Otter Creek Trail, Night Running and Campfires
Written: 05-25-2014

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I like to tell runners that they should use races as training opportunities at times, which often requires that they don’t destroy their training by doing more than they are capable of at the moment. In theory it is a great idea. In practice it is challenging because a runner’s ego is a hard thing to tame. For example, there are times that it’s good to go and do a race that is longer than you are prepared to race. Let’s say a 10k. Then to set yourself up to run a hard 5k and then back off and cool down. It’s a great thought, but difficult for athletes to actually shut it down in a race.

The great thing about using races as training venues is that you are in that race environment, something that is difficult to replicate outside of actual racing. Last weekend, I went out to the RJ Corman 5k and had a desire to just learn what it was to run with a fast group. I lasted 1.5 miles, then got left. I knew in my head that I was running harder than I probably could, but I did it and I gained confidence. I’d like to get that 1.5 to be 2.5 miles at my next 5k!

That brings me to the Otter Creek Trail Run last night. Several facts about the run:

1. It was a training run for quite a few people looking forward to an ultra race this summer or fall. Therefore the distances were 8,16,24,32. That is according to my Garmin, others had laps that were a bit longer.

2. It started at 7pm, so people could practice trail running in the dark.

Several realities of my training:

1. I am in no shape to race 8 miles, let alone 16 or longer.

2. I have never raced on the trails in the dark.

It was both of these facts that lead me to sign up. The reason, is that there is coming a day that I would like to compete in some ultra distance races. I would place that at anywhere from 3 to 5 years out? But, there are skills associated with night trail running that I feel like I could practice today without having to be into ultra training.

Trail Running at Night. This is a very important skill, in my opinion. It is one thing to run at tempo or threshold on a trail when the trail is visible. But, it is completely different running at tempo when you are slightly afraid of what is 3 feet in front of you and if you are going to fall. The skills needed to react, navigate and be relaxed while running hard on the trail in the dark – that is why I signed up for this race.

I am so glad I did!

I knew that I wasn’t going to cover 35 miles, I had no desire. So I signed up for the 16 (or whatever the true distance is) mile race. The problem is that I didn’t want to run 16 miles and I only wanted to run in the complete dark. Therefore, I decided to walk/hike the first 8 mile lap and run the second.

Again, it’s easier said than done! When a race starts, everyone takes off and it takes discipline to just start walking. What was a fortunate turn of events for me was that I showed up late for the race. Not at all on purpose, as I actually hadn’t really realized where the race was and underestimated the drive. I showed up in jeans and a t-shirt, with nothing ready to go about 1 minute before the start. As it turned out, I started about 20 minutes after everyone else. While not intended, it was a good commitment device to ensure I hiked the first loop. No race start pressures.

How did the running at night go? It went pretty well. I learned some things about focus and lightening the trails, along with managing anxiety of the unknown on the dark trails. I did take two pretty tough tumbles and stubbed my right foot so bad that I thought I might have broken my toes. They were ok, after about a mile of doubt.

In the end, it was a great experience. I hope to do it again soon, as there are a lot of skills to learn in this area of competition. It is definitely about more than just effort and thresholds.

After the run:

This was one of the biggest highlights and why trail running is so appealing to me. There was a campfire that everyone sat around, ate food and drank beer. It reminds me of what triathlon was like in a time past. I ended up staying up around the campfire with some others until 4am, when the last runner finished. Everyone then ascended on their tents or campsites to get a little sleep. I stretched out in the back of the volvo with sleeping bag and Thermarest pads, with a couple blankets to block out the soon approaching sun.

I really appreciate Todd and Cynthia Heady for putting on a great event. Not to mention the amazing work Cynthia did to mark the trail (it can’t be said enough, as it’s the best I’ve ever seen a course marked. road or trail!). I also appreciate all the runners from Louisville for allowing to me hang for the evening.

Here are some pictures I took from the trail on my hike during the first lap. The second lap I was running and it was too dark for pictures, which was the meaning of the day.

Here are the Garmin Stats: These splits don’t include the 20 minutes or so that should be added to the total time and first lap because I was late.

Split Time
1 0:18:57
2 0:19:03
3 0:17:59
4 0:17:55
5 0:17:16
6 0:19:17
7 0:19:52
8 0:17:45
9 0:08:30
10 0:08:36
11 0:09:01
12 0:09:55
13 0:03:37
14 0:08:43
15 0:08:17
16 0:08:24
17 0:04:31
Total Time 3:37:42

1st Lap 2:28:04
2nd Lap 1:09:34