Moonlight Madness Race Report

I hate hills.  I despise them with a passion.  I have devoted entire blog posts to my loathing of elevation change.   Several weeks ago I decided to tackle my deep disdain for anything remotely hillish but challenging myself to train on hills at least three days a week.  It has not been pretty but I have forced myself to do it and thus when I saw the opportunity to take on my first trail run on the very hills I have been subjecting myself to with extreme regularity since June, I took it.  Plus, the idea of running at night was pretty cool… On Friday, July 29 I ran the Moonlight Madness 5K in Reno, NV.

Friday was, of course, the hottest day of the year.  Miserably hot.  The kind of hot that makes me close all the windows in my office, crank up the AC and pray for winter to hurry up and get here.  The race would start at 8:00 PM sharp which meant it would be a nice cool 92 degrees farenheight. 

I left work a little early to make my way to Rancho San Rafael Park, check in and get the final details on the course itself.  Castle Rock Multisports always does an excellent job of organizing events and checking in took no time at all.  In fact, I even had time to exchange my large shirt for a medium.  How awesome is that?!  With my course map in hand, I stood near the start line trying to get a good feel for where I would be running.  I knew immediately I was looking at more hill than I was hoping for, though at the same time I wasn’t the least bit surprised.   I headed home to have a light dinner (light as in a protein smoothie and a few bottles of water) in air conditioning.  I spent the next two hours wondering if my goal of finishing this run under 40 minutes was a bit ambitious.

Let me take a step back here.  I have been pacing consistently in the 11’s at races since May but those races have been largely flat.  And I had largely trained on flat for those races.  I am slow on hills.  Part of it is conditioning and part of it is that I mentally psych myself out on hills.  I see them and immediately want to walk.  As hard as I push myself, I realized when I entered this race that I needed to be both realistic and fair with myself on the goal.  My regular 5K goal is to stay under 35 minutes, but on a hilly trail run of a 5K, 40 minutes barely felt obtainable.

Back to race day…  I enjoyed my smoothie and the air conditioning.  I studied an article in Red Book on how to keep one’s shaved legs silky smooth and before I knew it, it was time to head back to the park.  When I stepped out of the house, I was immediately struck by dark it was.  The sun was still up, but thick dark storm clouds were now swirling around the whole of Reno.  A strong, hot and humid wind was stirring up dust and leaves and the electric tingling of an impending thunderstorm prickled at my skin.  All I could think was, “Heck yeah!  It’s going to cool down for the race!”  I have lived in Nevada exactly long enough to find thunderstorms charming and useful on hot summer days.

I arrived at the park and found a parking spot I felt reasonably sure I could escape just ahead of the masses with ease then headed down to the pavilion for the festivities.  One of the beautiful features of this park is that one can see virtually the entire Reno area at varying points.  At the pavilion, we were treated to views of all manner of lightning storms popping across the region all set to a rockin’ club mix over the loud speakers.  It was truly spectacular. 

After a bit, I set out for a quick warm up lap and followed this up with a nice stretch.  The clouds grew darker, the air cooler, the wind stronger.   This was my kind of weather!  And it wasn’t just my sort of weather, other runners actually cheered with enthusiasm when the sheriff announced the possibility of having to call us in once the race started due to lightning.  Though we were delayed for a couple minutes when lightning struck a portion of the park across the main road starting up a brilliant brush fire, we were still lined up and ready to go on the start line.  There is a saying here, “If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes.”  This is how we roll in Northern Nevada.

At 8:15, we were sent on our way and I was immediately confused.  First, I was starting on grass and felt incredibly slow.  Second, the front of the pack made a left turn where I thought we would be making a right turn.  I had read the map completely wrong.   We would be heading up the exactly middle of the field.  It is a less steep ascent to the top of the park, but the footing is tougher:  mud and grass with a creek right down the middle.  I was immediately happy I had chosen not to run the 10K because if I had, I would be trying to run this in pitch black in about 40 minutes.

I settled into what I thought was a nice and relaxed pace, figuring I was passing so many people because I had run this portion of the trail dozens of times.  I pushed up the hill without giving a thought to walking.  The course turned right and headed back down the steepest part of the hill.  In training, I have always been very conscious of not bolting down hills at break neck speeds.  First, I don’t want to waste the energy.  Second, I have a balance disorder and it doesn’t take much for me to suddenly find myself rolling down the hill.  And here we had uneven footing, rocks, roots and slippery sand.  So when my GPS reported an 8:36 mile two thoughts went through my head:  “Holy crap, that is my fastest mile in over a decade and it included a hill,” which was followed by, “Holy crap, I am going to die!”

Of course, since I felt great I decided like a complete idiot to just see how long I could stay at this pace.  After all, I had just been running tens consistently earlier in the week in training which is about three minutes faster than my normal pace on flat.  I was cruising.  In fact, at one point I realized I was no longer in the middle of the pack – I was on my own and gaining on what to me has been the ever illusive group of front runners.  I was gaining even as the elevation began to increase again.  I was flying!  I was invincible!  I was a complete fucking idiot because all of sudden my body just said, “Dude!  Screw you!  I’m out!”

I was running through molasses and I hurt, not so bad that I needed to stop, but bad enough that I knew I had pushed too hard and I still had a mile to go.  That inner voice of self doubt crept in telling me I should just walk up this next hill.  I jogged.  I walked.  I jogged some more.  I slipped back into the middle of the pack where I belonged.  My one solace is that it was now dark so no one could actually see the idiot who had just run her personal best mile only to follow it up with her personal worst mile (17 minutes – and yes, I did jog most of that!). 

But even as I was mentally taking myself down a road of self destruction, I faced a new challenge:  darkness punctuated by moments of sudden blinding lightning and the hardest rain (as in almost hail) I have ever felt.  The rain was actually so hard it hurt and even better, I was running directly at a brush fire…  Who has time to worry about pace when Mother Nature is having a little temper tantrum of her own? 

At this point, I was running again in earnest.  The course turned down hill and suddenly, bodies were flying left and right as people jockeyed to avoid quickly moving water or slid out on the metal drainage pipes whose tops were exposed and slick from previous storms.  The trail here is narrow, less traveled and the footing very uneven.  On a clear day in bright sunlight I have had problems with it so I leaned back and took it easy, delicately leaping out of the path of random runners who were equally leaping out of the path of other random runners.  When we got onto the slick pavement toward the finish line, had to slow down.  I could physically feel myself wanting to spring to the finish, but the surface was so slick and I have previously fallen here on dry days that I couldn’t bring myself to risk it the injury so close to my trip to Europe.

And just like that, I was across the finish line and standing in the chute, cold and soaking wet waiting to get out of a well executed cattle call.  I was done and amazingly, ready for round two…  Seriously!

So in the end, this is how it turned out:

I finished in 37:47 with an average pace of 12:10, beating my goal.  Here is a breakdown of my times:

  • Mile 1:  8:36
  • Mile 2:  17:03
  • Mile 3.1:  12:11

What did I learn from this experience? 

I need a headlamp. 

I am not immune to over enthusiastic bursts of speed. 

I can actually run hills.

I am a middle of the pack girl, hills or not. 

I am going to get my ass handed to me in Oban.

Don’t mess with Mother Nature!

All in all, it was a fantastic and fun race.  I am still beating myself up over my pacing problems, but I am proud of myself for taking on and pushing through my geological nemeses.  I will be back next year for sure!