Lights Out!

Lake Forest Cross Country hosts first ever Night Race, Lights (Sc)Out!


Marni Levinson

Runners take off from the start line through a thick post-storm fog.

Francesca Pezza

What better way to commence spooky-season than with a Cross-Country race in the dark? After getting cancelled last year due to the pandemic, the very first Night Race took place at West Campus on Oct. 7. 

Girls Cross Country coach Steve Clegg first considered this event over a decade ago. But, it wasn’t as easy as suspected; there were many unforeseen logistical challenges. These included difficulties in lighting up the whole course and the complexities that come with creating a whole new meet entirely. 

“We finally figured out a few years ago that if we didn’t do a three mile race, then we could have a shorter course, so less lights, and people might want to come and think of it as a workout instead of a whole new 3-mile race. We’d make it mid-week and shorter, avoid weekends that are full, and we wouldn’t need as many lights,” Clegg said.

Pre-race course setup. Picture courtesy of Marni Levinson.

The team thought they were finally going to get the chance to host the event last year, but like many plans, it fell victim to the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite the discouragement of its cancellation, there is no doubt that the entire XC program shared that gratitude and embraced every moment of the especially Covid-conscious season.

“We were one of few fall sports that got to happen, and as disappointed as it was, I was still grateful we got to do anything at all,” Clegg said.

However, the event, years in the making, at last made its debut.

The final decision in regards to the course was to modify it to two-miles: two and a half loops around the middle field and then cut into the football field for a final lap to finish by the stands. These modifications and the race overall were made possible by all the hard work put into it behind-the-scenes, especially by the Athletic Department.

The athletic office fully supported the race all the way through the process of planning and coordinating, and made sure everything happened smoothly. Tom Reau and the grounds crew spent hours during the days leading up to the race going over the new configuration of the course with fresh paint, installing flags, setting up the many heavy-duty lights, and making sure the sensing matt finish line had all its technicalities fixed and ready to go.

The team showing off their glow sticks and freshly painted arms and legs. Picture courtesy of Marni Levinson.

The Trainers were preparing for any problem or injury that could happen, along with providing the runners with their basic pre and post-race needs. Girls coaches Marni Levinson and Chris Landvick were there through every step of the planning process, leading the team through practices, and arriving right after school in the days before the race to get things set up and organized.

The day everyone had been waiting for finally arrived. The Lights-Out merch was on, the music was blasting, the sun was setting. 

Oh, and lightning was striking.

From the beginning, the biggest worry of the night was the weather (it’s always the weather). Some runners had been loyally tracking the weather app every single day of the week, anxious about the storms in the forecast. Of course, the weather proved to be difficult which only added to the pre-race anxiety.

However, this failed to cease the vibrant energy of all teams, who were forced to take cover inside the gymnasium. The spirit in that gym was high and hopeful, even through an hour of complete uncertainty if the race would still happen or not. Thankfully, there was an endless supply of body-paint of all colors to keep the teams busy, triggering an unexpected team-bonding.

A mix of LFHS and Vernon Hills runners dancing it out before their races. Picture courtesy of Mr. David Tzau.

“The paint everyone had on them made it so fun even though mine took a lot of work to get off!” freshman runner Gianna Lagunas said.

Soon enough, the sirens silenced and the Athletic Department gave the “OK to continue the race. The lightning delay had caused the original six races–Open, JV, and Varsity for girls and boys–to be condensed down to four (the open and JV races were combined). 

The ambiance was unforgettable, a testament to the unifying nature of the sport. Teammates were warming up together in packs, sporting their school pride. LFHS band members were playing “Industry Baby” on their instruments. The girls LFXC team was showing off their yellow and blue head-to-toe “SCO-UTS” body paint. The music from a meaningful, motivating playlist that was put together by the girls team on Levinson’s Spotify account, was booming from the speakers of the football field.

The atmosphere was incredible. I haven’t been at a race that supportive in a long time.”

— senior Julia Deluca

“I was motivated by the music in the last lap of the race. It motivated me to run faster, and I even remember the song that was playing when I finished: Mr. Brightside,” junior runner Chelsea Tzau said. 

This playlist was no joke, at exactly seven hours and forty-one minutes. Better yet, it triggered a massive dance party before the first race with other teams joining in right and left.

There was a slight chill to the air–crisp for after the downpour–and a thick fog had settled low to the ground. As soon as the first gun was fired, the runners found themselves striding through creepy clouds of mist, adding to the excitingly spooky atmosphere of the night. Crowds of parents and friends lined the course and the stands, ringing cowbells and cheering loudly for the racers. 

“The atmosphere was incredible. I haven’t been at a race that supportive in a long time. Everyone was cheering on everyone, no matter what team,” four-year senior runner Julia Deluca said.

Picture courtesy of Mr. David Tzau

The boy’s team also felt the infectious energy that night.

“Something in the air that night,” junior runner Noah Karr said. “We were all together, running through the mud and whatnot and overall just having a blast.” 

The final results showed the LFXC boys placing 2nd in both of their races, and LFXC girls placing 1st and 3rd in their races. Yes, everyone was competing against each other; however, the race reignited a nostalgic aura of togetherness more than anything. 

“It reminded me how much I love cross country not only for the sport, but the people around me,” Lagunas said.