I have always loved running at night. Especially in smaller races where you spend time totally alone in the dark, often miles from anywhere. You feel like you are the only person for hundreds of miles. (Then you see a headlamp off in the woods or coming up behind.) Even in large races like the Cruel Jewel, by the second night runners are spread out over 50 miles of the course so there are still times when no one is around.
For most ultrarunners, myself included, your pace at night slows considerably compared to my daylight pace. My first 100 was the Pinhoti 100 in 2008, the first year of the race. It was also my first "real" experience with night running. I had done a few early morning training runs at Oak Mountain State Park here in Birmingham, starting before daylight. I also did a night run at the park starting in the late afternoon so I could experience running "Into the Night." That would make a good book title! I didn't know it was against the rules to use the trails at Alabama State Parks at night, even with a backcountry pass. The park rangers were not happy with me!!
During that first 100, the Pinhoti, I was amazed, and a bit concerned, that my pace at night was so much slower than my day pace. I actually think part of it was being so tired by dark that I walking lots of miles I should of been running. Back then, I only used a headlamp. My second 100 was the Leadville Trail 100. I decided to carry a small Fenix LED flashlight. I used it all night and realized immediately the shortcomings of a headlamp alone. With the flashlight, objects on the ground had "definition." I could see shadows from rocks and roots. You could tell if that rock was 1/2 inch above the ground or 4 inches. Night running immediately became a little easier. However, sometime after leaving Twin Lakes, inbound, at mile 62, I lost my flashlight. This was the first year Half Moon Aid Station had to be moved to what is now Half Pipe at mile 71. However, the actual aid station was located where the "crew aid area" is now located at about mile 73. There was no Mt Elbert Mini AS back then. Running down the gravel road near Half Pipe, I almost fell twice. I stepped in potholes in the road that were totally invisible without my flashlight. I had called Marye Jo earlier and asked her to bring a backup flashlight to the aid station. With the flashlight I could see again! Below is the type of Fenix light I always carry but mine are a lot older. 200 Lumins max!
Ever since, I have always started every 100s (or any other race I might need light before the finish) with a small flashlight in my pack. As a safety precaution I also start with an extra set of batteries. But there has always been a problem with handheld lights. I like to run with trekking poles in any hilly race or run. You can't use trekking poles and carry a flashlight. Well, at least I can't. That also means I can't use hand held water bottles. That one was easy to solve. I always purchase hydration vests with front pockets of bottles. But the light issue has always been a problem. Several years ago I tried wearing a regular headlamp on my waste. Trouble was, the light bounced up and down as I ran. I tried moving it up higher but it kept slipping down. Tightening helped a little but that was very uncomfortable. Last year for the Pinhoti I tried making my own waist belt light. Someone had left a cheap "Walmart type" headlamp at a race. I attached a stiff cardboard backing using silver duct tap. It looked strange but but worked great! for about 2 hours. The headlamp only had one setting, Full Power, about 300 lumens. For that 2 hours I was able to maintain the same pace at night as I had all day. I had never been able to do that before. Then the batteries died. I changed them and got almost two more hours. I ditched the light because I didn't have enough batteries to keep it going and went back to my flashlight.
I also tried a new headlamp for Pinhoti. It was a rechargeable light. I had a small battery pack I attached to my hydration pack and the headlamp would probably have made it all night If I had. I didn't! But after that I started looking at rechargeable light but nothing looked very impressive. Then came the 2019 Blood Rock 100 & 50 Mile Endurance Trail Race. The race has a 44 hour cutoff for the 100 and 22 hours for the 50. It's tough! The 100 has over 25,000 ft of gain on brutally difficult trails. The 50 is half that.
While monitoring the time system I realized a 747 must have mistaken our "landing lights" leading to the finish arch for a runway. This amazing light was coming through the woods right at the finish arch. It turns out to be a runner wearing a string of 5 brilliant lights. She was wearing "KogallaRA Adventure Lights." I started researching these lights and they sound amazing. I ordered the 800 Lumen RA Single Pack with BatPak-3.
Here is the description:
The Single Pack 3 comes with everything you need to attach RA to your gear so you can light up the night hands-free.
RA Adventure Light - 800 lumens lights a wide area and lets you see all the technical parts of the trail. Makes running and hiking at night much easier and safer.
It's going to take a little work to figure out the best way to mount the light. I am going try it out Feb 1st in Texas!
I'll let you know how it worked.
Here are a few photos I borrowed from the Kogalla website
The 2019 Cruel Jewel 100 (actually 106 miles) went of about smoothly as running any 100 every could. I never considered quitting, didn't get caught in any severe overnight thunderstorms on mountain ridges, didn't have trouble making myself leaving aid stations, managed to stay hydrated using "Base Salt" and an occasional Gatorade. I stayed fueled by eating, as usual, a little of everything in sight! Not really but at every aid station I ate a 1/4 or 1/2 sandwich, orange, occasional banana, candy, quesadilla and even GU's. (Not too many of those.) I Even purchased a 1/2 barbecue sandwich from a little cafe right across the road from the old iron bridge over the Toccoa Bridge near Blue Ridge, GA. They had a little stand set up outside the restaurant, right on the course selling food to runners in CJ and Mtn Bike riders involved in some type of race. Oh, I did do something totally new this year. I carried several of the Starbucks Instant Coffee sticks with me. Since all aid stations have hot water at night, I was never without coffee.
In fact, there is really nothing to write about. I finished in 44 hours and 15 minutes, 40 minutes faster than last year and felt great. (That's great by 100 mile run standards!) I actually ran much of the last 6 miles "as long as it was flat or downhill." I didn't even have any hallucinations like I did last year. Well, I one little issue that's kind of funny. I went into the Fire Pit Aid Station at Mile 98 and saw a friend, Peter S. (I haven't asked if I can use his name) and had a short conversation about his race. He was wearing the 100 mile finisher buckle. He told me finished in 33 hours which is a very fast time for CJ100. The race cutoff is 48 Hours. I was amazed he had offered to go up to Fire Pit and help after finishing. I grabbed a sandwich and a cup of coke and sat down for a minute. I got back up to grab a few things to take on the final 8 miles and walked over to thank Peter for helping. Peter wasn't there! I have no idea who the guy I had been talking to was. He really didn't even look like Peter. Now, it was about 4:30 AM Saturday Night (The race started Friday at Noon. This is the second night without sleep.) and the lights were not very bright. (Excuse!)
I though it might be fun to create a photographic illustration of the race. It's almost impossible to express in words what runners go through during a 100. Cruel Jewel is one of the hardest 100 in the US with over 33,000 feet of elevation gain. It's like climbing straight up for 6.25 miles. Sometimes faces show reality better than words.
A good friend, excellent photographer and fellow Ultrarunner, Gordon Harvey took over 1000 photos of runners at the race. I selected some to post below. They begin before the start at Vogel State Park and go all the way to the finish with those finishing between about 44 to 46 hours back at Vogel. They follow the run through the crew accessible aid stations and the turnaround at Camp Morganton and back to the end. Remember, the faces tell the story. Most of the photos I selected were of those runners moving at perhaps one or two faster or slower than a 44 hour pace.
Waiting for the Start. Everyone had too much nervous energy but you know you need to sit.
The Start - It's finally 12 Noon and we are off!
Skeenah Gap Aid Station, Mile 21 - Everyone is looking strong.
Wilscot Gap Aid Station - Mile 26. The run from Skeenah to Wilscot is one of the toughest 5 miles you will find in any race. The entire section is on the "Dragon's Spine." (Big difference in the faces from Skeenah, above to Wilscot, below.)
Camp Morganton - The Turnaround at 50 Miles. It feels like the halfway point but you know it's not. Everyone is a little battered after the first night of the CJ 106.
Stanley Gap Aid Station - Mile 69. The next 5.4 miles is the easiest in the race.
Wilscot Gap - Mile 81. This is where it get serious. Those of us in these photos had been on the trail for 31 hours (except pacers and 50 milers.) It's almost dark and we are headed up to the "Spine of the Dragon," AGAIN! Everyone is very tired, except pacers and 50 milers! (Did I already mention that?)
Runners finishing in 44 up to about 46 Hours.
How to Recover from the Cruel Jewel 100. A 15 Step Program:
1) Sit down in a chair immediately after finishing and drink a Sprite, I think. That way you don't fall on your face.
2) After 20 Minutes get up (that takes 5 minutes) and go in the meeting room and eat bacon and eggs and drink a little coffee. They were making pancakes but somehow I never got one.
3) Head to your lodging - Take "Catnaps" along the way!
Catnap 1 - Vogle State Park to Blairsville courthouse, 10 miles
Catnap 2 - Blairsville Courthouse to gas station, 1 mile
Catnap 3 - While Marye Jo filled the tank.
4) Interrupt Catnaps - Drive 200 ft across street to McDonald's for Large Chocolate Shake. Drink Shake in the next two miles headed to lodging.
Catnap 4 - 15 Miles - From where I Finished the shake to Blue Ridge grocery store.
Catnap 5 - While Marye Jo entered store to get salad for lunch.
Catnap 6 - 8 Miles to English Manor B & B.
5) Go directly to room and "BRUSH TEETH!!!" I may take a tooth brush next 100.
6) Take a shower.
7) Lay down on bed and pass out.
8) Wake up and get out of bed - Marye Jo said I slept 3 hours. I think it was 3 minutes!
9) Go to Riverside Restaurant on the Toccoa River and eat a huge plate of Fried Shrimp and French Fries followed by a large slice of Pecan Pie covered in caramel/bourbon sauce. (That's the restaurant at the lower end of "Stanley Gap Road." It's on the race course Just down the road from the old iron bridge over the Toccoa.)
10) Go back to room and have a glass of wine on the deck.
11) Go to bed before totally dark and sleep 10 hours.
12) Eat Breakfast at B&B.
13) Drive 2 hours to Chattanooga and go to Bluff View Arts District.
14) Eat what is possibly the worlds best Lasagna at Tony's Pasta Shop & Trattoria.
15) Go across the street to Rembrandt's Coffee House and have a Chocolate Eclair or slice of Chocolate Decadence pie with a large Latte. Actually any of the deserts in Rembrandt's will do.
I am now fully recovered and ready to run another 100 this weekend.
Forget that. Hopefully I will, at least, be ready for the Memorial Day Trail Race this weekend!
The Riverside Restaurant in Blue Ridge. (Actually about 8 miles out of town. Well worth the drive, even after CJ.)
The Crewel Jewel 100
Maybe a better name would be The Hallucinatory 106 (The race isn’t 100 miles at all. It is 105.9 miles.)
Part of running 100 mile races are the strange things runners see at night especially in the early hours of the overnight section, or in the case of the Crewel Jewel 100, “overnight sections” since it took me over 44 hours to finish the race. The hallucinations or illusions are usually caused by a combination of running through miles of “pitch dark” woods, hills and mountains, using a headlamp which reduces your world to a small oval of light directly in front of you. The trails are lined with huge trees both standing and fallen, long stretches of rhododendron tunnels, bushes, vines, ferns, roots and of course rocks. Small rocks, car size rocks, house size rocks and mountain size rocks. Just to make things more interesting Saturday night as I followed the Duncan Ridge Trail over the “Dragons Spine,” a series of ridges and peaks ranging from 200ft to about 500ft in height, we were running through cold fog and blowing mist.
I kept seeing small building or shelters off the sides of the trails. I also saw some large gray structures like columns. I saw a clothes line, several iron gates and a couple of rail fences. Of course, when I looked, there was nothing there. Just illusions. Fireflies off in the dark to the sides of trails appear to be a flickering campfire off though the woods. When you turn to look, again, there is nothing there. Then, I saw were three jack-o-lanterns hanging from a tree perhaps 100 yards ahead. Each appeared to have a candle burning inside illuminating the entire pumpkin. After running along the ridge for perhaps 1/2 mile, the jack-o-lanterns were still 100 yards ahead. Obviously they were houses or large street lights somewhere miles away at the bottom of the mountain. About this same time I saw several large buildings on the next ridge about a mile to my left. There are no buildings on top of the mountain in the Chattahoochee National Forest. I was seeing some structure miles away in some town, or perhaps it was a town far off in the distance.
Two of the illusions I saw were real. First are the “strobing eye spiders” that are always along the trails at night. Apparently the spider’s eyes react to the oscillation of LED lights used in the headlamps causing the strobe effect. I am always fascinated by the thousands of these little spiders along the trails. The other “real” illusion was along a section of Stanley Creek Road. I ran up the road a little after midnight Friday night and passed what appeared to be a lake (I think it was actually a large field) off to the left. Huge trees surrounded the field and the trees were full of the brightest fireflies I have ever seen. I turned my headlamp off and walked in the almost total darkness watching the brilliant flashes. I had to turn my light on for an instant every 30 or so seconds to check my course. I could see nothing. Each time I turned my headlamp off I saw lightning. It kept getting close, then thunder, then the storm hit. I wish that had been an illusion!! So much for enjoying the fireflies.
Normally, I only see such weird things at night during 100s. Not at Crewel Jewel. After 42+ hours of running (well, more hiking than running) and about 32,500ft of the 33K total gain I stared up the final climb to Vogel State Park and the finish. I know there was a gate were the climb ended and we crossed a road to enter the park. This final 3.5 miles was strange. The trail up the final climb traversed up a scalloped section of the mountain. That is, there were a series of large concave washes out of the side of the mountain, most about 1/4 mile across. Every time I rounded the crest of the ridge, I found another scallop. Each time I enter the next scallop I could see the gate at the far end of the scallop. Sometimes I could see people at gate. I remember thinking, “That’s the top. I’m almost back.” But as I got closer there was no gate or people. The trail just continued up and around the next scallop. There always appeared to be gates at the far end of the scallops. The gates were tree limbs. The people were the morning sun shining through the trees on leaves moving in the breeze. I finally quit looking ahead. It was discouraging.
I did finally get to the end of the climb and crossed the road watching for insane bikers. The road is “Wolf Pen Gap Road” a favorite with “220 MPH Ninja” type bike riders. After crossing the road I realized it was still about 1.5 miles to the end. The trail followed a small creek on my right. As I neared the camp, I looked up ahead and saw a large “Yellow Children’s Playhouse” with green siding sitting right on the side of the creek. It was rounded and looked “sort of” like a big apple, but I was sure it was a playhouse because I saw several kids playing around it. At that point I was very focused on the trail because I didn’t want to fall right here at the end. After 50 or 60 yards I looked back up at the playhouse and all I was a large boulder with the morning sun shining on it. It had a lot of green moss on the side. There were no children! (Sun on the leaves again, I guess.)
Just a few hundred yards further I looked up to see Marye Jo coming toward me. I didn’t take my eyes off her. I was afraid she would disappear too. She didn’t and she escorted me to the last half mile. The finish materialized in front of me and that didn’t disappear either. If it had, I would have sat down and cried, or died!!
I have 163 posts on Blogger.com, "Run Your First Ultra." The first post was in November of 2010. I should go back and read some. I would probably get a good laugh out of them. If anyone is interested, the button links to the blog.