Race Recap: PCTR Night Sweats 15K

Last month, I ran the Pacific Coast Trail Runs “Night Sweats” 15K. It was my first ever night trail run and I was both excited and scared. The idea of running on trails at night has always intrigued me, but I’ve been too scared to go it alone. So, when Mike told me about the race, I thought – “Perfect! A supported night run with a load of other people!” Later, I found out that we’d be starting over 13 hours after PCTR’s main events that day – the Headlands 100, and the 50- and 75-milers. We’d act as a support crew of sorts for the ultrarunners, there to inject some fresh energy onto the trails – or just some warm bodies, at the very least. (There was also a marathon earlier, but those runners were done by the time we started at 8:20 p.m.) In addition to the 15K (~9.6 miles), there was also a marathon. I thought the 15K was a perfect distance: long enough to get into a rhythm and to really experience night trail running, but not so long that I questioned my sanity. Plus, at 3 weeks post-Santa Rosa Marathon, my body was still in recovery mode. I had done hardly any running, let alone trail running, since Big Basin 7 weeks prior.

I spent the day of the race wondering what to eat and how much to eat. It was very confusing. I’ve never done an evening race, unless you count Ragnar Napa — which I think counts as its own special category. I think I ended up eating a couple of light meals and then having a PB&J with tea at 4:30 p.m. I brought a Picky Bar with me to eat on the ride up to Marin, but I wasn’t all that hungry during the drive. Then, suddenly, about an hour before the race, I was starving, and was grateful for the Picky Bar.

I was lucky to have a partner-in-crime to keep me company: KH, who just happened to be back in the Bay Area visiting family. She was very excited about the race and her energy levels lifted me out of my end-of-the-day doldrums.

Ready to race!

Ready to race!

We watched the marathon runners start and cheered them on as a stream of headlamps passed by. Then it was our turn to line up. It was a decent sized turnout of over 150 runners for the 15K. Neither KH nor I planned to “race” it; we wanted to just go for the experience and hopefully not get lost along the way. I had run a lot of this course previously and knew it was no joke. There were several big climbs, which I planned on hiking instead of running.

And the night marathoner are off!

And the night marathoners are off!

Within 5 minutes of starting the race, we embarked on the first of these climbs out of Rodeo Valley. It was really cool to see the headlamps bobbing up the switchbacks toward the peak. It wasn’t long before I started huffing and puffing, while KH, coming from high altitude living in Wyoming, had no trouble whatsoever. Jerk. πŸ˜‰

Parade of headlamps

Parade of headlamps

The climb was followed by a steep, somewhat treacherous descent, but fortunately, the rest of course was fairly runnable, on non-technical, wide trails. One of my biggest fears was tripping and hurting myself — which I’m happy to report, never happened. It’s hard to remember specifics, since I’m writing this recap almost a month after the race, and also because everything happened in the dark. I only recall certain points in the course because of previous outings in the Headlands, such as the one and only aid station at mile 4 at Tennessee Valley and the long climb up Marincello. I also remember freaking out a couple of times when the crowd had thinned and I thought we had lost the trail. “When was the last time we saw a ribbon or glow stick?” I’d ask in a panic. But then we’d run 10 seconds down the trail and see a glowstick in the distance and breathe a sigh of relief.

The steady downhill on the back side of the loop was fun as we passed a lot of runners. KH said several times, “See that person? Let’s pass him/her!” I could learn a thing or two from KH about competitiveness! The segment on the road was longer than I expected; the thing about the darkness is that it shields you from spatial information, which can be both good and bad. To add to my impatience, I had needed to pee for the last 2 miles of the race. It would’ve been easy enough to pull off into the bushes (it was dark out, after all), but I kept thinking that we were almost there. After what seemed like an eternity, we finally saw the finish area, and after checking for traffic, we crossed the road, then ran the last 30 yards to cross the finish line.

Because this was part of an ultra event, the buffet at the finish area was impressive: soup, burgers fresh off the grill, beer, soda, chips, fruit, etc. We were handed cheapie medals (mine fell apart almost instantly), then we grabbed some snacks and drinks before driving home. It was late but I was wired and also starving, so I stopped by Taco Bell for some chicken soft tacos — something I never usually do, except in desperate situations. All in all, it was a really fun event and I’d be happy to do it again!

Official stats:
2:17:33 (14:20/mile)
14/29 AG; 47/87 F; 101/152 overall

About the race:

  • Organizers: Pacific Coast Trail Runs
  • Location: Marin Headlands
  • Cost: $55 (minus $5 if you skip the t-shirt). $45 for early bird registration.
  • Course: Mostly runnable trails, with a few technical sections (stairs, ramps, rocks). KH’s Strava logged 9.8 miles and ~1900′ climbing.
  • Parking: We were able to park at the main lot by the finish area. No fee.
  • Aid stations: One at ~mile 4. Lots of food and drink, as to be expected at a trail race supporting ultra runners.
  • Bathrooms: Flush toilets at the start/finish. 2-3 porta potties at the Tennessee Valley aid station.
  • Swag: Technical tee, which I skipped to save $5 on registration. It looked nice from what I could see. All finishers received a medal and a glow-in-the-dark water bottle.
  • Post-race food and drinks: Huge buffet – soup, burgers, chips, fruit, cookies, along with beer, soda, and water.
  • Advice for anyone considering this race: As advised by the organizers, bring 2 light sources. I had a headlamp and a small flashlight. Once we got into the fog, my headlamp was blinding me, so I switched to the flashlight. Plus, I could sweep the light back and forth across the path to ensure I didn’t trip over any obstacles.
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Howdy! My name is Jen and I live in the San Francisco Bay Area. I like to eat, run, and blog, but not usually at the same time.

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Posted in Race Recap
4 comments on “Race Recap: PCTR Night Sweats 15K
  1. BT says:

    Thanks for the detailed report. It looked like a fun event and something I’d consider if I had a friend to join me.

  2. Mike says:

    Glad I didn’t steer you wrong! I’d love to run this race – as if running in the Marin Headlands during the day isn’t peaceful enough. Though that initial hike up from Rodeo Beach is no joke, so maybe it’s best that you couldn’t see where you were going?

    Aside from relays as you said, I’ve only run a couple of nighttime races so far, without the best of luck. In the first one, my contact popped out because my never-blinking eyes were glued to the dimly lit ground five feet ahead of me at all times. And my most recent one in Nevada ended with an ankle the size of a grapefruit (though I finished!). But running at night is always a strangely surreal experience, and I’ll definitely be doing it again.

    Glad to see Kira’s timing was perfect to join you – good to see her smiling face, life’s apparently treating her well up in God’s country!

    • Jen says:

      Thanks for the referral! Actually, it *was* better that we couldn’t see where we were going, especially on the ascents. I remember running that first major climb out of Rodeo Beach a few years ago and I thought it would never end! However, the downside is not being able to anticipate runnable sections as well…

      You sound like you’re due for a GOOD night running adventure soon!

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