Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Night Running in Circles

Mostly, I enjoy trail running at night.  When it's dark, you don't get all those scenic views that distract from the pain.  Sometimes, you see green eyes glowing out at you, and have a little frisson of excitement wondering if the cattle are bored or scared enough to chase you.  But mostly, you find yourself in a little tunnel of light, and have to put all your effort into staying upright and moving forward.  When you can get into that focused world where every part of your mind and body is geared towards your run, it's one of running's great joys.

This summer, I thought it might be fun to add a little to the challenge.  Near Dahlonega, Georgia, there's a fun little race in early July called Merrill's Mile.  It's a (nearly) one mile circuit, now paved, and has 48, 24, 12, and 6 hour options.  Since I live in an area not known for its hot weather, I decided that the night 6 hour race would be a great chance to try something new.  I've occasionally done mile laps in my training, but what would that be like for 6 hours?  In the dark?  In a field surrounded by trees?  Nic wasn't so keen, but I convinced her (hit enter, then told her, really...) that it would be a great mental challenge.

Smiling faces before the race starts - nearly the end of daylight.
The weather leading up to our part of the race wasn't great - I felt for the 48hr folks, who started amid thunder, lightning, and driving rain.  By the time we arrived at 8pm, the foul stuff had passed for the day and we just had coolish (16C) and damp (90%+ humidity) to contend with.  A typical late Spring day for us, really.  Josh gave a great, low key safety briefing.  Given the enclosed location, flat paved track, and distinct difficulty one would have getting lost, the briefing was condensed to "you're going in that direction, and don't die."  At 9pm, we set off to a few cheers, and then proceeded to get on with it.

The low cloud gave enough reflected light to keep the head lamps off for about half an hour.  By the time I needed a little light to avoid running into the back of people, I was in the "zone".  Run the straight, check the pace, run the bend, check the pace, run the straight, check the pace, run the bend, you get the idea.

Miles started ticking off, and by about 8 miles, I realized that I was weaving a bit too much.  The official course distance is 0.9902 miles, and I was running at least 1 mile per lap.  The camber on the inside line, and the need to pass people, meant I was running a lot of extra.  By 10 miles, I'd racked up an extra 0.25 (or, 2:10 wasted).  So, I tried to keep a tighter line.  On the watch, I was running 8:40s.  On the official clock, I was doing closer to 8:50s.  It was an interesting challenge to recalibrate my brain (never the best with time).  My target was 40 laps at just under 9:00 each (39.8mi officially, probably closer to 41 in reality), so I had to keep focussing on those 8:40s, and accepting that I'd have to double-check each time I passed the clock.

For me, the race was blissfully in my head, full of concentration.  By 13 laps, I was 5 minutes ahead of schedule, which would give me the buffer I hoped for to potentially give me a 41st lap, or worst case a toilet stop later on.  That didn't last long!

Near the end of my 14th lap, I passed Nic, who was already walking, and with a bit of a limp.  I cheerily asked how she was doing.  Mistake #2 (#1 was entering her in the race when she was still trying to find a nice way to tell me that I was stupid and she would have preferred to spend the night in a bed).  If you've run our races, you'll probably have seen Nic going from serious at registration (she's concentrating on making sure you're all on the computer, so we don't leave you in the hills somewhere), to cheery and happy (when you finish mostly in one piece).  Some of the unlucky amongst you may have done something particularly stupid that made her fear for your (or my) life, resulting in an absolute bollocking.  Her answer on this occasion transcended any level of vitriol I've ever seen others induce, and was even more venomous than I've earned on my more thoughtless moments.  I don't think I was hallucinating, but I'm pretty sure her head spun around, her eyes glowed red, fangs appeared, fire roared from her nostrils, and she quietly, in a voice not unlike that of your standard upset movie demon, said, "I want a divorce!". [Note: That may have been slightly exaggerated. Believe what you want.]

Now, I'm a pretty mild-tempered guy, so I kept running (maybe I even sped up a bit) while I took in her message.  Did I think she actually wanted a divorce?  No.  I figure if it came to it, she'd be far more likely to kill me in my sleep - it's one less set of lawyers to deal with, if nothing else.  I took the meaning to be, "I'm only 2 hours in, I hurt, I shouldn't be in this much pain after only 2 hours, this is road, I hate road, you're a **** for thinking this is fun, I'm glad you're having a good time, but this is probably the dumbest thing you've ever done, and that's going some, why did you enter? why are you so cheery, you fool?, where's a bed?, I'm going to kill you in your sleep."  Or, well, something like that.

So, I figured that maybe some of the niggles that Nic had picked up when she took a misstep at Endure 24 a couple of weeks earlier, combined with the absolute beasting she received at the hands of a 10 mile mountain run earlier in the week, were making running pretty uncomfortable.  I had 3 options.  Option 1: pretend I didn't understand that she was having a total nightmare and keep running, in the hopes that she'd enjoy a nice little sleep in the car.  Option 2: Have her drive back to our cabin and then come pick me up at stupid o'clock after I'd finished.  Option 3: Call it a night.

I weighed it all up, and decided that since I'd entered us both (hey, who says I can't think of romantic date-night ideas?), the right thing to do was to end it and we could both live to enjoy some more mountain running the next week.  Yes, I was running better than I'd managed in quite some time, but every now and then it's worth remembering that a good run is the means, rather than the end.

That said, I'd scratched an itch and had to go and enter a 12 hour multi-terrain race back home for the next month.  But more on that in another post...

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