Race Review: North Face Endurance Challenge Massachusetts 2019

People walking up a hill underneath a ski lift in the summer

I actually wasn’t able to run this event, so this is a “spectator edition.” I’ve been battling a mystery foot injury for the past few weeks–it was a strain to walk just a few days before the race, so I sat out and cheered the runners on instead.

I had signed up for the 50k months before, thinking I could piggyback off the Paris Marathon and throw in a couple long trail runs. Unfortunately, I kept re-twisting the ankle that I’d already injured in February while skiing. I guess it hadn’t properly healed, and the uneven terrain of the trails threw it off. Back in France, I got an ultrasound and bone scan to diagnose the injury, and it seems to be a case of peroneal tendonitis and an overstretched ligament. I’ll probably be out of commission for at least another few weeks, but I’m hoping I can get back to exercising soon.

In any case, here are my observations of the North Face Endurance Challenge – Massachusetts.

Registration / Packet Pickup / Cup-less Policy

You can register online on the race page, and you can also find lots of helpful information on the site, like race guides.

Packet pickup was either at the North Face stores in Boston or Natick, or the morning before your race at Wachusett Mountain. Note that the longer distances (50 mile, 50k, marathon) were held on a different day from the shorter races (half marathon, 10k, 5k).

At packet pickup, you get your bib, a t-shirt (same for all distances), and a HydraPak reusable cup. The event is actually cup-less, which is a great environmental step given how much waste races generate. That said, there were still plastic gallon water jugs to facilitate water distribution. In the future, it’d be great to see tables on the right and left (to avoid traffic jams) with only water coolers. I also think it’d be helpful to be able to re-use the HydraPak cups from previous years. If the race organizers collected cups after the race, they could wash and redistribute them the following year, rather than ordering more cups. Or, they could offer a small discount for participants who promise to bring a reusable cup that they already own.

I think going cup-less is definitely more practical for trail races than for road races (and for smaller vs. bigger races). Since time/pace doesn’t matter as much on the trails, people are less likely to be upset about stopping to fill their cup, rather than grabbing a cup and running through. If the race is smaller, there’s also less likely to be traffic jams of runners.

Me sitting on a wooden bench with a walking boot on my leg
North Face Endurance Challenge foldable cup

How to Get to the Race Without a Car

Take the Fitchburg Commuter Rail line to Wachusett, and get a taxi to Wachusett Mountain. The train from North Station takes about 1.5 hours, and costs around $10 one way. The taxi ride to the race are should be around $12 if you use Uber.

If you’re running the Sunday races (half marathon, 10k, 5k) and traveling there the Saturday before, make sure to get the Commuter Rail Weekend Pass for unlimited Saturday and Sunday rides at $10.

Where to Stay

I stayed in an Airbnb just 1.5 miles away from the start. It was more than I’d normally pay for an Airbnb, but we basically got a floor to ourselves and were walking distance from the course. Other options are race partner hotels in the area, but they’re just as expensive and aren’t walking distance to the race.

North Face Endurance Challenge aid station
North Face Endurance Challenge course

Refund / Change Policy

Since I didn’t run, I can’t say much about the courses–I’ll leave it to you to read the course guides. I can tell you about the refund policy though: there are no refunds or deferrals. If you can no longer run, you can still go pick your t-shirt and cup up at packet pickup (and be sad every time you wear the shirt for the race you couldn’t run haha). I personally try not to wear shirts for races I couldn’t run, but this race shirt was quite comfy, and I jokingly like to call it my $100 shirt (crying inside though).

If you want to switch distances, you can, but you have to pay the difference and a $10 change fee. I actually switched from the 50k to the half marathon before deciding not to run at all.

North Face Endurance Challenge hill
North Face Endurance Challenge afterparty

Finish Line

All finishers get a medal and reusable water bottle (they may have gotten other goodies, but since I didn’t start or finish, I don’t know haha). Each participant also got a free beer with the detachable tag on their bib.

I didn’t explore the finish line area too much, but there was gear for sale, an ice bath station, and foam rolling station.

Free Ski Lift for Spectators

One perk that I didn’t mention earlier was the free ski lift that takes spectators up into the mountain. The view is lovely from the lift, and it’s cool to be able to see the runners at different stages of the race. Just make sure you take the lift down before it closes, or you’ll have to walk/run down.

I wish I had more helpful details, but watching a race is definitely different from running it. Hoping I’ll be healthy soon enough to get back on the trails (and roads). Happy summer running in the meantime!

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