It had been 3 years since the last running of the Happy Trails Rugged Raccoon 25k Night Trail Race, but when I parked my car at Wildwood Conservation Area and headed over to pick up my race kit right next to Wildwood Lake, I remembered how beautiful the race venue was. At 7:30 pm, my friend Kris and I would be running clockwise around the lake, starting in daylight and ending in the dark.
The race began and we set off together. Unfortunately it didn’t take long for me to get a side stitch, which bothered me for a couple of kilometres. I told Kris not to let me slow her down – she had a spring in her step – so she got further and further ahead of me.
I hit the first aid station at around 4.5k, but I didn’t stop. Shortly after this point my side stitches were gone.
At the pre-race briefing we learned that the course was less muddy than in 2019 (phew!), and that there was less mud in the 2nd half of the course. As I ran I remembered bits of the route, but I had only been to the conservation area once before, so much of it felt new to me.
I was on the lookout for owls, but never did see or hear one. I did hear lots of spring peepers though, as well as a woodpecker, and Kris saw deer.
At the 2nd aid station around 9k I grabbed a cookie and kept running. At this point the course follows a road for a short time before going back into the forest on the far side of the lake. I remembered having to put my headlamp on at this point in 2019, but this time there was still lots of light left. I also remembered in 2019 that I could see headlamps on the far side of the lake – not this time! I made it my goal to try to get to 15k before turning my headlamp on. At the 3rd aid station around 14k, I grabbed another cookie and kept running. The light was starting to fade but I was still able to see.
And then just before 15k I noticed headlamps in the forest ahead of me. I finally turned mine on at 15k, and within 200-300 metres I kicked a root and fell into a mud puddle! Ha! It was a soft landing and I was not hurt, so I got up and kept going!
I found that I ran much of the race alone, even more so during the 2nd half when runners were more spaced out.
Approaching the 4th and final aid station I knew there would be hot cheese quesadillas, but I wasn’t quite sure I would feel like one when I got there! It’s not something I would normally eat when running. But I decided to have a piece, it was delicious, and my stomach didn’t complain!
It was at the nearly 22k mark that I started wondering whether I had gone off course. I wasn’t sure which way the trail went through the forest. The route had been very well marked with pin flags up until this point, but I realized I hadn’t seen any in a while. I knew not to run more than 100m without seeing a flag… so I turned around in the dark forest, and ran back the way I had come from… I texted Kris, who I hadn’t seen for quite some time.
I ran back and forth. It didn’t make sense. I ran back and forth again. And then I spotted a pin flag, flat on the ground! It must have been trampled by runners. I was still on course – yay!
I felt much better knowing that I wasn’t lost! And I thought it was pretty funny that *I* was texting *Kris* with navigational issues, as she’s the one who tends to take wrong turns! In any case, I made it to the finish line, where Kris was waiting for me. Jeff Rowthorn, Race Director, said, “Had a fall?” (I was covered in mud!) and then offered me a bar of soap!
I was glad to be done! Thanks Happy Trails for another great race.
- Time: 3:17:53 (chip time)
- Women 45-49: 7/9
- Women: 33/48
- All runners: 102/122
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