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Running in Circles for 12 hours at night? SIGN ME UP! (Race Recap)

I enter every race with some sort of goal. I am competitive, but a goal has to extend beyond depending on the performance of others, so I aim to find something that will push me and ignore placing when determining if a race was a success. Sometimes the goal is survival. One of my proudest races was a 100-miler that went very poorly. BUT, I got myself to the finish and persevered through a number of different challenges. I also learned about my amazing ability to puke for hours on end. It was a win, even though the time, place, and performance were not what I would have wanted going into the race.


THAT SAID… Last year I got second in this 12-hour nighttime race, and if I said that I wasn’t gunning for a win, I would be lying to you. So, I set my “A Goal” high. Victory, a course record, and all the fame and fortune that comes from a local twelve-hour fixed-time event at night. My “B Goal” which actually should have been my “A Goal,” was to run consistently throughout the race, but with the attention span only slightly longer than a goldfish, I often forget my B Goal.

Training

I went into the race with a plan but without rest days. My running volume has been quite high recently, but through the ups and downs of life, it has been important to use running as an outlet to take time for myself. BUT, I didn’t ignore rest days. I simply ran 20 miles on the days that weren’t rest days. Would I recommend this? Certainly not, but with four races in five weeks, I wanted to test my body and see how quickly I could bounce back from longer efforts.


High volume days, two rest days a week, and a bit of an obsession (ok… a major obsession) with running was further enhanced by this new commitment to a strength routine. Was I ready for a twelve-hour night race? I don’t know if anyone is ever ready to skip a night of sleep, but it has been my favorite time to race, so maybe it would work out in my favor.

The Race

I drove up to Helena fresh off ten days of travel through four states and way too many cities, but I was excited. The month and a half since Cocodona had built up a new appreciation for racing, running and competing, and I was just excited to go out and run with whatever I had in the tank. I threw some bars and gels in a cardboard box, grabbed a running vest from the disastrous mess that is my car, and went to the start line. It was a running vest I have never raced in before, but my thought process is always, “It will be fine.” It was… mostly, at least until I showered after the race and the burning reminder of what chaffing can be was very evident.


It was one of the strangest starts I have ever been a part of. After a short race briefing, the clock hit 8 pm, and we all just stood there (the race was supposed to start at 8). Finally, someone crossed the start line, and we all began our race a few seconds after the scheduled start. It was muddy, pouring rain, and apparently uninviting to all of us. So, we hesitantly waited until someone broke the seal. But then it was on. 


The race consisted of an 11.5 mile figure eight that we would repeat as many times as we could (or wanted) in 12 hours. It started in a downpour, but luckily the weather slowly improved, and the lightning disappeared. This is about when I found my rhythm. I was running much too fast, but there was still a person in front of me, and I was prepared to push myself for half a day. I followed about 100 yards behind on the 3.5 mile climb to the top of Mt. Ascension and then took the lead on the four mile descent back to the middle of the figure 8.



The start line puddles...gross

The start-line puddles…gross


Race face and rain protection

Race face and rain protection

At the transition, I didn’t stop at my car or the aid station and started the second loop of the course. The ground was much less muddy on this side, and my legs felt great. The first loop flew by, and I was starting my second one in under two hours. It was dark, and I pulled out my overpowering headlamp. A “life hack” for running at night is always to have a quality and blinding headlamp. Not only does it intimidate the bears and deer in the forest, but it also reflects with blinding intensity off the slick rocks along the trails.


I was on my own and entered the ultrarunning trance. With last year’s experience on the course, everything was automatic, and I trudged forward, running many of the uphills and pushing the downhills even more. I was tired at 10 pm, but not exhausted. In fact, I never hit the exhaustion stage… which is really good if you were wondering. A few slips, not enough sips of water, and I finished the first half of the second loop. My brain was on autopilot, and my eyes wandered to the sprawling lights of Helena. It was the perfect weather for me—Cold and uninviting.


Nineteen miles in, and my feet were hurting. I wore shoes suited for mud and slick rocks, but with less of each than I anticipated, I hurriedly changed into road running shoes during the transition. The road shoes are lighter, kinder to my feet, and (in my mind) faster. So I wore them for the rest of the race.


Twelve hours is a long time, especially when those are the twelve hours that most people are sleeping. But I use a few mind tricks to make it feel more manageable. Every 11.5-figure-eight stood on its own. Yes, my mind did wander, and try to do very complex math to see what kind of pace I was on, but usually, after a few minutes of losing my brain in the midst of long division, I gave up and brought my thoughts back to the present. I aimed to finish each lap in about two hours and then focused on being very efficient during transitions. These transitions at night are one of the main reasons I like to do this race. It is great practice, and I think these unique opportunities to practice otherwise unpracticed aspects of races have benefited me greatly.


Night running looks like star was light speed. Taken at a blistering 6 miles per hour!

Night running looks like Star Wars light speed. Taken at a blistering 6 miles per hour!

Everything was going great, and then I ate a cracker. Well, “ate” is probably the wrong word. I grabbed a handful of light snacks from the aid station and started eating them, and then a misstep on uneven ground, and I was choking on the least offensive food the aid station had to offer. Coughing on crumbs began and didn’t subside for thirty minutes. As I passed other runners at night they must have wondered if I was dying, but at least they heard me coming and let me pass easily. In every adversity, there is a silver lining—that definitely is not true, but it is nice to pretend in the midst of a race.


Once I had dispensed of the crumbled mess coating my throat, I threw down the hammer. To the tune of a few ten-minute miles that I could have sworn were six-minute pace. But, it was mile number… a lot… and things just feel faster at night. The daylight was coming, and I had to finish my fifth loop with at least two hours left to be able to start my sixth. 


I tried, well, I sort of tried. Time was slipping away, and it soon became apparent I wouldn’t get in a full sixth loop. I came in eight minutes after 6 am and could only log miles on the shorter (4-mile) portion of the figure eight. But, I wasn’t disappointed, in fact, I was a bit relieved. I had tied the course record with nearly two hours left, and I figured I could get in another eight miles at a more leisurely pace. I thought this until the mental struggles of an ultramarathon started.


I lost all my steam on what I wanted to be my second-to-last loop. The adrenaline was gone. I began to wonder why I was even continuing to run and log miles. What was the point of it all? Was it an existential millennial crisis caused by too much avocado toast? Likely.


Can you tell I am ready to be done? Mile 62 ish

Can you tell I am ready to be done? Mile 62 ish

My pace slowed, but not quite to a crawl, and I got to 61.5 miles with about an hour left in the event. I didn’t want to go out for another four miles, although I knew I would make myself do it.


BUT, even though there was no way I would let myself quit, I was going to use a psychological boost for the last hour. The aid station had Coke, and instead of simply having a cup of it, I asked for an entire can to drink over the next hour. It was exactly the pick-me-up that I needed, and I sprinted around the last four-mile loop—well… I thought I did. It was my slowest lap, but it didn’t matter. I finished about twelve minutes before the official end of the race and took a seat, content with 65.5 miles.


Done... FINALLY

Done… FINALLY

It was a wonderful race, and because of my great success, I would like to thank the following:

First: The weather for being colder than last year

Second: The great camaraderie with the other runner and the wonderful organization of the race directors even in the bad weather

Third – My wonderful support from Janji, Sea to Summit, and Readywise for not questioning my decision to race way too much

Fourth – My great job in not forgetting to pack anything crucial

Fifth – The invention of road running shoes because I seem to run best in them

Sixth – David Goggins for having such outlandish quotes that can provide me twelve hours of laughter and entertainment during a night race.

If you made it this far, you receive the award of my gear list

  1. Shirt: Janji Helio Tech T-Shirt with homemade holes for breathability

  2. Rain Jacket: Janji Rainrunner

  3. Trail shoes: Topo Mtn Racer 3

  4. Headlamp: Petzl Nao+

  5. Backup headlamp: Nitecore NU25

  6. Electrolytes: Salud

  7. Pack: Salomon

  8. Body Glide: still chaffed

  9. Redbull: Cringe but it works

  10. Charged Crystals and earrings of course!

See? It was a perfect figure 8 shape

See? It was a perfect figure 8 shape


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