This past weekend I had took part in my second ever night trail race. It is actually the second time I have ever trail ran in the dark, period. I took part in this same Mountain Junkies race last October and I had a lot of fun. After last year, I promised myself that if I ever ran a night race again, I would invest in a better headlamp. Of course after 12 months, I still didn't upgrade my headlamp. At least I splurged on some new batteries (even if they were Family Dollar specials).
I was very happy to find out that Jennifer (Overstreet) Abbott and Catherine (Saunders) Abbott would be running in this year’s event. After finding out that Anna and the boys were going shopping in Roanoke before the race, I ended up bumming a ride with Jennifer and Catherine to the race. Jennifer led us on a very scenic route, but we got to Explore Park with plenty of time to spare. I will not elaborate any further about Jennifer’s navigation skills, she may hurt me!
Once we got our race packets and I put my racing bib on as straight as possible (crooked numbers drive me crazy), we were off to the pre-race meeting. I really should have taken some time to warm up prior to the race starting. The next thing I knew, we are lining up at the starting area. After remembering that I forgot to start my watch last year, I was sure to start it sooner this year. I had a strong satellite signal and my headlamp was on when the starting horn went off.
The first 1 of the race is downhill on a half paved, half gravel road that snaked down to the edge of the Roanoke River. Once at the river, the trail started but it was pretty wide and flat for a while. During this first section of the race, you can really separate into different paced groups. I was determined to get out as quickly as possible this year. I had taken it easy the previous year and ended up behind some slower runners later during the single track portion of the race. My plan worked just as I had hoped and I got through the first mile in less than 7 minutes.
I probably should have planned my strategy a little better. By the time I made it to the top of the first hill climb, I was spent! This hill climb was no joke. It was up a very steep hill with lots of large, loose rocks and leaves. The trail was also very washed out during this section and it was very difficult finding a solid place for each foot step. By the time I got to the top of this hill, I realized that this course was going to be a lot more difficult that I remembered from last year. It was also at this moment that I tried to remember the last night I was on a trail. I don’t know why I didn't train more on trails for this race. I had not even run on a trail since before my surgery in June. I definitely was not as prepared for this race as I should have been.
The next couple of miles went by pretty fast, considering how tight my legs were feeling. I think the combination of no stretching and spending the majority of the day at the pumpkin patch with my family had taken its toll on my legs. Even though I didn’t break 10 minutes on any of my remaining miles, I felt like I was running a lot faster than I was actually traveling. Since I was spending a lot of time watching each foot step, the grounds seems like it is flying by you at a much high rate. Also, since you really can’t see anything too far away, you cannot pick something off in the distance to stare at while you are running.
I knew the course was just over 4 miles, but since there were so many switchbacks on the course, my watch’s measured distance was off. So when I popped out of the woods just after my watch said 3.5 miles, I was pleasantly surprised. I knew that once I was out of the woods, there was just a short run on the paved road to the finish line. At this point, I decided to finish with a final kick to the finish. I really pushed myself during this last section. When I got to the finish line, I didn't feel too good! It was at this point that I thought I was going to puke! I heard Anna and the boys cheering at the finish line. They had met me at the race, following their shopping trip. I decided to walk away from Anna and the boys, so they didn't have to watch Daddy throw up.
After gaining my composure and pulling myself together, I made my way over the see Anna and the boys. I ended up running about a minute slower than I ran this course last year. Considering how spent my body felt during the middle of this race, I was very happy with my finishing time of 37:12. We hung out at the finish line to cheer on Catherine, Jennifer, and the other runners. Congratulations to Catherine and Jennifer on completing their first trail race! They did awesome! After getting some dry clothes on, I helped myself to some good food and a cup of coffee. The Mountain Junkies put together another great trail racing experience. All in all, it was a great evening of running in the dark! I look forward to my next race, whatever that may be.