Sunday, January 15, 2017

Winter Night Trail Half Marathon

So after running the Eagle Creek Trail Marathon in August and doing well and feeling even better about how I did, I decided that I needed to run the Winter Night Trail Marathon.  I enjoy running the trails at this park, it's just a few miles from my house, the race company was really organized and fun and heck, I've never run trail at night!  What could go wrong?  Even better, if you ran the winter race in January and the summer race in June, you got an additional medal for being a bad a$$.  And I do love my bling.  So, sign up I did.

Races all fall went well, I was healthy.  I finished my annual goal of 1800 miles without injury.  So I went into the race pretty confident.  Then, Mother Nature reared her ugly head.  I learned long ago not to stress about the weather because it was the one thing that you could not control in a race.  We had a very cold few weeks at the beginning of the year but the week leading up to this race was mild but rainy.  Lots of rain.  Nearly every day.  Then the freezing rain and ice storm predictions started.  I'm not a terrific trail runner, I enjoy running them but I'm not good at it, I'm not confident on them.  So running trails with freezing rain was not sounding appealing.  Thankfully the rain stayed away (that day at least) and the temps stayed right about 30*.

Race starts at 6:00pm with the sun setting at 5:43.  I picked up my race bib and very cool looking thermal shirt and then decided to just hang out in my car.  I didn't have friends or family running this race so I just spent the next hour texting friends and checking FB.  I stressed about what to wear.  I had InkNBurn capris with high Smartwool socks.  I knew these would keep my feet warm and dry as well as my lower calf.  Shoes were Saucony, not trail shoes as I'm a tester and needed to wear the test shoes for all my runs.  I had a long sleeved shirt with a tank underneath it but decided that wasn't warm enough, especially if it got windy so I changed to a InkNBurn Pullover ( a thicker long sleeved shirt with thumbholes) and a neck gator.  5:50 arrived and I got lined up with the other racers.

The race was sold out but wasn't large, maybe 300.  They keep it small to keep the trails from being too crowded.  There was a full marathon, a half and a quarter.  Each loop was 6.55 miles on groomed trails with stairs, bridges, creeks, roots, stumps and logs, basically everything you want in a good trail run.  Race starts on time with the full marathoners going first (they had to be starting their last lap by 10:15 or something like that).  Next, they released us in waves, again to keep the congestion down.
I was in the 3rd wave and took off feeling good.  I made my way to the outside, passing as many people as I could in the wide, parking lot area before we got to the trail head.  Within the first 100 yards of the trail, we hit mud.  Thick, squishy mud.  Ok, I wasn't really expecting that but what the heck, here we go.  The next few miles goes by pretty easy.  It was getting really dark but we were all making our way on the trail like a line of cars.  It was really cool to look over and see a line of headlamps far in the distance.  I felt like I was running very confidently, passing people easily  and getting into a good groove.  You did have to pay careful attention though, the roots and rocks popped up everywhere.  I run these trails a lot, enough to have the course pretty memorized but everything looked different in the dark.   No time to check my Garmin for miles or pace, I needed to keep my eyes three feet in front of me.  Soon we are at the flat, man-made dam that goes out into the reservoir.  I told the people around me that it was flat and crushed gravel and for the most part it was.  But there were also tons of puddles.  So much so that I got tired of going around them and just started splashing through the middle.  It was cool to look out and see so many headlamps, bobbing along.  We exit this part and hit a paved maintenance road so I pick up the pace, passing as many people as I can.  I'm feeling really strong at this point and figured I'd do what I could while I could.

Now, like I mentioned, I'm not a traditional trail runner.  I do 90% of my training on paved trails and roads.  It's just been in the past 6 months, since doing well at the EC Full Marathon and doing really well at the Turkey Trifecta that I gained confidence.  I realized that I could run my own race, I didn't have to fall into whoever is in front of me's pace.  That I could charge up hills, that I'm actually really strong on running up hills, that I can recover quickly on straightaways and that I had every right to pass as anyone else (I still say please and hello most times).

The trail continues on and the runners are getting more spread out.  But I can still always see someone in front of me.  About mile 4.5, we hit the thickest, slipperiest, shoe-sucking mud that I've ever seen.  This area normally is a grass maintenance road but with snow and several inches of rain and several 100 runners pounding on it, it became an mud bog that was just not runable.   I tried to find solid ground on the edges but it was all mud.  So, I just had to walk and push through.  This lasted about 50 yards until the trail turned back into more firm ground.  Repeat this same situation at least one more time.  The the mud hills started.  Complete mud so slippery that I had to walk up and then slid down them.  I did fall twice but just into thick mud so I wasn't hurt at all.  We crossed a forded a few small creeks and crossed other bridges.  My Garmin hit mile 6 so I knew I was closing in on the half way point/finish line. I could hear the music as I approached the line and I switched off my headlamp as recommended for a good race picture.

There was a water station there so I grabbed a cup of water, my first in the race and started back onto the trail.   And it was barren.  There was no on in front of me, which was really odd after having people in view the entire race to the point. I got a little unnerved, hoping that I could follow the route markers.  I can hear some men behind me as they got closer.  One joked about letting me take the lead and I joked saying that I had a better sense of direction.  I ended up passing, being passed and pretty much running with this group of 3 guys for the next 4 miles.  I would pass on the uphills and stay ahead on the flats but they would blow past me on the downhills and more technical areas.  They said they had weight and gravity working for them.  It was nice to have other people there, especially ones who were friendly.  About mile 4, the lead one, Malcolm, of the group and I were passing others pretty easily, separating ourselves.  I was leading but Malcolm must have been getting tired of my pace as he sped up and I didn't see him again.  I did catch up with another group of runners and they commented that I was running much stronger then they were and I joked that I was only running the half and they said they were too but I was better!  Well we hit the muddy bog area and I slowed down as my shoes were literally being sucked from my feet.  Repeat for the next muddy area and the muddy hills were just terrible now.  I was by myself and kept pushing hard. I was really hoping that with the smaller field that I would have a chance to earn a AG award.  Every time I could see a headlamp in front of me, it energized me to push hard to catch up and pass them.  I hear my Garmin go off at 12 miles and I know I'm nearing the end.  I see another headlamp in front of me and I know I had to push hard to catch her (it was a purple blinking light so I figured it was a female).  I passed her with less than a half mile to go and I know I can't slow down because she would stay on my tail.  The adrenaline is pumping and I'm flying through the trails.  I hear the finish line music and soon I'm scrambling down the last trail and hit the parking lot at a full sprint.  Which was weird because I
could hear the crowd but no one could see me running my hardest to the finish because it was so dark!  But I crossed the finish line with my hands in the air at 2:24:12.  The guys that I had run the last loop with where at the finish line looking for me and gave me plenty of high fives.
I checked the results and saw that I finished 65 out of 184, 4th in my age group.  The 3rd place winner had a time 3 minutes faster than me and I know that I could not have made up 3 minutes, I had really run my hardest so I didn't feel too bad about missing out on a AG award, Ok maybe I did but I knew I did my best.  I collected the huge spinner medal, some snacks and a hot chocolate.  I hung around the finish area for a few minutes but I was getting cold fast so I decided to head home.
My sweet daughter ran a hot bath and helped me peel off my muddy shoes and clothes.  And then I registered for the Summer Night Trail Half Marathon cause I'm going again!!!

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The Fire and Ice Series medal, awards for those who finish both the Winter and Summer races.

The Summer Night Trail Half Marathon medal