skannatati and Lake Askoti. After crossing over Seven Lakes Drive the course will rejoin the Accelerade 50K route and this leg finishes with some small climbs to the Tiorati Aid Station.

Tiorati Brook to Anthony Wayne Aid Station: The total distance of this portion is 6.1 miles. This section is perhaps the nicest section of the race. This is a long stretch of trail that is wide, with several stream crossings and passing multiple waterfalls. There is a short climb up the 1779 Trail before descending to the Anthony Wayne Aid Station.

Anthony Wayne to Finish: The total distance of this portion is 3.9 miles. Following a short climb right out of the Aid Station, runners will clear the first ridge and begin the last stretch which is mostly downhill and double wide rocky trail the rest of the way home.

The course for all of the distances looks to be quite a challenge, even for the elite runners. A consequence of the difficult terrain and elevation change will likely be a good number of runners failing to finish in the allotted time, or, in the case of the 50-Mile event, failing to make the 2 hard cutoffs. There has been plenty of back-lash with respect to the cutoffs, as well as negative feedback regarding North Face’s packet pick-up options. There are several Kickrunners threads that have generated productive discussions regarding, among other things, the course, cutoff times and packet pick-up issues. They can be located at the following links :

TNF Endurance Challenge - Bear Mountain (mostly related to packet pick-up issues)

The weather is sure to play a role in this event. The current forecast calls for a good deal of rain through the day on Friday and Saturday. This should make the course somewhat muddy, and will also make steep rocky descents slippery.

Parking may be an issue for this event. Although the parking lot at Bear Mountain State Park is decent in size, North Face is expecting a big turnout for this event. Race registration recently “closed”, and was able to obtain an “approximate” number of participants for each event from North Face : 50M – 106 50K – 103 HM – 266 10K - 370

The good news is that the races are located in the gorgeous Bear Mountain State Park, located on the west side of the Hudson River in Rockland County, New York. Here are a few interesting tidbits about the park : The 5,067-acre park offers biking, hiking, boating, picnicking, swimming, cross-country skiing, sledding and ice-skating as well as a zoo, trailside museums, a hotel, a carousel and a dining facility. During the American Revolution when control of the Hudson River was viewed by the British as essential to dominating the American territories, the area that was to become the park saw several significant military engagements. In 1777 British troops routed Patriots at Fort Montgomery; two years later the Americans under Anthony Wayne would try to take it back. The park opened on July 5, 1913. Steamboats alone brought more than 22,000 passengers to the park that year. Camping at Hessian Lake (and later at Lake Stahahe) was immensely popular with the average stay being eight days. By 1914 it was estimated that than a million people a year were coming to the park. The Bear Mountain Inn was completed the following year; rooms were $4.50 and included three meals. On February 11, 1962, 35,120 spectators turned out to watch the New York State Junior Ski Jumping Championship. The first section of the Appalachian Trail, taking hikers from Bear south to the Delaware Water Gap, opened on October 7, 1923 and served as a pattern for the other sections of the trail developed independently by local and regional organizations. The Bear Mountain Zoo, through which the Appalachian Trail passes, is the lowest elevation on the 2,100-mile trail. In the 1930s the federal government under Franklin D. Roosevelt was developing plans to preserve the environment as part of the Depression-era public works programs. The Civil Works Administration and the Works Progress Administration spent five years on projects at the park. Pump houses, reservoirs, sewer systems, vacation lodges, bathrooms, homes for park staff, storage buildings and an administration building were all created through these programs. A scenic drive to the top of the mountain, called Perkins Memorial Drive, was constructed almost entirely by hand. Although powered construction equipment and newer easier-to-work-with building materials were available for use at the time, planners wanted the buildings constructed with the same principles and designs used to build the original lodge in 1915. Workers used stone, boulders and timber to construct the new buildings. The park is referenced in the Bob Dylan song "Talkin' Bear Mountain Picnic Massacre Blues".

Lastly, you can read my March 30th post titled “Scout Run – NF Endurance Challenge Bear Mountain” for a brief discussion (complete with pictures, an elevation chart, and GPS map) of portions of the course that I ran.

Good luck to everyone participating in this weekends North Face Endurance Challenge at Bear Mountain !


  1. I picked up a great book, "Harriman Trails, A Guide and History". So many interesting stories surrounding these trails. After the race I'm going to have to read through it and post tidbits about where we ran :)

  2. Div - Yeah, that is a great book. The NY/NJ Trail Conference also has a bunch of good trail maps and books on Bear Mountain and other trails.

  3. Always lookin' for the next big challenge, aren't ya? You're a maniac. But that's awesome!

  4. I was in Harriman State park last weekend. Didn't do any running, but a bit of hiking. This race sounds intense, and knowing the terrian there--wow! Best of luck with the fifty!!

  5. Great preview. I wish I was doing it. Hopefully next year I can make it. Best of luck to you!!

    P.S. June 21st looks like when we'll be doing the Hartford 50 mile NF course that was cancelled last year. Mark it on your calender if you're interested.

  6. Scott - Very interested in the 21st !

  7. wow --anthony..great write up, and I will read it in detail later as have been rushing around for past 2 days-don't you love the course description?? (aggressive climbs; use caution, etc.)...this is going to be one big adventure. Sounds like I can have a drop bag at mile 39, with extra clothing and food, and stuff you might need.

  8. wow, awesome job putting together that preview anthony.

    i'll be in the office making up some lost time on saturday - but will be thinking of you guys out there!

    see you on sunday!

    scott, thanks for the heads up on 6/21!

  9. You're going to win that $10,000, right? ;-)

  10. you never know about winning the purse! last year's TNF race i ran was such a clusterf*ck that it became survival of the fittest and i was fourth female overall with a 12+ hour finish time :) :) Just stay strong and keep moving till someone tells you otherwise.

  11. Good luck this weekend!! Maybe you can beat Krupicka's time at American River!! Did you see that???????? Good God, he's fast!

  12. I just checked and I'm only 1837 miles from Bear Mountain!! haha Not that far for an ultrarunner, right?

  13. Good Luck on Saturday. I think you were smart to taper with the Umstead to be fresh for TNF.

  14. anthony,
    if dean happens to show up - make sure you snap his picture for posterity ;)

  15. Best of luck -- it sounds pretty tough!

  16. Anthony, when you win the $10,000. Will you fly me out to assist with crewing for the Badwater? I can not wait to hear about this brutal course.