Those of you with better memories than I may remember that I ran in END-SURE 50k two years ago and it was epic. For everybody else, here's my old race report.
Fortunately, this year's edition of END-SURE was completely different. It was a RACE!
Four a.m. came far too quickly. Managed to crawl out of bed, get dressed, double-checked that I had everything I needed, and picked Sebastien up just before five. We had a five hour drive ahead of us, the race, then a five hour drive back. It was going to be a long day, and my car's cruise control bit the dust earlier that week. Awesome. We made it to the border just as Neil Diamond's "Coming To America" came to the top of my playlist. Sebastien, being from France, needed some extra paperwork done. After a 30 minute wait and him getting forgotten about inside the customs building by a few agents, we eventually got back on the road and made good time. I had forgotten to get my pre-roadtrip Egg McMuffins in Winnipeg, but managed to scoop one up in Grand Forks.
The first year the race was put on, there was a large Winnipeg contingent of runners show up, and there was a snow storm the night before and we had over a foot of snow (in some places two feet) to trudge through. Last year, nobody from Winnipeg showed up and there was no snow. This year, the Winnipegers came en masse, and it snowed the night before. Fortunately, it was just a light dusting and actually improved the trail by freezing some of the mud. Two years ago, the race was a point-to-point with the first half of the race on very flat terrain. They moved the start and finish line for the start to Sheyenne Oaks Horse Camp, and made the race an out & back. This means there would be sandhills pretty much the entire race. Sweet awesome scenery the whole time!
When the gun went off promply at 11, and I wasn't quite ready. I had all my race gear on, but hadn't tied my shoes yet. The result was that I was DFL leaving the start line (about 30 seconds after everybody else did). No worries, as it was a long race. And I didn't want to get sucked into a pace I couldn't maintain anyway. There was an initial out & back on the gravel road down a hill (and back up it), before following the road towards the trailhead (about 1.5 miles away). This section of the race was kinda boring. I wish they had cut trail from the horse camp to the trailhead, but I guess there must have been some private property in the way. No worries though. The only thing I had to watch out for was getting used to a faster pace on the road than I would want to go once we got on the trail. When I got to the trail, there were a few large puddles that we were able to skirt around. Thanks to the snow the previous night, the mud on either side of the puddles was frozen pretty hard, and we didn't sink in. It was here that I came up to Melissa Budd. She is an amazing runner, and a master at keeping even splits (she has a few wins at Lean Horse 100 to prove it), so I figured it would be unwise to pass her. I ran with her a bit and we both caught up to Joel. He was running 18 & 2's, and once his walk break came up I left him. My plan was to power walk when the trail told me to power walk (up the hills), and not when a clock told me to. To each his own. Melissa told me soon after that she had a few road races coming up and she was taking it really easy, and was about to slow down. That was my cue to leave her. By this time, it was starting to warm up so I stripped off my toque, gloves, and windbreaker, and attached them to the outside of my race vest. After about 200 metres, I realized that my jacket was not attached to my vest any more. I figured (quite rightly) that it wasn't going to be going anywhere and I could pick it up on the way back.
When I got to about 3 miles from the turnaround point, the leaders were coming back. Lots of high fives were had by all. The first two guys even managed to turn around before the 25k runners started (under two hours to the turnaround, WOW!). I got to the turnaround (which doubled as the first aid station) in 2:47 feeling great, and having just run out of water. A quick fill-up and a few free salt tabs, and I was heading back. My race plan was to take the first half really easy, and re-assess on the way back. Speed up if everything was feeling good, and negative split. I was feeling good, so I sped up (or so I thought). I started to reel a lot of runners in. Some of them were obvious blow-ups, and others were moving well that were just going a wee bit slower than I was. The second (and last) aid station came far earlier than I expected. A quick calculation in my head said that I only needed to fill two of my water bottles to make it to the end in one piece. I was running by feel instead of using my GPS watch's pace feature, as the constant turns and hillwalks would have made that number meaningless. And I was feeling great. A lot of people commented on the ear-to-ear grin I had as I passed them. As I approached the finish line before the last mile out & back, I ditched everything I had except for a water bottle and gunned it. The last uphill right before the finish line felt like a sick joke, but I took it all in stride running the adrenaline rush that only the scent of the finish line can give. I crossed in 5:41:46. The second half of the race took me 2:54, so I'd call that an even split. I probably walked more hills on the way back than I should have. Overall, I felt great at the end. Sore, but great. Some twisted sick part of me wished that the race was 50 miles and wanted to run the trail one last time. I've never felt that good at the end of a race before.
Sebastien also had a good race, finishing the 25k in 2:44 (which was also his longest race to date). Most of the other Winnipeggers had great results too. And everybody had a good time. Mallory won the women's 50k and Stephen destroyed the old course record in the 100k. We ate burgers, shared laughs, and drank beers.
Unfortunately, Sebastien and I didn't have a hotel room to crash in, so we had to leave at 6:30 and try to be back in Winnipeg before midnight. Thankfully, Sebastien was cool with taking the first driving shift so I could let my legs rest for a bit. After a fill-up in Grand Forks, I took the driving duties back and we had an uneventful drive home (the Canadian border guards are much cooler than the Americans).
END-SURE 50k is a great early spring race. The weather is just right, and the sandy soil drains makes the trail 99.99% dry. The course markings are exactly where they should be, and the level of organization is great too. I recommend it to anybody!