Monday, August 5, 2013
The Cool Moon 12-Hour Night Race is not a big race. When I ran the race last year, there were 16 runners and I came in 10th place with 40 miles. This year, the course was changed. Instead of 10 mile loops, there was a tough 14 mile loop followed by more runnable 11 mile loops. The race starts at 7pm and ends at 7am. I had been having mild Plantar Faciitis pains for the previous 2 weeks, so this race made me nervous. If the pain got bad, I would simply quit. My Garmin was low on batteries and I had forgotten my hydration pack, so all I carried was a 10 ounce handheld flask for water and a pack of Honey Stinger chews (one for each lap). Earlier in the day, my 6 year old daughter told me, "I hope you win your race, Daddy." I laughed a bit a told her that I'm too slow to win any races.
When the race director sent us off to start the race, everyone hung back at a snail's pace. No one wanted to lead the race it seemed. So naturally, I took off! I wasn't even going that fast! I just settled into a easy pace and zoned out. So it was extremely embarrassing when a few of them hollered at me to get back on course after a missed turn! From 1st place, I dropped into 10 place (where I normally belong). I had no business leading the race so early anyway. We were now on a narrow single track trail with some rocky technical parts, so going slow was the smart thing to do. Passing would be difficult. After a few miles I slowly inched up in the race. I enjoyed the company of the other runners, but when we hit any non-technical downhills, I naturally sped up. By mile 8, I was in 3rd place. And at mile 12, I could see the headlamps of the 2 guys leading the race. I was probably only a few minutes behind them. The hunt was on! I was already thinking that I had a shot at a podium finish - which felt like an absurd pipe dream. When I finished the 14 mile loop, the race director informed me that I was the first to check in! The lead runners must have made a wrong turn! All of a sudden, I found myself in first place. Everything would have to be perfect for me to maintain the lead for next 8+ hours! I could not afford a wrong turn, a fall, or a turned ankle! And I would have to run well! I had no idea how fast or steady the 2nd or 3rd place runners were.
I drank a serving of Vespa and a serving of Pediasure before heading out for the 2nd loop - intent on maintaining and building my lead. I was running scared. I was scared of being passed. And I was excited about the possibility of a win - a real ultra win in an official race. The mere thought of winning felt surreal. The pressure was on. I ran as though my life depended on it. I pretended I was being hunted. The fear and the adrenaline pumping through my veins were real.
I thought about the Rocky Raccoon race and thought about the "beast mode" where I got a second wind and powered my way through miles 66-80 in that race. I needed to do something similar here and I had to maintain it for at least 33 miles. I tripped on rocks a couple times, which scared the hell out of me. The 11 mile loop passed quickly. After 25 miles, I was still in the lead. And I was feeling really good! I drank another serving of Vespa, a Pediasure, and a Starbucks double expresso, since I was starting to get sleepy. My right foot was aching and left hip felt tight, so took two aspirin at mile 27 and all my pains magically disappeared.
The miles flew by. But by mile 32, something felt wrong. There was was supposed to be an aid station at mile 31, and I had a nagging feeling that I had missed it. A Garmin would have come in handy here! My heart sank. I must have made a wrong turn somewhere. I felt like I had just lost the race. But the course marking and the ribbons were all still there. At the next aid station at mile 34 I reviewed the map and found my mistake. There was a short out and back section to an aid station that I missed. I had only missed about a quarter of a mile on the course. When I explained to the race director what had happened, he told me not to worry about it. I was so relieved! In the next loop, I planned to rerun the section I had missed for my own peace of mind.
Normally after 36 miles, I would slow down. But I was still leading! And by now, I was probably leading by about an hour in front of 2nd place. As long as I didn't blow up, I had a great chance at winning! I was giddy at the prospect of winning the race. And everyone I talked to knew about it! I pushed on and ran. My mantra became "Earn it!". The skies began to lighten up when I got to an aid station at mile 45. I sat down in a chair for the first time in the race and just enjoyed the view. It was a glorious morning. I got back to the start/finish area with 47 miles at 6:18am and felt confident that it was enough for the win. The race director thought so too. I had done it. I had won an ultra race. And it was AWESOME! I was so happy. The only happier running moment came after my 100 mile finish, only 6 months ago.
In the middle of the night, around 2-3am, there was a ribbon with a reflector on it was was waving in the air. I could see it, even at a distance. I figured the wind must be blowing it. But as I passed the ribbon, I could feel no wind. It gave me the creeps. Was it a ghost cheering the runners on? Or was it a simple hallucination?
Later in the race, I came up behind a skunk and ran behind it for probably a quarter of a mile! The poor thing probably thought I was chasing it! I definitely did not want to pass it! It eventually turned off on a side trail. A 100 mile racer encountered a black bear on the 14-mile loop! And there was a pack of coyotes that could be heard howling and yelping in the distance. Even though no one saw any mountain lions, I had a feeling there was a mountain lion out there keeping an eye on us...
I took a total of 4 servings of Vespa, 4 servings of Pediasure, and 2 Starbucks Double Expressos. I wore my New Balance 890v2 shoes, since I forgot my La Sportiva Crosslites in my other car. My wife and kids were about 30 minutes away from the race to attend our niece's baby shower on Saturday. So I didn't have to drive all the way home after the race!
Running in first place kind of sucks. You're alone for most of the race! The best part of ultra running is the companionship and the camaraderie and there is less of it when you're leading in a race. It was great fun to lead and win a race, but I'm happy to be middle-of-the-pack runner, where there's lots of company and no rush to get anywhere fast.