Twilight 12 Hour

I went into this night with the primary goal of running (or at least staying in motion) through the night. The loop is 2.3 miles and has about 350′ of elevation gain and loss. I had a secondary goal of running 15 loops – 55K/34.5 miles. It seemed pretty ‘do-able,’ but I underestimated the impact the elevation gain & loss would have.

My day started early and with too little sleep. I volunteered for the Snake River Island Hop 50K/100K. The race started at 6:30 (5:30 for the 100K runners), and we were out at the turn-around point (about 15 miles from the start). I woke at 5 a.m.; unfortunately, I didn’t get much sleep Friday night. There weren’t a lot of runners in this race, so our aid station was mostly just us hanging out with each other. The other two volunteers were also heading up to Twilight 12 Hour later in the day – clearly, my friends are as nutty as I am.

Because a second shift was relieving us for the later part of the race, I was able to get home to get a nap in before we headed to the Flying Horseshoe Guest Ranch, the location of the Twilight 12 Hour. I’d packed everything Friday, so we were able to leave home before three Saturday afternoon. We picked up my friend Janson (another crazy friend) & headed out.

We stopped at the Red Arrow Drive-In in Cle Elum for dinner. Their burgers are huge, and I really should have opted for a “regular” size burger instead of a “giant” as I wolfed that burger down about an hour before the race start. I figured I could walk the first lap & let the burger settle. It helped, but I still had a few impressive BBQ burps during the second & third laps.

The race course is slightly separated from the base area (where the party is), and the aid station & start/finish line is at the top of a short (0.2 mile), steep hill just across the street from the base area. That meant that if you were going to take a break from running & go to the party, you had to climb the hill, check out of the race, and then go back down the hill, only to have to climb the hill again when you re-joined the race. At some point, I decided I’d not go to the base area until I was finished. I feared that I wouldn’t be willing to climb back up that hill.

My fastest loops were the 2nd & 3rd at just under 40:00. I dedicated one loop to walking as I brought a mug of hot chocolate with me. I ran the next loop and I figured I’d be much faster; looking at my times, I can’t tell which loop was the hot chocolate loop. I got progressively slower through the night – I believe this was due to a variety of factors.

One of my motivations for doing this race was to see how I’d deal with running through the night. I’ve run at night, but not through the night. Trail running in the dark requires some adaptations due to the difference in the light; running through the night provides different challenges – especially for me. I have an atavistic fear of the dark, limited depth perception which makes my low-light vision even poorer than other humans’, and an over-active imagination. These make for a dangerous combination, and I knew I’d be fighting with my brain during this run.

But this is also a good first overnight run. The course is short, and you’re never very far from other people & the aid station. I knew there’d be friends there. Because it’s a timed run rather than a distance run, there was no pressure: go for as many laps as you’d like, quit whenever you want, and have fun.

I had a lot of company the first several laps. As the night progressed, there were fewer of us out there. I was slow enough that a few people passed me during each lap, but there were periods of time I was alone. That was challenging. I kept hearing a sound like footfalls, but there was no one around. After a time, I decided these were most likely pinecones hitting the ground with a ‘thud.’

I heard voices a couple of times. The first time, it sounded like a woman’s voice saying just a few words. I was alone. No runners approached me. I didn’t hear any other indication of a person speaking, just that snippet of sound. Later, I heard a voice that sounded like the friend I’d spoken with during the previous loop, but he was also no where near me. I don’t believe these were hallucinations: I believe I was hearing an odd sound, like something brushing against my jacket, and my brain couldn’t identify it & tried to make it fit with something it could recognize. That’s probably a survival technique, as a human being alone in the dark is vulnerable, and the ability to rapidly identify possible threats is important. (And given my over-active imagination, I’m grateful it decided they were human voices and that I was able to dismiss them pretty quickly.)

At one point, I saw what appeared to be a flash of light like my headlamp reflecting off an animal’s eyes. There were quite a few folks with dogs on the course, but as with the voices no runners (or dogs) approached me after I saw that. There are cougars in this area, but since we hadn’t been advised of any recent cougar sightings I figured the odds of it being a cougar were really low. That didn’t stop me from being on alert for a while after that.

Being able to do a few loops before dark meant I was familiar with the course, and the course was really well-marked. The course was mostly single-track, and much of it was a challenge in the dark, even with a headlamp. I’d made note of the locations of rocks & roots that were most likely to trip me, and I avoid them throughout the night. The weirdest thing was tripping on the edge of the trail — it’s hard to explain, but my foot would catch the edge of the trail. It happened numerous times. I had difficult with determining whether a light-colored spot in the trail was a raised rock or simply a lighter-colored section of dirt. Some of the dark-colored sections looked like they were mud or underwater.

While I tripped numerous times, I never fell. I twisted my ankles, but never so much that it felt like an injury. It’s safe to say my ankles were worked through a variety of planes & range of motion during this run – so much so that my right ankle was a little sore for a few days.

One quirk about my lack of depth perception I’d forgotten about was that in low-light situations, if the trail has a slight slope, I cannot tell if it goes up or down. (I used to experience this during night skiing.) I have to rely on the information being relayed by my feet rather than my eyes. Trust me, it is really strange to be looking at a trail and not being able to tell which way it goes.

The predicted low for Cle Elum that night was 29F/-2C. I think we were a bit higher in elevation and likely a little colder. The area of the aid station and one section of the course were exposed to the wind, and they felt quite cold. Each loop, I’d leave the aid station feeling cold, warm up during the loop, arrive at the aid station & immediately get hit by the cold. It was a good motivation to keep moving. In the wee hours of the morning, I kept seeing flashes of what I thought were ice crystals on the ground, but it didn’t feel that cold to me. I didn’t realize how cold it was until I returned to the car in the morning and saw it covered in frost.

I’ve heard ultrarunners talk about the depths of darkness overnight, how it messes with your head, how you keep pushing through it because you know the sun will come up again, and the boost one gets once the sky lightens again. The moon finally rose around 4:30, but its crescent wasn’t enough to lend much light or cheer. A half-hour later, the eastern sky was beginning to lighten. I knew I’d make it through the night.

I survived the night!

Twelve loops done, I arrived at the aid station at 5:22 a.m. Given that I’d been averaging about 50:00 or faster each lap, I knew I had enough time to complete two more loops before the seven a.m. cut-off. I grabbed another cheese quesadilla & a few pieces of Kalamata-hummus wrap and headed out. Unfortunately, I’d forgotten to take a dose of Tylenol when I rolled through the aid station the previous time, and the 5:22 dose was too late to stave off the pain. My right knee started to feel IT band syndrome pain as soon as I started to run. I tried a few more times, but it was too late. I had to walk the rest of the loop. Walking instead of running meant I couldn’t generate enough heat. When I finally rolled into the aid station at 6:20, I was extremely cold & I declared that I was done.

I gathered up my stuff & headed down to the party at the base area. I downed a couple of beers before breakfast – I’d wanted those beers all night, and they were delicious. Wrapped in my sleeping bag, sitting by the fire, surrounded by friends and other crazy runners, I felt quite at home. After breakfast, we finished packing & headed home.

The Nomad Trail Runners of Eastern Washington representation at the Twilight 12 Hour
Beer means it’s going to be okay

I really should have gotten out of the car & walked around at every opportunity, but I was still very cold. I spent almost the entire ride wrapped in a sleeping bag. We arrived home around noon, but after a long, hot shower I headed for the futon and spent the entire afternoon there.

It’s now Friday. I could use more sleep, and there are still sore spots here & there. I tried running on Wednesday and it was still too soon. I’m hopeful I can get a run in this weekend.

There’s nothing on the calendar now, although I did sign up for Sole Survivor (August 3rd), and the Chamna Chase in October. I’m hoping to start riding my bike and getting ready for hiking season. (My hope is that hiking through the summer & fall will be enough to help me prepare for those two races.) There’s just a few weeks left of Girls on the Run; once that’s over, I can try commuting by bike. It’s time for me to work on stretching & foam rolling. That & strength work need to be a priority, or I’m always going to fall apart at around marathon distance.

Immediately after the Twilight 12-hour, I figured I was a ‘one & done,’ but as it usually works out, I’m already planning to sign up next year. Ideally, next year I’ll be training for the Millersylvania 50K. That may limit what I’ll do at Twilight, or it may end up accidentally becoming my first 50K. Either way, what I learned last weekend will come in handy.

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