Cue a trip to London for a course that got cancelled a few days before. But I’ve booked everything I squealed. I can’t afford to loose money. Hell I am going anyway and anyway I had booked a run on the South Downs on the Saturday evening as I was too tight to pay for London accommodation. Well that’s my excuse anyway. Instead I bought a £10 Tesco Basic light weight tent that would fit in my 50 litre rucksack stuffed my rucksack with stuffed up sleeping bag, mat, pillow and some running gear and off I went to London.
You are 26.2% crazy for doing this
After a pleasant day in London with friends eating Sushi in Green Park (oh go us – Sushi is great pre race!) I ventured on a little train to a little village called Petersfield in the South Downs. I fancied a no pressure, no light, no road trail run and this fitted perfectly – the South Downs Midnight Marathon. Brilliant. And at £30 with ample checkpoints and hot food after – what did I have to loose?
I eventually found Queen Elizabeth Country Park and the set up for the race. After collecting my number I asked where I could pitch up. We weren’t supposed to but it was only for a roof over my head rather than pay £104 for a Premier Inn that I would probably get 1 hours sleep in. So up went my very basic Tesco Basic 2 man tent that just fitted me and my rucksack in. But hell for £10 you can’t go wrong. Pretty light too.
She runs the night
Race HQ felt really friendly to start with, a few guys with campervans and another girl with a tent, all others must be quite local. Well that’s what I thought until race briefing when we were told there were people from Italy and Norway doing the race – brilliant!
About 135 runners listed with 2 staggered starts, one at 8pm for those who may walk and 9pm for those who may run. I say may as a, it would be dark and b, its quite hilly. Apparently.
Race briefing done, Tesco value tent all zipped up, race vest all sorted after ample amounts of faffing. No need for waterproofs or much else, just water, food, energy supplies and a long sleeved just in case it got chilly if the moon went in. Of course compulsory kit of head torch, spare batteries and mobile phone. Tick tick tick.
9.10pm we were all lined up and off we went. The start was a great little hill, a mile or so up, gravel pathway – easy to run on as dusk settled on the 100 or so runners in the 9pm slot. I puffed my way up the hill taking it steady as I didn’t want any injuries. Puff puff puff. Soon it levelled off. The course was an out and back so I was aware of the markers and the directions I would need to take on the way back. Little painted arrows on the pathway had been marked to show the way back a nice little touch especially 26 miles in. But I was only 1 mile in and had a lot more running to do before reaching the point I was at just now.
Conquer your inner night owl
2 miles in and I was feeling the space and the love for the trail. The trail turned to tarmac – oh no cried my feet but we had been told there was a maximum of 2 to 3 miles of road and not all at once. And they were right.
Even the road felt good, with the moonlight shining on the open country lane it felt beautiful and calm. The pattering of feet down the hill, up the hill, down the hill, up the hill, this was tranquil running at its best. I wasn’t going out hard at all just enjoying every step.
The road soon turned into a trail again and there I was some 4 miles in with the first checkpoint looming. I shouted my number had a drink of juice and a handful of Haribo’s and ran on my way.
The moonlight will guide me
The South Down’s Way is all easily signposted. The RD had put little illuminous arrow stickers on the signposts too so it was hard not to go wrong. In addition sometimes a little flicker of a head torch would appear from the runners in front. The running felt as calm as the summer skies. I was in my happy place.
A couple more hills, and more trails amongst a couple of road crossings that were carefully manned. The next checkpoint at just over 9 miles had the same selection of goodies, and I had the same routine, shouted my number, a cup of juice, filled up one of my bottles and a handful of haribos. Still feeling really good at 9 or 10 miles in my head torch shone the light as my feet followed.
My love is running deeper than the night, stronger than the north wind blowing
The moon lit the open pathways across the way. Sometimes the path would dip into dark woodland, I was constantly altering the beam on my torch. Full beam for woodland and mini beam for open land. Easy. I wasn’t sure how long the battery would last but as per compulsory kit I had spare batteries on me.
11 and 12 miles whizzed on by, some of the speedies were now returning. I had overheard a conversation about a ‘massive’ hill around mile 13, was this before or after the turnaround. I was soon to find out as I zoomed on down the pathway towards the next checkpoint. A quick fill up of the bottles, more harribos, a juice and a cake bar for good measure I expressed my thanks and went on my way – back up the hill.
This was fun, lots of runners coming down the hill the other way, cheering each other on. Up the hill I ran. Great fun. This was a great hill and perfectly placed after the check point. I filled up my water bottle with powered energy drink whilst jogging lightly up the hill and munched on some Kendal Mint Cake. Lovely. It was such a warm evening. It must have been around 11pm and here I was dancing around the South Downs in Tee and Shorts eating Kendal Mint Cake. Slightly surreal.
Darkness guides your marathon
Back along the way I came, remembering the hills I had climbed, at times slightly thinking that the downhills were less steep and the uphills steeper – always happens, right? Soon enough 17 odd miles had been clocked up and the moon was still shining as I entered the checkpoint once again. Usual ritual with a polite thank you I went on my way still loving the moonlight and the delicious trails.
Another 4 or so miles to the next checkpoint and lots of dark woodland and open moonlight space to be ran through. Pitter pattering through the Downs. Unfortantly my head torch then blew and I was stupid enough not to have brought a hand held torch to help me see to change the batteries – DOH!. I had to wait for another guy to catch me up to borrow his headtorch so I could make sure the batteries were put in the right way around. They were only cheap batteries so I hoped they would last me to the end of the race however long that may be. Anything can happen in a marathon 18 miles in apart from your headtorch going, anything can happen in a Midnight marathon 18 miles in, and it was probably about Midnight too – perfect timing.
With head torch now shining brightly once again I floated down the hills, carefully gazing at the outcropped stones and tree roots. A gorgeous trail even in the dark. Soon the final checkpoint appeared and with the same ritual I took even more harribos and ensured I had enough water to get me to the finish. I was still feeling relaxed by this stage a little tired I admit but relaxed, running in my own moonlight.
While you were sleeping I was running
As anything can happen in a marathon come mile 22 and 23 I began to feel lethargic. It must have been well past midnight by now. Of course it’s time to have a rough patch. I had carried a couple of gels with me just in case and this was one of those just in case times where I needed to take the gel to perk me up. Down it went – it was actually ok – a nice Torq gel. Quite like them thank you very much. This soon perked me up and I smiled as I thought this puts a ‘morning run’ on a new level.
So just 3 ish miles to go, back on the road I bumped into another lady who was an 8pm start. She politely asked if I was a 9pm start and that it looked like I was ‘First Lady’ ok let the battle in my head start now.
As it was dark I had no idea who was infront or behind me and as I was enjoying it so much it didn’t matter either. I ran on back on the trail and through the car park, we had been warned not to go down the road but to carry on up the hill – I remembered this from the out section but forgot how steep the hill was and was beginning to loose my energy once again. Maybe another piece of Kendal Mint Cake would help those depleating sugar levels? Too late to take a gel now with only 2 miles left. So Kendal mint cake won (and cheaper).
But alone in darkness
Back on the flat I knew from here onwards it was downhill all the way. Fantastic. I watched the darkness pass me as I ran on chasing my own moonlight, no one else around me just me and the dark trails and a few arrows to show me the way. At one point I thought I had gone too far but I was mistaken, the darkness playing tricks on me. Don’t do that darkness of dark please not this close to the finish. Silent but smiling
With Running you will understand and by understanding you will Run even more.
The turning back to the start was clearly marked, this had been the 1 mile point when all watches had gone beep a beep beep. So a mile of downhillness began. Once again chasing my own headtorch I ran down no one chasing me me chasing no other humanoid just me and my headtorch.
I could see the lights at the finish but when I got down to the concrete pathway I got a bit confused and kind of stopped, where was the finish? Just follow the concrete pathway and the tape you numpty don’t just stop there. Arrgh! Brain freeze! Then I was off again for the 100 or so yards into a gazebo. Fantastico!
Just over 4 hours with 3200ft of climb in the dark, feeling good for the majorty of the way, not pushing it too hard but feeling relaxed in a safe and controlled manner, I loved the route, loved the run, loved the placings of the checkpoints, loved it. Just to finish off all the love, I was handed a rather large trophey for 1st Female, a brilliant owl medal and a lovely ‘midnight marathon’ tee. Share all the love.
There waiting at past 1pm was chilli, even vegan chilli for the vegan runners, chilli and roll in the middle of a field in the middle of the night. Bliss. I was soacking wet yet it had not rained once. It was 20 degrees in the middle of the night.
Stars can’t shine without darkness
I said goodnight and packed my way off to my Value Tent in hope for some sleep. But I know too well that its hard to get sleep after a long run especially straight away. With runners coming in left right and centre with the beams of their headtorches and the buzz of Race HQ along with the buzz of my legs and head there was little chance I was going to get any sleep at all. Thank goodness for Tesco Value £10 tent.
Wide awake at 3am, 4am and 5am I decided to get up. Apparently there were still two girls out on course. RD and crew were kind enough to chat to me and even give me a lift back to the station, as no taxi firm would come and get me that early on a Sunday morning. I can’t thank the crew enough for their kind hospitality. Back at the train station I got chatting to a couple of guys from Norway / Scotland whilst awaiting for the first train back to London. Only positive comments were exchanged about this fantastic event on the South Downs. Do I recommend it? Of course!