When my running club posted the information for this race, I was mostly interested because I wanted to keep adding to my marathon tally. Running at night sounded like a pretty good idea in the summer heat, and the course was along the Han River where I have raced many times before. Mostly it was a marathon in July so I could check that box and start my “marathon per month” quest that I was contemplating at the time. It would be familiar territory with a new twist: night running. The course was also open from the start of the marathon at 8pm, through the start of the 50K at 11pm, and on until way past dawn with the planed closing time of 7am. A race with no time pressure sounded particularly nice when the low temperatures would be near 80F.
Although I was tempted by the 50K, the decision was ultimately made based on the start time. I ran through the night 2 years ago in the 24-Hour relay so I knew the wee hours would be lonely and boring. I also know I’m fairly worthless after 9pm and would be counted among the walking dead once midnight passed. It seemed better to be nearing the end when the witching hour struck, and not just an hour into the race! The few member of the club that had decided to run, kept up a joking facebook thread about our fears of zombies and things that go bump in the dark, laughing at ourselves and our silly fears.
|The sun setting on the Han River. You can see the bike and walking path and big street lights|
It turned out we were afraid for nothing. With night time temps not dipping much below 80F, people living in apartments without air-conditioning try to escape to the river for a breath of fresh air. The entire river walk was teaming with people the entire time! The whole way was well lit and overrun with families, young lovers, cyclists, picnickers, partiers, and sports enthusiast. One moment I would be passing a game of basketball, the next a family asleep in a screen tent. In most cases, the activity was set up under the many bridges that span the river, offering protection from the sudden cloud bursts, like the one that soaked us to the skin in the first few miles.
There were three of us that toed the start line for the 42.195K (seriously, that is what our bibs said, LOL.) The other two women weren’t fully trained for marathon distance and had never gone past a half, but since the cut off time was so generous, they knew they could finish walking and get the experience under their belts. Cate, Rebecca, and I took off in high spirits, chatting and laughing as we headed down the lighted path. We lost Rebecca first as she slowly drifted behind, but we did see her shortly after the first turn around and she looked strong. (MAP)
|Cate, Andy (who came to help us with packet pick-up), Rebecca, and Moi|
I realized after a couple of miles that we were on the same stretch of river front from the half marathon back in March. This meant one thing, a booger of a hill! That monster hill, loomed out of the dark leading us along the freeway with nothing but a chain link fence between us and the roaring traffic. Ultimately, the exhaust fumes weren’t too bad and we decided to walk the uphill and save our energy for the very long miles ahead. In hindsight, it wasn’t as bad as I remembered, but it still wasn’t pretty!
|Okay, this is where we are going...|
Past the turn around and over the hill again we were looking for our first bridge crossing to take us to the other side of the river. Thankfully, I had studied the map because running had moved us faster than the race coordinators had expected and the volunteer that was supposed to direct us to the turn was not on station yet! When we had gone about 1/10 of a mile past the bridge, I knew we had missed something so we doubled back. Sure enough, he was there this time and shocked that we had gotten past him! Now, back on track, we climbed the stairs and crossed the first bridge.
With 12 bridges, passing each twice, we were averaging about a bridge per mile. It was like chasing an oasis. The bridges would loom in the distance, seeming to never get closer and then suddenly we were passing under it. Most of the time they were hotbeds of activity, sports, family, and at one place even a live band with scores of people dancing! It was so surreal and not at all what I was expecting from the evening. I had imagined something like the Blair Witch Project and being spooked, but I never felt alone or isolated, even after I lost my buddy somewhere around mile 16. My biggest real worry was not getting hit by a speeding bicycle! Although I never really needed the head lamp to see my path I was glad for both my lights, front and back, for making me visible to the cyclists!
What made this an “adventure” race was more than just the fact that it was run in the dark. The second aspect was that there were no aid stations. There were public restrooms and fountains where we could get water, although often they were too shallow to actually get water into my Camelbak. Never the less, I was able to refill often enough that I never ran out of water despite going through what seemed like gallons! When my calves started cramping a couple of hours in, despite 2 salt caps and 3 gels already down the hatch, I realized I was going through a LOT of fluids. Popping 2 more salt caps took care of the problem and even though I had twinges the whole race, my calves finally loosened back up and never fully cramped. The heat was not intense, but it just slowly sucked the life out of you as the sweat gushed from every pore.
|The race map. I used my phone to take a picture |
that was worth more than 1,000 words!
Shortly after Cate dropped behind I started getting a headache and the gels were no longer setting well. I did not manage my prerace fuel very effectively and my digestive system was balking. I don’t think it was a hydration issues since a couple of bathroom stops assured me that all was well in that arena, but the late hour was getting to me. On a normal night, staying up late just plain hurts and tonight was no exception. I had tried taking a nap in the afternoon, but never really slept so as 11pm slipped by, I was really starting to drag. By midnight, I had barely hit the 20 mile mark! This was not good!
Fortunately, I was almost to the second bridge wich was easy since it was over a smaller bridge underneath the big freeway bridge far overhead. Over the hump I trudged, dodging bicycles and people walking and texting at the same time. As I turned right to head down the river again, the park was as busy as ever. Spotting a water fountain with a spigot on the side I jumped at the chance to fill my pack one more time, knowing it would last to the end. As I approached the fountain, which was in a less lit area, I sunk to my ankles in mud. The fountain leaked and the whole area around it was a bog of slime. It is moments like these that I am so happy to be a barefoot runner! I don’t mind mud on my feet, but it surely would have ruined a pair of shoes, or help the captive! After filling my Camelbak and squishing my way back to the path it was time to hunker down and get the hardest part done, the last 10K.
When I first joined Marathon Maniacs, I posted a question to the group, asking if marathons ever got easy or comfortable. The general consensus was no, everyone hurts after 20 miles, it is just a matter of who is tough enough to keep going. Was I tough enough? I was fine after 20 in China, but I had done a LOT of walking in the early miles. My history was of the wheels falling off at 20 and giving in to the death march. This time wasn’t a whole lot better, but nothing specifically hurt, my blood sugars were fine, and I was hydrated. There was no real reason for me not to be running, so I pressed on. I had an MP3 player tucked in my pack, but it wasn’t appealing to me. Instead I decided to pass some time with an age old favorite, “99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall.” No, I didn’t sing out loud, but it took a lot of concentration to keep track and not forget what number I was on and this focus got me through 3 more miles.
I took a walk break at “49 bottles”, but when I hit zero, I decided to keep going to the next bridge. I could count 10 lamp posts to the next bridge and it was 10 breaths per lamp post, counting, counting, one foot in front of the other. I told myself I could walk under the next bridge, but with the one after clearly in sight, I pressed on with the promise of walking under THAT one instead, then on to the Olympic Stadium.
Finally, coming up on 1:20 am, I turned the corner to enter the finish chute which was totally empty with no one along the ropes. I went under the arch and strolled across the grass to the tables to pick up my finishers medal. The two twenty-something girls hopped up and down clapping and telling me I was the first woman to finish. HUH? I had actually entertained a vain idea about that since I didn’t see any women ahead of me at the turn around, but I didn’t really think it could happen. No one really cared about the marathon though, it was all about the 50K that was now more than half over for the future winners, so I got a hand shake, a pat on the head, and a bowl of tofu for my win.
After a bit of rest and some food, I piled back into my truck to head home. I was still high on Chocolate Outrage GU so a nap was out of the question, better to just get home before the caffeine wore off.
In the end, it wasn’t really all that adventurous, but I learned a few things.
1) When they say never wear something new on race day, THEY MEAN IT! My nifty new black tank rubbed me raw on the underside of my arms. The chafing was so bad, by the time I got home they were huge, raised, swollen welts that still sting two days later.
2) Running after dark is not fun for me. I’m tired, cranky, annoyed, and just want to go to bed. I don’t foresee any more night marathons in the future unless there is a really good carrot to go with it!
3) Carrying a 70 oz. of water not only gives you huge bruises on your shoulders, it also throws off your posture making your back and neck ache. I’ve worn it for trail running, but flat road running is not the same.
4) 80F at night is still 80F, hot is hot and dark doesn’t help that much, other than not having to wear sunscreen.
Now that the dust has settled and my chafing wounds are nearly healed, I’m glad I did it. I know now that running a marathon barefoot wasn’t a fluke, I can do it and I recover better than when I wear shoes just like with half marathons. I won’t always get to marathon barefoot because I wear shoes if I don’t know the road conditions, but I will go bare any time I can!