Where to begin?! Certain races stick out in my mind for different reasons and this is one I think I will remember for a long time! It was completely out of my racing comfort zone (figuratively and literally) but I know it’s races like this that help you grow as a runner.
I should probably preface this report by stating that I do not have much (if any) experience with trail running or ultras. I’ve never run an ultra and don’t really don’t plan to any time soon. My only two trail race experiences were very different. Both were in much cooler weather and took place during daylight hours in Pennsylvania. (The D & L Trail Marathon and the Quiet Valley Rooster 5k)
The Full Moon race offers two distance options- the 25k and the 50k. With Chicago as my main goal this fall I knew the 25k would be a better race for me. In case you are wondering, a 25k is 15.53 miles long. The 50k is 31 miles and considered an Ultra. According the race website, the 25k course was over a half mile longer so I planned on running at least 16 miles. (Glad I did since race measured over 16.2 on my watch.) I really wasn’t too concerned about exact time or distance. I was planning on using this race as a good training run at a hard effort. I knew it would be hilly and HOT so I would need to make some adjustments. My coach gave me the best race advice ever- “Given the weather and course I think we should throw time out the window and just use this as a good solid steady state effort (whatever that produces on this course).” This was a great race plan to me and relieved a lot of the pressure I tend to put in myself before a race.
Saturday mornings are typically long run or race mornings so not doing either felt very strange! I tried to sleep in and then went to WalMart with my oldest to get her some last minute camp supplies (she was heading to camp the day after the 25k). Throughout the morning and afternoon I drank A LOT of water! I just kept a cup with me and hydrated every time I thought about it. As far as pre-race food, I had a banana in the morning and then made pancakes when we got back from WalMart. At 3:30 I had a two egg omelet with ground turkey, bell pepper, tomato, and cheese. About an hour before the race I had one more banana and drank a spark. I’m not used to timing food with a night race.
The Full Moon 25/50k is located in the Ouachita National Forrest in Perryville, AR. It was a little over an hour and a half drive from our house. John and I dropped off the kids with my in-laws and we were at the race by 6:30 which gave me plenty of time to get ready. We also wanted to watch the start of the 50k race at 7:00. (My race started at 8:00.)
At packet pickup I ran into Jamie, one of my running clients. I’ve been working with Jamie for over a year and it was so nice to finally meet her! Jamie won the 25k last year and is a very strong competitive runner.
Due to the weather I made a few quick wardrobe changes. I’ve never raced in just a sports bra and shorts but decided to make an exception due to the extreme heat. Right before the gun went off I threw my shirt to John. I’m so glad I did!!
I was not quite ready when the RD yelled go. It was a much more relaxed and laid back start than every other road race I’ve run. (Maybe this is how other trail or ultra races are?) My watch had powered off so I was trying to relocate satellites and adjust my handheld flash light for the first tenth of a mile. Once I had everything situated I was ready to get focused on the next 16 miles!
Right from the start I spotted a few runners I recognized from the Arkansas Grand Prix series. I was hoping to be able to pace with someone- at least on the way out if our paces seemed to match. One of these runners, Jeffrey seemed to know what he was doing (he ran the Full Moon 50k last year) so I thought I’d try to stay with him as long as possible. I knew I needed to be conservative on the way out since there was a lot of elevation gain in the first half.
First Half Splits: 7:18, 8:17, 8:23, 8:30, 8:18, 8:46, 8:17, 9:17 (biggest hill before the turn-around)
There was a little table with a water cooler around mile 4. Jeffrey had found an iPhone along the trail and turned it in to the volunteer there as we continued to run. Up until this point we didn’t need our lights. Just after mile 4 I decided I needed to turn on my Nathan’s handheld flashlight. I am not a huge fan of wearing a headlamp (especially in 90 degree weather) and carrying this running flashlight was perfect. Very lightweight and easy to hold while running.
The 8th mile is by far the hardest mile of the 25k. It is entirely uphill and our pace slowed down by about about a minute! During this mile the three guys ahead of us passed us on their way down. It was so good to make it to the top and know we were officially halfway through and the hardest part was over. Huge thanks to the Meroney’s and others who were volunteering there. I ate my gel, drank some water, and poured some ice cubes on my head and down my sports bra. For a few moments I forgot I was in the middle of a race! I have no idea how long I was at this aid station but when I saw Jeffrey turn around and start heading back down I started sprinting down after him!
Second Half Splits: 7:57 (includes 1 min water/ fuel stop) 8:12, 7:52, 8:09, 7:39, 7:29, 7:20, 7:27, last .20 at 6:57 avg.
The downhill on mile 9 was amazing and l felt great knowing the worst was over. I stayed with Jeffrey for another mile but we got separated going up a hill and I kept thinking he would catch back up. During miles 9-11 we passed the majority of 25k runners who were making their way to the turn-around point.
Around mile 12 was the final aid station. I kept going but drank a little from the water bottle I was still carrying with me. I also decided to have my final gel. I felt good but didn’t want to crash on the last 4 miles. By this point it was so dark and I couldn’t see any light behind me or in front of me. There were plenty of rocks along the trail and I really had to focus on my footing the entire time. I’ve never experienced anything like this. It was just me and my flashlight. I was so hot. I have no idea what my core temperature was but I felt like I was a ball of fire running down a mountain.
There were two times on the return trip that I thought I might be lost. The website stated that every .20 of a mile a glo stick would be along the course to light the way. So if you went more than that and never saw anything you needed to turn around and head back. Since I was completely on my own I depended on those glo sticks. I kept watching out for them. Twice I thought it had been a while and I was sure I had done something wrong. I started to get mad at myself for being so bad with directions and getting lost. I was sure I would have to turn around and I’d lose being the lead female. Fortunately, both times I saw a glo stick in the far off distance just in time. Keep going!!
With every passing mile on the way back I watched my overall pace improve. At the turn-around I was in the mid 8:20’s but by my the last mile I was at an 8:04 average. My personal goal was to run a sub 8 min pace and I probably could have done it if I would have pushed it a little more on the way out or not stopped as long at the turn-around aid station. But with it being my first time I am glad I went out a little conservative. This is not a course you want to take chances on. Plus, it’s always nice to finish strong and negative split.
Once my watch beeped at mile 16 I knew I had to be getting close to the finish. I finally made it to the final turn and it was time to run on down to the finish. There were people cheering and it was awesome! I had been alone for so many miles that it was nice to see and hear people again!
Huge thanks to John for his never-ending support. Obviously I was never able to see him out on the course but I knew he’d be there waiting for me at the finish and it was so good to see him!
Final Time- 2:10:46. (1st female/ 3rd OA). Official Results can be found here.
This race was very challenging but I would definitely do it again. Even with fighting the darkness, hills, and heat there is something unique about this race setting. I never really race at night or on trails so combining all of this made it new and exciting. I’d love to do it again next year and see what happens!
My advice to anyone considering running this race next year:
1. Get in some training in the heat! If you’re not used to it things will not go well!
2. Drink A LOT of water going into this race and be very hydrated.
3. You will want to carry at least one water bottle.
4. Wear a headlamp or carry a running handheld flashlight!
5. Go out slower and start conservative! The first half has a lot of uphill so run smart!
6. Have fun and enjoy the atmosphere! It’s a great great crowd and the post race midnight breakfast party is awesome!!