Night Winter Trail Half Marathon
Eagle Creek Park, IN
Racers: Eric Olsen, Heather Kluch
We hard about this race while doing an Indiana Rogaine a few weeks ago. We ran into two adventure racing friends that told us about it, and they happened to be the race director and a race organizer. Normally I wouldn't drive this far for a half marathon but since it was a trail run (a challenge), it was at night (more of a challenge), everything was frozen (even more of a challenge), and we were offered a place to crash afterwards, so we couldn't pass up the opportunity!
It's Saturday, the race starts at 6:10pm but we figure to leave early just in case. As we're driving down, I'm having doubts about racing. My leg isn't feeling normal. A couple days before the race I decided to do a crossfit type workout, and I think I pulled something while doing squats. My hammies and my left buttcheek are screaming at me. Thankfully, I didn't have to drive. Eric drove so all I did during the entire ride was pop some Ibuprofen and rub my leg and my butt, hoping it would loosen up a bit. I'm very stubborn so when things hurt, I don't let them stop me. This is not the safest way to go, because I know I could injure myself further, but if I think it's something that could potentially end up worse, I will make the call to not race. It's definitely a battle in my mind, it's hard for me to back down! When we are about an hour away, Eric decides he's hungry and whips out some weird vacuum sealed packaged from Harry & David. Apparently they sell smoked salmon which I thought looked weird as hell. He opens the package and yep, it looks weird as hell! It smells good, but I've never had salmon out of a plastic sack before! He lets me try some and it's actually delicious, but it's so smokey flavored that you can only eat some of it. He throws the rest away in our grocery garbage bag which is resting by my feet. For the rest of the drive this is what I get to smell....smokey fish. I'm sure you all know what this smells like and what this smell is reminding me of! I might not eat fish for a while!
As we approach Eagle Creek Park, I've made the decision to race. I knew I wasn't going to perform at my best and I also wanted to run with Eric since it's his first half marathon, so I thought I'd just take it easy since his pace is a little slower than mine. We arrive around 4 which is super early. I've been to a Planet Adventure adventure race before but never to one of their trail run races. The setup was absolutely amazing! So many tents, a sound system, a digital timer, music, and a disco ball! I've never been to a race with a disco ball, these guys don't mess around. The atmosphere was fun and the volunteers were sporting green and orange outfits with sparkling blinking bling. We find Matt (the race director), and Craig (the organizer), and give them big hugs. One thing I love about adventure racers is they like to hug. Hugs are healthy! Also, my adventure racing friend Dustin is volunteering and knew I was coming down. He tells me I have a gift waiting for me in the back of his truck. I find his truck and see a package. I open this thing and find some awesome bathroom poop spray called Poo-Pourri! Best gift ever!!!! For those who know me, will understand this gift, and for those who don't, well I somehow got associated with poo. At least it makes me memorable!
So we check in as quick as possible and pretty much speed walk back to the car because we're both freezing. I hate the cold, so doing a night run in the winter is definitely out of my comfort zone! We sit back in the car for as long as possible until it's time for the pre race announcements at 5:40pm. We hop out of the car and head to the race start. This is a half hour before our actual start time so we get to freeze our butts off for that long. I'm warm at first but standing in one place is starting to make my finger corpsicles appear. I start hopping up and down but that doesn't work, it only makes me look weird, but I keep doing it anyway. Then out of nowhere some random dude comes up to us like he's known us for years and keeps talking about nothing. I have no idea what he was even saying but at least it distracted me from how cold I was.
At 6pm, the quarter milers take off! We're standing in the corral and I can feel my toes going numb. Running with numb toes is not awesome! I put my neck gaiter over my face because my nose is starting to freeze too. I can't wait to start running!!! Finally 6:10 comes around and we're off! The first section of the race is single track so it's a very narrow trail which makes it hard to pass anyone. If anyone was going for a personal record or a win in this race, they would have had to start at the front so they could be ahead of everyone else. Since we were mid pack, we ended up walking part of the trail because we couldn't pass some of the racers. It was just too narrow, slippery and dangerous. I'd rather not get injured than pass up someone and fall on my face! We finally get out of the bottleneck and start running. The trial is pretty hilly and technical. Everything is frozen so their's potential of falling at any time, there are also roots, rocks, stairs, and slippery bridges which makes us slow down. We get to the mile 1 marker and Eric is like, that's it? We've only gone a mile? It did seem a lot longer since we were walking the first part of it, so only 12.1 miles to go!
It's starting to get pretty dark which I fear since I don't see well at night. I seriously need to get contacts one of these days but they're just so expensive and I don't have insurance at the moment. So I'm half way blind when I run at night. The headlamp helps but it's still not enough, so I fear tripping over roots or just tripping over nothing. I have a habit of tripping on air, I'm pretty talented like that. We get to a portion of the trail where it extends across a lake. This part is awesome! It's a double wide trail with water on both sides. I felt like I was running through the Florida keys, except without the toasty warmth and lack of gators. The moon was full and it was absolutely gorgeous. Since we were out of the woods, we could feel the wind which made it a little chilly but it wasn't a huge section and the scenery was totally worth the chill. We get back to normal land and start circling around the lake. I look into the woods and can see a stream of headlamps dancing in between the trees. This was so surreal, and calming, and beautiful. It just took every negative thought or worry out of my mind. It was pretty magical. I wish I could've taken a pic or video, but it was just too cold to stop and attempt a shot. We keep running and I can feel my leg starting to nag on me. It was fine for the first few miles, but now it's starting to get a little sore. I keep running and don't say anything about it. One thing in adventure racing, when things are sore or bothering you, you tend to not complain about them so you don't bring team morale down, you only complain if it's something serious. So that mindset carries over into a lot of things I do in both racing and my every day life. We get to mile 4, and I yell to Eric "Only 2.5 miles to go!" We do have another loop to do, but putting it that way is a lot easier to digest than yelling out the full mileage! It's a total mind game with yourself. Break up long distances into shorter distances because tricking your mind makes it easier to accomplish! As we're nearing the end of the first loop, we approach a bridge. We know these bridges are slippery so we walk across it. The end of the bridge has a steep decline and even though I'm walking, I slip down it. Luckily I didn't lose my balance, well Eric wasn't so lucky. Just as he slid down it, his shoes lost grip and he fell smack down on his knees. Good thing it was nothing serious, he got right back up and started running again.
At 1 hour 22 minutes, we get to the 6.5 mile halfway point. It was really cool how they knew who we were and announced our names as soon as we crossed it. Very professionally done! We keep going for our second loop. It's now easier to run since the pack has split up a lot. We have no one in front of us that we have to dodge and only a few racers behind us. We keep leap frogging these two girls which is starting to bring my competitive side out. I know I was doing this race just to run it, and not for time, but I just can't help becoming competitive when the same people keep passing me up. It drives me nuts! We get to the lake section again and can feel the wind has picked up. It's a lot chillier now but as long as I keep moving I know I won't freeze. I notice Eric start to slow down the pace a little, so I say a few things to keep him going at the pace we're at. I didn't want to slow down for two reasons, I didn't want to get cold, and I decided I didn't want those girls to beat us! At around mile 4 or technically 10.5, Eric is starting to lose a little steam, his legs are hurting and the chilly darkenss becomes mentally draining. One thing about adventure racing is that your mind is constantly engaged. You're reading a map and making decisions whereas in a half marathon, it's a set course, you don't think, you just run, so mentally you have to deal with doing the same movements over and over again without any thought process, kinda like a zombie, so I can see how it can become both physically and mentally draining. We finally pass the two girls and we pass them for good! I was not going to let those two beat us, that was my goal! We keep running and the last two miles feel longer than two miles. My leg is hurting, my ankle is weird, and Eric's leg starts cramping, but we both keep on going, as I yell word of encouragement (some nice and some not so nice), to keep us going. Hey, I wasn't going to let those girls beat us so I yelled whatever I had to yell!
As we're switchbacking through the woods, we finally hear the music at the finish. We can't see anything yet but we can hear it. I yell to Eric, "Give it all you got, we're almost there!" We see the 6 mile marker and know we have only a half mile to go and the girls are nowhere in sight! We finally see all the tents and the lights and the music bumping louder. We sprint across the finish line at 2 hours 22 minutes. Not bad for a slippery night trail run and Eric's first half. As soon as we cross we head over to the food spread to shove yummy things in our faces! Chili, PA style potatoes (served cold but delicious that way), PB&J sandwiches, bananas, trail mix, pretty much everything you want to shove in your face after a race! We eat up and head over to one of the trailers for the instant scrolling results. This was awesome! We were immediately able to see our times, splits and what place we came in. Cheers to a great race, great food and great people! Special thanks to Matt Jourdan for putting on an awesome course, Craig Healey for volunteering and giving us a place to stay, and Dustin Amsler, for volunteering and my gift of Poo-pourri! We had a great time and will definitely be back again!