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A marathon that’s as distinctive as the highway it follows.
In its second year, Calico Racing’s Extraterrestrial Full Moon Midnight Marathon is one of the most unique races in Nevada—and possibly the entire country. With the aid of glow sticks, flashlights, headlamps, reflective vests and tape, and the full moon, myself and about 400 other runners and walkers took on the Extraterrestrial Highway (State Route 375) over the weekend of August 16 and 17.
The marathon started at the stroke of midnight at the infamous “black mailbox” (at the corner of S.R. 375 and the unpaved Groom Lake Road, the landmark denotes the turnoff to Area 51’s main gate) about 20 miles south of Rachel and continued north along the Silver State’s quirkiest byway over 5,591-foot Coyote Summit before descending into Sand Spring Valley and to Rachel. From Rachel the course continued along the E.T. Highway to a turnaround 3.1 miles north of the town and finished in front of the Little A’Le’Inn. The half marathon followed the same route but started later and finished in Rachel with no turnaround, and the 10k followed only the last section of the marathon from Rachel to the turnaround and back.
Although the marathon was not my first, it caught me (like many of the other participants I spoke to) off-guard. Running 26 miles and change is never an easy undertaking (even as I type this more than 30 hours after the fact, my legs are still aching), and doing it when logic and your body dictate that you should be in bed is even harder. Other challenges to running such a distance at night include difficulty in keeping a steady pace—thankfully my Garmin wrist monitor and timer took care of that for me—and nausea and dizziness from the constant bouncing light from a headlamp or flashlight. The latter can get so bad that many runners went without lights. Perhaps it was these hardships that created such a strong camaraderie between the competitors. Everyone was very positive and offered encouragement as I passed them or they passed me. It is hard to describe the warm feeling you get when someone just as exhausted as you musters the energy to shout “keep it up!” or “good job!” while running.
After a strong start I maintained the fourth position for the majority of the race. There was a little bit of battling during the first mile and a half but after that a number of us had sufficiently separated ourselves in the dark desert. Somewhere around mile nine I started catching the half marathoners, this provided incentive—I’ve found that I run best with people in front of me to pass—for the climb up Coyote Summit at about the midpoint of the race. From the pass the gradual downhill for the remaining seven miles to Rachel allowed me to increase my pace. About four miles before the finish in Rachel, two runners passed me, and although it was disappointing, it gave me the boost I needed to push myself to a strong finish at slightly more than three hours and 40 minutes; sixth place overall and first for the 20 to 29 age group.