Matt has been doing the Capt'n Karl's 60k night trail race series this year. The races start at 7pm and each is an hour+ outside of Austin. The first two were during Ultraman training, where I had to wake up around the time Matt would be arriving back home, to go run, so I didn't go out with him. The third was the Saturday after we got back from Ultraman, after having been away from the dogs for 2 weeks, so we decided it would be wisest for me to stay home with the dogs while Matt went and ran.
But for the last race, I was finally going to be able to go out and support him! And I owed him big after Ultraman, so I was really pleased to be there.
Of course, with a three-loop course, that's about one minute of seeing Matt each loop, and then 2-3 hours of hanging out in the dark. Aaaand since they also offer a 10k race.. hey, why not?! So I signed up for the 10k to kill some time.
I have a shaky past with night trail running. I don't love it, and I'm not good at it, so I haven't really done a lot of it. But the 10k started at 7:30pm, so it would be light to start, so I'd only need to use my headlamp for part of it.
Evidently it would also be rainy. Typically these races are 105 degrees and intensely humid, but there was a lot of rain in the area, and it just happened to hit the race area in the last half hour before the 60k started. Heavy, pouring rain, thunder and lightning. It started after the pre-race meeting, but at 6:55ish, they had another impromptu meeting to say that the race was going on as planned, on time, gather ye, for we start in 5 minutes.
The 60k folks headed out right on time, splashing through the mud and rain. The rain slackened a bit after a while, but then right before 7:15, when the 30k race started, it picked right back up again and poured. I figured the same thing would happen for the 10k, but it slackened again and was just a steady, normal rain at 7:30.
At about 7:25, as I meandered my way to the start area, it hit me that I was going to run a race. I mean, I had no intention of "racing". My longest run was one week before, and that was 6 miles. So I knew I could run 6 miles! But I'd done no speed work, I was averaging 1-2 runs a week, and my head wasn't at all in race mode. So I was just going to go out and see how I felt.
I lined up next to UltramanFriend Sabrina, and we were off. I had no idea how fast Sabrina ran, so I figured maybe we'd run together, but then it turned out that Sabrina was running much faster than I could. I tried to hang for a minute or so, but it was intensely humid, and I was immediately struggling for breath and panting. I knew I couldn't maintain that for more than a few minutes, so I fell back and just settled into my own pace.
I continued to breathe hard for the entire race, though. I figured I'd let my body dictate how fast I ran, and if I had to fall all the way back to just walking, that was fine, too. But I felt good running, and pushing a little felt good, too. We wound through the woods and the smooshy-but-not-really-muddy ground, and then we got to the dome. Oof. Slick rock, and lots of steep up and down. Treacherous footing in good conditions, and now the rock was completely wet. I made sure to watch my footing, and walk when it was extra steep with no breaks in the rock to brace my feet. I splashed through a lot of puddles where I couldn't see the bottom. I slid a lot. I turned an ankle once, but it wasn't bad enough to stop and walk, and it faded after a minute and never bothered me again.
Mostly I just had fun. I love running in the rain, and the front had dropped the temps from the mid 90s when we'd arrived to somewhere in the 70s probably. It just felt good.
I was carrying one handheld water bottle and one gel, and I figured I'd just wing it as far as whether I ate that gel, or whether I refilled my bottle. I figured I didn't really need to eat for a 10k run, but I found myself putting forth an effort that wore me out faster than I would have expected. So I ended up eating the gel maybe 4 miles in, but never refilled my water, which was sufficient for the time I was out there.
Eventually I got past the miles of slick rock, and was back in the wooded dirt area again. The sun had gone down at this point, and people had turned their headlamps on. I came up on two girls ahead of me, and decided they were running a good pace, and I'd stick with them. Motivation #1 was not having to watch both my feet and the trail for markers to make sure I was going the right way. They say not to be a lemming, but I was totally being a lemming. And motivation #2 was the fact that the light from 3 headlamps is MUCH brighter than the light from one. Another girl pulled up on my heels and seemed happy to stay there rather than pass, so we were a train of at least 4 (I couldn't tell if there was anyone else behind the person behind me).
The girl at the front of our train was running at a pace that was just slightly faster than I would have run on my own, probably, but it felt good to push a little. As we passed the last aid station, and knew we had a little over a mile to go, she started picking up the pace. I considered just letting them go, but I really didn't want to be on my own in the dark at that point, so I picked up my pace, too. I was having to breathe pretty hard to hang with the girl in front of me, and she would fall back a few times from the lead girl, so I think she was having to push a bit, as well. But it was fun, racing outside of my comfort zone in the dark in the woods.
We all stuck together in a train until we got back to the lake, where the path opens up a bit. The lead girl picked it up more, and we kinda all got a little strung out from our train. I was trying to be cautious, because this path was full of divets and little puddles of unknown depth, but I tried to push as hard as I could, knowing the finish line was just around the corner. As we turned a bend, the girl in front of me tried to go the wrong way, and I yelled at her just as some spectators did, and I went the right way. She passed me again (I was glad, because it would have felt weird to finish before her after following her for so long), and we all finished in the train we'd been in for so long: 1:12:35, 1:12:37, 1:12:39 (me), 1:12:40. I ended up 10th woman overall (of 65).
I feel really good about my run. I pushed, I got to run in the rain, I didn't hurt myself, and I got to see a lot of friends out there.
AND I'd finished before Matt came through on his first loop, which was one of my goals. When he came through, I helped him restock, and then went back to the car. I knew I had 2-3 hours before he finished his second loop, so I thought I'd get dry and try to sleep some. Which.. didn't happen. Well, I got partly dry, but I couldn't sleep at all. Finally I wandered back out to be social, and then Sabrina pointed out that it was time for us to start watching for our spouses again. Her fiance was also running the 60k, and we were both making ourselves available as pacers for their last 20k loops, if they needed us.
I had mixed feelings about that at this point. I was tired. I was kinda tired of being wet. I had just run, at a decent effort, the longest run I'd done since Ultraman, and adding another 20k would triple my longest run. I hadn't really done a great job of post-run nutrition and hydration. And did I mention I was tired?
But I also really wanted to be there for Matt. He was so selfless and so integral to my Ultraman success, so if he needed, or even just wanted, me out there, I was ready to go. I put on a dry shirt and socks (and my soaked shoes), strapped on my hydration pack (since I'd need more water than just a handheld could carry), and sat down in our little transition area to wait.
Chad, Sabrina's fiance, came through, and she asked if he wanted her to pace him. He said he actually was feeling really great, and was in a groove, and he didn't think he really needed a pacer, but then you could tell he felt bad in case she wanted to go with him, and they kinda did this little awkward dance around the subject. Finally it was decided that he was good on his own, and he headed out, and Sabrina celebrated that she'd be able to get some sleep now. I expected to have a similar awkward conversation when Matt came by. I wasn't really sure I wanted to go, but I wanted to be there for him, but maybe he didn't want me to be there, but felt obligated to invite me along, since I was already prepped to go, etc. I was hoping he'd just be honest, and if he needed me, I was on board.
The rain had tapered off while I had been trying to sleep in the car, but after Chad started his third loop, it suddenly started to pour again. Sabrina and I fled to the pavilion, but I stood right at the edge, so I could see the timing mat, and watch for Matt. And within a minute, there he was! And as he ran across the timing mat and saw me, he said, "Ready to go?" And so it was decided.
I chased after him back to our stuff, and switched out his nutrition and bottles and he drank his mini Coke. Then we were off!
My biggest concern with pacing Matt was obviously that he runs roughly twice as fast as I do. However, he'd already run 24 miles, and he knew how fast I run, so I was trusting that he wouldn't have invited me along if he thought I'd be more liability than help.
I trotted off in the lead, basically blind because it was raining so hard. But the reflective markings that marked the course were fabulous, and even in the rain we never got lost. Well, there was one time where Matt went off course DIRECTLY OVER a piece of caution tape, but I immediately got him turned around and back on course. I figure I proved my usefulness at that moment, even if nowhere else. Who knows where he'd have ended up otherwise.
I led for a while, trying to listen to how close behind me Matt was, so I could make sure I wasn't outpacing him or slowing him down. After a mile or so, Matt took the lead, so he could set his own pace, depending on how much his body hated the current terrain, and he stayed in the lead the rest of the time.
And we had fun. He was hurting in a lot of places, so we walked a lot, but walking was the wisest thing you could do in most cases. It was so wet out there, and it was dark, and it was steep, slick rock, and it was just dangerous. So I was happy that he walked when he knew it wasn't safe to run. But we chatted and talked about how my race had gone and how his had gone so far, and we enjoyed the ridiculous weather. Oh, and we played "Woo Guy or coyotes?" There was a guy yelling, "Woo!" periodically throughout the night. We thought it was another runner, but we couldn't tell where he was in relation to us. Depending on how we felt, we often wooed back. But then sometimes the woo would continue on, in a warbling fashion, and those were coyotes, not Woo Guy. Sometimes it was hard to tell which was which. (We later found Woo Guy, and he was the volunteer manning the last aid station!)
So Matt and I ran when he could, walked when it was smart or necessary, and made constant forward progress. My mission was to get him across the finish line in one piece, since that finish line was all that was standing between him and a belt buckle for finishing all 4 races.
I was glad to be there for him. We saw very, very few other people out there, so it would have been a long and lonely last loop for him. And it was fun to get to spend time with my favorite guy, in the dark, in the middle of the night, in the middle of nowhere, in the rain. And I gotta say, it's a lot less stressful to be there with him and know he's okay, instead of sitting back at the car, waiting and hoping that nothing has happened to him.
Meanwhile, just to show what a great guy Matt is, if there was a particularly high shelf on the rock, either up or down, Matt would navigate it, then stop and hold out his hand to help me up or down. He knows those things are harder for those of us with short legs, and even though it's his race and I'm there for support, he's always there for me, as well.
Well, until the end. After we passed the last aid station, he started to recognize where we were, and knew we were close. He started to pick it up a bit, and I couldn't hang with him. Sure, he'd run twice the distance I had, but the fatigue was starting to set in for me, trying to run (or run/walk) 18 miles a little over a month after Ultraman. I had already told him that if I were ever slowing him down, he needed to just go, and I reminded him of that here. And he did. As much as he was hurting, being that close to the finish line gave him another gear, and he took off to finish.
And I immediately regretted not having grabbed the spare headlamp from him, because mine was fading fast. Or my vision is just so bad that depending on only one headlamp of light is hard. But I had to slow down even a little bit more because it was so dark and hard to see the ground in front of me. But I slogged my way back, and found Matt to congratulate him! So proud. So glad I could be there to support him after all he's done for me.
And so tired. We got home just before 7am, fell in bed, then woke up around 9am, because our bodies were so confused about what time it was.