Linville Gorge from the summit of Table Rock

Linville Gorge from the summit of Table Rock

Thursday, February 12, 2015

2015 The Night Mare (40-miler)

A friend of mine, Derek, has a passion for creating ridiculously challenging runs or runs with zany themes and requirements. His runs may or may not be real races (with entry fees, etc...) and the routes usually max out at the 10-12 mile range, allowing for a greater number of participants. Sometime, in the latter part of 2014, he told me he was planning a 40-miler that would include a relay option, thereby attracting the ultra runners as well as those wanting fewer miles, but a team experience. He wanted it on the Dark Mountain Trails at Kerr Scott Reservoir in Wilkesboro, NC. And he wanted it to be at night. In February. Thus was born The Night Mare. Never one to let a good play on words slip by, Derek created a semi-demonic-looking winged horse as the logo.

Realizing that this would fall right between Weymouth Woods 100K and Mount MItchell Challenge, I was a bit torn on registering. Ultimately, my decision was made based on wanting to help add to his number of participants. In hindsight, had my Weymouth Woods gone better and had I finished, I might have had a bit too much lingering soreness for The Night Mare. As it was, my only real concern (aside from the possible side effects of having to attend a fund-raising gala that same evening that involved 2-3 hours of standing around and yelling to one another to be heard over the too-loud jazz band) was a sore right ankle that has bothered me for a while.

The drive to the race wasn't too bad. At 10:00 p.m., there wasn't a lot of traffic on the road. With the race starting at midnight, I planned to get there at 11:00 and check in and then relax a bit before the start. The GPS estimate was correct and I arrived at 11:00, just in time to see a mob of headlamps dancing off into the woods. Uh-oh. It appeared I had not remembered the start time correctly...something Derek confirmed when I walked up to the start/finish tent. I went back to the car and got my stuff together and ended up starting somewhere around 11:10 p.m. All alone.

It was in the mid-20s, but those temperatures would fluctuate somewhat with where you were on the course. The lowest points of the course, near the water, had the lowest temperatures. Besides a fleece headband and mitten/gloves, I was fine in shorts and a medium-weight, long-sleeve shirt, and the same bright-yellow technical shirt I had worn at Western States (bright yellow in case they needed to come find me.) I also had a pack on, and that helped to keep my back warm, which is always critical for me.

The course would be six laps on mostly mountain-bike trails. Derek had marked the course primarily with what seemed like eight hundred little glow sticks. Beyond that, there were some arrows made with bread flour, "caution" tape, and signs. Every so often, mostly toward the middle parts of the course, he hung Halloween decorations. These trails twist and turn like a plate of spaghetti. You can see headlamps above or below you and never be totally sure where that person is in relation to you. They could be just ahead/behind or a mile away (course-wise.)

I ran the first lap with a mix of race-day adrenalin and a bit of wanting to catch back up. I encountered a few relay participants fairly early on, walking their lap. Susan was out there doing a lap before working an aid station. This early, the trail was pretty runnable, but I could see places that later on I was sure to be walking. As evidenced by the Weymouth Woods meltdown, my training has fallen off since Pitchell. While I felt pretty good at the moment (aside from the supper I had eaten at 9:00 p.m. that was still trying to decide whether to go up or down) I knew that I could not expect to continue this pace and probably should back off right now and save some energy for later. Yet, I pressed on, telling myself that this was training for Mount Mitchell in three weeks.

The two on-course aid stations were fairly basic, but more was not really needed with a major aid station at the start/finish area and we'd pass that every 6.7 miles. Both had water and Gatorade along with some smiling, cheerful volunteers. I think they were around miles 3 and 5. Like all lap events, this first lap felt the longest because nothing was familiar. You could sometimes see the lights from the start/finish area and think you were getting close, but then the trail would turn and take you farther away. With no mile markers and no GPS, I was never sure when I was really getting close to the end of the lap. That is, until the path opened up into a dirt road for a short distance, and then reached the bottom of a dam. Knowing Derek, I instantly knew that we'd be going up this 45-50 degree incline that stretched probably 200 yards. The lower portion was rocky and you had to pick your path, but after 20-30 yards, it was grassy and not too bad--aside from the incline. I didn't bother to try to run, though I noticed Phyllis was just ahead of me and she actually tried to jog a short stretch. At the top, I had a moment of jelly-legs, walked it off and jogged back to the shelter. One lap down. Lap time: 1:07 (minus 8-10 minutes for late start.)

Since the course doesn't change each lap, I will summarize the remaining laps and hit the highlights.

Lap 2 - here I experienced my first fall. It was a stupid fall. I raised my water bottle to drink and it blocks the light. Well, my timing was terrible and my foot caught something and sent me down. I was fortunate to land in a pretty soft area of dirt. This lap felt really long because while I knew some of the "markers," like the skeleton hanging in the middle of the path that I would lightly punch for luck each loop, I couldn't remember at what point I'd encounter them. I still felt fairly fresh and ran some of the moderately steep hills. Most walking on this lap was strategic. The course wasn't terribly technical and some of the trickiest footing came at the start of each loop when you descended to a lower parking area and had some rocky sections. Lap time: 1:06.

Lap 3 - Scott Williams was part of a relay team and was running the team's third and sixth loops. I saw him at the start/finish area and knew that he'd be coming up on me this loop. It was amazing how quickly he did. I could almost hear a Doppler effect in his voice when we briefly spoke as he passed by me. By now, I was mostly by myself in the dark. On the first lap, I encountered a couple groups of 3 - 5 people running together. But now, it was very quiet, bringing to mind an old memory, "It is pitch black. You are likely to be eaten by a grue." Actually, it wasn't quite pitch black. The moon was just past full and it would occasionally peer through the trees. At some points, to my peripheral vision, it would appear to be a headlamp of fellow runner. I was starting to get a better feel for where my non-aid station "markers" were now. The stump with the purple arrow beside it, the battery-powered Christmas lights, the Jason mask, the big tree we do a U-turn around and the big rock that also involves a U-turn. The slight dip and rise that leads to the dirt "road." And ultimately the bottom of the dam hill. Pun intended. Lap time: 1:15 (some of this was simple slowing down and some was due to more frequent "pit stops" as the water seemed to go right through me.)

Lap 4 - I saw Derek on this lap. He had glowing blue shoelaces and, channeling his inner squirrel (or werewolf) no headlamp. I caught up to him at the first aid station and followed him a little ways after that. He was setting a good pace but had to let me go by since my headlamp was killing his night vision. I had changed my batteries at the end of lap three. I had the headlamp on the brightest setting, which makes for a very short battery life. I was actually surprised it made it three laps and I had come prepared to change them every two. I also carried a small rechargeable flashlight in case the headlamp gave out mid-lap. As noted before, it was very hard to follow who was where on the course. Brian was also at that first aid station and ran with me a little. He thought I was in first place, but I wasn't really looking at the start/finish area and couldn't tell. I wasn't hugely concerned about it because I was so concerned about keeping it together to just finish. It was reaching that cold part of the evening. My pace was nowhere near what I had expected before the race. Hearing "mountain-bike trails" and picturing what we have at Lake James State Park, I set a goal of an hour per loop. I think I might have managed that on the first loop, when adjusted for my late start, but was now into the 1:30 range. My goal had me finishing at 6:00 a.m. with the midnight start and now it looks like even with the hour-earlier start, 6:00 a.m. was probably still not going to happen. By now, even my eyes felt cold and I frequently put my glove over my nose to try to warm it. I found that sometimes when I exhaled too strongly, a cloud of vapor rose up and obscured the path. And I swear that sometimes I would spit out some extra water and it turned to snow before hitting the ground. Lap time: 1:26.

Lap 5 - I think it was this lap where Nathan told me as I refilled my bottle at the start/finish area that the second place person was coming up the big hill. My plan was to just try to keep doing what I had been and fast-walk the uphills and run the flats and downhills. My legs were getting a bit stiff and occasionally, I would stop try to stretch the muscles out in a way that my short-stride running wasn't doing. I had taken two S-caps so far, to try to get some salt into my system. I had eaten three gels but was relying on that late dinner for the bulk of my energy. The spout on my water bottle had now frozen and I had to remove the lid to drink. Once I did that, the lid didn't seem to go back on quite correctly, so a little bit would leak out as I ran. This dripped onto the bottle's pouch, freezing the zipper and locking my fourth gel inside. It also spilled onto the tips of the mitten part of my gloves, freezing them. When I did get water from the bottle, it came out with pieces of "shaved" ice. The challenge of this lap was that it wasn't the last one, so I didn't have that boost of "smelling the barn." It felt like I stayed pretty steady, compared to recent laps, and ultimately, the splits chart would support that feeling. Lap time: 1:28.

Lap 6 - I knew someone was behind me, but didn't know who, or how far. I just stuck with the plan and hoped for the best. There was a little bit of extra push in my stride, knowing that the end was within reach. At each aid station, I thanked the volunteers for being out there all night. I can't imagine just sitting there waiting for people to come through, even with the small campfires they built. While I didn't know distance, by this point, I had a pretty good feel for the time between my "markers" and checked them off one at a time, just anticipating that big rock we pass and then the dirt road and then the big hill. I took my headlamp off for the final climb. I didn't need it and it was actually starting to feel a bit tight. I shuffled into the finish and unintentionally walked right into the women's relay winners celebratory photograph. Lap time: 1:31. Total time: 7:53 (minus the late start, so somewhere around 7:45, far slower than any of my Mount Mitchell Challenges.)

I was so thankful to be done. After my late supper, I did the run on three gels, water, and a shot of Gatorade. I was actually a little hungry, which is unusual for me immediately after an ultra. I didn't sit long, knowing I'd need to go change quickly. Derek was not there, so I went to the car, cranked the seat heater up and turned the heat up as high as I could. The chill hadn't yet set in, and I hoped to get changed before it did. Fresh socks, fleece pants, two shirts, and my Table Rock hoodie, and I shuffled back over to the finish area. It was partially enclosed and there were two big propane heaters. I stood under one until my hair felt like it was going to catch on fire, and then continued to stand there, possibly only moving if it actually did catch on fire. I talked with Sayrd and Nathan for a bit, not wanting to rush off like I usually do post-race.

Derek had a few side contests going, such as a horseshoe award for the first person to come after the top of each hour. He had awards for every finisher and a blanket, bound in a metal "wrapper" that had the race name on it. There was lots of food (that was also there during the race.) Noting that a lot of the volunteers (and pretty much all of the finished runners) had gone, I really wanted to help him with cleanup, but I was tired and the chill was starting to find me, despite the best efforts of the propane heater.

After the collapse at Weymouth Woods, and given the night start and all I had going on Friday, I was a bit worried about how The Night Mare might go. I don't feel like my time was great, but I didn't fizzle out. Faded, yes, but managed to stay with it. The distance is two miles longer than Mount Mitchell actually measures and I think there was probably more total climb. So, I feel a little bit better about my status going into Mitchell and possibly Georgia Death Race in a few weeks. One race at a time, though.

On the organizational side, the race went very well and I think could succeed as an annual event if he decides to take on that challenge. From experience, I imagine that right now, putting on a second edition is the furthest thing from his mind, but after a few weeks, or maybe sooner, he'll start thinking about how to make it better next time. Due to some injuries and the usual no-shows, there were only nine people who actually attempted the solo race. Eleven teams of two or three showed up, so total people present was around 40, plus volunteers. There is competition in February with Mount Mitchell and Uwharrie, but this race is unique enough earn its own following and grow in years to come.

No comments:

Post a Comment