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IlluminationsHalfWell, I thought it might have been tough to take down a Gladiator Rock ‘n Run and the Enchanted Rock 25k in the same weekend, but I survived…so in my never ending quest to try and break myself off, I decided it might be a good idea to try a night time half marathon, followed by an early morning extreme duathlon…

…just a little *spoiler* ….that crack above about ‘breaking myself off’… well, let’s just say, I ALMOST succeeded…

The temperature has been dropping here in Texas, and the weekend of this race has seen those dropping temps dip BELOW freezing. I know, if you’re reading this from anywhere north of, well, north of HERE (San Antonio) I sound like a wimp… but to Texans, especially south Texans… this is VERY cold… I can run in 105+ without issue… but if it starts to get too cold… I am done for…

…but enough weather whining… on with the review…

This was a great race, and I managed to set a new PR despite frozen muscles in the final miles…but I am getting ahead of myself…

My second biggest complaint about this race is that there was not an early packet pick-up…it seems like a small deal, and it really is kind of a non-issue, but I really don’t do well with crowds-especially indoors, and I don’t like to feel rushed about anything on race day. Packet pick-up was held on race day, at the race venue, for several hours before the race (1200-1600 packet p/u, and a 1730 race time)

I went to packet pick-up early, arriving around 1230, and it was a simple matter of parking in the off site parking as instructed by the website, then taking a shuttle. I collected my packet, and then returned to the parking area on the shuttle before driving home. I had to fight a little traffic on 281, but all in all it went smoothly and without drama…just the way I like my packet pick-ups to go. As I chatted with nearby racers, and I discovered that many of them had been headed towards Dallas that weekend for the Dallas Marathon, but it had been cancelled because of freezing temperatures…with all that training completed, many people were looking for a new event to run. Thankfully, many seemed to have found the Illuminations Half.

Upon arriving home, I spent the next hour or so trying to figure out what I needed to wear to survive this mad running foray into the darkness. Finally I settled on VFF’s with ultra-light Injinji socks, running tights, my ER25K shirt, my new Bright Orange Brooks running sleeves, gloves, a sweatshirt and two Recon wraps-one on my head,  and the other on my face. The end result; I became the world’s most highly visible running ninja:

I kissed Mrs MuddyJ goodbye for the day, and I left my house a bit early with plenty of time to arrive back at the venue for the race… and then I hit a wall of traffic… I diverted to some back roads, which allowed me to arrive in time to park and catch the shuttle in time, but it was a little tight and caused me some very unwanted pre-race stress…the parking area was  more densely packed than I experienced earlier, and I wound up parking far away and then running about a 1/4 mile from the very back to catch up to a shuttle before it left.

The resort staff was helpful in directing all the runners to areas they needed to be in, and I stripped off my baggy sweatpants and donned my Redemption Race Productions drawstring backpack (swag from the ER25K) as an afterthought…I am glad I did this, because it allowed me to cycle through layers and keep them ‘mostly’ dry during the race.

Bag drop was a simple affair, and I set about locating the starting line….

The crowd was HUGE….

I was immediately taken aback by how many runners there were in attendance. I have been running in relatively small and restricted events all this year, and it had been a long time since I had run a race in a pack this large…

…honestly, it made me very nervous…

I shyly meandered to the rear of the pack. I am always more comfortable struggling to pass people than I am getting run over…and I always underestimate my own abilities…

Brian, from Redemption Racing, took the mic, delivered some last minute pre-race instructions, which I couldn’t hear well over the din of the crowd and the hammering of my own heartbeat which was brought on by the anxiety of being in such a large crowd. I am pretty sure I got the idea though: stay on course, be safe, don’t run on the golf course, don’t litter… that sort of thing…a few more moments went by, and then the crowd began to ebb forward slowly toward and over the starting line-the race had BEGUN! (maybe a louder PA system next year?)

I could beat this sentence to death: I am NOT used to running in the cold…because of this I decided to gauge my effort level on my heart rate instead of my pace…

Since I have been adhering to my Ketogenic diet, it has been my experience that I have been able to sustain my effort levels at higher rates for longer periods, so that was around 176 bpm, which wound up being close to an 8:30 min/mile pace…way faster than I am used to running for this distance, but it felt good, and I was being honest with myself…

…so with a keen and wary eye checking on my MotoACTV display frequently ,I settled into a pace that was a full minute+ faster then I am used to running endurance distances.

I warmed up considerably over the first mile, and as soon as I felt beads of sweat forming on my back, I doffed my hooded sweatshirt and my gloves, stuffing them into my drawstring pack as I ran. The course started on the resort’s roads, out a mile or so and then doubling back past the starting chute:

This double back on wide roads with some grade gave the pack time to thin out before turning onto a short access road which emptied us onto the golf course…

…and here the beauty, and challenge of this race began apparent…

For the remainder of the race we ran along the golf course paths. These had lights in paper bags placed along the sides. The sun was setting rapidly, and the fading twilight allowed the light cast by these to illuminate the path well.

I don’t know if you’re aware of this, but for some reason, golf course paths resemble motocross tracks more than they resemble surface roads. The next 11+ miles were never, ever flat… I was either pitter-pat running uphill with a short stride and high cadence, or I was throwing caution and good sense to the very chilly wind by sprinting the downhill portions. The grades were nowhere near as severe as a motocross track, (and trust me, I have run on THOSE in the past: here and here) on a side note: The winding nature of the course allowed all the runners too look out on the whole pack as they wound through the course-this was especially pretty when you factor in that most runners were wearing or carrying some kind of light…’Illuminations’ was no doubt a very fitting name!

Though it seems like such a course would throw one off their pace, it did naught but to help me with mine. I quickly realized that, if I could sustain this pace, I would TOTALLY SHATTER my previous half-marathon personal best of 02:06:40…and I really felt I could sustain this pace!

Somewhere around the fifth mile, our sister race, the Saint Nick at Night 5k race, held by the same organizers at this location, began to filter onto the course alongside all of us running the half marathon. This is my biggest complaint about the race overall- it was difficult to deal with the traffic caused by the two races merging.

There is really no way I can say this without sounding a bit snobbish,but I noticed a serious breech of racing ettiqueitte – if you’re running a shorter race where there is a longer race happening simultaneously, get the hell out of the way. I respect you for getting out there and running a 5k-I am not being remotely sarcastic when I offer EVERYONE praise for getting out and running, no matter the distance—-be it long or short,runners are runners—- but if you’re walking during any race, or even just seem to be getting passed a lot, turn your music down or take one of your ear buds out so you can hear the runners coming up behind you yelling “ON.YOUR.LEFT.!!!!!!” and for god’s sake—get to the right…please respect me and the efforts I (and others like me) are putting forth!!!

…rant complete….

For the next two miles or so, we the ‘halfers’ ,had to battle past the ‘5k’ers’….and though I didn’t see it, I am sure that some of the faster 5k’ers had to battle past some of the halfers… the cart paths were just too small and too tight to accommodate the merging and traffic of the two races side by side.

Despite the frustration I felt in having to dodge 5k runners, I managed to stay on pace, only slowing at each aid station for water and continuing to fly down each descent and power up each ascent. I glanced at my watch frequently now to make certain I wasn’t overdoing myself, and I quickened my pace a bit, hoping the cool air would help me keep cool while allowing me to go faster.–I was overdoing it—

At mile 10.5, I was still on pace and feeling *mostly* fine when the path turned into a long steep climb across a windy, barren and mostly treeless expanse of the course.

Only cold running experience could have prepped me for the chain-of-unfortunate events that occurred next. (and I don’t have much of that) I  slowed a bit on the climb, which started me sweating, and my feet, warm and cozy inside my KSO’s and socks were,unable to dispel heat as usual… I pulled down my sleeves and picked up my pace in a desperate attempt to cool off without sweating more, but it was futile… the trickle of sweat became a light soaking, and the wind blowing across the fields sent ribbons of agony through my muscles as they rapidly super-cooled and then cramped horribly … (at least, I am pretty sure that’s what happened/hind-sight is always 20/20, but looking back it’s still a bit fuzzy..) I slowed to a walk for the final miles, confident I would finish, but my dream of shattering my PR diminished with each aching step… I fished out my cell phone and called Mrs MuddyJ as “THE WALL” hit me with the force of an out of control cargo train…we talk for a few and it helped to take my mind off of the pain in my calves and butt…

I donned my hoodie and my gloves and kept my arms tight to my core… I hung up with Mrs MuddyJ (she was putting the Things to sleep) and dialed Red’s number…

“How was the RACE?” she answered…

…to which I replied through my chattering teeth,” TALK. ME. OVER.THE.WALL…”

“Oh shit, you’re still running it? how much further? nevermind, don’t talk, just listen: YOU GOT THIS… YOU CAN DO IT!”

For the next few minutes, Red’s pep talking and my sweatshirt warmed me and renewed my purpose… I thanked her and told her I would call her after I crossed the finish line, and hung up.

I dug deep and found my final mile buried underneath a mountain of self-loathing… I had missed my chance to shatter my old record, but I could still beat it!!!!

…And that’s what I did, covering the final distance as fast as I could I crossed the finish line in 02:04:14, a full 2+ minutes faster than my previous PB! Still nothing to sneeze at!

I was handed a bottle of water and a beautiful finisher’s medal was draped around my neck as I passed through the finish line area….


….2+ minutes better then my 2 year old PR…

…on a tougher course, in freezing weather…

… I felt much better after that think had been thunk!

I looked around at the amazing display of the resort’s holiday lights, but my priorities were clear:

  1. get warm
  2. get dry clothes on
  3. get home

I still had another race in the morning, and that was morning was still scheduled to arrive early, in the morning, as most mornings do….As I made my way to collect my drop bag, Brian slapped me on the back in passing and asked me what I thought.

“COLD, but I set a new PR!”

“yeah, must be cold, you wore shoes!…hahahahaha—see you in the morning!”

…and then he was gone!

I grabbed a banana and tried some of the free runners food, (not very good) and headed down to the shuttle to get back to my waiting car. The temperature continued to drop, but this didn’t really trouble me as I had the presence of mind (ok, really a last minute impulse) to pack my super warm ski jacket…

I spotted a guy in far too little clothing walking around, and fearing he might be delirious, I asked him if he was ok…he said yes, but he was having trouble finding his car. I insisted that he get in mine to warm up, and then drove him around the parking area as we searched for his car…

after a few minutes of futile searching he turned to me and asked, “is there another parking area?”

I recalled passing a lot reserved for resort employees on the shuttle, so I offered to drive him over to it. When we got there, we found his car easily and in short order. He got into his car, and I waited to drive away until I saw vapors from the exhaust pipe telling me it had started without issue.

So, with my good deed done, I called Mrs MuddyJ and got on the road towards home:

2013-12-07 22.02.08As soon as I got home, I loaded Amelia’s rack onto the back of my SUV, and headed inside for a shower, a coffee, I repacked my race bag and laid down to try and catch a good night’s sleep….

…and all too soon, morning arrived and brought a new challenge, and EVEN colder temps:

NBCDu_logo………TO BE CONTINUED!!!!!!………..

Stay Muddy My Friends!Texas MuddyJ