The Night Stalker 97-Miler course is decidedly outside of my comfort zone. It is not the distance that I find daunting. I had “retired” from 100-mile racing, but the peculiar 97-mile distance gave me a caveat to commit to this one.
The race honors the 97 Fallen brothers of the US Army 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment – known as the Night Stalkers. This premier army aviation force is known for its special ability to fight under the cover of night. A granite memorial wall honors the Fallen who have given their lives in combat or training.
The inaugural race (now rescheduled from May to October) is to take place in the Land Between the Lakes (LBL) National Recreation Area. Never heard of it? Me neither. It is located in western Kentucky and Tennessee, near the Fort Campbell Army installation.
So what’s so scary about the race? Do ghosts chase you down in the night? No, nothing so bizarre. A flat, humid course winding through a vegetative area, demanding that one actually run (egads!) for the bulk of the route.
The very challenge of a different kind of race and the opportunity to support the non-profit Night Stalkers Association drew me in. Once my husband’s company (Aechelon Technology,) decided to sponsor the race, it was a done deal.
I embraced the dry weather in January and February to log big mileage on relatively flat local dirt, like the roads in the Prosser Dam area and the Tahoe-Pyramid Trail. I had forgotten how much a big race challenge can motivate me to consistently train, and I was savoring every moment of it.
And then everything changed. The return of wet and snowy winter weather coincided with the reality of the COVID-19 pandemic and California’s stay-at-home orders. It took only a few days of the “new normal” for me to realize that there would be no race on May 2.
I re-focused my energies on taking care of the my family at home and daily runs or walks on the neighborhood roads. The delicious Tahoe dirt was buried under 6+ feet of snow, and is just now starting to emerge.
Meanwhile, I watched as all our iconic local races have been cancelled one by one. As a former Race Director, I can only imagine the level of nightmare that this is causing.
Reluctantly, the Directors of the new Night Stalkers Ultras had to make the call. The race is tentatively rescheduled, and they are offering a virtual event to keep the stoke alive.
I’m not sure if we will make it to the race in October, or if any races will even be able to happen this Fall. I’m not sure if I’m still in adequate running shape to accomplish the virtual challenge.
For the “Relentless 97” virtual challenge, I will run 10 separate 9.7 mile runs during the first half of May. Although it doesn’t sound like an outlandish commitment, I must also honor my parenting commitment to homeschool our teenagers, reserving some energy for a bike ride or hike with them most days of the week.
I plan to be creative with each 9.7-miler, seeking local runs with a bunch of variety and getting out early each day to minimize trail traffic amid the pandemic. I’m firing up my Strava account just for the occasion, so feel free to follow along on my Strava feed starting May 1, 2020.