“It’s a 12 hour night race on the track. C’mon, it’ll be fun!”
If you’re a normal human being, you greet this type of statement with the proper sense of skepticism.
If your last name is Matz, you think, “That sounds brutal. It must be beneficial! Sure, I’ll be there!”
DW and I have a friend who coaches XC at the same high school I attended, and he decided to put together an event to raise funds for the team. Starting at 7am, they had 6th graders through high school students running the track. Actually, the high schoolers didn’t run at all, their job was to just hang out. The younger kids ran in teams of ten, each running ten miles to earn a shirt signifying that they’d run 100 miles as a team. I hear those kids were stoked!
Instead of sleeping in we decided to volunteer at a trail race in the Berkeley area, so we rousted ourselves at 5:30 to drive out to the bay in time. The plan was to take it easy and sit as much as possible, but fate had other plans! Due to either a mismarked course or some course vandals, everyone was diverted from our aid station. This meant that the half marathoners didn’t get aid until mile 9! Everyone else ended up running wacky distances, since part of the course was cut off and the course designer tried to make up for it. Long story short, I got some trail running in while trying to correct the course markings and figure out where to divert runners to get them back to the start.
DW was quite busy herself with running the aid station shorthanded while I was away.
When we finally got back to Sacramento we had a couple hours to get ourselves together and pack provisions for the night’s run. We headed over and got our personal aid station situated a bit before 7pm, the start time.
Trying to calm some pre-race nerves
We wanted to run this race mainly for exploratory reasons, and because of that fact the anticipation made us more nervous than usual. We wanted to discover three things during the hours between sunset and sunrise:
1) How our bodies would handle being forced to run when they’re used to sleeping.
2) How our minds would handle being forced to focus when they’re used to dreaming.
3) How our minds would handle running repetitive laps instead of a sprawling course.
In addition to these, we’d have to adjust mentally for running a variable distance for a specific time, not running a specific distance in a variable time.
Honestly, this seemed just as crazy as we crossed the starting line as it probably sounds to you all right now. Nearly everything was unknown except two things; that DW and I were going to run together, and that as long as we were functioning we would be still be moving come 7am the next morning.
We agreed that we’d need some type of methodical strategy to break up the monotony into smaller segments while allowing us a structure to maintain so our minds could wander a bit and escape for a few minutes here and there. We decided to set a timer for 15 minutes and run, then when the timer beeped we’d finish that lap and walk one lap.
The first 20 miles or so pretty much went by in that rhythm. It took about 8-10 miles for me to really start to feel warmed up and smooth, but once I did the running felt really good. As far as tracks go you can’t beat a dirt track for this kind of thing.
We also had quite a few surprise visits! One friend (who’d run the Berkeley race earlier that day) dropped by with a gift of fruit smoothies. Another came by and tracked down some pretzels and a toothbrush for us. A friend who lives down the street walked his dogs over and ran a bit with them until nature called (for the dogs!). Perhaps best of all, my brother showed up around mile 18 with a pizza he’d made special for us. “I tried to make something that won’t make you barf.” Bahaha! Boy that pizza was good.
Side note: Sometimes I think back to the days when all I’d eat while running was gu’s and water, and thank the stars I found trail running. Now I eat cookies, Cheezits, jelly beans, turkey rolls, pizza, and pretzels along with my S-caps and gu’s! Trail life is a buffet!
After we’d walked a couple laps with the bro and eaten, we switched to a different mode to work different muscles and break it up even more for the wee hours of the morning. We ran the straights at a pretty good clip, then walked the curves. Simple, varied, perfect.
We hit the 6 hour mark at 25 miles.
1:00-3:00 was actually pretty nice. DW and I were starting to get a little punchy and during this period everything seemed hilarious. I was rambling about the ways in which different types of dinosaurs were terrible houseguests, generally trying to be as ridiculous as possible. DW was following suit, so we pretty much spent the whole time laughing while adding more laps onto the pile which had already passed underfoot. Fortunately, we’ve gained back most of our cardio since our accident a while back, so we could maintain the silliness through our sprints. Even while walking the curves, we were averaging about 2:30/lap!
What goes up… must come down.
3:00 came, and our moods crashed like a freight train over a cliff. I’ve heard this is the hardest time for a lot of runners, and I guess we’re no exception. It was bad. Suddenly everything was sore, every step was immensely tiring, every breath was labored, and every ounce of will had to be focused on moving forward. We hardly talked, we just decided to walk an hour and try to run then. For much of this hour, I didn’t want to think about what I’d have to do when 4:00 rolled around. I didn’t want it to roll around. But it did.
4am arrived, and I decided I had to change my mental context. I wasn’t tired from the miles behind, I was warmed up for the miles ahead. I wasn’t stuck in a dark wasteland of nighttime bewilderment, I was running in anticipation of the sunrise! I imagined a lightening glow off to the East (even though we wouldn’t see the sun for 3 more hours).
We began running the straights again.
It felt… GOOD!
By now there was only one other guy who’d been out there the whole time, churning out miles in the moonlight. The other runners had been sitting out for a while, taking naps, coming out for a few more miles, and so forth. I loved how low-key the whole event was.
Anyway, we resumed our steady rhythm and POOF! We hit our minimum goal of 40 miles with 2 ½ hours to spare. So we kept going. As we continued, two things happened. One was that we realized 50 miles was totally doable if we could keep pace. The other was that we started to see things that weren’t there.
You heard right, hallucinations!
I saw people running in the shadows, lizards skittering across the track in front of me, and at one point even blinked and suddenly saw nothing but a thick layer of banana slugs wriggling underfoot! I shook my head, told myself it wasn’t real, and they were gone just as quickly as they had appeared. Apparently, even if you’re awake sometimes your brain still dreams.
I found it incredible that not only were we still moving, but we were able to move fast. My legs felt better the longer we were out there, settling into that nice warm rhythm of what I can only describe as “efficient exhaustion”. The wheels just kept turning, and I was grateful.
Having lost an hour of running, we made it up and then some, hitting 50 miles with about 20 minutes left to spare. We walked a cooldown to the 51 mile mark before calling it a wrap just a couple minutes shy of 12 hours. I suppose that means we ran a negative split?
Everyone left at the end, a supremely cool group of people
The purpose of this race was to prepare us physically, mentally, and strategically for Rocky Raccoon 100 in February, and I believe it did just that. I learned that as long as DW and I stick together, we give each other strength.
It’s important to have someone who helps you to endure.
And also believes that clump of grass is a misplaced hedgehog.