Midnight Owl 15K

View of trees and mountains
Quick stop en route to North Conway, NH

What’s the first thing you do after booking a flight… Start a packing list? Research hotels or restaurants? Those are important, but perhaps MORE importantly is finding a race to run where you’re visiting! OK, this is technically the first time I’ve done this, but I anticipate the routine becoming my new travel priority.

I knew I’d be flying into Boston and then driving to New Hampshire for the weekend, ultimately spending four and a half days on the East Coast with my parents and sister (who drove TWENTY hours a few days prior to my arrival). I opened up Running in the USA and narrowed down my search to New Hampshire the weekend of July 16/17. Immediately dismissing four of five results due to their distance from our hotel in NH, I dived into learning about this “Midnight Owl” race, dubbed a prediction run in North Conway. 45 minutes from Gorham and just enough miles to make the drive worth it, I registered my sister and myself for the late night 15K.

I’d never heard of a prediction run, which was perfect because I’m more often than not game for a new running adventure. Here’s how the Midnight Owl 15K works: Start anytime after 9:30 pm, NO WATCHES or timing devices allowed on the course, run the well-marked 9.3 mile course, finish as close to AFTER midnight as possible! The first five to cross AFTER midnight are the official winners.

Cristina, me, and a woman I don't know, a moment after we started
Midnight Owl 15K
Photo credit: Lisa Valleypromos DuFault

My sister (Cristina) and I went into the race moderately prepared to cross the start and finish lines together–the last time we ran together was a 5K last year–and with modest expectations to simply finish after 12:00 am (and before the 12:30 am cut-off). We prepped as well as we could while on vacation–a dinner of french fries, New England clam chowder, coleslaw, and a lobster roll a mere three hours before our race start.

So, at 10:39 pm my sister and I–sporting the required reflection gear and headlamps–took off from the start “line” (no line that I can remember, but there was a clock and a guy with a clipboard) and onward around Schouler Park. Our parents made it across the park to cheer for us as we strolled down Main Street–although I may have cheered more loudly for them because I was really impressed they made it across the field before we ran past.

As you may expect, knowing that each runner is allowed to choose their own start time, there was not a mass of runners to maneuver around at any point during the race. In fact, crossing paths with a moose seemed more likely (it was the North Country of New Hampshire, after all) than needing to break away from a cluster of racers.

Midnight Owl, bib and t-shirt
Midnight Owl, bib and t-shirt

Each glowing mile marker seemed to be more of a surprise than the next. Maybe it was the novelty of running along a desolate New Hampshire (did I mention I’m originally from New Hampshire?) rural road in the middle of the night, maybe it was the cool air, or maybe it was the combination of location, temps, and company (rare occasion that I get to run with my sister). There were three aid stations stocked with water, Gatorade, and encouraging volunteers. Our anticipated pace, around 9:30/mile, was easy for me and I figured easy enough for Cristina. I typically prefer to lead (if I know where I’m going…) because it can feel like extra effort to play ‘catch up’ while running behind a person or two. So with that I let my sister lead us, to ensure she didn’t feel that extra effort of keeping my pace, and every so often casually (not casually) reminding her to stay closer to the dirt and grass on the left than to the road’s white line on our right.

Cristina and Elizabeth finishing the Midnight Owl race
We finished the Midnight Owl 15K!

As we entered back into town, I figured hey we’re on safer ground now, until I spotted a speeding police car suddenly barreling down the road, toward us. Unfortunately our only warning was the lights, no siren. Fortunately, we were far enough across the street to break our moderate pace for a sprint, and the officer must’ve eventually caught a glimpse of our glowing gear, that we safely parted ways (as we heard screeching tires behind us).

I felt more and more energized as we ran down Conway’s Main Street, greeted by more Midnight Owlers and volunteers. As promised, we caught a glimpse of Ham Arena (the finish), but no sign of the official timing clock (the suspense continues). I assumed we were on track to finish after midnight, otherwise a heck of a lot of runners in front of use were going to ‘lose’ by finishing before 12am.

Midnight Owl 15K finishers medal
Midnight Owl, finisher’s medal

We hit mile 8 and I was ready to take off, but also recognized that my sister wasn’t feeling quite the same (maybe her lobster roll was a little heavier). I backed off the pace a bit and thought some encouraging words would help. “We’re on the home stretch!” “OWL JAM!” (the chosen phrase yelled among our group during Jen and mine’s post-wedding 5K…) “This is SO MUCH FUN!” Cristina promptly told me to shut up. Thoroughly amused, I ceased my pep talk as we ran down the final stretch and around a corner to the finish shoot… 4 minutes after midnight. Perfect!

Shockingly, 23 people finished between midnight and before us at 12:04! At least 50 runners finished before midnight. 93 of us in total finished the Midnight Owl. What a hoot!

Next Race: Hyland 7 Mile Trail Race–the final Endless Summer Trail Run Series (ESTRS) race of summer 2016! I missed out on July’s ESTRS at Lebanon Hills Regional Park so I’m super pumped to catch the last one.

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