Sunday, September 20, 2015

Making "night sweats" sound fun

Since 2007, Pacific Coast Trail Runs has put on the most celebrated 100M race in the Bay Area - the Headlands Hundred. The race is based on a 25 mile course that lends itself to 100M, 75M, and 50M distances, and with a one mile bonus out-and-back, a Marathon.

A simplified course map of the 25 mile "loop." It's run washing machine style, meaning you start each loop going the opposite direction you started the last one.
The 25 mile course has over 5000 feet of climbing, with lots of ups and downs and very little flat. A nice thing about this race is that it provides a way to stretch yourself if you are not up to a 100M distance, since you can run the 50M with generous cutoffs.

Last year, the fun people at PCTR decided to add a set of night races to the event. This allows runners that don't normally get to do a night run on trails the chance to try it out. It also gets some fresh legs on the course at a time when the longer distance runners could use a little company. Called the Night Sweats, there is a Marathon and a 15K distance.

I have wanted to run the Night Sweats Marathon ever since it was first announced, but there always seemed to be a conflict. And this year was no different - Mrs Notthat and I were signed up for the Sunday version of the Beat the Blerch race up in Washington. But as this race approached, neither of us felt particularly motivated to do the leg work necessary to make that trip, and Mrs Notthat was not going to be able to run the Half in any case.

So we decided to eat the Blerch race (ha ha ha, sigh…), which meant I had a free weekend, and before I stopped to think too much about it, I was signed up for the Night Sweats Marathon.

No, I'm not trained enough for a Marathon with that much climbing, but I still went into this thinking that I could bluff my way through. The race has a seven hour time limit, but that's pretty soft. Of more concern was a cutoff at the halfway point - you basically had to do a five hour Half Marathon to be allowed to continue. I don't know how soft that was, but I knew I could manage that with ease.

Be careful about what you "know."

I knew quite a few people that were running all the different distances offered, so it was fun to keep running into friends.  "Hi Nairb, Regor, and Regor wife, not your real names!"
It was odd sitting around all day, waiting for the 8 PM start. I am NOT a night person, and generally head to bed around 9 PM. That makes me a great candidate for not doing well at this race. I tried to take a nap in the afternoon, but all I really did was lay there and think about what all I needed to bring. I ended up arriving about two hours early.

Nad, not his real name, finishing his 50M race. Long distance runners got shirts, a coaster, and a fleece blanket.  And probably more. Maybe a puppy!

As we got closer to start time, John the RD gathered all the runners that had never run trails or at night or both - I was amazed at how many were there that were completely new to all of this! He talked about how to best use your lights, especially in the foggy bits. He talked about how to not trip and fall off a cliff. And he talked about how to be polite to all the long distance runners since they were all very tired and potentially doing some sleepwalking at this point.

All Day storming in, done with the second of his four loops.
The weather was interesting. It was warm when I left Redwood City, and warm in San Francisco when I drove through it, but once I got to Rodeo Beach, there was a very cold wind. Fortunately, I had dressed and prepared for a cold night, so I was not worried (if it had been warmer, I would have had a reason to worry though.)

Picture by Regor, not his real name. This is the oddest pose I've ever been caught in.
Just before we started, the wind died down and it felt nearly perfect. One thing I was trying for the first time was wearing a buff. Wearing a hat with a headlamp is a bit awkward for me, so I thought it would be wise to try something different. My hope was that this would keep my head warm (it did) and soak up the sweat (it did, but some still managed to get in my eyes, although the fog probably had a lot to do with that).

The 15K runners are chasing me!
The Marathon started first, right at 8 PM. We ran out on a fairly flat bit for a half mile, turned around, and came back past the start to begin the grind up the first climb. The 15K runners meanwhile were standing around, waiting for us to get out of their way.

Not counting that little out-and-back, the Marathon and 15K course shared the same trails for the first 4 miles, heading to Tennessee Valley using the standard set of trails. Most of the Marathoners would make it that 4 miles without even seeing any of the 15K runners. I, on the other hand, would get to see most of the 15K runners since I was going fairly slowly (as planned) up that first climb.

What I hadn't really counted on was how quickly the 15K runners would catch up to me, and how crowded the trails would get as they passed me, with the added excitement of a few long distance runners coming back down at us.

But this was all fine, and I was enjoying being out on this trail at night for the first time.

And then I tripped on something and nearly fell. Nad, from earlier, had warned me about these weird little bits of rebar that stick up from the ground along the side of the trail. At some point, they held barriers of some sort in place, but now they are just these really hard to see hazards. Since I was hanging to the right so runners could get past me, I was a prime target for them, and just like that, my right foot kicked one really hard. My middle toes felt like they had been chopped off - I looked down expecting to see a gaping hole in the front of my shoe with blood spurting out.

But there was none of that - just some pain and a new respect for night running on this trail. The new respect caused me to go even more conservatively, which was saying something.

Runners ahead of me as we head down that first climb.
I had two headlamps with me. One had fresh batteries and the other had fairly old batteries (I believe I last used them pacing Aynwat, not her real name, at last year's Tahoe 200). I had a new set of batteries along with me, so I felt I was nicely covered in the lighting department. I chose to use the old headlamp first just to squeeze out the last of the goody from those old batteries, and it seemed fine.

Until we got into the fog, when suddenly I had two issues: My glasses kept fogging over and the headlamp was not illuminating the ground at all. This was new to me - all of my night running had been fog-free. John the RD had warned us this would happen, and that the best thing was to hold a light down low. So I turned on my second headlamp and held it in my hand - what a huge difference that made! First of all, it was below the fog and I could really see the trail again. Second of all, it was really bright - it showed how near death those old batteries were.

The downhill into Tennessee Valley has some mildly technical bits that would have slowed me in the daylight. But with the darkness and my throbbing toes, this bit was pretty much torture. I knew I should be going faster, but my heightened cautiousness really slowed me down.

Plus I was tired. My legs were definitely feeling that first climb, but that was expected. My mind was extremely tired too though, and that was unexpected. The thing about trail running is that you can't really ever switch your mind off and just flow like you can on roads - you have to be constantly alert and focussed on the trail. Doing this at night requires even more focus, and my mind was already exhausted from this.

So as I pulled into that first aid station, mile 5 for the Marathoners (mile 4 for the 15K), I had already decided that there was no way I could be out on these trails for another 7 hours or more. I dropped to the 15K. This made me sad, but it was also a huge relief.

Sadly, I failed to get a picture of that aid station. Taking pictures at night like this is rarely successful - using a flash is really bad form since everyone's eyes are adjusted to the dark, and a flash could blind them - and I just plain forgot. The volunteers though were awesome and brave and super-heroes!

A fun thing about dropping to the 15K was that it meant I would end up hanging with Regor (not his real name) and his darling, who was doing her first night trail race.

Picture by Regor.
This is the glory of me slogging up Marincello. This whole climb was in the fog with a cold wind, which at times was at our back and at other times was coming directly at us. This was a hard climb, but it was not very technical, which was a great relief and made it actually enjoyable. Kind of.

Trust me - there is a brave volunteer there making sure we turned at the right trail.
A funny math thing - I knew that the 15K was about 9 miles. I knew that I had gone 5 miles at the aid station. I decided that meant, since I was dropping to the 15K, that I only had 4 more miles to go. I realized, while shuffling up Marincello, that my math was bogus since the aid station was only mile 4 for the 15K runners, so it was not over half way, but under.

Getting to the point where the volunteer with the flashlight was standing (it was not a pleasant spot with the wind and the fog - that guy was beyond super-hero status) was a huge relief since it meant the climb was done and we had a lot of downhill to the finish.

Don't pet the puppy.
Not long after heading down that hill, the fog and wind went away and it became fairly pleasant. At one point, a couple of long distance runners (if I did the math right, which is a stretch, I believe they had to be out on their fourth lap for the 100M) called out in an Australian accent something about dingos. I had no idea what they were going on about, but then runners that late into a race aren't known for being coherent. And then I saw this coyote, just standing alongside the trail. I kept my headlamp on him while I fumbled to get a picture.

He rolled his eyes and trotted off into the shrubs. (He had apparently been there for a while, and was likely puzzled about all these people out in his neighborhood in the middle of the night. Regor had seen him when he came through this point several minutes ahead of me.)

Above is an example of the trail markings we were following. There were glow sticks in addition to the ribbons, so finding our way was not too challenging, even in the dark.

The finish line was so great to see. It was close to the slowest 15K ever (granted, there was a bonus mile in there too), and was disappointing after expecting to do a Marathon, but I had no regrets.

PCTR still gave me credit for finishing the 15K, and I got a great shirt, a glow in the dark water bottle, and a medal.

I was amazed at how many runners came out for this night run (over 200 finishers in the two Night Sweats distances) - it really is a chance to do something pretty unique and challenging. PCTR makes this a really fun and well organized event - a HUGE thanks to them for adding this option, and a SUPER HUGE thanks to all the volunteers that hung out all night for us runners!

That's it - move along…

PS: You can see more of my pictures here.

1 comment:

Laura said...

The last time I was on a night run we had dense fog. It did a number on my head because it felt like I was running in a weird bubble because I could not see anything outside the radius of my lights - no city lights in the distance, no stars - nothing but a gray cloud two feet in front of me. It was tough. Glad you were able to at least get a 15k in.