Moonlight Challenge (50km) Race Report

BOOYAH!! Ultrarunnergirl is legitimately an ULTRA-runner-girl once more!!!
Our golden shoe trophies!

Our Golden Shoe Trophies!

This past Saturday, after months of DNS / DNF races, I finally started (and finished!) my first post-foot surgery race. And my first race with Speedy. The two of us headed out to the Kent countryside to participate in the “Moonlight Challenge” 50km night race (on a loop course), organized by the Challenge Hub. When I signed up for the race, I pictured silently running through farmers’ fields under the soft glow of yellow moonlight, listening to nothing but the sound of my breath and the crunch of the grass underneath my feet.  As Speedy and I drove towards Kent on the day of the race, however, I was forced to face the facts that the only moon I would be seeing that night would be from another runner’s mid-race bathroom break in the bushes. The rain was pouring down with no end in sight. Why did I think this would be a good idea??
My reluctance to start the race was strengthened when we got to the start line and registered. Speedy and I arrived at 5pm, about an hour before the race started, so we had time to order some food at the pub aka race headquarters. There was an open, wood-burning fireplace and warm tea served with mint chocolates… Who would want to leave that kind of comfort for the muddy hell that awaited out in the fields??  My mind raced to think of exit strategies. In a classic move of pure klutziness, I had fallen walking up some stairs about a week before (there may have been wine involved) and had bashed the heck out of my knee. Surely I could use that as an excuse?
Alas, I knew that I would never be able to back out and actually, deep down, I had to admit I really  was craving the muddy madness. The rain and mud would take the pressure off and any miles I completed, at whatever speed I managed, would be a bonus. Yup, it was time to suck it up and go for it. Also, I saw how nervous and jumpy Speedy was getting before the race and it made me realize how important it was for him. Sure, it was a tiny race – not even a race, a “challenge” – but he hadn’t properly raced in quite a while either and it was something we had both been missing. Badly. I wanted to run the race for me, but I REALLY wanted to run the race for us. Running is how we met and yet we hadn’t had the chance to race together… Rain or no rain, we were going to give this a shot!
What follows is our separate perspectives on the race – the gear we used, the training we did, our nutrition, what we were thinking during the race – so that you can have both the male and female accounts of the full 50 km. With the risk of ruining the punch line, I can’t help but mention that Speedy and I ended up taking the 1st place male and female titles respectively!!! (Speedy would like to mention that 1st place male is 1st place overall…not that he is competitive….)
Summary of Race Gear:

Speedy Ultrarunnergirl
Shoes Adidas adiSTAR Raven Mizuno Wave Elixir
Hydration system GoLite (with 2L water bag and waist pockets) GoLIte (with 2L water bag, and no waist pockets)
Socks Bridgedale Merino Wool run sock Orca compression socks
Tights Orca Killa Kompression Full tight Orca Merino Full tight (men’s version… I stole them from Speedy)
Base layer Orca High Neck Merino Wool Baselayer Orca Merino Fusion Athletic L/S shirt
Outer layer Orca Velo Merino Full Zip Jacket Stolen Orca Merino half zip L/S shirt (again from Speedy)
Second layer Are you crazy? It wasn’t that cold! Fleece vest leftover from UTMB!

What was your mentality going into the race?

Speedy: It was my first race since October so I was getting pretty antsy about the whole thing. I knew it was going to be a shock to the system cause I hadn’t run the distance in a long time, so my focus was just to run within myself and not overdo the pace.

Ultrarunnergirl: I was actually trying not to think about it, which is abnormal for me. Given my past track record of having to drop out of races due to injury, I just didn’t allow myself to get too excited about it. I was definitely excited to race again, but I think I was mostly apprehensive. I just wanted to get at least a race start under my belt again, so I tried not to worry about how the race would go from there. As long as I started, it would be a step in the right direction.

How did you train for the race? What was your preparation?

Speedy: Shamefully most training was done in the gym, with maybe one/two runs per week outside in the month leading up to the race. Don’t follow my lead. Can I blame work?

Ultrarunnergirl: I tried to be smart about my training. My main goal was not to injure something, so I didn’t push myself too hard. Four weeks before the race I dragged Speedy out for a 30 km run and two weeks before I finished 36 km, but that was my limit. For me, proper training is crucial not only in terms of physical preparation, but also mental preparation. I like to be able to stand on the start line of a race thinking that I had done everything I needed to do in order to get ready. Honestly, I don’t know how Speedy does it. He barely trains and just rocks up at a race… and wins. Blindfolded. Hungover. With smoke in his lungs. Okay, it isn’t always that bad, but seriously, the guy is pretty much invincible. *said with an equal mixture of wistful admiration and annoying bewilderment*

What was your strategy going into the race? Did you have any particular tactics?

Speedy: Ha! I kept joking about having strategy, but really I had no idea how my body would respond. When the gun (err…fireworks) went off I decided to run up next to the leaders to test out the general pace. I was lucky to find my natural speed a bit faster than the group, so I started to pull away. From there the strategy was just to keep the feet moving, and make sure I went as hard as I could within my limits. [Note from ultrarunnergirl: Speedy is being humble here. His strategy before the race was to sit behind the leader for the first lap and then pull ahead. He was just too fast from the start, so he threw his strategy out the window after about 5 minutes.]

Ultrarunnergirl: Nope. Nada. While I make sure to set some race goals, I rarely have a ‘strategy’ in terms of the other runners. I know that everyone else will generally start off too fast and then slow down, so all I tell myself is to concentrate on my own run and if I feel like I’m too far behind, I simply remind myself that I’ll catch up on the later laps.

What was your pre-race and race nutrition like?

Speedy: I’m a massive advocate of pre-race over the top hydration. For the week prior to the race I filled myself to the brim with a really dilute combination of Nuun + water. The excessive number of bathroom breaks is a downside, but it really works. I also make sure to take regular calcium/Magnesium tablets as well as multivitamins. Flax seed is also a beauty when you remember to take it regularly. Food-wise I do everything you shouldn’t do. I even had a burger at the pub an hour before race start, it was a questionable decision and I’m not sure if it helped, but it was certainly tasty.

Ultrarunnergirl: I didn’t do anything in particular before the race, except up my rice intake (see my previous blog post on gluten-free diets). During the race, I drank Accelerade from my pack, but also stopped at the water stations starting from the second lap so that I wouldn’t have to refill my pack. I add a package of biscuits every time I finished a loop (courtesy of the race organizers), which was about once an hour, and ate potato chips every hour on the half hour to make sure I was getting enough salt intake. I also took a caffeine gel (Gu, chocolate flavour) at the start of the fifth hour to give myself an extra boost. Even though it was at night and cold, I was still sweating quite a bit, so I constantly reminded myself to keep hydrating and eating – especially the chips. I mean crisps. Wow, that could have caused some confusion amongst my british readers…

Best moment during the race?

Speedy: Probably a close tie between finishing in one piece, and crossing paths with Steph on the 3rdtime round the course. For a girl with dodgy toe, and seriously bruised knee I don’t think I’ve ever seen her happier!

Ultrarunnergirl: Seeing Chuck – I mean Speedy – on our third lap. I had been thinking about him the whole time and cheering him on mentally, but to see him so far ahead in the race was awesome. With that one salty, muddy, mid-race kiss, I was pretty re-energized to finish the next few laps! [was that over the top? aww]

Worst moment?

Speedy: I did give a driver the finger and tell him to $%&# himself on the home stretch of the last lap, so that was probably unnecessary (despite the boy racer speeding head on into a running race). [Note admonishment from ultrarunnergirl…tsk tsk]

Ultrarunnergirl: Truthfully, I’m not sure I had one! I had some spectacular wipe-outs during the race, but they were hilariously fun. I’m talking arms flailing over my head, a$$ up, mud down the pants falls.

What expectations did you have for yourself?

Speedy: I joked that my goal was to run my fastest lap on the last time round the circuit, but I’m fairly certain I failed miserably on that one. Other than that my goal was to maintain a pace within my limits and give myself some confidence to get off the lazy/erratic-training bandwagon and keep pushing forward to future races.

Ultrarunnergirl: Finish. Finish. Did I mention finish? And be happy for Speedy even if I didn’t finish. But ultimately, finish.

Did you have any expectations for the other person?

Speedy: I was really hoping that Steph would just get through with a smile on her face. With the drunken knee damage from the previous weekend the odds weren’t looking too great, so when I saw her buzzing along on the 3rd lap it was a special sight. She definitely exceeded any expectations, and I’m pretty sure she ran her last lap faster than I did (remind me never to run against her in a 100km race).

Ultrarunnergirl: Ah, I knew he’d finish in first place… it was hard not to boast about him too much before the start. Sometimes it is tough dating a real-life Rocky. (HAHAH, sorry Speedy, I had to throw that one in there.)

Did you hit a wall at any point?

Speedy: If you asked me what my ideal race was, I’d say 30km with massive climbs and long uber-technical descents. Given that this race was a dead flat and seriously muddy 50km, I wasn’t exactly in a comfort zone. In simple terms, I’d say:

1st Lap wasn’t so bad

2nd lap: oh look I’m getting a lead

3rd lap: do I deserve a little break yet

4th lap: holy crap my quads are feeling heavy

5th lap: seriously, I have another lap?? Damn, I swear I counted five?! Oh man this is gonna suck!

Ultrarunnergirl: I really just had a blast through the whole thing. I know that is annoying, but it was super fun. I finished my first lap in an hour, second in 1:02, third in 1:02, fourth in 1:06, and last lap in 1:05, so I was pretty evenly consistent. The last lap was the best because that was when most of the other runners were slowing down (including Speedy…wahahah) and I just kept trucking along. It feels good to get to that point 😀

What kept you going through the low moments of the race?

Speedy: The lowest moment was definitely the entire last lap. I’m ridiculously competitive, so the idea of losing my lead was probably the single biggest factor in keeping going. I also broke the course down into 4 clear “stages” (road, mud, road, mud/homestretch) and gave myself 20secs speed-walk rest at the end of each “stage”.

Ultrarunnergirl: Beyonce?

How did you find the night running aspect?

Speedy: On the first lap it was more like being at a roller disco than a night run cause I had the pace car right in front of me with a seizure inducing rotating light. I was mentally threatening quitting if the car was sticking around for the whole race, but fortunately (or unfortunately) he pulled off after the first lap.. Other than that night running is amazing because you can really get into your own little world. I’d say it’s harder to judge pace, but for me it’s definitely easier to stay focused, and not get caught up in what others are doing.

Ultrarunnergirl: I really like running in the dark. It is easier to concentrate on your own race and get into the zone. It also makes the races seem calmer to me for some reason. However, it can definitely slow you down because you have to be more careful about your footing.

How did you find the competition?

Speedy: There seemed to be a nice mix of experienced ultra runners and first-timers. It was a pretty chilled out atmosphere and most people seemed more focused on their own challenge than anything else (although I’d be lying if I said I didn’t do a little bit of pre-race scoping out of the competition).

Ultrarunnergirl: Everyone was super friendly and I really wasn’t meaning to compete, so I didn’t really think about it!

Would you do it again?

Speedy: I would definitely do another race organized by Challenge Hub, although you’ll have to ask me later about doing the figure 8 route again.. It was really well organized all the safety and logistical issues were perfectly thought out. I would definitely recommend anyone to take part. I know Mike and team are organizing a 3 day self-supported A to B Ultra in Kent later in the year, so I might look at joining in for that one. The best thing about the race is that it was relatively low key and had a good community feel to it. The only pressure at the race was what people decided to put on themselves. Like we always hear “It’s a challenge, not a race”.

Ultrarunnergirl: Definitely. Mike, the race organizer, really made the race a lot of fun.

Happily at the finish

Final comments:

Speedy: Apologies to the very nice lady in the pink jacket who was doing her first ultra marathon. I didn’t mean to spill my entire hydra-bag full of water on you right before the race started! If you finished the race as wet and messy as I did, I’m guessing you got over it pretty quickly, but apologies either way. My bad!

Ultrarunnergirl: Can’t wait for the next race with Speedy. Hopefully something longer than 50km so I can give him a run for his money 😀

Click here for the Run247 report.

-Ultrarunnergirl aka Stephanie Case

Categories: Race Reports

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13 Comments »

  1. Blo*dy Well Done both of you!
    I love the idea of eating a bag of chips on the hoof (“salt and vinegar luv?”)… Good to see you notch up not only a finish but also a win – rainbow knee notwithstanding!
    Hope the foot is ok.
    Congratulations, and looking forward to the next one!

    • Thanks for the support!! Rainbow knee is finally gone, but after my last race it has been replaced by a rainbow thigh -ha! I recommend sea salt and pepper crisps 😉 Happy trails…

    • Thanks James!! I’ve been missing you guys at the Bowskill Clinic. Will have to drag myself back down to London for some IMS treatment soon! Say hi to the gang for me.

    • Oh stop… 😉 Hopefully I can ultrarun my way towards Hong Kong in the near future! Maaaan, do I have some injuries you can work on. I hear you are a miracle worker. Shameless plug? http://cosman.hk/

  2. “Running is how we met.” Hmmm, I wonder who set that up?

    Great job Cowboy and Bunny…opps…I mean Speedy and UltraRunnerGirl. Hahaha.

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