Things I Learned From Running The 6 km Moonlight Run

So I’m going to take a bit of a break from the usual technical goodness to bring you something a little bit different.

Last March, a cousin of mine and some of her friends got together and did the Moonlight Run – a 6 km (or 10 km) run. It starts quite late – roughly 8:00 PM, so it is already dark out when the run starts (hence the “Moonligh Run” name). Its sort of a big deal here in Lethbridge – there’s only room for 2300 runners, and every year it seems to get filled by mid to late February. My cousin and her friends seemed to have a really good time doing the run, and I felt like I had really missed out on something by not doing the run. It looked like a lot of fun from the pictures they took afterwards, and the way they talked about it.

This sat in the back of my mind for a while, until December of 2007 when I decided I wanted to give it a shot. I had no idea that it would be the learning experience that it turned out to be. Let me also state at this point that I am not a runner. I think the furthest I’d ever had to run was maybe a kilometer and a half in Jr. High phys-ed class.

With the new semester starting in January, I had the opportunity to take a Kinesiology class. The Kinesiology labs consisted of spending time basically learning more about your body, doing such things as measuring cardiovascular fitness, flexibility, or muscle strength. I’m not exactly a physical guy, so I was a bit apprehensive about doing some of the things we did – in particular the 2.4 km indoor run that was to measure our cardiovascular fitness level in mid January. When the time came to do the run I paced myself with a group that ran much faster than what I would have normally done, and completed the run in roughly 12 minutes 48 seconds. By the end of the run I felt like I was ready to black out – not a good sign! It was then that it hit me – if I really wanted to do the moonlight run, I was going to have to start some training. In the few weeks previous, I was humming and hawing about starting running, but didn’t really ‘get around to it’. It was then that it hit me that if I really was serious about the run, I’d have to get serious about the training. Especially with the goal I had set for myself – to run the 6 km run in under 30 minutes, and to run it non-stop. The non-stop part was the killer – the particular path of the run involves running down the valley hill, around in the bottom of the river valley and back up the hill. The hill itself probably is close to a kilometer long, or at least feels that way. A good number of people end up walking up the hill towards the finish line, as is a bit of a killer. Just to give a bit of a picture, here’s what the river valley looks like. The hill for the moonlight run is on the right of the image, three “cliffs” from the highway on the right:

Lethbridge river valley

The following Saturday, after the 2.4 km run, I went and did 3 km. This time I took it at my own pace – a fair bit slower than the previous run. I was able to pace myself and do the 3 km without feeling too bad afterwards. From then on, three times I week after each Kinesiology lab, I would go running, adding a few more laps of the 200 meter track each time I would go. Given my goal of doing it in under 30 minutes, and running the entire thing (hill and all) I had decided that I could shave some time off if I didn’t slow down to take a drink in the middle of the race, like a lot of people do. So each time I would run, I wouldn’t stop to take a drink until after I had run the distance I was going to do. (By the time I got up to the 6km, this meant running roughly 30 laps of the indoor track without stopping to take a drink or catch my breath).

Anyway, the big night for the race came. I drove downtown, parked my car and managed to get over to the starting area to see the 10 km runners start their race. (They started the 10 km runners 15 minutes before the 6 km runners).

To say the least, it was intense. Near the start line they had a large flatbed truck set up with speakers, music, and some various mascots. After singing the Canadian and American national anthems, they fired a cannon to start the 10 km race. After the starting area was cleared, all the 6 km runners packed into the starting area (all 1534 doing the 6 km race). To be around so many other people stoked up about the race made it even more intense. With a boom the cannon went off, and we were all on our way.

29 minutes and 7 seconds later, I was across the finish line.

The race itself seemed surprisingly short. I guess I was focussed on doing it as fast as I felt I could. I had the good fortune of being fairly close to the front of the starting area when the cannon fired, so that meant I didn’t have to dodge as many people along the way. There was a significant amount of human traffic (runners) on the path the whole time, but this worked to my advantage – since there was always someone ahead of me, it spurred me on to run past them. I was also able to run up the entire hill (a feat I give my large calf muscles credit for). For the final 100 meters or so, I was able to do an all out sprint. It was awesome. I’ve never experienced anything as intense as the final sprint or the post-run euphoria in a very long time.

Did I get 1st place? Heck no – the guy who got first was almost a good 10 minutes ahead of me. Did I achieve my goal? Heck yes! Did I have an awesome time doing it? Most certainly! Did I learn anything by doing it? Most definitely!

So I’ve managed to compile a list of things I’ve learned, as well as a few thoughts. Here we go:

The value of preparation – Had I not started training when I did, I certainly wouldn’t have been able to achieve my goals. Even with the training that I did do, I didn’t train running outside as much as I should have. That, and coming down with pneumonia (from what I could figure) also took a bit of time out of the training. The difference that the training made was huge. When I first started running I did the 2.4 km in 12:48, and felt like I was going to die afterwards. By the time the moonlight run came around, I could run the 2.4 km in under 12 minutes, feel great, and keep running another 3.6 km. Training made an absolutely huge difference.

Power (and enthusiasm) in numbers – The intensity of the run was amazing. There was something awesome about having 2300 people all exciting together, and all in the same place. I think they call this synergy – people feeding off each other’s energy to make something way more amazing than the individuals could do.

Set realistic but challenging goals – When I first decided and commited myself to do the moonlight run, I wasn’t quite sure what to set for a goal of a finishing time. I figured most people would finish in the 40 minute range, and figured that would be a bit too easy. How about 30 minutes? Sure, why not. Did it turn out to be a challenge? Most certainly. Had it not been so challenging, I wouldn’t have felt as motivated to work as hard as I did.

Fancy equipment won’t save you/make you win – I noticed a few people all decked out in gear, especially one guy right beside me at the start line. He had the full runner’s outfit, complete with waist mounted water bottle and runner’s jacket. Did it help him out? Maybe. All I know is that I didn’t have anything special equipment-wise, and was able to school quite a few people who did have the fancy equipment. Heck, my shoes were pretty worn out – small holes in both toes, as well as the soles almost being completely worn through at the ball of the foot. Had one of my shoes been destroyed in the race, I might be saying something different, but in my case I didn’t have anything special.

Don’t carry dead weight – When I first started training, I thought it was wierd not having a backpack with me. I was used to running with a backpack on (usually chasing buses, running from class to class, that sort of thing). I was incredibly glad that I didn’t really have much dead weight during the run. The only things I did take with me was my keys, some id (in the event they had to identify my carcass on the racetrack), and a flashlight. I didn’t end up using the flashlight as the route was well enough lit and there were enough people around to know where to go.

Thank the volunteers – During the moonlight run, there was a good number of volunteers wearing orange vests directing runners, handing out water at the half-way point, and encouraging everyone along the way. If it wasn’t for them, I think a good number would have gotten on to the wrong paths or taken shortcuts. So next time someone does something nice for you without pay or without asking, give them a big thanks. You never know what trouble they may be preventing you from getting into.

Pace yourself, but save a little for the end – For the most part, I was able to pace myself at a similar pace to what I had done during the training leading up to the race. This definitely helped. I was also able to sprint the last bit, which turned out to be pretty dang cool. It’s always nice to have enough energy to give 110% at the very end.

Age has nothing to do with it – I really mean it! The oldest guy in the race was in his 80’s. There were kids running as well. I was a bit blown away that I was getting passed by some young kids (maybe 12 years old. That was until it came to the hill, where I was able to really tear things up). My point is, age has nothing to do with it. Don’t use your age, or anything else for that matter, as a crutch. You don’t go places by making excuses.

Positive side effects in one area of your life spreads to others – Seriously! When I found out that I had completed the race in under my goal of 30 minutes, I was ecstatic! I couldn’t help but to share with friends and family that I had achieved a pretty big goal for myself. I was so stoked up about the results from the race that it started spreading to other areas of my life. I found myself having a renewed enthusiasm at school. It was awesome!

Each of us will face our own unique challenges in life, whether it be a race, a physical ailment, a broken heart, a family issue or something else. Just be reminded that you too can accomplish great things – amazing things. Set challenging but realistic goals for yourself. Push yourself by preparation, and by working towards what you want, and more importantly what you want to be come.

Go out there and do something amazing, and in doing so become someone amazing!

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