FROM DUSK UNTIL DAWN, THIS CHALLENGING HIGH-ELEVATION TRAIL RUN WILL TEST EVEN THE MOST SEASONED RUNNERS
The Mission: Run the inaugural Cedar Breaks at Night Half Marathon and experience the famous Perseid Meteor Showers in Brian Head, Utah
Terrain: Escape the city lights by running on a combination of mixed trails and pavement beneath your feet
Level of Difficulty: Extremely challenging
Time Limit: 4 hours
Inaugural races always present a unique trade-off: wait for a few years until the race director better perfects the course and feedback from prior runners, or be the first one to experience this opportunity?
I am in the second camp. I will gladly take that leap of faith and run a race that no one in the world has ever run before. As many of you know by now, my goal is to run 50 half marathons in 50 states. When my good friend Jeramy sent me a text asking me if Utah had been checked off my map, my answer was “no, why?”
Seconds later, I received this image on my phone:
Within 48 hours, our flights were booked.
MILES 1-3.5: RIDING A CHAIRLIFT TO THE START LINE
Yes, you read that correctly. Every runner will start at the main parking lot at Giant Steps Ski Lodge & Lifts and ride the high-speed chairlift 11,000 feet above sea level…to the start line. While I have been fortunate enough to ride many chairlifts in my day, I have never even contemplated taking one at night that did not involve skiing. As the chairlift swung around behind us, we placed our behinds on the seat and headed UP the mountain.
After about a 10-minute ride up the mountain, we approached the drop-off station and lifted the safety bar. Jeramy jokingly said, “Tips up” so that they cannot catch on the platform, which would generally pull you off of the chairlift. Since we didn’t have the luxury of skis or snow, we made our way to the start line and began our 13.1-mile journey through the trails of Brian Head, Utah.
The first 3.5 miles took us on a mini maze of trails traversing through narrow paths that seemingly went upward into the midnight sky. The path continued on a steep enough slope that certainly caught the attention of our calves within the first mile or two. As a rookie night runner, I recognized this type of race was already changing the way I ran. During a daytime race, I can always focus on a direct line and see what’s in front of me or in the distance. When your only form of light is the moon hanging above the tree line and your headlamp, I had to singularly concentrate on each step ahead.
For example, even with my headlamp, I was rolling my ankle and stubbing my toes on rocks seemingly every half mile. For context, the only time I have ever rolled my ankle in a race was at Mount Everest. To pivot from this happening time and time again, I tried slowing down my pace, but this did not make a big difference. Maybe I am clumsy (I am) or maybe I wasn’t picking my feet up high enough (which I can accept), but I was still grateful to be running with my good buddy at night in the mountains for this cause and remained undeterred.
MILES 3.5-4.5: THE HIGHEST POINT OF THE RACE
At mile 3.5, we transitioned from the trail onto the pavement (temporarily) running a mile out and back to Brian Head Peak which overlooks the Cedar Breaks National Monument. This area would showcase the best view of the night sky and the Perseid meteor showers. Unfortunately, due to some heavy cloud cover and rain the prior days, we were only able to see the moon sprinkled with a few stars along the way.
MILES 4.5-9: SINGLE TRACK TRAILS AND LOOSE ROCKS
The next part of the course took us through fairly narrow and technical trails with loose rocks seemingly planted along the route by mother nature to test our patience and dexterity. For us, this was our favorite part of the race because we were able to get into a consistent running groove. We began passing runner after runner, which felt good inside and fired up our competitive juices. We traded pole positions to allow each of us to take advantage of drafting the other person. For those of you who may not be aware of this technique, drafting allows competitors to conserve energy, increasing pace, and boosting psychological responses by using the wake created by other athletes to pull them along.
For those of you keeping track, I can confidently say that I rolled my ankle at least four times during this stretch and stubbed my toe directly on rocks easily 7 times as Friday night gradually turned into Saturday morning
MILES 9-11: THE NEVER-ENDING OUT AND BACK…OH AND CRAMPING
While the relative descent over the last 5 miles was a welcomed relief, we promptly shifted our focus to the next objective ahead. While I am never a huge fan of out and backs in a race, this one was pretty grueling (but fun, yes, grueling can be fun as a runner) and took us almost 45 minutes to complete. Miles 9-10 were primarily downhill, but as we were running past fellow runners making their way back up the hill, we noticed one simple trend: no one was running.
We continued picking up the pace on the “out portion“, knowing we were going to have to slow our roll on the”back half.” Miles 10-11 tested our physical and mental being. We tried to jog at a moderate pace, but my left calf began to cramp and we both started to “speed walk” up the trail.
Yes, this mile was seemingly never-ending, but we continued to make our way uphill despite both my calves now cramping. I felt bad, but we are seasoned enough runners to know this type of thing happens and we certainly weren’t going to leave each other behind.
After all, Jeramy was telling me the last 2.1 miles were all downhill, and since I superstitiously never look at a course map in advance of a race, I trusted the guy.
For consistency purposes, I rolled my ankle two times and stubbed my toe three times during this section, but our main aspiration was to reach the top of this hill and run downhill toward the finish line.
MILES 11-13.1: JERAMY WAS “MISINFORMED”
As we passed mile marker 11, we saw people making their way on a path that led directly uphill. For perspective, this was Jeramy’s first Vacation Races experience (and from what I know now, not the last). I have run several in the past, and they always take more time than a regular street half marathon.
In the first place, it’s a trail race. Secondly, and to be fair, this course was the most difficult terrain I have ever run 13.1 miles in (Vacation Races or otherwise). Although I was cramping, I was doing my best to not slow us down too much.
While we had surpassed the 3-hour mark back at Mile 11, we also knew half the field was still behind us. Our goal was to continue running and not let anyone else pass us. We continued making our way uphill knocking off Mile 12 and eventually making our way downhill before eyeing Mile 13 and crossing that finish line.
When adversity strikes in a race (and it happens in every race of most distances), I always fall back on “the why” behind the actual run. The answer is simple: to raise awareness for dementia research and to eventually find a cure for this disease. This is the ultimate pursuit and finish line for R4P and I will continue pushing forward on-and-off the race course.
At the end of the day, or in this case the morning, we accomplished our goals and were able to raise awareness for this cause in another part of the world. I am grateful to Jeramy for running this insane race!
Final Talley: Times rolling my ankle (13) v. Times stubbing my toes (17)
Admittedly, I need to improve my future night trail running posture 🙂
If you think this would deter me from recommending this hardcore trail race to fellow runners, you would be mistaken! This was one of the coolest races I have ever been lucky enough to run.
To future runners, may you have better luck (and agility) than us with the Perseid Meteor Shower in the future, but I will take this inaugural experience any day…or night of the week when presented.
A FEW ADDITIONAL TAKEAWAYS FROM THIS RACE:
1. Time Limit: All runners will have 4 hours to finish the race. If you do not finish in 4 hours, you will still receive a medal, but the results will show a DNF.
2. This is not a spectator-friendly course: This should not be a surprise given the terrain. Spectators may see their runners at the finish line, but please DO NOT go out on the course.
3. Start times for runners: Runners can sign up to run between 7 pm and 3 am so choose wisely. Your time will begin after you ride up the chairlift and physically cross the chip timing start line.
4. Aid Stations: There are four stations on the course at miles 3, 4.5, 9.2, and 10.7. Vacation Races is eco-friendly and you have to bring your own hydration pack.
5. The Medal: We all know people want to see the bling!
6. Visit the Cedar Breaks Monument during the daytime – the views are spectacular, and if you are lucky enough to have a clear sky, you would likely see this lit up at night!
7. Hot spots to fill your belly
- Pizza Cart – one of the best brick oven pizzas I’ve tasted in the United States
- All American Classic Diner – if you order an omelet expect them to use 12 eggs…it was phenomenal
- Rusty’s Ranch House – food, service, and the entire decor is worth the trip. Trust R4P on this one!
- Donutsville – the best morning spot to end your trip before heading to the airport
To view more Run4Papa photos of this race, go to 2022 Cedar Breaks at Night Half Marathon Album