Sinister Night Run 27k Race Report

About two weeks ago Mindy came to me with some information about a trail running race she planned to do.  She was already committed to running with a friend and was asking if it was something I’d be interested in. A few things about the race worth pointing out… first off, it’s a trail race.  We’ve never done a trail race before, and aside from a two trail runs last month that ended in my feet hating me, we don’t usually run trails at all.  Second, it’s a trail run at night.  What could go wrong I figured- an inexperienced trail runner running in the dark (aided by a so-so headlamp) seemed like a recipe for success.  Finally, it was going to be 90+ degrees at the start. Taking all that into account, I obviously came to the conclusion I’d do it.  To be totally honest, it was a picture of the trophies Aravaipa Running, the race company, posted to their Facebook page that pushed me over the edge.  An event with devil trophies couldn’t be that bad…

Once Mindy showed me this photo I knew I had to race! (pic from Aravaipa Running)
The race offered three distances- 9k, 27k, and 54k, using the same 5.6 mile loop in the San Tan Regional Park.  Like Goldilocks, the 9k was too short, the 54k was too long, but the 27k seemed just right.  The 27k started at 7:30 pm, so a few minutes after 6 we headed out from our place.  Around 6:30, an hour before race start I took a few Hammer Nutrition supplements– Anti-Fatigue Caps, Endurance Amino, Race Caps Supreme and Endurolytes- having been up since 4:40 in the morning, I was going to need all the help I could get! When we arrived, we found Aravaipa had base camp all set up.  It was pretty well laid out- The start finish line, check in, aid station, medical tent and most importantly port-o-potties were all in one general area.  Not long after check in, the 54k runners started off in the most laid back race start I’d ever seen.  I was quickly learning trail races had a totally different vibe to them, laid back and relaxed seemed to be the theme, which was fine with me.  I was just there to have fun and primarily because staying home by myself would have made for a lonely Saturday night.
Beats sitting home alone, right?
After the 54k runners headed out we had about a half hour before we started.  The weather was in the 90’s, so I just sat down near the start and sipped from a bottle of cold water with Endurolyte Fizz.  The more hydrated I could be the better off I’d be given the heat.  I had debated wearing my new hydration vest, the Nathan VaporWrap (which is so far working great!) but having looked at the course description, I decided against it.  The was an aid station at the 2.2 mile mark, and then another at the start/finish line 3.4 miles later.  I figured those distances were’t too far apart, and I’d just fuel up at the stations. While my plan worked for the most part, I think next time I’m opting for the vest.  It’d be nice to have extra fluid between aid stations regardless of the extra weight, and the option of having ice packs cooling my back (yes, the VaporWrap has a pocket for just such a purpose) would have been great given the heat.
And we’re off! (pic from Aravaipa Running)

At about two minutes prior our start, people slowly started making their way over to the start line- remember, laid back is the key.  There was no rush to be on the front line like at most road races, in fact everybody seemed hesitant to queue up by the start line.  Figuring it would be better to not start at the back I sheepishly made my way to the front, hoping I wouldn’t be run over at the start.  After a quick warning we were 10 seconds away from the start, followed by a blast from the air horn ten seconds later, we were off.  My goal was just to stay relaxed for the first loop, getting the lay of the trail while it was still a little light out (the sun had just fallen below the horizon), and not go out too fast.  After about 100 yards, I realized nobody had passed me and there were just two of us running out front.  Since the guy I was running with weighed about 140 pounds, was shirtless and wearing minimalist trail shoes and a hydration vest (Salomon, I think…) I decided he would be a good guy to follow.  (He didn’t have a beard though, otherwise he might have had all the indicators of a race winner- another column I need to put together…)  So, I just ducked in directly behind him and kept telling myself not to try to pass no matter how easy the first loop felt.

Mindy and Julie starting out..(pic from Aravaipa Running)
We ran pretty much in silence, I was just using the light from his headlamp and trying to run in his footsteps assuming he’d pick a good line, which he did.  After about 2 miles of I silence I pulled next to him on a wide portion of the trail and we exchanged pleasantries.  He gave me the ok to pass him -he was just running this as a training run- and I in turn told him I had no idea what I was doing out here on my first trail race and I was just hoping to not go out too fast.  We hit the aid station a few minutes later, where I grabbed some water and took a Hammer Gel, and shortly after (I think) we were finally caught by another runner.  I didn’t want to just let him cruise off solo, especially since I was feeling really good, but I had to remember not to go out too fast and crash later.
No wonder I’m a little sore!
This seems like a good time to give a quick course description…  The first part of the run, prior to the aid station was pretty much uphill for a mile, then downhill for a mile (gradual and rolling, but as you can see from the elevation chart, pretty straightforward.).  After the aid station, the course turns uphill, but there are several more steep uphill/downhill sections before the last mile and a half of pure downhill. The rollers here really take a toll, and the last uphill really makes you work for the gentle slope to the start/finish.  Back to the race…
Runners leaving a light trail through the desert. (pic from Aravaipa Running)
While sticking around in third place I could still keep an eye on first thanks to the light given off my his headlamp.  With all the switchbacks and rollers I was able to keep sight of him, though at times it was hard to tell exactly how far ahead he actually was.  About a mile into the second portion of the course I decided I couldn’t let him slip too far away.  I told my unofficial running partner I was going to move on ahead and I hoped I wouldn’t pay the price on loop two or three.  From this point on I just kept the guy in first place in my sights and just reminded myself there were over ten miles left- no need to try and catch him all at once.  By the end of the first loop I was nine seconds back, a pretty good spot I figured- now I just needed to hold on…. unfortunately I didn’t do myself any favors immediately at the start of loop two.  I must have been excited about how I was doing, because I didn’t bother to stop at the aid station.  I just blew right through, focused to stay close to the leader.  This meant I’d be running 5.6 miles w/o water- not a recipe for success.  I actually didn’t feel too bad, and I hoped I’d be able to make up for it later.  The second loop was uneventful- I shadowed the leader to the aid station where we both stopped for fuel- I had another Hammer Gel and got some water to wash it down.  I think I left the aid station first, but wasn’t in any hurry to get in the lead.  A few seconds later, the former leader reclaimed his spot and it was up the hills we went.  While we had passed several of the runners from the other events, there was no sign of a third place runner behind us, which was oddly encouraging and unnerving at the same time.
Just off the lead at this point (pic from Aravaipa Running)
Heading towards the end of loop two I realized something- this guy was much faster on the downhills than I was.  This was going to be a big problem given the fact the last mile and a half was downhill to the finish line.  We were a few seconds apart before the last downhill stretch on loop two, but that had grown to 20 seconds by the time we crossed the mat to start loop three.  This time I wasn’t taking any chances and I stopped at the aid station at the start/finish area.  A few cups of water, another Hammer Gel, several Endurolytes and I was off.  I could see the glow from the leaders head lamp bobbing in the distance and I figured I’d work my way up there and try to take the lead on the uphill.  We had been doing a little pattern of me catching up to his heels on the uphills, then he’d pull away on the downhills. I hoped I could catch him at the start of one of the steeper sections, put a little distance between us, and hold him at bay until the next hill where I could maybe add to the gap.
About 3/4 of a mile into loop three I found my hill.  We were close to each other at this point, and the hill was part of a 1/4 mile section of uphill trail.  I passed him (thanks caffeinated Hammer Gel!) on the way up the hill and hoped I made the right decision.  After cresting the hill, it was a turn to the left and a series of rollers before a gentle downhill nearing the aid station.  I didn’t dare look back, but after the rollers and the downhill I didn’t notice any headlamp behind me.  The trail turned uphill again as I approached the aid station.  I was starting to get tired at this point- not a little tired, more like I was about to bonk out- so I figured I’d go with some cola to give me a burst of energy.  I ducked in to the aid station and asked for cola.  The volunteers had the bottle out, but it hadn’t been opened yet- I started to go for the bottle, but they said they had a cold one in the cooler and he quickly grabbed it.  The guy must have been slicing oranges or something similar because he had the plastic food service gloves on and he couldn’t open the bottle!  I was starting to get nervous now, not knowing if second place would be showing up any time soon, or maybe even passed me while my back was turned.  After what seemed like forever, I was presented with two cups of cola and took off.  I hoped it would do the trick.
I was relieved when I left the aid station and didn’t see any headlamps on the hill in front of me.  Then I started to get nervous… if he wasn’t ahead of me, how close behind was he now?  Heading up the hill I figured I couldn’t look back, just focus on the trail and move.  The cola did the trick for a little while, but my body was also reminding me I hadn’t been drinking enough water in the worst way possible- cramps.  My hamstrings were starting to cramp up a little, just a tweak here and there to remind me things could get worse.  Now I was not only hoping to not get caught, but I was hoping to find some water in the desert.  After making it through the last set of rollers, I reached the start of the final mile and a half downhill.  After about a hundred yards, I glanced back- I was going to push to the finish with what I had, but I wanted to know if I was getting hunted down.  Surprisingly the only light I saw was from a 54k runner I had just passed.  With that slight reassurance, I turned my attention to the glowing light of the finish line and hoped I wouldn’t cramp up so close to the end.  After two or three more minutes I came up on a runner who looked familiar- Mindy! I let her know I was there as I approached and asked if she had any water.  She was carrying a handheld bottle and quickly passed it over to me.  I sprayed water over my head and grabbed two big sips.  I passed the bottle back to her, told her I was pretty sure I was in first and took off.  She gave a few words of encouragement and I was off!  About a hundred yards from the finish I glanced back once more just to make sure I was in the clear and seeing nobody in the darkness behind me I was relieved.  I ran through the finish line at 2:19:17 for first place overall!  First trail race and I won… how nuts is that?
Overall 27k winners!  (pic from Aravaipa Running)
After finishing I was a bit lightheaded and dizzy- probably combination of heat and lack of fluids.  I dropped down into a chair and tried to get the lights to stop spinning around me.  One of the volunteers gave me my finishers jar (medals are so cliche) and a few seconds later I heard the race announcer say they just had their first 27k finisher cross the finish line and announcing me as the winner! I couldn’t help but shake my head a little… for some reason I have pretty good luck with night races (PR’d my 1/2 marathon at night by almost 3 minutes last November).  I sat by the start/finish line waiting for second place to come across… I had assumed it would be the guy I had followed for a while, but it wasn’t. Second place came in three and a half minutes later and it wasn’t either of the two guys I remembered.
Mason jars to all the finishers (pic from Aravaipa Running)
I spent the next few minutes trying to get some calories in- a combination of Recoverite, bananas, watermelon and gummy worms seemed to do the trick.  I sat around with Mindy waiting for Julie, the third part of our group to finish.  A short while later they announced it was time for awards and I was able to hobble over to claim my trophy- one of those awesome devil trophies seen on Facebook!  Not only did I snag my first ever first place in a race, but I have some awesome hardware to show for it!
Exhausted is an understatement.
Thanks to Hammer Nutrition for the great products- needless to say the Hammer Gel and supplements did their thing and I finished with another great result!  I was also sporting my Swiftwick Hammer compression socks during the race and they came in handy post-race while sitting around waiting for the awards ceremony and friends to finish.  For those interested in trying out Hammer Products, use promo code 155476 to save 15% off your first order online at HammerNutrition.com (Since joining up with Hammer I’ve PR’d my half marathon-sub 1:24, qualified for Boston and now won my first ever attempt at trail racing.  Results I’m more than happy with!)
Last but not least, big thanks to Aravaipa Running for hosting a great event.  It was relaxed for the runners, but well organized.  The trail was marked very well- reflectors all along the course, signs marking all the turns, friendly volunteers at the aid stations and pictures taken and posted up on their website the next evening.  Awesome job gang- thanks for making my first trail race a great experience!

Awesome volunteers at one of the aid stations (pic from Aravaipa Running)
Better look at the mason jar (pic from Aravaipa Running)
First ever 1st place trophy and it’s a thing of beauty!