2015 Winter Night Trail Half Marathon (Mike's Recap)

We get a lot of inspiration from one another and we push each other to take our running to the next level.  Even though my older brother Mike lives over 200 miles away, running serves as a good medium for us to stay close.  We recently did a half marathon together and it was great!  I haven't quite finished (or really even begun for that matter) with my recap, but Mike has!  So I'm posting this on his behalf and I know you will enjoy reading about this adventure!  Here is what Mike has to say"

Eagle Creek Park
January 31, 2015

The 2015 Winter Night Trail Half Marathon (WNTH) was my second real trail run and what I’d like to call my first real trail adventure.  My first trail run was a 5k.  30 minutes and done.  This one was a shade over three hours.  I had run a half marathon on my own in November on flat roads so this would be only my second try at the distance and it was on much different terrain.  My training between November and the WNTH wasn’t what I had hoped for but I was banking on a couple runs around 8 miles, short runs of 3 miles and the muscle memory from the November Half to get me through.  This would be my second attempt to run the WNTH.  Last year my brother, Nick, and I signed up for the race but due to the early arrival of my son and bad weather, we didn’t make it.

The weather this year was just about perfect, 30 degrees at the start and no wind for most of the course.  Our step-father, Mike, decided to brave the weather and come out to watch.  Apparently that guy will watch any sporting event, anywhere, in any weather.  Its always good to see a familiar face cheering you on so I was happy he was there.  He also acted as our man servant and held onto our winter coats after we shed them at the starting line.  

The course was a 6.55 mile loop on some pretty nice trails.  Nick and I would run two loops for the Half.

Loop One

The race started in waves.  Full marathoners first, then a couple minutes later the one-hour-per-lap halfers and so on.  I told Nick “good luck” and “have fun” as he took off with the wave in front of me.  I left with the hour and half per lap group.  As soon as we started I hit the “go” button on endomondo and music started playing.  Not what I had planned.  I pulled over and stopped a mere 3 minutes into the race.  I got the music stopped and endomondo going again and I was off. 

The first couple miles were fairly congested with lots of stop and go.  It seemed some of the Quarter Marathoners had started early, but no biggie.  I was planning to take it out pretty slow to start anyway.  Everyone seemed to be having a good time.  Lots of little groups of people running together.  One guy was blasting some tunes for all of our enjoyment.  Watching the string of headlamps wind through the woods was pretty neat.  This part of the course was about 50-50 single track and wider trail, all in good condition.  The first aid station was at about two miles.  I didn’t stop this time.  I was carrying my hand held water bottle with fruit snacks in the pocket.  

After the aid station there were a couple of pretty muddy hills to navigate and then it flattened out on a gravel path with lake on both sides for about a mile.  At this point I was feeling pretty good and still taking it easy, but made a mental note that this would be a good place to pick up the pace on the second lap.  After the lake path it was up a slight incline on a gravel road then back to single track to the next aid station at about mile 4.   In this stretch I passed a guy who was walking.  He had turned an ankle and was dropping at the aid station.  My water supply was in good shape so I cruised on through the aid station again.  It was right after the aid that the snow started.  It would snow until the end.  Never really heavy, but enough to start accumulating on the trail.  

After that it was more nice single track through the woods.  I was feeling good overall but noted that my left knee was a bit tender below the kneecap.  It’s usually my right knee that flares up on longer runs, so this was new.  I didn’t think too much of it and assumed it would settle down like my right knee usually does.  A toe on my left foot was hurting a bit too.  That’s not uncommon on long runs so I didn’t think too much of it either.

There was a significant change in terrain on mile 5.  The trail went from nice smooth single track to very narrow single track with lots of small trees on both sides.  There were several trees across the trail, two small stream crossings, a couple bridges and stairs.  It was my favorite part of the course!  I had a blast through that part.  I bounded over the down trees as people gingerly climbed across.  I jumped straight down into and out of the stream crossings.  This was some real trail running and I loved it!  Mile 6 to the start/finish was back to nice smooth single track.  

After mile 5 I noticed that now both my knees were hurting, except on the downhills.  Maybe I had a little too much fun that last mile.  It was at this point that some thoughts crept in about stopping after one loop.  Were my knees going to hold up for another loop?  Was there a risk of permanent damage?  I decided that if I had to walk the entire second loop I was going to keep going.  I wasn’t here to “race” anyone, not even the clock.  I was here for an adventure and it would be one whether I could “race” or not.  I was actually looking forward to some more solitude on the trail.

Loop Two

After a quick stop at the port-a-potty, a quick chat with Mike to see if he’d seen Nick (he had missed him), I started the second loop.  A quick self-assessment revealed that mentally I felt great and my energy level was good.  My knees were a little sore and my toe was tender but not really bothering me.  A little self-massage on the quads once in a while seemed to help my knees.  The plan would be to pick up the pace on the flats and slight uphills, bomb the downhills and power hike the steep uphills.

Loop 2 was much less congested.  After crossing the line there were only two people in sight in front of me.  After only about half a mile the knees were really starting to bother me on anything but the downhills.  Even going down steps was difficult.  I made my way to the first aid station where I refilled my water bottle and grabbed some trail mix.  I walked while I ate the trail mix and slipped my way up and down the muddy hills.  Unfortunately one guy fell right in front of me pretty hard.  He got up and moved to the side of the trail.  He said he’d be alright so I motored on.

The gravel path through the lake was next.  I started to pick up the pace as planned and passed several people who all had encouraging things to say.  Then two things happened.  First, cutouts in the heel of my shoes started to fill up with rocks and snow.  This happened last winter but I didn’t really think about it before this race.  Apparently the cut outs are there to save weight, and fill up with rocks and snow.  Second, my knees started hurting so bad that I had to stop and walk. I massaged my quads, IT bands and knees.  The people who had just encouraged me as I blew by them passed me in silence.  Frustration set in for the first time.  Just minutes ago I was ready to blast through the second loop.  Now I was bent over at the side of the trail rubbing my quads as two women jogged by talking about their plans for the next day.  Power walking didn’t hurt so I did that for a while but I had to scuff my heels every 45 seconds to get the snow out.  I even sat down at one point and grabbed a stick to dig a large rock out of one of my shoes.  Why, Mizuno, why???

It was walk/jog/scuff heel/bomb downhill/repeat from the lake to the next aid station.  I was feeling a bit down.  I grabbed more trail mix from the aid station, crossed the road, hit the trail and then stopped.  Dead end.  Where’s the trail?  I walked left and right.  I don’t see it!  At this point I figured I was a little out of it, so I’ll just keep going and I’ll see the markers.  Nope.  “Hey!” yelled an aid station worker, “over here.”  He was pointing to the real trail about 20 feet to my left.  Very well marked, I might add.  I had wandered into some sort of drainage bed.  I laughed at myself, told him thanks and continued on my walk with my trail mix.  That episode lightened my mood a bit and I reminded myself I was here for an adventure, running or walking.  The next mile a group of about five of us traded places back and forth as we made our way quietly along the trail.  Everyone seemed to be in about the same boat; tired, hurting a little, but not quite ready to be done.  At one point we all, like lemmings, got off course for a couple minutes on the wrong trail but found our way back.

Our group broke up and I was alone again.  I turned on my music for the first time on purpose and one of my favorite Christian songs “How He Loves” by David Crowder Band was the first song up.  Man I needed that song right then.  If I could have, I would have started sprinting, but the knees weren’t as pumped up by the song as I was so I just walked faster. 

The last couple miles may have been the best part of the night.  Even though I couldn’t run without pain, I was able to enjoy the time in the woods with good music.  I was able to grimace through the pain to at least jog that last hundred yards across the finish line.  Nick and Mike were there to greet me.  I was a little out of it mentally and relieved to be done.

Overall, it was a great experience.  I got to do another race with Nick which is always fun, even though we didn’t run together. 

What I learned:  1)Mizono Wave Riders are not the best option in snow or on rough terrain. 2) If I’m going to race on trails, I need to train more on trails.  3) I think the knee and toe issues were partly due to lack of training on hills and partly due to improper shoes for the trail.  4) I need a brighter headlamp if I do this race again.  When I was all alone on the trail, I couldn’t see as far or as well as I would have liked.  5) I really like being in the woods, running or walking.        

By: Mike Smith


  1. That was good Mike! I felt like I was right there with you. Except without the pain and the breathing hard stuff. Proud of you guys!

    1. Thanks Dad! It was fun trying to put my experience into words.

      And thanks Nick for posting my recap here. Can't wait to read yours!