It was this time last year that an injured IT band put a halt to my training for my longest race to date: an ultra-marathon 50K put on by Q50 Races. Missing an event put on by a great race organizer and incredible person such as Cesar Torres of Q50 Races was more disappointing than watching the months of training go to waste. So, when I decided to train for the Louisiana Marathon, I made a commitment to run a Q50 Race leading up to the marathon.
When Cesar announced that his 50K race would be in November, I initially thought that I would run a relay of 25k. However, I was intrigued by Cesar’s new race in December: a half-marathon trail race starting at midnight. Q50 Races made the decision much easier when they announced a limited discount for the midnight run. I’m a sucker for race discounts, such as the infamous Saints-Colts discount for the 2012 Rock N Roll New Orleans Marathon.
As part of my training for a marathon, I had to run 16 miles this past weekend. So leading up to the Q50 Midnight Full Moon Trail Half Marathon, I was not thinking about what preparation I needed for this race. I just saw the race as another long weekend run.
Once Saturday morning came around, it hit me that I was going to be spending a weekend night running at near freezing temperatures. Even more, I suddenly realized that I would be stepping onto these trails for the first time in the pitch dark. Those fears grew even more on the trip to the race, as clouds moved in and covered a full moon.
The race was at Bogue Chitto State Park, a 1,786 acre park near Franklinton, Louisiana. It was surreal to see runners arrive at the park’s conference room at 11:00 P.M. for a race. With headlamps, bright jackets, gloves and ear warmers, I thought for a second that I was at a deer hunting camp waiting to go out to a stand on a cold winter morning.
Cesar was his usual colorful self and pumped up the 41 racers with excitement at the pre-race meeting. At that point, any nervousness that I had was eliminated, and I was ready to just enjoy the trails.
I have run trail races, and I really enjoy the few occasions that I get on trails. However, I don’t consider myself to be a trail runner, as opportunities to trail run are rare. So I was very grateful when my fellow CYJ blogger and trail running extraordinaire Brenton Day offered me to use his new Petzl Tikka Core headlamp.
Following a short warm-up on a park road, we hit a trail that immediately took us down a chute. I managed to speed through the chute and not hit the person in front of me, or fall and knock down the person behind me. The chute made me quickly realize that I was not going to be running for time, but rather running safely to stay injury free. I admit: running downhill with little light in front of my feet put the fear of uneasiness back into me. I was out of my element.
The trail then took us into some smaller hills and chutes, and then one large climb. I was able to separate myself from a crowd in the climb, and then settled into a comfortable pace. From mile 2 to the end of the first loop, I didn’t see another runner. There is absolutely nothing like being out in the woods without a cell phone, music or other distraction . . . but this calmness hits a completely new level when you are by yourself with only a small light guiding you.
The trail run was as advertised: non-technical with well maintained trails. Still, I was anxious with each step on the first lap, as I am accustomed to roots and holes on the trails that I frequent in Baton Rouge and in Lake Charles. So, I was probably too cautious on the stretches of level ground in the open fields where I could have picked up the pace to make up for the slower times in the woods.
Apparently I was a little too relaxed at the finish of the first lap, as I stopped to use the restroom and grabbed a drink of water. I would later find out from my wife that nobody else stopped, and I lost a lot of time. I was just having a good time, and I knew that I would not be breaking a PR.
I ran negative splits on the second lap, but it still seemed like an eternity to get through each mile. The climbs were getting tougher on my calves. And the patches of soft dirt seemed like quick sand. But my stride felt comfortable on the intermediate flat and hard surface.
All in all, I was surprised with my finish and happy that I wasn’t fully exhausted (keeping in mind that I wanted to recover quickly for the hard runs during the week). While the pace was slower due to the trails and darkness, I felt like I hung pretty well with some more experienced trail runners. I had no expectations on my finish time. Rather, I just wanted to have fun and get out of there injury free. Mission accomplished.
I have to give major kudos to my wife who rode with me for an hour and a half to the middle of the woods, and patiently waited for nearly 2 hours for me to finish the race. She was quite the trooper.
While the Q50 Midnight Full Moon Trail Half Marathon was my first night run, it definitely won’t be my last. Of course, I highly recommend that the RunLA community check out local organizers such as Q50 Races for night runs. Cesar has another half marathon trail run scheduled next February at Fontainebleau State Park in Mandeville.
Or if you are looking to venture out of Louisiana for some midnight running, there are quite a few races to choose from, including:
E.T. Full Moon Midnight Marathon, Half Marathon, 10K & 51K in Rachel, Nevada.
Make It By Midnight Marathon & Half Marathon in Macon, GA, where runners try to reach the finish line as close to midnight as possible.