Meet organizer Randall Edens and Interlake High School Cross Country captains share their October experience!
As the leaves turn gold and runners begin feeling that familiar chill in the air at training, dozens of high school cross-country teams across Washington State look forward to the Twilight XC Invitational, an exciting annual mid-season romp at the Cedarcrest Golf Course in Marysville. The meet is only a few weeks from Halloween, which the glow-in-the-dark, spooky-themed specialty gear from Nike reminds participants all too well about. Usually set to host Twilight in early October, the golfing green that typically bustles with cross-country tents, bands of jittery runners getting through their pre-race warmup, and raucous crowds of onlookers along the course is silent and empty this year, save for the occasional golfer. Rising COVID-19 cases have pushed the cross-country season in most of Washington to spring, much to the chagrin of restless runners who were looking forward to redeeming their lost track season with the arrival of the new school year. But Twilight is still alive and well in the memory of Washington’s cross country scene.
For SEA’s Halloween special, I’ve reached out to the founding organizer of the Twilight Invitational, Marysville Getchell High School cross-country coach Randall (Randy) Edens, as well as two of Interlake High School Cross Country’s captains this year: Rachelle Cormier and Jasper Chattra. They’ve gladly shared their dual Twilight experiences from both behind the scenes and on the course. Additionally as a member of Interlake XC, I wanted to exclusively shed light on some of our team’s fun, quirky autumn traditions.
The Origin Story
Twilight’s conception goes back to a Marysville Getchell XC bus ride to Oak Harbor fourteen years ago, where Edens and the assistant coach wondered how they could turn a mid-season meet into a fun “under-the-lights” experience. The two of them contemplated decor like light towers, festive Halloween gear to make the memory special for runners. The Cedarcrest golf course had previously been used for the North County Invite, organized by graduating class, e.g. freshman and sophomore races, rather than gender, so girls and boys would run in the same race. (The Twilight invitational races ended up being a departure from this format, with varsity, JV, and underclassmen/upperclassmen races.)
Edens used to work for Cedarcrest in college, which he found helpful when securing the location for Twilight: “Those connections bridged the gap for having an XC meet – I had an understanding of maintenance specifics so the golf course wouldn’t get destroyed after just Year 1 or 2 of Twilight,” he explains. Repeated races where runners’ spiked cross country shoes pound the grass can do damage to the terrain, so Edens helped continue the North County strategy of having the race mostly run through the woody areas that were less frequented by golfers.
Twilight quickly became a well-loved cross country event throughout Washington and prior to COVID was one of the largest meets in the state aside from the Hole in the Wall Invitational. Over the years Twilight has expanded to register teams from up to 80 schools, and Edens is confident he knows why runners keep coming back every season.
One of Twilight’s defining aspects is its course, which runs net downhill and is largely composed of close-cropped grass underfoot. The North County meet previously “had a course that went in the opposite direction to now, which was much more challenging because there used to be way more ups and downs,” Edens reveals. Intrigued, I asked him why he changed the course to essentially run backwards. “Halfway through the season, runners want to get a good time. So we had to consider the question, ‘Is the course fast enough?’ We inverted it because you’re almost guaranteed to run a quick time: we wanted to strike a balance between a fast course and a memorable race that kids want to consistently go back to. A net uphill course would have discouraged teams from coming back.” Edens describes the top 25-50 times of Twilight history as “very impressive, close to the fastest times at the state meet.”
Interlake’s XC captains couldn’t agree more. “Running the course is exciting: there are tons of people cheering for you and the race is very fast. It’s very competitive as there are no gaps [between runners] in this race like other ones. It’s so packed that if you just keep pushing, you’ll definitely pass girls,” Rachelle describes the Twilight course. Indeed, where some race courses tend to have runners sparsely arranged, the Twilight Invitational’s sheer size and the relative smoothness of its course allow for more direct competition and tight racing packs. Jasper describes Twilight as “the cleanest and usually fastest course of the year, which certainly helps.” Scheduled for mid-season, the race is reminiscent of “a midterm examination, except fun – it’s the biggest test of the year until the “finals” of League, Districts and State Championships, but it’s also a celebration of progress (and [a celebration] in general, I suppose),” Jasper explains.
Of course, Edens and the other organizers are careful to make sure the elapsed distance is indeed a 5K (3.1 miles). He gives a course overview: “Once you get to a mile and a half it becomes a gradual downhill, with the last ¾ mile as a super huge downhill.” The golf course is trimmed and cut, usually solid underfoot save for particularly rainy weekends. Careful not to “thrash the course,” Edens and fellow organizers make sure to clearly chart the course through woodland except for the 150m start and 250m finish which both take place on the fairway, or direct golfing area.
The Organizing Team + Logistics
Even as Edens took on an additional coaching job with girls’ basketball at Lake Stevens High School, he chose to stay with the Marysville Getchell Cross Country Team and plan out the Twilight meet since he was certain that he and his wife “were the only folks who could tackle it and keep it together: if we wanted to leave, Twilight would leave with us.” It’s been 20 years and Randall Edens is still coaching cross-country in the fall while Kim serves as the head track coach at Marysville Getchell in the spring.
Edens is thankful for his wife Kim’s partnership and guidance: together, they make a wonderful team. With her close attention to detail, Kim Edens “finetuned Twilight’s crucial logistics” to complement her husband’s grand vision for each year. The two of them split up the work: while Randall handled the course setup with light towers and arches under his jurisdiction, Kim recruited 60+ volunteers and assigned shifts, creating packets for every team.
In Twilight’s first few years, the Edens’ on-site maintenance on meet day was much more hands-on: there was a swinging gate that runners would pass through to drop off their race tags, which were used to time each individual. Randall and Kim would have to record team results by hand that same night, and athletes would have to wait until the following day to find out exactly how they placed. After the Edens family “made a bit of money in Year 5, we wanted to find someone willing to help us with chip timing (a way to precisely measure race results by having a race chip attached to your shoe as you run across RFID timing mats located throughout the course. Your individual timer begins the moment you cross the mats located at the starting line, and ends as you cross the mats at the finish). They found a Seattle company which was “a little expensive at $2.50 per individual athlete chip,” but it ended up being a worthwhile investment. Rather than having to painstakingly calculate team scores by hand, the new chip timer results were “seamless, with the help of an athletic timing company that syncs races directly to Athletic.net [an online database for runner race times and meet registration]. Folks could track races from their phone and social media, which is very slick. The company also takes care of connection issues and challenges, a blessing for the sake of meet logistics.”
Combined with effective social media outreach, chip timing proved to be a valuable asset in poor weather. “One year during awards we got dumped on with rain. Even though we couldn’t pull teams and kids out of the downpour, chip timing gave us our results and we managed to get awards ready by spreading the news on social media (Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are our 3 main access points). After that incident, I can’t imagine going back to the swinging gate,” Edens tells me.
The Edens could now relax and enjoy the meet more, although they’d still be bustling around on meet day helping chip timers, inflatable arches, and light towers get set up. “My wife and I [symbolically] put out fires together during setup and help make the meet what it is. The same night the meet ends, at around 11 pm-midnight, we all do a good job of doing an immediate post-meet reflection over what went well and what we can improve on.”
The Twilight Invitational features an iconic spread of glow-in-the-dark gear, which Edens has commissioned from the beginning. “The Year 1 shirts are awful: they glowed but they’re not anything close to what we have now,” he tells me. 4 or 5 years ago, Edens found a connection to Nike with Mac Lavier from Gear Up Sports in Hillsboro, Oregon. Nike became a “huge ambassador for both Twilight and Hole in the Wall, which are both very enjoyable meets that complement each other in the cross-country season.” Merchandise collection and distribution became an annual routine: after commissioning designs for Twilight gear by the end of every summer, Edens would drive down to Portland over Labor Day Weekend with his wife and children, load up the car full of glow-in-the-dark T-shirts, hoodies, and dri-fits, and store the clothing in the family garage until the big day.
While the invitational progresses, the Twilight gear quickly sells out from the large T-shirt tent near the golf course entrance: another aspect to which Edens ascribes Twilight’s recurring success. Rachelle credits the Halloween-themed gear, as well as the semi-darkness of the varsity girls race, for the “spooky feels” that Twilight gave her every year. Edens describes the clothes and gear as “a big selling point” that has not gone unnoticed by organizers for other meets. “A meet in Eastern Washington that I won’t give the exact name of has tried to do the glow-in-the-dark shirt thing that we do,” he reveals.
A particularly poignant feature of the race is the array of inflatable, colorful arches that conclude the course, a later addition in Twilight’s 5th or 6th year that Edens now celebrates as “a staple” of Twilight’s excitement. I remember the thrill of passing under those arches in my sophomore and junior year. Glowing pink in the evening gloom, they served as an encouraging reminder to race my hardest to the finish line.
The Fun Run
As a pre-Halloween tradition, the Twilight Invitational concludes with a costume-friendly “Fun Run” at a relaxed pace over a small fraction of the usual 5K race distance. Unfortunately, neither of Interlake’s captains have done the Fun Run, nor have I due to either having to cool down immediately after racing (the Twilight races usually happen in quick succession, and unfortunately in my sophomore year, the 3A varsity girls race was right before the costume run), or because our coach executive-vetoed the Fun Run for Interlake varsity in my junior year.
Despite having never partaken in the Fun Run, Jasper has still enjoyed his Twilight experience, shrugging off the missed costume opportunity as somewhat irrelevant to Halloween anyway. “The Twilight XC run has never actually been about Halloween, despite the immediate parallels. Although both Halloween and the Twilight Fun Run have costumes, the common denominator seems more to be having some fun and revelry in the waning light (maybe unsurprising for a pagan tradition, right?).” An amusing observation! “On the whole, my view of Twilight has been that of the most entertaining and spectacular race of the season. No other race has the same festival-like atmosphere that it exudes, and only State really competes with the energy and “buzz” that runs through it,” Jasper explains.
Twilight and COVID-19
This year, Edens had been set to help put together the local Districts meet at the Cedarcrest golf course. It was supposed to be his first chance to host Districts since normally the meet would take place at South Whidbey High School. He’s currently disappointed about the way things turned out; since it’s late October, Twilight and Districts would have very recently passed. “Hopefully we’ll be able to have a semblance of Twilight this spring when meets begin again,” he says. This is the first autumn in decades that Edens has not experienced a regular cross-country season: he ran XC all through high school and college, returning to Marysville to coach for another twenty years. For a more in-depth history of Twilight, check out its Facebook page!
Once again, a very special thank-you to two of Interlake XC’s amazing captains who gave their take on Interlake XC’s fall traditions. Around mid- to late October, the Interlake girls team will have a team sleepover, which I can vouch for as a warm and lovely experience. Rachelle couldn’t put it better: “It’s a spirited time with all the ladies; there’s a lot of bonding! Last sleepover I remember a moment with all of us in a circle, arm-to-arm, singing Bohemian Rhapsody. We were screaming all the words and it was probably my favorite time from the sleepover.” It would usually start out with a potluck dinner, with the girls circling up to write kind notes for each other, as well as individual goals for the season. There’s an arts-and-crafts session every year and I still have the Interlake XC baseball cap that I decorated colorfully in sophomore year with glittering scrawls of Saints classic blue. The rest of the night races by in a flurry of conversations, cozying up to a movie, and exhaustedly collapsing into sleeping bags. Everyone gets to know each other better throughout the sleepover and we emerge as an even more tight-knit, affectionate group. The boys team has pranked the girls sleepover in previous years, but that tendency has since been discontinued.
A true member of Interlake XC will at least be familiar with Funky Sock Friday, a simple but sweet weekly encouragement to wear socks “designed unusually or with colorful patterns” to practice on Spirit Days. Rachelle has worn socks with llama patterns and remembers her friends wearing sheep-patterned socks on Funky Sock Friday – how fun! Jasper admits, “My chronic forgetfulness has made it so that I rarely have actually remembered to wear funky socks on Fridays… and there hasn’t been much of an opportunity for it at all this year. The “funkiest” (and really the only non-monochromatic) socks that I have are a Seahawks-themed pair. I don’t have much of a favorite of the other socks I’ve seen others wear – it’s just cool to have a little bit of flair at the end of the week.” I myself usually forget as well but when I do remember I try to find longer and more colorful stockings to wear. We’ve even done a Funky Sock Secret Santa exchange over winter training!
Check out @backstreetgurlzxc and @spicyboysxc on Instagram for more exclusive Interlake XC content!
A Closing – Thank you and Happy Halloween!
Hopefully this year is a mere blip in Edens’ fall tradition and that the 2021-22 cross country season can resume as normal, meets and all, in Washington state. Runners, keep taking care of yourselves, your time will come (!) and I hope you enjoyed this read. If you’re an athlete and you’d like your team profiled on SEA, feel free to reach out!