After being benched a couple of months by her physiotherapist for sciatica, the Ninja Turtle only managed to get back into something vaguely resembling a running routine in the beginning of September. She’s managed to increase her mileage safely and carefully without risking recurrence in the injury by 1) sticking to the 10% rule and 2) completing 95% of her runs at an easy pace. As such, she found herself eight weeks on, toeing the starting line once more.
As the Ninja Turtle made a very last minute decision to register for the 10th edition of the Trail des Lumières in Nancy, and given how she’s only restarted her training, she went for the shortest distance – the Trail des Loupiotes – a very feasible 12km. The more hardcore runners chose from the 20km or the 32km races.
The organisers staggered the departure for the various distances, and the 32km runners started off at 5.30pm (while the sun was still out and Nancy was basking in a gloriously warm 23C), the 20km runner at 6.00pm (when the sun started dipping in the sky) and the 12km runners at 6.30pm (when the Ninja Turtle knew she’d done the right thing to change out of her T-shirt and into her long-sleeved top). Dressing for night running isn’t at all like preparing for a day-time race, and getting all the kit ready takes three times as long.
As usual, GodzillaPin was very supportive, and managed to make his way to several points along the race course to take photos of the Turtle. It’s still a mystery why he doesn’t participate in these races himself.
It is one thing to run in the dark. It is quite another to run in the dark on a forest trail. GodzillaPin’s photo, brilliant as it is, will never be able to capture the real experience of nighttime trail running. As the runners enter the forest, some unseen guiding hand sets them in single-file with no fuss or complain. Sure, it’s a race, but it’s also about the experience, having fun, and staying safe.
Most runners were very polite, and offered to yield the path for others to overtake, which was very often declined. Conversations began among strangers, and soon, some weird bond was developed as runners bunched into their little groups, chatting and running in camaraderie. Above all, in the darkness of the forest trail, not only did the runners have to contend with roots, rocks, and holes, the mud was unbelievable after a week of rain. Runners were calling out “root” or “careful it’s slippery here” or “hole ahead” and the message would be passed down the line like a game of broken telephone, except it wasn’t broken. Collisions happened, as did slips and falls, but on the trail, when this happens, the other runners tend to stop and check you’re OK.
Trail running is hard. In that short 12km, the Ninja Turtle found herself trying to unglue her shoes from mud that was as soft as chocolate mousse, climbing up slippery slopes with over 40% incline (thank goodness they were short distances), and wading in water as she crossed a stream at the 9th km. When she left the forest trail and re-entered civilisation through a park, she was momentarily lost as there were two possible options but no runners ahead in sight. She waited till other runners caught up, and together they hunted for a trail marker before setting off together. Her night light was reliable but it pointed straight ahead when she needed it to angle downwards so she could see where to put her foot. Her entire focus was on the run – constantly checking how she felt in her legs, feet, lungs, and heart, scanning the environment, gauging the distance between herself and other runners, and keeping her eyes peeled for trail markers.
In short, it looked NOTHING like her usual run, where she could mentally switch off and let her body just go through the motions.
It was also one of the most incredible experiences in her life.