How do you know you’re in love with running? For me, it’s somewhere around mile 17-18 when my body screams and my will power falters and all I can think of is when I get to do this next (mile 18 is never the end).
This past weekend I ran Moon Over Croom, an evening trail run in Brooksville, FL that corresponds with the weekend nearest the full moon. Distances include 7-, 14-, and 21-mile races. The loop is really ~7.25 miles, which gets more important based on the number of laps you’re doing.
Leading up to race day the forecast was sketchy. Thunderstorms both Saturday AND Sunday. No problem though, my first ultra, also on these trails, was during a thunder and lightning storm. So, par for the course. Literally. Plus, being June in Florida the rain promised a welcome reprieve from the 90+ degree days and ridiculous humidity.
My husband chose the 14-mile5 and I chose the 21-mile, naturally. The start/finish area was at Tucker Hill, it was well organized and packed with friendly faces. My race took off at 6pm. We arrived with enough time to set up “camp” consisting of chairs, a cooler, and a tarp latched to surrounding trees.
At 6pm, we gathered on the street for the opening ceremony. This is basically some general safety rules and a lot of friendly jabbing. The course was marked well with the standard blazes plus orange flags and glow sticks. I didn’t get lost once!
The first loop was in full daylight, though the skies opened up as we trotted down the only paved portion of the trail. About 0.7 miles down the road we turned onto the fire road, very sandy, then up onto the marked trail system.
It was easy going, though I went out too fast and chose a man to be my “rabbit”. I trailed him at a comfortable pace for the first 4.5 miles or so until I lost him when I had to tie my shoe. The runners spread out easily over the first 1.5 miles so by the time we reached the single track it was pretty comfortable.
I made the first loop with 5 min to spare on my projected time. Score! I made up for it plus some on the next couple of laps.
Loop two I was feeling pretty good, though I knew my fueling was subpar. I’d planned to take a certain amount each lap and I’d consumed less than half of that. It would bite me by lap 3.
The second lap was also when the sun started setting. I’d grabbed one headlamp as I passed through the start/finish area and it helped, but not much. Dusk is a weird time, when the light isn’t bad enough for the headlamps to do much good, but not strong enough to easily see shadows.
I totally ate it on this lap. It was the only time I fell and it wasn’t even dark yet. Fortunately, no one saw me (a small group had just passed) and I landed in sand. I bounced right back up and kept going. No big deal.
By the end of that loop, around mile 14, I started getting hamstring cramps. Uh oh. My poor fueling was catching up and there’s not much to do about that once it starts.
There was one aid station out on the loop, around mile 4. THANK YOU to the two volunteers there. I needed the boost more and more as we went. I love volunteers. I didn’t eat much at the aid station, but I did take in some sugar and calories via soda. I don’t normally drink soda, but I knew I needed simple sugars, FAST.
Coming through the start/finish at the end of my second lap I requested more soda, plus a salt tab. I downed a Gu that made me gag, I don’t like Gu but again, needed the energy, and off I went.
My hamstrings were KILLER so I trotted at a faster speed than I felt like on the road portion to give me a different cadence and it seemed to help. I passed a group of 3 leaving at the same time and over heard a very tall guy say, “the spiders are out now, but don’t worry, tall guys generally clear the path.” I joked that I should let him go first. He replied, “no one told you to go so fast!” Which was true and I definitely paid for it in spider webs.
Lap 3 got creepy and interesting. It was my first night trail run and I was solo. I get very paranoid so I didn’t wear my earbuds at this point and held my headlamp so I could swing it around at random, which I did a lot.
The interesting thing about running at night is that everything seems alive. During the day, even though it’s probably noisier, we are used to those sounds. At night, the slightest rustling, toad call, or footsteps seem amplified. The fireflies came out as well. When was the last time you saw fireflies???
It was this lap that I started to lament selecting the 21-mile race. I was cramping from my feet to my lower back at this point. My energy and thinking seemed ok, but I was still a long way out. I was alone and getting nervous about being in the woods at night. I listen to a lot of True Crime podcasts and that fact wasn’t helping me at this point.
During mile 17 I honestly thought about DNF-ing at the aid station. The idea of someone pulling up in a pick up to take me back to the start so I could get dry and stop cramping was very appealing.
Then, I heard a noise. What was it? A wolf? A panther? A blood crazed maniac? No idea, I ran. I ran all the way to the aid station without stopping at a pace I was surprised I could manage at that point. I ran until I heard laughter and the woman called out, “Runner! Come join the party!” By that point, everything was going to be ok. Did I mention how much I love volunteers?
I made a couple of friends during this stint, all female, as we each heard weird sounds and hoofed it to the closest headlamps we could spot. At one point, my trail buddy started cramping and decided to run it off, so I didn’t see her again until the aid station. I was run/walking at that point depending on: 1) cramping 2) energy level 3) scary noises in the dark.
Once I reached the aid station for the final time I could see headlamps in front and behind me for the majority of the final stint. I caught up with one woman for the final mile or so, this was the darkest and most root strewn incline of the trail. We kept each other going through cramping muscles, fatigue, and general weariness of the dark forest. Then, we saw the finish line!
I looked at my new friend in the dark and said, “we HAVE to run across the finish line.” It’s like a rule. As soon as we cleared the final cluster of slippery roots we trotted off into the light of the finish area to cheers and claps and cold beer.
I got back to camp and my husband was already there, in clean, dry clothes, feeling fine. How does he manage it? He doesn’t take training seriously. He’s active, but still.
I was happy to be done. I was still cramping and now I was crashing from poor fueling. My fault completely.
Later I found chaffing I didn’t know I had and one small tick (ew). But did I have fun? Hell yes!
Sign me up for next year 🙂