The Moonlight Run in Lethbridge, Alberta, is the largest running event of the year. They offer a 6km and a 10km event-the 6 km had 1739 participants and the 10km had 526. The unique factor about the race is in its name—it starts at 8 pm at night and you run down in the river bottom with the light of the moon marking your path. This year would be my fourth time running the Moonlight Run, and I had set some high expectations for myself. Ultimately, I wanted to beat my previous Moonlight Run time from last year (47:27) but I also wanted to place well. While I wasn’t training specifically for a 10km, as I am now right in the middle of my Vancouver Marathon training, I had been getting in lots of speed work and was feeling strong. Only time would tell.
I was nervous and anxious all day. That’s part of the trouble with a night race—-you have all day to think about it and get worked up! I had my clothes picked out even the night before, and I was getting antsy by 6 pm. I even attempted a nap earlier, but I just laid in bed and played on my phone. My husband was also going to participate in the run (he said this was to show his support for my craziness) and I somehow managed to get him to leave the house around 7 pm. We live a whopping five minutes from the race start by car, so we got there real early (but at least had a great parking spot!). I wanted time to calm my nerves—I would find some of my running friends from marathon club and chat, and I would also find students and teachers from my school who were at the event. Our music department volunteers every year at Moonlight Run and the kids do a great job at the tasks they are given! I also needed to find the kids who had signed up to run, as while I was nervous and anxious, I knew they would be even more so!
I eventually did my warmup and got settled into the starting corral. It was self-seeded so I wormed my way up to the second row of people…right near the front. I knew I wanted to head out strong and by being at the front this would help out. Plus, your gun time would be used for placings, so I wanted to be near the starting mat.
After the national anthems, the horn went off, and the 10km had begun. The first 1/4 of a mile was a blur, as I just had my focus finding my pace and finding a space in the pack. I knew I was going out pretty fast, plus this first mile stretch was all downhill. Hopefully this wouldn’t come back to bite me.
As we headed down Wendy’s hill, the firefighter pipe and drum band was playing. This is an awesome thing to witness as you are running down into the dark river bottom! At the bottom of Wendy’s hill, after a loss of 203 feet in elevation (according to my Nike app) I hit mile one. I ran my first mile in 5:32….what the F$&K?!? Ok, granted, this was downhill….but this is the FASTEST I have EVER ran a mile in my entire damn life. My high school best in the 1600 m (mile run) was a 5:47. Yes, that was on a flat track….but still. Holy crap. I was screwed. At what point in this race would I fall apart?
The next mile heads out towards the bridge and to Tollestrup construction. As I headed out north before the turnaround, it was very easy to find your spacing in the pack. No one was next to me, you had room to move your elbows, and the darkness didn’t really take a toll, as there was lots of open space and the sky was clear. Mile 2 was hit partway down this path and I ran it in a still ridiculously fast 6:35. The fact I was able to keep up a faster than normal pace after barreling down a deep incline was a shocker to me. There had been a small elevation loss of 66 feet during this stretch, so negligible compared to the first mile. At the turnaround, it got to be a little tougher as now you aren’t running alone on the path. All the other runners in the 10km who are behind you are heading north as you head back south towards the bridge. Many have headlamps that are shining bright in your eyes, so you must look down at the ground. And some people aren’t aware of the runners already heading back so they take up 3 people across the path. I was sure my time would slow greatly at this point, expecting somewhere in the 7:30s. I managed to get to mile 3 in 7:01. I was nearly halfway done and already had a personal record breaking 5km time. I needed to keep it together.
Since mile 1 I had been placed as the 5th female. I knew this for sure as I counted the women ahead of me at the turnaround. During mile 4 I had wanted to gain some ground on runner 4. This proved to be tricky, as while I am knowledgable of this part of the course, it happens to get quite darker in this section. The tree coverage is greater, it is harder to see the sky, and the path has many “gentle” rolls in it. I made some ground on about three or four men, passing them while no one passed me, so that felt good. We were heading toward Whoop Up Drive basically blind, and I was trying to move as quick as I could without freaking out in the dark. By getting to Whoop Up there would be lights on the bridge to illuminate the sky above. I ran mile 4 in 7:16.
Mile 5 was when I knew I had to keep it together. While the hill would be my last battle, this would be where I could either keep it up, or lose it all. My body was feeling great, so I knew this would be a mental battle. I moved on to the next turn around, near the water treatment plant, where then the runners looped back on a gravel/paved road section. This is relatively well lit and would take us to Fort Whoop Up, and the path we needed to take back to the finish. My feet start to feel heavy as I am on this gravel/paved/stone road. I needed to keep it moving but was starting to get worried. I knew I was on pace to get a personal best, and I was scared to lose that. I was running with no one immediately in front of me or beside me…but then I heard a familiar trot behind me. It was my friend Glenn from run club. Glenn has a very distinctive cadence in his run, and Glenn, I mean this kindly, I think it is because you are so short that it is so obvious. I mean, I am short too so I am sure my plodding is distinctive. But I knew it was Glenn coming up behind me as we neared mile 5, and this gave me a huge push. Glenn is a seasoned runner, a veteran, who qualified and ran in the Boston Marathon last year. He works hard and trains hard. We mumbled a couple things to each other as we approached mile 5 (which I ran in 7:27). I knew I needed to “race” Glenn up this mother of a hill for the last mile in order to achieve my goal of a personal best.
Having someone who you know is faster than you at a 10km race run next to you is some motivation, let me tell you. This last hill is adjacent to the steady main road we headed down during mile 1. The 10km runners got to run up this wonky, almost-too-cruel bike path that has so many pitches and switch backs that if you saw it in daylight you would laugh. Every time we hit an incline, I powered my short-ass legs up, passing Glenn each time. I think I pissed him off each time, because then he would pass me when it would level out. This cat and mouse game went on for about three or four cycles as we climbed up this beast. Eventually, Glenn surpassed me once we got to the top and away from the steep inclines, and off he went. I powered all the way up and made it to mile 6, which was right next to Galt Gardens, in 8:36. Not too shabby for doing a 268 feet climb in elevation. The 10km runners were now side by side with 6km runners as we headed to the finish. I again got into a runners’ haze and didn’t pay attention to any faces around me. I rounded that last corner and finish in my personal record smashing time of 43:47.45…beating my Moonlight personal best by nearly 4 minutes 30 seconds, and beating my regular 10km best by 1 minute 50 seconds!
I had never been able to catch any of the women ahead of me. I closed in on number 4, but 1-3 were way too far ahead. While my time this year would have gotten me 1st for women in this same event last year, that was not the case. I placed 5th out of 292 women and 34th out of 526 overall participants in the Moonlight Run 10km 2015. And while I could have been upset about that, I was nothing but ecstatic. I was mainly in a state of shock when I finished, as I couldn’t believe how I ran that time. I then found out shortly thereafter I placed 1st out of 55 in the 30-34 female age category! An age category first place in this big of a race is a huge accomplishment for myself!
I found some of my runner friends after finishing and we were are able to congratulate each other on our accomplishments. I wasn’t the only one who hit a personal best, as Bob and Jeremy also achieved ones of their own. Of the 8 of us who are part of our Waterton to Glacier Relay Team (100 mile relay from Cardston, Alberta, to East Glacier, Montana) 7 of us were at the race that evening. Julia did not run but was an awesome volunteer yelling support as we reached the top of the hill. The other six of us ran the 10km and 5 of us placed in our age categories. Also placing in their age groupings were two of my students, who medaled in the 6km event! They placed 4th and 5th in the 16-19 female group!
Moonlight Run was everything I had hoped it would be and more. Will I run an epic personal best every year at Moonlight? Probably not. But will the race itself keep being as memorable of an evening? I definitely think so. Moonlight Run is a top-notch running event in my “new” hometown, and I look forward to it every year. This was the 28th running of the Moonlight Run and I can only hope that I am able to run in the next 28 Moonlight Runs!