5 min read

2024 Rabid Raccoon Midnight Half Marathon

The concept is simple: Show up at midnight and run 13.1 miles through the woods in complete darkness while dealing with serious elevation, unpredictable weather conditions and sleep deprivation. How awesome is that!
2024 Rabid Raccoon Midnight Half Marathon
Brady's Run park in Beaver Falls, PA

This past weekend on March 17, I ran what has become my favorite trail race: The Rabid Raccoon Midnight Half Marathon. It's one of several distances – 100M, 100K, 13.1 morning & 13.1 midnight – offered by Wolf Creek Race Management under the Rabid Raccoon banner. The concept is simple: Show up at midnight and run 13.1 miles through the woods in complete darkness while dealing with serious elevation, unpredictable weather conditions and sleep deprivation. How awesome is that!

My first experience with this race was last year in 2023. Temperatures were brutal, 19º at the start and 13º at the finish. My water froze within the first few miles, the course was extremely challenging, and after running for a few hours in the woods I was pretty close to hypothermic. But I persevered and finished in the top ten.

So when registration opened up for the 2024 race, I had to toe the line again.

There were some changes implemented this year, however. The race location was moved to Brady's Run, a quaint community park located in Beaver Falls. The race was also changed to a half-marathon, when in previous years it was a 20 miler.

Rob and me just before the race start.

Having done a bit of recon with Rob a few weeks ahead of time to understand the course, I made a couple mental notes and developed a simple strategy for my race:

  1. The first ~5 miles are pretty flat and take place on a mix of road, crushed limestone, grass and jeep trails. I planned to take these quickly, but not red line. If I could keep these miles at or just under 8-minute miles, I thought I'd be in good pack position going into the single track with enough gas to push my tempo for the remaining 8 miles.
  2. There are three significant climbs on the course: mile 5, mile 9 and mile 11. I planned to be conservative on the climbs and then bomb the flats & downhills. It is all downhill for the last 2 miles after the final climb at 11. If I kept enough gas in the tank to open up the throttle on those final 2 miles, it could be a very strong finish.
The elevation profile for the 2024 Rabid Raccoon Half Marathon

Toeing the line this year was a very different experience than last year. First of all, temperatures were in the 50s (balmy!) with showers slated for just after midnight. Second, the start and finish lines were inside the Brady's Run recreation center, which gave people a nice place to hang out before and after the race.

About five minutes before midnight, Rob and I entered the starting corral with 121 other runners. After some pre-race announcements and the national anthem, the airhorn sounded and we were off.

Out of the gate I hung with the middle of the pack in order to settle into a groove. After about a quarter mile, I looked at my watch and noticed we were cruising at about a 9 minute mile. I decided to pick it up to 7:45 and this started to create some separation from the pack. At this time it looked that there were about 10 runners ahead – 3 or 4 way out front (probably running sub-7) and 5 or 6 within striking distance.

I held strong and reserved at 8:15 through the first 2.5 miles and picked off 2 or 3 runners during that road section. At mile 2.5 there was a small climb to another 2.5 miles of jeep trail. Once on the jeep road, I was surprised to find flow again right at 7:45. This is where it started to get muddy; there were some splashy sections and some peanut buttery sections. Between mile 3 and 5, there was a guy drafting me, breathing super heavy. I got a sense he was pushing pretty hard to keep up.

The Breather and I ran together all the way to the mile 5 climb. My strategy was to power hike the three major climbs so once we were on the first, I settled into a driving power hike. The Breather had different intentions so I let him pass and he continued to run up the incline.

With The Breather now pulling away from me, I found myself in the situation I remembered from the previous year: just me – alone – in the middle of the woods, in the middle of the night.

At the top of the hill, I kicked it back into gear and settled into a moderate trail pace over the flowy single track. I basically ran the next 8 miles completely alone, except for some 100-milers who were in the zombie phase of their adventures.

There was a great stream crossing just before the mile 9 climb. I remembered this stream from the recon run with Rob, but was surprised to find it as high as it was. The water was up to my thigh at one point.

The climbs at 9 and 11 went as planned but the rain started somewhere along the way and the mud was getting progressively worse. There was one section on the final climb where I was literally calf-deep in mud and thought my Lone Peaks were going to get sucked off my feet. Quicksand-type stuff.

As I neared the top of the final climb, I saw some headlamps ahead. Still feeling good and with only 2 miles left, I turned on the jets. I saw myself gaining on one of the runners ahead who was walking. It was The Breather! I took him pretty quickly and locked in on two more headlamps ahead.

By this time I was pushing pretty hard and I didn't seem to be gaining on the two runners ahead. I kept pushing but never caught them. They must have saved some juice for their kick as well. The final descent to the rec center and finish line was pretty dicey with all the mud and rain, but I traversed it without issue and sprinted inside to finish the race in 2 hours 6 minutes. I placed 6th overall.

I love this race and recommend it to anyone who enjoys unique experiences and challenges in their adventures. Kudos to Wolf Creek on the success. I'll definitely be back next year and will likely make this an annual tradition moving forward.