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North Face 50 Endurance Challenge - June 5, 2010 - Sterling, VA

Originally, I was hoping to train for the 2009 North Face 50 DC Challenge, which actually took place in Sterling, VA, after my unsuccessful attempt to finish the GEER 100K in September 2008. But it was not to be. The race was called off in 2009 due to bad weather. Besides, I spent 12 months trying to figure out the cause of my painful numbness and tingling sensations in my legs and arms and why suddenly, I could not run. I had difficulty walking. Shoes and boots of any kind hurt my feet. My feet and, especially, my right toe were numb. I experienced severe painful calf cramps during sleep and while awake. My toes would fan out. My right toe would painfully curl.

A month later, I was running again! I set my sights on the 2010 North Face 50 DC Challenge and began training.  It was a tough trail course and it took me a bit longer. I didn’t beat the 13-hour time limit. With 4.1 miles left to go at the last aid station, it was 12:54. The race volunteer told me I couldn't go on. I told him this ultra was a personal journey for me and told him what I had been through the last year or so with my B12 deficiency, etc. I told him I was going to continue to finish, anyway. He told me I needed to turn in my bib. I said no because it’s my souvenir and besides, I had paid for my bib. He said, "Okay, keep it." But I had  to remove it from my body as I was no longer a runner but could run as a public member of a public park. I told him that was fine. So Jon, who paced me from mile 35, and I continued to walk toward the finish.

After three MRIs, three EMGs, over 50 vials of blood, a spinal tap that revealed abnormal levels of protein, and being tested for ALS, MS, bone marrow cancer, and misdiagnosed with CIDP (chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy), I was given no conclusive diagnosis. Finally, on September 24, 2009 I was properly diagnosed by a top neurologist at Johns Hopkins. I was diagnosed with myelopathy of the spinal cord due to severe B12 deficiency. My body does not produce B12. Untreated B12 deficiency can lead to serious health consequences such as paralysis, dementia, and psychosis. I was immediately put on B12 shots for life. I wrote about this in Huff Post - My Painful B12 Deficiency and How I Got My Running Legs Back.

I ran slowly to the NorthFace finish banner in my unofficial time of 14:25:51. The race director came to greet me and congratulate me. One of the race volunteers came over and put a North Face Endurance Challenge finisher’s metal around my neck. I had not expected to get one, but was so pleased I did. I felt great. It was test for me. I just wanted to know I could still complete 50 miles, despite my B12 deficiency, and I did.  It was a tough course, tougher than the Vermont 50, which I ran in 12:52:54, and not as tough as the GEER 100K, but 12 miles shorter. I fell twice when my feet got caught between boulders in rocky terrain on the side of a cliff by the Potomac River.

Jonna paced me from mile 28.1 to mile 30.8. Sebastian paced me through terrain and boulders from mile 30.8 to 35. Jon paced me through tough uphill terrain in the woods and a couple of creeks from mile 35 to 44.4.  He escorted me to my unofficial finish. Jonna and Sebastian were waiting. My North Face 50 experience was not at all disappointing. It taught me that though I did not beat the clock, I did complete the distance and achieve my goal – to run the distance again. And of course, I could not have done it without my family and God.

I was even more pleased when I found out on the results list on the North Face website that I placed 183/203 runners, but without an official time. Folks that placed through 169 got official times. It was nice to know I didn’t come in last place.

The night before the race, I met Dean Karnazes, the 'ultramarathon man' who inspired me to run ultras the day I watched 60 Minutes  five years earlier, at an ultrarunning panel discussion at the North Face store in D.C. And he signed his book for me.

I am also the author of Come What May, I Want to Run: A Memoir of the Saving Grace of Ultrarunning in Overwhelming Times. Read excerpts, praise, and reviews, and order the book here from the publisher, Amazon, Bookshop, or Barnes & Noble. My North Face 50 journey and what I suffered before getting there is one of many ultramarathon experiences that weaves through my memoir. 

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