|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.|
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!"|
|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.|
|Picture by Regor, not his real name. This is the oddest pose I've ever been caught in.|
|The 15K runners are chasing me!|
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.|
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.|
|Trust me - there is a brave volunteer there making sure we turned at the right trail.|
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.|
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.