Summer Squatch 10K Trail Race - in the Dark!

In a first for me, I ran a trail race in the dark. The 2017 Summer Squatch 10K was a Thursday evening event that started at 7 PM. It wasn't dark at the start, but it didn't take long for visibility to get tough in the woods.

Night trail runner, with medal to prove it

I drove up to Alum Creek State Park after work on race day and was there in plenty of time to pick up my packet and get changed for the race. I took an apple to eat as a pre-race snack, and wore all my regular trail gear (Altra Lone Peak shoes, gaiters, and Camelback pack). It was only a 10K, but I wanted to be prepared. It had rained for a couple days before this, and I was unfamiliar with the trail. I didn't know what I would encounter, but I thought it might get muddy. I also knew it would be dark. I planned ahead and borrowed a headlamp because I knew mine was low quality and just wasn't going to cut it.

Our trailhead was past the dog park, but not well-marked
Runners getting ready

This wasn't a very big race; there were only 67 finishers. But we set out onto the single-track trail almost immediately, so it was a crowded start. Visibility was good, which was important, as there were so many tree roots on this trail. They call it the "Rocks and Roots" trail, but a better name would have been "Roots and Roots". It really wasn't very rocky at all, just dirt (a little mud in some wet spots), roots, and one section covered in pine needles.

Happy to have my borrowed headlamp for later
Water crossing
Another water crossing; it was easier to just splash through the water on the left and not wait on the stepping stones
Water view

There were several of us running at approximately the same pace and we passed and were passed by each other a few times. I was having fun and moving swiftly (for me) in the first couple miles when there was still a good amount of light. And then I tripped on a root and fell. Not a big deal, I scraped my knees a little, but not too bad. I picked myself up and carried on, but I was a little more cautious now. And then it began to get dark and I was so happy to have the borrowed headlamp.

Starting to get dark; not all parts of the trail were wooded
It's dark now, and that's the water peeking through the trees

The darkness slowed me down. It was my first time running a trail in the dark. The headlamp helped, but not enough for me to maintain the same pace. I had to slow down a little bit. I had a couple stumbles, and then another fall. This one took me by surprise and I fell hard. Again, no major injuries, just some bruises, but now I was not confident enough to run. I slowed to a walk. At this point I was alone on the trail, so no one was visible ahead of me, and no one's light helped me by shining from behind. I saw a few distant headlamps on the switchbacks. But I was solo. And now I was using an abundance of caution so as not to slip or fall again. There were water crossings, most of which had wooden bridges, but the bridges were slick and muddy, so I had to be careful on those too.

I got to the aid station with about two miles to go. It was nice to know I was on the right path. It was hard to see trail markings in the dark, but the good news was that the trail was fairly well worn, and even if I had to stop and look around in a couple spots, I was able to quickly find the right way.

In the last mile other runners/walkers caught up with me, and for a short while the course sweeper was two positions behind. Then I was able to pick up my pace a little bit. And when we exited the woods I was able to muster a sort of sprint on the grass. I ended up 63rd out of 67 and it was my slowest 10K ever...but my first trail 10K, so does that make it a PR?

At the finish there was water and granola bars. There may or may not have been bananas; I didn't notice because I don't eat them. Most of the faster finishers had left. It was dark, and there were bugs wanting to bite me. I took my fun wooden medal and went to the car.

Creative wooden medal with the Sasquatch
See, my knees weren't banged up that much, but those dark spots are not shadows, they are dirt
So now I've done a night trail race. I liked being in the woods at night, but I didn't like the fact that I couldn't run fast, if at all. As I said to the sweeper, I've gotten to the point where I'm fairly comfortable running single-track during daylight hours, but not in the I guess that's just another skill to master; and he agreed. I really didn't enjoy trying to run in the dark on the trail, but I won't get any better at it unless I do more of it. So, I guess I'll need to go buy my own higher-quality headlamp and find some more nighttime trail races or group runs.


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