Saturday August 26th was the inaugural Midnight Race at Mont-Cascades in Cantley Quebec. I had seen numerous posts about it on Facebook and other social media, but hadn’t signed up since I was supposed to be out of town then. But at the last minute things changed and I had the opportunity to run it after all. It combined three of my favourite things: running at night, obstacles and trails, so in theory it should be a terrific event. The only thing that was slightly worrying was that it was the first time for this, and there are almost always unforeseen issues.
I got to the venue about an hour before the first wave was to start. (Waves were to start at 9:00, not midnight). Unfortunately there were some networking issues, so the registration took longer than expected. In fact the first wave was delayed to 9:15, and despite being close to the front of the line, I made it there with maybe 5 minutes to spare. Enough time to review my equipment (making sure I had my extra headlamp and deciding to stow my gloves since I figured if I needed them I could get them out at that point). One of the cool things though was that there was a ‘fly-through’ video playing on a video screen nearby, giving me a chance to review the course one last time before the start. In general the front three quarters was light on the obstacles, heavy on the climbing and running. The back portion had the bulk of the obstacles and the descent back down.
Since my strength was running, I decided to try and take the first bit quickly and then try to hold on during the hardest part of the climbs and the obstacle portion. They did the countdown and we were off. The start was great, a straight run through the parking lot, lit by tiki torches. It was a cool visual. This lead into a field where there were hay bales to climb over. I was out in front at that point, but I could hear the footsteps close behind. I stumbled here on the dismount and fell back to second. I kept on his heels for the next while. The next bit was mainly trail running with the only difficulty being trying to keep my footing, with the only other obstacles being some over/unders and a ladder wall.
At the next obstacle (a cargo net walk), I fell behind the leader further when my foot got tangled up in the dismount. Shortly after that, I heard more footsteps behind me, as two others were on my tail. I tried to hold them off for a while, but I knew they were getting close. Luckily the course was well marked (with reflective tape and signs that indicated which way the trail was going to turn. This is great when you are running flat out and don’t have time to think about where to go!) I held them off for a little while, but my headlamp gave out. It only cost me about 30 seconds to switch to my back up, but that dropped me to fourth.
The next portion was a lot more trail with a lot of climbing. My backup light wasn’t quite as bright, so I slowed down to make sure I didn’t trip and/or roll an ankle. It was a strange feeling running through the woods alone in the dark. Even though I never was out of sight of a trail marker or sign I did have small thoughts that I might have made a wrong turn. But during the last climb I started to hear a speaker playing AC/DC, so I knew I was on the right path and probably near the summit. Sure enough, around the corner at the top was a ‘mud crawl’, which was more of a ‘slightly damp grass’ crawl. (Not that I was complaining). I passed that quickly and after a bit of miscommunication with the volunteer, I was on my way. I had looked into a spotlight, so I was half blind and couldn’t see which way she was pointing. I also couldn’t hear her over the music which made it doubly confusing. From there it was to the obstacle heavy portion.
As I hit the ‘rig’ (an upper body traverse obstacle), I saw the leaders coming in from an out and back section. I wondered briefly how close I was. I went out that way and hit the monkey bars, and returned to the other side of the rig to the rope climb, which was maybe 10-12’, then on to the ‘ninja steps’, ‘sandbag carry’ and then the descent. There were a couple of obstacles along the way, but the main thing here was keeping control of my speed and making sure I didn’t get off the path. I’m not reckless enough to bomb down a hill in the dark with uncertain footing! I finished up in 32:37, without seeing another runner for the rest of the race.
Course design: The layout of the course was spot on. The early obstacles were spread out, and the ones that they did have would allow larger numbers of racers at the same time, minimizing early bottlenecks. The climb then would spread the field for the heavier obstacle section
Obstacles: Overall they were fun. There was nothing extremely difficult but most of them did require effort, especially if you didn’t have a lot of experience. It’s a tough balance to get right, but they did well.
Limited heat sizes: There was a race official counting the number of people going into the corral at all times. Once they hit the limit, they just told people that the next heat was in 10 minutes. This prevented bottlenecks on the course and less confusion at the start with people trying to jockey for position.
Course marking for the most part was excellent
The race day registration was slow. A lot of this was a technical issue beyond the race officials’ control… it happens. My main suggestion would have been to have the waivers available on the race site prior to the race, so that we could fill them out beforehand. As things got moving, they did let people fill them out while waiting, so they did adapt.
While course marking was for the most part was excellent, there were a couple of locations that could have used some improvement: The out and back areas could have used a ‘U-turn’ sign. As well, a few of the obstacles might have had a ‘this way next’ arrow. It’s a minor thing though, since this was still the best marked night race I’ve ever done.
The zip-ties to fasten the timing chip our shoes were extremely flimsy. I lost my chip somewhere along the course, along with several others. I think the runner after me was the first one to finish with their chip still attached.
Overall it was a blast! The obstacles were fun, leaning a bit to the easier side, but not pushovers. Also, there were no penalties for failure and runners were able to either retry or decide to skip. For a first time event, this was a great effort. I’m looking forward to doing this one again next year.