Saturday night at 8 PM, I lined up for a 5k for the first time since 2015. 5ks haven’t been on my race radar for three years out of pure enjoyment of ultras and long distance races. The shortest race I’ve raced in the past three years has been a four mile road race – a 4th of July tradition in my family that is a requirement for an afternoon BBQ invitation. But, I couldn’t pass up a trail 5k…. in the dark…. on hometown trails…. with a bunch of family & friends.
All day Saturday, I was impatiently waiting for the afternoon hours. I’d much rather race in the morning so that I can enjoy the rest of the day, eat whatever I want, and relax. I was less than thrilled when I had to wait all day until I could race. I distracted myself with various errands/chores and I watched the Flyers clinch a playoff spot which was super exciting for obvious reasons. I ate dinner at 4 PM because I wanted my stomach to be fully settled by start time.
I arrived to the course before 7 PM, snagged a convenient parking spot, picked up the race packets with my parents, and set out onto the trails with my dad and uncle to set up feather flags for our family business & local mountain bike team. I was extremely confused where the course would be taking us despite knowing the trails inside & out from mountain biking there so often. I asked my dad a bunch of questions about the direction of the course down certain trails but it didn’t clarify much.
By 7:25, I was wondering where Josh & Jess (Josh’s twin) were as I knew they should both be there by now. I triple checked that my headlamp was actually on my head (my biggest fear was arriving to the starting line without my headlamp on my head and being forced to run the course in the dark – which would’ve been impossible & torturous). My Altra Superiors were on snugly and I was ready to tackle the roots within the woods! Without being able to find neither Josh nor Jess, and with no cell phone service to call them, I set out on a warm-up run with my dad, uncle, mom, and my mom’s cousin.
While out on the course we spotted the Sasquatches arriving to their designated spots on the course. My dad told the mini Sasquatch to scare me but I told mini Sasquatch that I could out sprint him on any given day. After a ten minute warm-up, we arrived back to the infield where I spotted Josh & Jess. I was a ball of energy at this point and just wanted to get the race started. I chauffeured Josh over to my car so he could drop off his race packet in my car & hastily rushed him so that he could get a warm-up in before the race started in less than 10 minutes. We ran through the in-field a little bit more – a short warm-up would have to suffice for him. Josh told me he felt nauseous and had no intention of racing hard (more details on that later).
We got to the starting line and ushered a bunch of Sneakers & Spokes runners together for a team picture. We chit-chatted amongst ourselves, tested out the brightness of our headlamps, and waited for the race directors to announce any last minute instructions. We were told that the reflectors on the trees would guide us through the course and that they should always be on our right – this proved to be extremely helpful knowledge throughout the race.
Before I knew it, they were saying “ready, set, go” through the megaphone and the field of runners surged off. I remember feeling like there were a lot of people surrounding me that I knew all had to funnel into the trail ahead of us. All I could do was keep sprinting across the field, hoping that some of them might just be energetic youths eager to start in a full out sprint.
With our headlamps on, we reached the trail entrance and I knew I was near the front of the race. There was a pack of 6-8 racers ahead of me running three-aside on the trail. In front of me was a lone runner whom I quickly passed through a sandy section. The pack of runners ahead of me kept getting further & further away as I could see the light of their headlamps fading off in front of me. I was running solo with nobody within sight ahead of me and no lights shining from behind me.
Alone, I focused on the reflectors to navigate the way. I came upon the Sasquatch banging against a tin roof trying to scare us runners but I just chuckled as I passed by. “One reflector at a time”, I told myself. I came across someone’s headlamp on the ground and thought that whomever lost that better hope they can keep up with someone who still has a light! Before I could figure out where I was, the course exited the woods back into the field. I surged ahead knowing exactly where I needed to go next (home course advantage at it’s finest). The field was pitch dark and there were just a few spectators out huddling near a small bonfire.
After a steady, low-grade incline on the singletrack, I saw headlamps shining at me. Am I going the wrong way? How did I mess up the course already?! Turns out, the course comes very close to intersecting paths but I took a left in my direction and they turned left in their direction. Crisis everted!
I continued to power ahead and soon saw a runner up ahead of me. They were definitely within my reach so I made sure to surge up to them during the non-technical section of the course. By the time we reached the next hill, I knew that if I could just power through the hill that I could gap them. He didn’t let me get too far away though. We reached the only road section of the course – a quarter mile of road until we dip back into the woods toward the finish. The man got around me on the road but I knew that my strengths on the trail would prove worthy when we got back onto singletrack.
I made a power-move on the final turn into singletrack, nearly running myself into a tree. I sprinted confidently ahead and saw two small silhouettes ahead of me. Let me try to catch up to them. So I kept my foot on the gas trying to catch up to the them. I knew I was running out of course to catch them but I kept trying.
We exited the woods for the final time into the field and I strided as fast as I could toward the finish line. I didn’t want the man behind me to catch me in a final sprint. Race volunteers shined their flashlight towards my bib number so that they could record the finishers. I stopped by watch at 23:33.
My dad and Josh walked up to me while I was still in the finishing chute. “Did you win?”, one of them asked. I said, “I think so!”. They yelled out in excitement. I ripped off the bottom of my bib number for the race volunteer & walked over to my dad & Josh. That’s when they informed that Josh won the race! HE WON! I yelled in excitement so loud and gave him the biggest hug. I couldn’t contain my excitement that we both won!
We walked back along the finishing stretch to wait for our friends & family. I was coughing uncontrollably because my lungs hurt so bad. I was still so so so excited that Josh won! WOW! We cheered on everyone we knew. This proved to be a difficult task during a nighttime race. It’s impossible to see people running towards the finish line when it’s dark!
Once everyone finished and we shared our excitement for such a fun and great race, I changed into warm (and dry) clothes, put on my winter jacket and set out on a cool-down run with my dad & Josh. We talked about our races and shared our excitement for such a cool race on our local trails. We headed back to the lodge for food, water, and the awards ceremony. It was so cozy in the lodge which made me happy!
Team Sneakers & Spokes came home with 8 individual awards, a new 5k PR, and a racer’s 2nd ever 5k. It was a fun & enjoyable night and being surrounded by awesome friends & family made the night extra special!
After the awards, I drove to Josh’s. I reflected on the race and my excitement for Josh’s win. When we got back to Josh’s it was probably almost 10:30 PM. We were both hungry so we impulsively decided to make pasta. I ate icecream sandwich cake in the interim because I was so hungry. By the time we ate pasta and showered, it was nearly midnight. What a late night.
Reflecting back, I am more than satisfied with how my race went. I raced hard, I ran confidently, I didn’t back down from the hills or other competitors. This race boosted my trail confidence in regards to running fast on trails. I know I can cover upwards to 31 miles on
trails mountainous trails, but running fast on trails has never been my strong point. Although I coughed for an entire day after the race, I would run this race again next year. The race benefitted Ranch Hope and the leaders & volunteers of Ranch Hope are amazing individuals.
I don’t plan on running more 5ks – I think I’ll stick to one 5k per year & one 4 miler per year. I prefer all other races to be 10k or more and trail races. I just find trails to be my strength and I love the trail running scene/community more than anything.
I am proud of Josh for racing so strong despite having a rough Saturday leading up to the race. I am proud of his confidence on the trails and his innate competitiveness that apparently just took over one mile into the race. I am lucky to have him to stand next to as 1st place male and female of the race.
Thanks to Camp Edge and Ranch Hope for hosting a great trail race. And much appreciation to the Sasquatches who didn’t scare me in the woods mid-race!