Race Name: Desert Dash Moonlight Madness 30K
Date: November 12, 2011
Footwear: New Balance MT-101
So where do you start when you write about the most difficult, but also most fun, race one has run to this point of one’s life?
Let me start by saying that previous to this race, I enjoyed running trails. Unfortunately, running “trails” within running distance (or a short drive) of my house mostly consists of running dirt roads and Jeep trails through the desert. Having said that, I believe I can now say that I LOVE running trails, having spent about 4 hours on mostly singletrack trails winding through Cottonwood Valley on the southwest side of the Las Vegas Valley. As long as I can talk some runner friends into joining me for some runs, I will absolutely be running these trails in the future; especially since they are only a 10- to 15-minute drive from my house.
Okay, back to the race. Traditionally, this race has been held solely as “Moonlight Madness” by Desert Dash, a local running group/race organizer. However, this year was the beginning of the Day and Night series, allowing runners to choose between running a 5K, 10K, half marathon or 30K in the morning or at night (or both!). Since I had missed the previous Moonlight Madness Half Marathon in May due to my IT-band injury, I never even considered running the morning races. The day before the race, as I was picking up my packet, I started questioning the decision of running 18.6 miles in the dark on trails I had never set foot on previously. Why? As of packet pickup, I was the sole registrant for the nighttime 30K. Yep. Me, myself, and I, along with almost 19-miles of trails in the middle of the desert in the dark. What could possibly go wrong?
Luckily, when I showed up about 30-minutes before the race started, I found out one of the runners from the morning 30K was running again, so I knew I wouldn’t be all alone on the course at least. Right before the race started, one of the organizers called us over and started to explain the course to us, as well as how the course was marked (pretty important information, right?). It sounded like the course was marked pretty well (and it was!), but I was still nervous about getting lost and wandering aimlessly in the desert until being found by a large search and rescue operation. Okay, maybe not to that extent, but I was nervous nonetheless. As the course itself was being described to me, it sounded like a lot of fun, but also difficult as I knew going into the race to expect around 2400 feet of ascent and descent (4800 feet of total elevation change) through the 30K. However, when listening to the description of a course for the first time, hearing that a hill is affectionately named “Satan’s Escalator” is never very comforting. Even with the aptly-named hill, the course sounded like it would be a lot of fun and would be quite the experience. We’d be running the 5K loop, followed by the half marathon loop, and then the 5K loop once again to finish the race.
Once the gun fired and we were off, I kept pace with the other runner for the first mile or so of the 5K loop to watch and learn how the course was marked and to become comfortable with the run itself. My objective was achieved as far as seeing the course markings and knowing where to go, but keeping a 9:00 min/mile pace when ascending about 300 feet in only a mile isn’t a great way to start out on a difficult 30K course. As I slowed down and I saw his headlight fading off into the distance, I settled into a pace that I felt comfortable with and just took in the sights and sounds that a night-time trail run has to offer.
Needless to say, the sights and sounds were pretty incredible and definitely added to the race experience. To begin with, it was in the low 40s by the time the race started, with only promises of getting colder as the race went on (gun time was at 6:00pm). I’m pretty sure I could see my breath the entire race, but again, I think that just added to the experience as I was dressed warm enough that the cold never really bothered me. I chose a mock-turtleneck ColdGear compression shirt, a fleece pullover, and my Saucony ViziPro running jacket, along with thin gloves and a thin beanie to keep my hands and head warm. I ran in shorts because I hate running in pants, and it doesn’t really get cold enough in Las Vegas that pants are required.
Once I completed the 5K loop, I was getting warm so I took my fleece pullover off and tied it around my waist, and topped off my CamelBak handheld bottle just to be safe (in case I got lost, remember?). Heading out to the half marathon section of the course, I was alone on the trail for the first time, being several minutes behind the other 30K runner and about 30 minutes behind the half marathoners. It was dark and utterly gorgeous! There’s just something amazing about running trails at night, seeing the dark, monolithic silhouettes of the mountains and hills in the distance while seeing the trail and nearby vegetation about twenty or thirty feet at a time through the light of my headlamp. It was truly serene.
For about half of the race I listened to This Will Destroy You on my iPhone, which I was carrying in the breast pocket of my jacket. It was the perfect mix of epic instrumentals to go with the cool night and great trails.
I stopped at the two aid stations for 30 to 45 minutes each and chatted with the volunteers, who were themselves avid trail runners. The second aid station was manned by Dana and Glenn from Desert Dash, the race directors. We talked about everything from trail running theory, footwear, trail systems in town, and more. It certainly didn’t help my time any but I don’t get many opportunities to sit and chat with trail runners. At the second aid station I had to stop and add some MoleFoam to the back of one of my shoes to keep it from digging into my heel. This will be my last run in these shoes, as the 9mm drop is much more severe than any other footwear I currently run in and it really bothered my feet and lower legs throughout the run.
By the end of the race I was thoroughly exhausted. I walked most of the last 5K loop but ran into the finish full of smiles, and I’d do it all over again!