Blackwater Falls – The sunset had set and moon had not risen yet. It was a bit cloudy and the forecast was 10% chance of rain. The breezes were nice after couple weeks of extreme hot whether. I felt a few drops of rain but the atmosphere was like any big marathon. There were 700 of us. The band just finished their performance and the Race Director gave us our final instructions. This was the inaugural race of Monlight on the Falls Marathon.
We social distanced behind the starting line. People had various neon glow lights on their body and everybody had their headlamp/shoe lamp/waist lamp. There were a lighted arch for the starting and finish line. Yes it was out of this world and alien feel – maybe a rave like atmosphere. We couldn’t see faces and everyone was just a shadow.
This was my first marathon for this year. While I have done several A+ races (ultras) already this year, marathons are something special to me. My last marathon was a year ago. I felt like ages.
So standing at the starting line I was giddy, jumping/bouncing up and down. I found my pace group and gathered with them. We had the Beast Pacing as the race official pacers.
The 10:00 pm start was for the distance challenge runners – this group of runners could run as much or as little as they want. Their goal (well most of runners who did the challenge) was to run all night until 7 am in the morning. I originally wanted to do that and really tempted even at the last moment (we could switch our race distance at during the bib pickup). However, wisdom had it for me to go with the marathon distance, since I will be doing an ultra the following weekend and I did not want to mess that one up by over-exhausting myself on this one. Not good to double up. But the marathon distance should be just fine. In fact, I already did around 20 miles that morning hiking and running around the park. A night marathon is like something cool to do before going to bed.
Marathon distance started at 10:05. There were at least a hundred of us. I started way back of the group, not planning to set any record here. I ran through my final mental checklist – like what am doing here? There always that doubt like that, e.g., can I do this? Marathons are no joke. Sure, I have done like 20+ marathons already, but this one was in West Virginia. The guy next to me quietly said that this was his first. Our pace group (I too) assured him to have fun out there – and wished him good luck (good- luck-have-fun, GLHF).
I did not specifically trained for running a marathon this year. I had been busy during spring with training for the two ultra distance marathons, but not a normal marathon. They are almost whole lot difference. Sure, running anything is running in the end. Ultras are much slower (‘easier’ some would say) than a regular marathon. Most of my recent training has been like 13-15 miles and there were doubts rising in me – 26 miles are whole lot tougher. Silly me right? I had no clue what pace I should run.
pace: I know definitely I could finish within 6 hours, that would put me at 4 am finish. However, they did not have 6 hour pacer. The last pacer was 5:30 (5 hours and 30 mins). So though I didn’t know if 5:30 was appropriate, I decided to try it.
The course was almost an out and back with a little variation on the way back by going a detour to the waterfall. It was dark but we could hear the fall whenever we passed by it. It was an exactly quater-marathon distance (a little over 6.5 miles). This would mean I would run the same course four times.
It was easy to settle into pace. 5:30 pace was just right.
Of course, even with wearing a head light it was hard to see the course ahead. Everything was dark and it was like running blindfolded. Those who had not trained for night runs might be a bit disturbed by the sensory deprivation (for me it was an ASMR delight). I was going strong. Typically, I do my runs at night, so night time my body naturally responds well and ready for running. I counted it as my strength.
The course had several inclines (at least 4 going out). I hit each hill well. Sometimes I walked but mostly I could run up on them. Many people later said this course was one of the most hills they have done. For me, it was pretty typical. I had done ultra races that had steeper and longer climbs. I told myself to go slow. I had four laps to go. It would be a long night.
Not long later, the quarter-marathoners and half-marathoners who started later caught up to us. They were an excited bunch. They quickly passed on ahead. The road was wide and we could use both sides. Also not long after, we reached the turn around point and the horde came rushing back. The first couple hours were festive since constantly there were people around going in either direction. As the night wore on, there would be less and less runners as those who ran the shorter distances finished.
I was one of the few who carried a camel pack. I did not need to rely on aid stations, though there were plenty chances to stop by one (like a mile apart). I only filled about a liter of water. It was enough almost for the whole night. I had some gels and gummies as well. I also packed a peanut butter sandwich. I started eating that bit by bit not long after into the run. You get hungry by midnight. Unlike in ultras, aid stations for marathons have no food. Smart ones carry their own.
I got to say – I was irked by many runners who went to the aid stations picked up a water bottle, took a slip and then dropped it on the road. So the whole side of the road was littered with gels and half filled bottles. I ran too many trail ultras and am used to not to waste food or litering. Gosh, we would be DQ (disqualified) for doing that. So it irritated me when I see runners doing that – but the Race encouraged the mass to run this race and so this was the big marathon culture. I understand if 1st or 2nd place runner doing that, but 700 hundred of us? How much time does it take off the clock of just throwing the used bottle in the trash bag?
My take away was I ran a steady lap. My second, third and fourth lap hit an exact pace. It was amazing though. I ran mostly by feel too! I looked at my watch now and then. I walked when I felt like walking and ran when there was an easy section. I finished 15 minutes ahead of my pacer. She stopped for bathroom, so I got a little carry away and got 15 mins ahead of her. Not upset but thrilled.
My thoughts? I like the race. I was reaffirmed that I still got what it takes to run a marathon.
I finished and then walked a mile back to the camp. The moon was up. The night was quiet. The best time to run I think was now when it is just you and the pavement and the moon. I like the feeling of being minimal.
There were a few people on the course still. Some wanted to finish when the sun is up, so they started a little late to time the sunrise. I don’t really care about waiting for the sunrise. I was not sleepy, but knowing I should still sleep because I still had a long drive home in the morning. So I showered (camp has a nice hot shower place) and crawled into my tent. I felt asleep no long after.