Candlelight 12-Hour (Race Report)

This year’s race report will be much shorter than last year’s, because my experience was much shorter. Normally, I wouldn’t do a race report when I left the race early. But I’m struggling with this one, and this may be a way to deal with things.

Candlelight, as its name suggests, is a 12-hour race that runs from 7pm to 7am, so most of it is experienced in the dark. It’s a 1-mile loop, sort of figure-eight shaped, with a mix of road and field trails. There’s a single aid station in a barn, a tent row where runners set up their aid stations, and plenty of horses and farm cats to appreciate.

To properly frame this year’s event, I need to look at last year’s. Last year’s race was very humid and muddy, with a light, misting rain for much of the nighttime hours. I struggled mentally around 10:30 but got through it and managed 50 miles over 12 hours. My knee hurt for the last two hours or so, and my gut was off for almost the entire time. But I saw it as a major mental and physical accomplishment.

This year, I didn’t have a distance goal. I just wanted to run for 12 hours and push through the difficult times. I accomplished neither of those things.

Done by 11pm, with 17.5 miles under my belt, I got a decent night’s sleep but little else. Even though one mile/loop counts as a finish and the race allows you to leave whenever you want, I count this one as a personal failure.

This was to be my last big, significant run before my August goal race, and by failing to push through, I’m left feeling unprepared both mentally and physically. My confidence is low, and my frustration is high. But I’m sure of one thing: I won’t be running this particular race again.

Don’t get me wrong: Candlelight is a well-organized event. The volunteers are great, the other runners are awesome and encouraging, the aid station is well stocked and plentiful. I just am not set out for a 1-mile overnight event. It’s not fun to me. The accomplishment last year was fun, but the event was not. This year was far less fun.

It’s hard enough to run a loop course that’s just a fraction over a mile long. For one thing, it’s too easy to stop. (I call that treadmill syndrome.) For another, it’s monotonous. But add to that running in the dark, when no one is talking to each other and you can only see the dimly lit area ahead of you. Then add in miserable weather, and it becomes an exercise in mindless torture.

That’s what it takes, though: being mindless. Last year, right around 10:30, I was struggling mightily. I got a pep talk from a friend and pushed on, and eventually my mind shut off and I was able to continue. This year, at 10:30, I wanted to quit again, and I did.

The biggest problem was my stomach. I hate evening races. No matter how well I eat during the day, my stomach almost always feels off. If it’s a short race, I get through it. But this one, with eight hours to go, it wasn’t going to happen. Every running step felt like my upset stomach was shaking up more and more, and I didn’t want it to explode. So I walked a while, and while that didn’t bother my stomach, it wasn’t accomplishing much.

My feet hurt. The rain had me thoroughly wet and clammy-cold. My stomach was off. So when I sat at base camp and talked to Jaime, we both agreed to be done. I think we enabled each other to give in, when we both planned to run the full 12 hours.

Now I’m left feeling sorry for and upset at myself. I’m stressing over the race in August. I’m having to rethink my week from ultra-recovery to pushing more miles. And I’m tired and frustrated.

So even though I didn’t DNF the event, I consider this year’s Candlelight a big failure. Now I have to figure out how to get past that. I have to find the incentive and motivation to keep going and plan how not to fail at Twisted Branch.

Just not sure how to do that right now…

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