TL:DR; Ended up running in a nameless race overnight last weekend. The race was called 24-hr Adventure Trail Run by Athletic-Equation, but that is a generic name.
My plan for the weekend was to go to the MMT race course to have one more practice after finishing the Easter Chocolate Bunny night run. But by Wednesday or was it Thursday morning I woke up and saw a post in my running group about a 24 hour race in my local area, with openings for last a minute signup, since there were a few spots made available. 24 hour would be a bit too much for me with this close to my A race (MMT) but they also had a night event for an 8 hour run and that was perfect for me to do.
To me it was a no brainer to run it. The race was relatively inexpensive, and it was about the same as a tank of gas if I had driven out to the MMT. This race was in the city so, it saved me a trip to the mountain. They provided good aid stations as expected. I wanted to do a long run on the trail this weekend. Rather than me having to drive out to some godforsaken place and running by myself with zero supports, a race was a godsend. At least all the food and safety issues would be taken care of by them.
A race that promised a night run was all I was looking for to get ready for the 100 mile race. This race was held at the Prince William Forest, where I failed to finish the Devil Dog 100K last December, so I knew the course should be tough enough. I felt this could give me training to the Devil Dog as well. I signed up immediately.
On my race day, I was pretty busy. I had my usual Saturday morning run (16 miles ish), which I finished around 2 pm. I rested a bit until 4 pm and I got up to get ready for my race. Remember, it’s a night race but I wanted to be there at least an hour before the required time, 8:30, for the director’s briefing, plus I remembered parking being a bear when I did the Devil Dog there. I wanted some buffer room in case things go south. You never know in the DC area, because traffic could occur any time even in the middle of the night. 6:30 was the latest I would leave and still feel safe in making to there.
My friend earlier in the week had asked if I was available to help him move a piano that day, so I promised to help. I asked if he could move up the time from 5 to 4. I don’t mind helping him. The moving project was relatively fast but the place we moved the piano to was about an hour away. It took us about 2.5 hours total. There were 5 of us, but two of the men were elderly in their 70s (my friend’s dad and his dad’s friend) and we did not want them to lift anything, especially a piano. The difficult part was getting the piano from the basement. The stairway was narrow. There was not much room to grab onto the piano except on either end. That thing weighs a ton (not literally) but it was too heavy for just my friend and me to lift, because we are not body builders. We couldn’t move it even with three people. We needed four. I think it must be around 200-300 pounds.
Originally, I promised to help until 6 pm since I had to be at the race by around sun down. But seeing the lack of helps my friend had, I felt sorry for him. I knew the two old men while helpful were not able to lift. After we loaded the piano onto my friend’s van, I went with him to his house to unload it as well. The unloading process took only 15 minutes. It was pretty fast getting the piano inside his house. By then I was really pressed for time to get to the race site. I knew I would be late. It was already 7:30 and I was an hour later than planned.
I never felt so rushed to get to a race. It was about an hour to get to the site. By the time I arrived, it was exactly 8:30 pm. However, there was no group briefing, so I was not technically late. Luckily, it was a low key event. I thought there were going to be hundreds of people, but most were already done and left. Parking was not an issue. The start location was the same as the Devil Dog at Happyland (camp #5) so I was familiar in getting there even after sunset. The 24 hour people started 13.5 hours earlier, in the morning. The 50K and 100K people already finished theirs. There maybe only 30 people on the course by the time I arrived. The 8 hour people already started too. Originally, the 8 hour people (the event I signed up for) were supposed to start at 9 pm. The race director gave me my bib number, pointed me to the course and said I could start whenever and run however I wanted. There was a prepared course, but the first few hundred yards or so were unmarked and it ran through the campsite. It would be obvious during the day which way to go, but at night everything was dark. It was going to be a “fun” run, since he knew I signed up to get training time and not for any awards or placement. Off I started. The time was 8:45 pm. I asked if I could skip the portion around road and cabins, he said sure if I want to. I was not going to be DQ. Of course, I didn’t do so, but that was how low key and chill vibe the event was. The director probably did not sleep since the day before and at this point it was just me running this, and who really cares if I followed the actual course. Later, I found out there were 8 of us doing the 8-hour run, but I never once saw them.
I had a volunteer (Kevin) who wanted to do one loop with me. He was there since early in the morning doing parking lot duty and later served at an aid station. He had finished his shift. He has the same ultra running interests as I am. The director pointed to him saying he is doing what you are doing. He didn’t mean running in this race but about doing ultras in general. We got off well. He shared his race stories. He also injured his hamstring back in February and had a similar experience as I did, having literally pain in the butt and of not being able to train/run the last couple months. His next race is the Old Dominion 100, so he has one extra month than me to train. He showed me the course. He was well familiar with it since he did the 24 hr last year and he had run the Devil Dog 100k many times. I felt I met an angel. If I need any tips regarding the course, this guy knows every turn and bump. He ran at my pace too without complaining. He actually told me to go in front of him but I prefer following him since it was my first loop. I’m a pretty slow runner.
We ran fast. We had our fastest lap time. After finishing the loop, he went home. I continued on. The night was quiet. We occasionally saw those who ran the 24 hour event. I believe I was the only one running on the course. The rest were just struggling through by walking. The 24 hour people were having a rough time since the day was hot (75-80 F) (or hotter than we normally used to for this time of year). Some had dropped earlier due to the heat. Those that remained were not in any better shape. The night was cooler around 50-60 F.
I finished my 2nd lap by 12:30 am. It was much slower. Then the third lap by 2:30 and fourth by 4:15 am, I found my groove. My time was up by 5 am, so I did not plan to do a 5th lap. I felt pleased with a pretty strong run, considering I did 26 miles in 9 hours the previous week. Today, 25 miles in 7.5 hours was more than I hoped for. I found the trail was not as tough as I remembered, probably having trained on the MMT course, got me adjusted well to rocky trails. This local trail has become a childplay for me.
Near the end of my last lap, I passed a runner who seemed to want to follow me, However, I was going too fast for her to keep up. I told her if she wants another lap and needed pacing I will be available at the aid station, which was also our starting and finish line.
She (Anna) came in around 4:25 and decided to go for another lap. Most runners though already gave up of doing another lap since it was not likely they would make it back by 7:00 to have the lap counted. By then most have an idea how much time needed to finish a lap. Anna told me she has been running 2.5 hour a lap (a lap being 10K). It would be a close call to get her final lap in before 7 am since I could see at that point she was exhausted and would likely be much slower on this final lap.
At this time, her pace was visibly deteriorating, but she was determined to go back out. I was willing to pace her. She asked if I think she can make it. I said I am her pacer and always believe in my runner (even if I don’t, I wouldn’t discourage them)! We did not spend too much time at the station. She just refilled her bottle and we went out immediately. Since I came in much earlier, I had time to change and ate up and be refreshed. I already changed into my good shoes and warm clothes. The temperature now was maybe around high 40s and dropping but it was cold without a jacket.
In her struggle, we reached halfway by 5:45 am. It was not bad but not ideal either. The return leg would probably take an hour and fifteen minutes, and likely much longer because she was in pain. At the halfway point, she sat down on the trail. I thought it was done for her. The station manager laid out the options for her. If she wanted to quit, she could stop there and her miles would be counted up to that point. She was trying to clarify if she finished after 7 am would her lap be counted. They radioed in to the race director. Basically she has to finish before 7 for it to count. She was determined to finish. She turned to me pleading, to run (mostly to reaffirm her own conviction). It must have been so painful for her to go into a run since earlier we were only walking and she was struggling. She was counting on me to pace her. I told her, running is not an issue for me because I was still fresh (I felt I could do a good job). So we ran. At first, I was just fast hiking and she was running. Later her pace was too fast for me to be hiking and I had to go into a slow jog. She wanted me up in front. Usually one paces from behind (for trail races). So I tried to keep a pace that was slow enough for her but not too slow. Surprisingly it was easier now with fully lighted (pre-dawn). I could see the trail even without my headlamp. It was easy. Miles flew by. Anna was pretty good. She kept up all the way until the last mile where she needed more frequent walking break. She was able to transition back to a run time and again. We finished with 30 minutes to spare! She crossed the finish line at 6:30 am.
No other people came in after her. A few went out after the race director informed them that they could get a half lap counted if they reach the halfway aid station before 7. Three or 4 people did. We saw them go out when we were close to the finish. Those were all her friends who came from Mexico to run in this race. She somehow inspired them to do a half lap. Not sure if she actually came from Mexico for this race or she is a resident here with diplomatic ties. It is not strange for our area to have people from all over the world.
We had breakfast and an award ceremony in the mess hall. There might be only 10 of us out maybe 50 in the race. None of the 8 hr people stay. Many others had left already. I felt close to this small group of runners. I ran with them through the night. I was battling sleepiness and the good food was only putting me to sleep quicker. I slept in my car for a couple hours before driving home.
This concluded my weekend. My new friend Kevin summarized for me when I first met him at the race. He said so you spent the morning running, the afternoon lifting weight and then still doing an all night run. Ya…this might seem like a lot, but as my 100 mile race is approaching, the body should be able to handle the load. It is reasonable for me to be able to do this. As for my hamstring, I think I am at 100% (recovered) now.