Before I started orienteering I never would have run through the forest at night in the dark by myself! But a couple of years of practice doing short weeknight races, and despite – or perhaps because of – the occasional scurrying sound or glowing eyes, I have become less frightened of things that go bump in the night (or maybe more tolerant). So when I saw that Happy Trails was putting on the inaugural Rugged Raccoon 25k night trail race, I didn’t hesitate before registering.
I arrived at Wildwood Conservation Area in St. Mary’s with plenty of time to pick up my race bib (and whistle!), very cool race top, change into running clothes (I had come from basketball spectating), and chat with other runners.
Just before 7:30 PM, we had a short pre-race meeting.
And then, the race began! I wasn’t sure how long I would be able to run before I needed my headlamp. This was a pretty small race, with only 92 runners in the 25k distance (there were also 5k and 10k races). Runners were given the option of starting an hour earlier if they didn’t think they could finish within the 3 1/2 hour time limit, so less than 92 people started at once.
The race began on park roads, but we quickly hit the trail, and once there, the crowd had already dispersed and I was running with a very small pack of runners. The trail would go all the way around the lake! The course was very well marked. Only a few times during the race I wondered which way to go, but I quickly figured it out.
My approach to this race was to take it 5k at a time, or essentially 1 aid station at a time! The four aid stations would be fully stocked with all kinds of yummy goodies, but sadly, my stomach had been feeling “off” since the day before the race, so I wasn’t able to take advantage of any of it! Not the quesadillas, not the ramen noodles, not the pancakes! I decided to stick to my Endurance Tap (maple syrup). Given the paucity of food I ate the day of the race, it’s amazing I made it to the start line!
I ran with my waist belt so I had my own water with me. I didn’t expect to drink a lot, but wanted to be able to drink whenever I wanted to. The first aid station was just before the 5k mark, but I had no need to stop there – I just threw out my Endurance Tap garbage as I went by.
The trail was quite pretty, with lots of ups and downs, and even more MUD! Wow was it ever muddy. We were encouraged to run right through it to avoid widening the trail or damaging it. I was glad to have tied my trail shoes tightly – the mud threatened to suck them right off my feet!
Just before I got to the 10k aid station, the sun was really beginning to set and the sky was looking very pretty. I debated getting my phone out to take a picture, but decided my legs wouldn’t be happy to have to start running again!
This aid station was fun – the volunteers were playing music and were very enthusiastic! Once again, I ran straight by it, just dropping my garbage. At this point, I crossed a bridge over the lake, and as I entered the forest again, I wondered how much longer I would be able to manage without my headlamp. It was in this section too that I caught the last glimpse of another runner for quite some time. Turns out just after 11k, I turned my light on, worried that I was going to trip on a root or a rock.
In the back of my mind I kept telling myself that the last 5k would be the easiest, or so we were told. I would believe it when I saw it. As it got darker out, I was able to see headlamps bobbing in the distance across the lake, from where I had come from – that was quite neat. I heard some noises in the woods around me in this section too, but never did see anything.
I could hear people at the 15k aid station before I could see it, but eventually I caught a glimpse of a headlamp in the distance. As the volunteers spotted mine, they cheered for me. Once again, I dropped my garbage there and kept going. At some point, someone in the woods having a campfire told me I was doing a great a job.
As my legs got more tired, it became harder and harder to run through the mud – it took more effort to pull my feet out of the sticky, deep mud! Thankfully though, I managed to stay upright! Even though it was pitch dark at this point, it was very easy to follow the race route, because there were glowing markers hanging from trees.
It was around 16k that I finally saw another runner when I overtook two women walking. I knew that my friend David would be at the 20k aid station, and I knew that when I hit that one, I would be on the home stretch! I walked a bit more in this section, sometimes on hills that at the beginning of the race I would have run! I reached the aid station, and had a small glass of Skratch (sport hydration). It was so good. David helped me safely cross the road, and I was on my way to the finish! I was relieved to discover that this last bit was indeed the easiest part of the course. There was less elevation gain, less roots and rocks, and flat park road at the end too. I passed another couple of runners here, but couldn’t quite catch one that I could see up ahead of me (let’s be honest – I didn’t even try!).
I was only slightly disappointed as I approached the finish line that the race course was only 24k – I was happy to be nearing the end! As I ran down the finishing chute, which was lined with lights, I had great cheers from other runners who had already finished, and from others who were volunteering or were there with other runners. It was a great way to finish!
After watching a few more runners finish, I changed into dry, warm clothes, grabbed my mug, and went in search of hot chocolate. It seems it was all gone, but I made myself a mug of chamomile tea, and thoroughly enjoyed it as I drove home. I also ate one plain pancake before I left, and then nothing until the next day (I was not hungry). So glad my stomach is finally back to normal!
This was a great race and I look forward to doing it again next year! Thank you Happy Trails!
- Time: 3:08:05 (7:32 min/km)
- Placing women 40-49: 3/3
- Placing all women: 15/45
- Placing all runners: 50/92
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