We were told that if we enjoyed trail running in the daylight, then we were in for a real treat running in the dark. This could not have been more accurate.
No time to stand around in the cold rainy night waiting for the start, as we barely made it in time to pick up the race numbers and very importantly use the bathroom one last time before the race. We might not like to talk about it, but most runners will know it’s important to be comfortable before a long run – needs must be attended to, especially after a long car journey.
Last few words of encouragement to each other – it is the first time in ages the whole Mountain Trail Chasers team is together at the start line – and we’re off! Short, middle and long distance runners all start together: a herd of Lycra and waterproof clad beasts with bright lights shining from our foreheads.
In the dark there is extra focus on the ground in front, so much of the time is spent looking at the feet of whoever is in front of me, trying to react quickly enough if a large puddle or muddy patch presents itself out of the blue.
The rain and dark night, combined with the automatic fast pace runners adopt in an effort to keep warm, makes me feel like I am in the middle of a bunch of excited kids running from mischief instead of a few kilometres into a race. There is something incredibly child-like about splashing around on the mud. In a strange way, it feels like we all know about a secret, a good one, and are running into the night before everyone else hears about it.
It doesn’t take too long before I am steaming up under all my layers, which for me is not a bad thing as I can move more comfortably when warm. Best of all, I decided to wear my new waterproof Sealskinz socks, meaning I can run through the mud and wet puddles and barely feel it when my shoes get wet. Toasty toes guaranteed, yes please! A choice I was thankful for as the rain kept falling throughout the race.
All runners are given glow bracelets to wear during the race, and based on the colour you can identify the route to follow. This time we are running the long route – 15 km – so we, the MTCs, wear and follow the red glow sticks. In the dark and misty night, the thin, long objects almost look like they are floating from the tree branches, like little starving ghosts.
The first fork in the road comes before long. This is when the long route breaks off from the rest of the herd. All of the sudden, I find myself with more space to move and less problems overtaking, but also less light. Luckily the route is well marked with both signs and the coloured glow sticks. Friendly marshals were also positioned at key junctions, ensuring we didn’t miss a turn in the dark.
Still, undoubtedly, it’s much easier to push on when following other runners and their head torches. Inevitably though, there are moments when you are alone, and only your torch lights up a tiny fraction of the path ahead of you, while the rest of your surroundings are being swallowed by darkness.
A train sneaking its way in the distance like a glowing caterpillar made for a beautiful and magical sight. Racing, or perhaps even just running in the dark really transforms the landscape in to a surreal and mystical world. It might only be our perspective of things that is transformed, yet the experience turns into something perhaps more childlike, where the imagination can run wild. It is an adventure well worth taking!
Occasionally, it got so cold my breath steamed up in the evening air, creating a white, almost impenetrable cloud of fog in front of my field of vision. Blinded by my own breath, it becomes even harder to focus on the uneven surface beneath my feet.
For much of the race I stay close behind Des, or at least so that I can spot him in the distance. The two reflective patches on the back of his running vest act as identifiers, along with his running style and stature. I overtake him on a couple of occasions, but it never takes long before he’s in the lead again. I am just happy to keep up, and know this means my pace must be decent. I need this assurance because there are moments I feel great and like flying, but also a few when my breathing is loud and laboured and I seriously question my fitness.
As usual, the event was a great success for us, with Lenka coming 4th woman with a time of 1:15:13 and Caro 5th, less than a minute behind her, at 1:15:56. Des overtook me right in the end, and finished the race with a time of 1:25:38, coming 53rd male. I crossed the finish line – just like Caro with Lenka – less than a minute after him, at 1:26:19, arriving as the 11th woman.
Overall, another amazing and thoroughly enjoyable event by the Maverick series. Incredibly well organised, perfectly signposted (which was great considering conditions) and a brilliant course – though we did miss the hills usually added to Maverick races a little. Thanks to everyone involved in the event. Let it rain, hail and howl, running on muddy trails in the dark is a real treat!
A group of friends in love with running in the trails and sharing their racing experiences here.