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Thursday, February 5, 2015

2 + 2 = 7; Recapping the Winter Night Trail Half Marathon

All layered up & ready to go!
Running trails is hard.  Running at night is hard.  Running trails at night?  2 + 2 = 7.  At least.  I had really been looking forward to the Winter Night Trail Half Marathon.  I've come to really enjoy winter running.  And this race is at Eagle Creek Park, which is practically in my back yard, & is the same place I ran the Summer Trail Quarter Marathon last year.  Not the same trails, though - this race starts & ends in a different part of the park.

The weather forecast was calling for temperatures around 36 & wind chill around 32 at 6pm start time, falling to 32 with wind chill around 28 by my estimated finish time of 9:30.  There was a 30% chance of some light snow starting around 8, but no accumulating snow until much later.  I debated on 3 layers + vest, or only 2 layers + vest, and in the end went with 3.  I'd much rather be hot than cold.

Deer at park entrance
The race started out much like I had envisioned.  They started us in waves, since the trails are fairly narrow.  Even still, there were a few places we got bunched up, but not for long.  The race course is a 6.55 mile loop, so quarter marathoners run it once, half marathoners run it twice, and full marathoners run it 4 times.  We weave in & out of the woods, sometimes running right along the edge of Eagle Creek Reservoir.  There are some tree roots & hills, and several sets of wooden stairs.  There were a few muddy spots, but a lot of the ground was still frozen.  It's very pretty in the park, and I was having a lot of fun.  The course then goes out across the land bridge over the reservoir.  I really liked that, since I'd never been out there before.  The end of that bridge is about mile 3.  After that, we run along the north-northeast side of the reservoir, and then wind deeper into the park.  There are more hills here, more stairs, some fallen trees, and even a couple of creeks to cross, before we come out of the woods at the Start-Finish line to head back around again.

I met some other running sisters!
For the first couple of miles, I actually thought I might have worn too many layers.  I was really warm, and I unzipped everything I could unzip to let some air in.  Once I got to the land bridge, though, the wind picked up and then I felt just right.  By the time I crossed the land bridge, it was beginning to snow, so I was definitely glad I had on my waterproof jacket.

I really like running trails.  It makes me feel like I'm a kid running around in the woods again.  I was having a lot of fun.  I didn't go out too fast - that really wasn't possible as narrow as the trails are.  By the time the trails widened at the land bridge, and the crowds thinned out, I was at a good pace for me of around 14:30. When I jump over fallen trees & duck under low hanging branches, I imagine myself to be really graceful.  I'm sure I probably actually look like a drunk baboon.  But I'm having fun.

As I came through the Start-Finish line to start the next lap, I felt great.  The runners thinned out a lot here, since anyone running the Quarter was already done.  Pretty quickly I got to the point where I couldn't see any other runners, which really made me feel like a kid running around in the woods.  Or like I was sneaking in the park at night when it's normally closed.  Either way, it was fun.  The snow was really coming down now, and there was some sleet mixed in.  The ground was covered, which actually made it easier to see the trail.  It was getting pretty slick, though, especially on the wooden stairs.  Occasionally I would be passed by a full marathoner on their 3rd or 4th lap, and always they would say something encouraging: "good job" or "stay with it".  I love that about runners: no matter how fast or advanced someone is, they are always encouraging to those of us who are not.  I have never met a runner who looks down on my 14 minute miles as if what I'm doing isn't really running.

After I crossed the land bridge again, at mile 9, I began to run out of steam.  I felt really hungry, really tired, and my legs were beginning to cramp.  That has never happened to me before.  In retrospect, what I believe happened is that I didn't fuel enough.  I had my 2 packages of Honey Stinger Energy Chews - what I usually take for half marathons.  What I usually do is eat 2 or 3 chews at mile 3, and again at every odd mile.  If I happen to have any left at mile 12, I will finish them off then, but usually they are gone.  I know that I ate some - I remember eating them at mile 3 like normal, and again at least once.  But I think I just got so caught up in the experience that I forgot to continue fueling.  I had a lot of chews left in my pocket when I got home.  I also saw at the first water stop that they had trail mix, but even though I was hungry I didn't take any.  I have never eaten trail mix while running and was afraid it might upset my stomach.

At the time, I didn't realize that was what was wrong.  I just felt really tired, hungry, and confused.  I kept slowing down, until I was just walking by mile 10.  There was another water stop there, but they didn't have any food.  They did, however, have a guy who said "You're almost there; just 3 more miles!"  I'm pretty sure no jury of fellow runners would convict me if I had knocked him out & stolen his car. 

The last 3 miles were, quite honestly, awful.  If I could have quit, I would have.  But I was alone on trails in the middle of the woods.  The only way I knew to get back to my car was to finish the race first.  Because I was no longer running, I started getting cold.  I couldn't get my zippers zipped back up, though.  I was shaking and hungry and miserable.  When I got to the fallen trees and the creeks, I remembered how much fun I'd had running there just a couple of hours before, and I felt even worse.

Photo by Planet Adventure Race
I finally finished the race, and I was able to dig up enough energy to run across the finish line.  Official results say my first loop was 1:48:04, and my second loop was 2:25:40, for a total time of 4:13:44.  And I wasn't dead last.  It felt like I was.  There was almost no one still at the finish, and I heard volunteers talking about cleaning up.  I was handed my medal, and I made a beeline for the food.  I downed half a peanut butter & jelly sandwich, and promptly threw it back up.  Nice.  I guess I just ate it too fast.  So I went back, and this time picked a bag of pretzels and a donut.  After one bite of the donut, though, I thought better of it and decided to just take it home with me.  At this point, I felt like crying, because I realized I still had to walk another half a mile to get back to my car.  And about halfway to my car, I remembered I hadn't stopped my GPS watch yet.

The Bling!
The car was covered in a few inches of snow & sleet, but it was pretty soft and slushy.  I wish now I'd taken a picture of it, but at the time I just didn't care.  I didn't even clean it off, just sat inside with the heat on for a few minutes until the front window was clear.  As I left the park, there were 8 deer standing by the exit.  The deer there in the snow would've also made a pretty picture, but all I wanted was to get home.

Once I got home, showered, ate, slept, ate more, and slept more, I realized my collapse was mostly due to lack of fuel.  Trails are harder than pavement running, and staying warm uses extra calories too, so I should have been fueling even more than usual - not less.  That's my biggest takeaway from this experience: to be more intentional with my fueling and not get too caught up in the experience.  As I increase my distance over the next couple of months to get ready for my first full marathon, I'm going to experiment with eating some other foods while I run and not just relying on chews.  I've read that Fig Newtons are a good choice, and I love those, so I am planning to try them out first.

Some other takeaways:
How cute is this shirt?
  • I had a few minor issues with my gear, mainly trying to carry a flashlight and water bottle while wearing a shirt with built-in mittens.  Nothing major, just something that was irritating me and that I will do differently next time.  
  • The race shirt is super cute.  I am sure this will become one of my favorites and get a lot of wear.
  • Not all runs can be good runs.  If they were, it wouldn't be challenging, right?  I'm still in a bad place mentally right now, and I haven't been for a run since.  But I will be back out there Saturday!  I signed up to train again this Spring with Team Blue Mile.  I have my first full marathon in just 72 days, so I can't slack off now.
  • How lucky are we to have this big beautiful park right here in Indianapolis?  If you live here and haven't been to Eagle Creek Park lately, go.  It's beautiful all year-round.
  • I finished!  It may not have been pretty, but I finished, and now I'm halfway to that coveted Badass medal!  
The aftermath
How about you?  Have you ever had a really awful race?  What did you learn from it, and how long was it before you ran again?

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