Sunday, July 20, 2008

Lunar Trek

If you ever get the chance, do an overnight run.

I really never imagined I'd say this, but I really enjoy running at night. I'm taking like late, late night. Like 3am night. Most of my friends think I'm nuts for running ultras to start with. Add in an overnight ultra and I can tell they really start to wonder if it's intervention time.

I was a bit hesitant at first about this race, waiting until the last minute to sign up. I'm glad I did. The first annual Lunar Trek took place on July 18th in Scandia, Kansas. Where's Scandia you might ask? Here, of course. This race has a 10k, 10mi, 20mi, 30mi and 40mi option to it. I chose the 40 mile option. Word on the street is that next year there will be a 60 mile option.

My race-day preparation was poor at best. I've been doing weights twice a week lately. On the Wednesday before the race I did a pretty typical weight workout...typical except for the extra lunges with weights I added into a superset. I figured two days would be plenty of recovery time. I was wrong on that one.

The other thing was what I did Friday during the day. See, instead of sitting on my butt doing nothing physically taxing I spent the day shadowing a doctor. Now, this isn't just any doctor, this is a fellow Trail Nerd as well as someone who honestly walks faster than anyone I've ever met before. I think I spent most of the time slow-jogging just to keep up. Shadowing doesn't facilitate a lot of sitting either, so I didn't get a lot of tush-in-chair time during the day.

Basically, my recovery time was the three and a half hour drive to Scandia on Friday night. Excellent.

I got to Scandia around 9:30pm. Found the high school and got checked in for the race. Race director John Neal did a good job of describing the course to me. He basically walked me through the entire route, hills, bridges and all. The funny part was when he was talking about some mud on the road about 5 miles into the race. "We put hay down to make it easier to run over." Mud? Ha. Pfft, I was looking forward to it.

Some fellow Trail Nerds were already there, fully decked out in their race gear. I was like, "uhh, you guys know the race doesn't start for another hour and a half, right?" They didn't seem to care. I milled around in my flip-flops for a while before starting to put my stuff together for the race.

Sometime before the race started we were treated to a wonderful rendition by Gary Henry of a poem about the moon that, for the life of me, I can't remember what it was called. Either way, it was great.

Around 11pm we all started to move to the start line. As all the Trail Nerds got together for a picture I realized that we made up about a quarter of the race participants. That's pretty good turnout! Apparently we travel in packs and intimidate others.

Shortly after 11pm we were off. I had my headlamp on but there were enough folks around with headlamps on that I didn't really need to use it. Add into that the full moon and mostly cloudless night and you had pretty spectacular night running conditions.

After about half a mile I caught up with Sophia. She was going to do the 30-mile run, meaning she would turn around at the third aid station. Her pace was a bit faster than I wanted but she hooked me with the promise of walking for 30 seconds after each mile. So, there you go. I ran with Sophia for the first 15 miles of the race. We basically kept close to a 10 minute pace the entire time.

The course was great. It was basically all dirt roads surrounded by farms. At first I didn't think there would be much to look at since it would be so remote and so dark but I was pretty surprised by the amount of scenery.

Close to mile 5 we came across the mud that John had talked about earlier. Being the generally over-arrogant runner that I am I ignored the nicely laid out hay path and just ran through the middle of the mud, not really caring about what I was stepping in. It wasn't too bad. I ended up ankle-deep a few times but nothing horrible. I don't really think the hay helped too much, it kind of ended up getting stuck to your shoes which was almost worse than just getting muddy.

Apparently running at night is deceiving to my sense of elevation change. I kept swearing that we were constantly running uphill. Not steep uphills, but gradual uphills. Sophia didn't agree with me but I didn't listen. I figured out she was right on the way back when I kept waiting for those constant downhills and they never came.

Mile 15 is when I lost my pacer and had to continue on alone. This was also one of the coolest aid stations I've ever been in. Some guy opened up his barn and put the aid station inside. There were several tractors and I jokingly asked if I could drive one. I don't think he knew I was kidding, nor was he amused. There was also some pretty 'interesting' music being played here, no genre was off-limits at this aid station.

The next five miles weren't too bad for me. I was still running pretty strong. Aid station number 4 (number 3 was mile 15, 2 was mile 10, and 1 was mile 5) is only about 3 miles from the high school where we started. That makes getting there a bit depressing as you know you're so close to the finish but you still have to turn around and run the entire course again. I changed shoes here and in doing so I took my headlamp off and put it on top of a cooler. In my rush to eat whatever I could and get going I forgot my headlamp...oops. I realized it about a quarter of a mile down the road but didn't really want to turn around to get it. It was bright enough with the moon and I hadn't had many problems seeing.

The route back is just a backtrack of everything I had just ran. The only part I wasn't looking forward to was hill 88, a very steep hill at the 10k mark going out, so about 6 miles from the finish.

After a few more miles I started really enjoying the dark. I was sans light and running partner but I was really relaxed. I turned the iPod off and just kind of took it all in. It was very quiet (except for the random rustling of the bushes which I'm sure was some ghastly animal silently stalking me as a possible meal) so the only noises I heard were my feet hitting the ground. I guess it was the lack of sensory input that I found most relaxing. There wasn't much to take in so what I could was all the more satisfying.

The roads did seem to go on forever. With not many turns the run becomes pretty tough, as you're just wanting to get to that next turn. Finally, amazingly, I made it to hill 88. I'd been running for a while and figured I should walk up the hill. Well, I kept running and saying "I'll walk after that rock", etc. Finally, I was halfway up the hill and figured I'd just run the entire thing, which I did. Thing is, right after hill 88, there's a downhill followed by another steep hill which seems almost as bad as hill 88. I ran that one too. Go figure.

I made it to the last aid station, ate what I could, chatted with the volunteers, and headed off on the last 5 miles of the run. I made it back through that mud with little difficulty and noticed that the sun was starting to come up. The skies were just starting to lighten up and the clouds that hung low in the East were beginning to glow. It was beautiful. The full moon was still up to the West, the terrain was still shadowy and colorless, and the sky was slowly turning blue. Find me another sport that gets you that.

I ran the last leg except for two short walks up hills during the last mile or so. I was sore, but I was determined to keep running.

Once I came over the last hill I saw two crazy people sitting in lawn chairs in the middle of the road. I was thinking "what the hell are they doing?" Then I notice they're sporting Trail Nerd t-shirts and realize it's Debbie and James. I can't say it seemed completely sane to be sitting in the middle of the road but I was sure glad to see them.

The finish was pretty anti-climatic. It consisted of John, the RD and Sophia. Sophia ran the last 20 feet with me, careful not to spill her recovery drink in the process.

I felt pretty good at the end, no real pain. I wasn't even tired, which is what I thought I'd be dealing with the most during the race. I never once got sleepy or felt exhausted. That's not what I expected.

After a quick shower we all hung out and waited for Gary to finish. I found myself sitting in the middle of the road exactly where James and Debbie had been when I came over the hill. Apparently it wasn't so dumb of an idea after all. It was also, as James pointed out, oddly, the most comfortable road I've ever sat on. Really tough to explain, it just was.

We all grabbed breakfast at the Kaffee House (I think that's what it was called). I had an excellent ham and cheese omelet, hash browns, toast, coffee, and leftover biscuits and gravy that Sophia had taken from another table's leftovers. Yummy.

I was a bit worried about the drive home. I hadn't slept and wasn't sleepy, yet. I knew it'd hit me eventually, but I wasn't sure when. About an hour into my drive I started getting REALLY sleepy. I was trying to eat espresso beans to stay awake but it wasn't helping at all. So, I pulled over at a picnic area, crawled in the back of the car, and slept for about an hour.

After waking up and a stop by Sonic for ice cream (I have no idea why I was craving ice cream at ten in the morning, but I was) I eventually made it home. I unpacked the car, took a shower, and tried to study. Yeah, that didn't last long. I ended up passing out on the couch and waking up at 5pm. Oops. Luckily it didn't screw up my sleep schedule too bad.

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