Racing through the night…

Dusk_til_Dawn_2080

The cold of the frosty, frozen road is slowly creeping through my thin running tights, I munch angrily on another caffeinated energy chew and squirt water in to my mouth. I sit facing down hill, my back to the evil climb that is still in front of me. I’ve been climbing for what seems ages, the map shows many more contour lines that are yet to be overcome. It’s stopped raining, the temperature has dropped, I’m cold and alone. My ankle is screaming in agony. Why am I here..? It’s 4 o’clock in the morning, I’ve been running for over 10 hours, I’m exhausted but  must go on, I still have another 12 miles until I can rest… I must be crazy…

Dusk_til_Dawn_12

Why am I here..? I’ve asked that already. The truth is, I thought it would be a good idea! But then I’m not known for my good ideas. But back some time before the pain started, months ago, I heard about this race, this race through the night, in the heart of the Peak District… The Dusk ’til Dawn 50 mile ultra, a qualifying event for the UTMB… I was in before the ink had even dried… I’ve wanted to do an ultra for ages, but more so to do the UTMB. To do one at night, just made it sound even more fun… And I guess in mid June 50 miles, on a dark, cold October night sounds easy right… I thought so too…

So that’s how I got here… Well actually I’m sat on the road, a broken man, I’ve run 38 miles so far tonight, I’ve another 12 to go, my ankle at best is sprained. I’ve run out of energy, I’m tired and cold and low… The night started well, and got better, so long ago!

We drove down to the Peak District from Newcastle on Friday night, I wanted a good nights sleep, followed by an easy morning with no driving, just loads of good food and plenty of extra sleep. We woke to a stiff breeze but clear skies, perfect running conditions, 9 hours until the start of the race, plenty of time for a good breakfast and more sleep… I like this life…

Dusk_til_Dawn_36

Chief whip, personal Doctor, time keeper, and all round support crew Katie headed out for a long bike ride, as I curled up asleep in the back of the van, just round the corner from the race start. 15:30 soon came and it was time for the kit check, time to sign the dotted line, I was fit and healthy, ready to run 50 miles through the night…

Signed in, finale preparations made, bag packed and it’s time for the pre race briefing…. where we got the delight of meeting the Grim Sweeper. To finish the race, collect the UTMB Qualifying Points and beat the Dawn we have to run faster than 3.55mph, if we don’t the Grim Sweeper will catch us and claim our souls….

Dusk_til_Dawn_2072

17:40… It’s time to get ready to leave… a bunch of nervous men and women gather at the end of a remote lane, on the edge of Castleton… waiting for starters orders… Photos are taken… Hugs with loved ones… Good lucks exchanged, nervous laughs and then at 17:42 as the sun sets, we are off…

The first mile is a brutal up hill warm up, climbing steeply up Bak Tor and then along the ridge to the summit of Losehill where we make our first token drop. The views from up here are amazing, I wish I had a camera, I had debated long and hard about carrying a small compact with me, but knowing 95% of the route would be in the dark, I had opted to save the weight, I wished I hadn’t. From Bak Tor it is mostly down hill, in to the village of Hope. It’s now finally dark enough to warrant switching on the head torch. Back through Casleton at mile 5 and almost an hour of running, we are cheered through the village by supporters and get strange looks from those who aren’t quite sure why 70 odd lycra clad individuals are running past in the dark…

Out of Castleton we climb again, up through a rocky gorge, if it was light, if we could see I’m sure would be a spectacular route. The gorge even in the dark is impressive, lights from dozens of head torches bounce of the walls, as we race ever onwards…

Checkpoint 1, mile 9, is suddenly there, in front of us… chocolate, cake, squash, water… A quick stamp on the number card, a handful of jelly sweets and we are on our way, the night is still young, no time for hanging around….

We race down the road, into and through Millers Dale, past Richard the race organiser who assures us the next bit is the best… we cross a footbridge and there in the glum of the dark we can just make out another hill, a steep hill, a muddy steep hill… At least there’s a handrail… I pull a gel from my pack, slow the legs and eat my way up… at least everyone else is groaning…

Checkpoint 2 is approaching, I can’t wait, my feet are muddy and cold, there are clean dry socks in my drop bag. I have an urge to eat Jaffa Cakes and Katie will be there with the van, which is full of Jaffa Cakes… We climb another stile, they are starting to get a little harder, every one is a new challenge to face… but I turn into the village of Earl Sterndale, pounding pavement, I look for the van as I approach the school, CP2… It’s not there… A marshal point’s the way, I call out my number, 091… They are expecting me, bad news, the van has broken down, no dropbag, no Katie, no jaffa cakes… At least I packed a spare pair of socks… I eat soup, fill my water bottles and try and phone Katie… no reception… the race must go on…

Fresh socks, add a spring to my step, something so simple speeds me on, up and over another big hill. I can’t quite work out how they have managed to find so many steep hills… But the views, even in the dark night are spectacular as I run along a muddy ridge, skipping through puddles, past a quarry, then a Stock Car Circuit, over more fields and past a lab where they make explosives…

Eventually I come out on a little road, running on my own now, its starting to snow, as I work up hill, yes another uphill… I can make out the sodium glow of lights at the Cat and Fiddle pub, which is checkpoint 3… Images of steak and chips flash momentarily through my brain, washed down with a nice pint of local ale… I dig out another gel, and squeeze the sweet gloop into my mouth…

It’s stops snowing as I jog in to CP3, hot coffee is handed over, a jeep with its tailgate up offers up a feast of sweets and crisps, I dig in, before moving on. Its getting cold and windy, and wet… I don’t notice the inevitable, I run along the road before turning onto a muddy bridleway. My hand’s are thrust deep into my armpits, I’m shivering uncontrollably, eventually I realise my body is shutting down, its raining and I’m cold…

I stop, and pull my Montane jacket from my pack… I pull it over my head, not bothering to unzip it… immediately I feel more secure, safer from the cold outside… Next I slip on a pair of Feather Lite Pants they’re not waterproof, but cut out the wind and drizzle as I jog along the track leading up to token drop 2, arriving at the same time as another runner, I stop to gaze at the view for a  few moments.

The next section is mostly paved moorland path, my legs come to life and I’m flying again… secure with the extra layer of protection, and with it bringing a new energy… restoring my will to go on. The joy of running in the rain, speeds me onwards, through the mud, puddles and night… I catch up with a couple of other runners and slow for a chat, before heading on alone again… There’s a fun little descent, through some trees and across a river, followed by a tricky, slippery uphill section. I slow to a walk as I climb through the trees.

Initially I don’t notice the sharp pain shooting up my left leg, spasming, radiating out from my ankle, as my foot slips off a root or rock, I’m not quite sure, but as I put my left foot out again I stop. Agony. Race over. Night over. It hurts. No it doesn’t, you just think it does. You can still run. No you can’t. I try again, this time more gingerly, no its definitly not good… I walk, its dark, cold and wet… At the top of the bank I find a marshal point, I lean against the warm car bonnet, putting thoughts of my ankle out of my mind, warming myself from the engine below. My fingers are cold as I struggle with zips in my search for food, the marshal helps, points the way and I trot away, trying to hide the pain of every step… If I don’t tell anyone, I can run on… it doesn’t hurt, if no-one knows!

We cross over fields, up more hills, past sheep, eyes glowing in the dark like glow worms. Over walls and through a broken wooden gate, eventually footpaths turn on to roads and I’m climbing slowly up Milton Lane… running has all but stopped, putting one foot in front of the other is a mind game, knowing every other step results in pain, at least there is no one around to see… as I give up and sit angrily on the road, munching caffeinated energy chews, my back to the evil climb that remains before me…

I don’t know how long I sat there for, I had lost all track of time ages ago. The cold crept in to my bones. I couldn’t do it any more. It was too far and I was broken. I might have cried. I dared not look behind me at the uphill struggle I faced, as first I had to deal with another one, a mental one. Below in the depths of doom, I saw a light flicker, there it was again, I realised it must be another runner approaching, further down the hill, around the corner… I couldn’t let them see me like this, I couldn’t show my weakness, not out here alone in the dark… I rose to my feet, turned and slowly worked my way up hill…

Ages later, I’m caught by two runners. We shared tales of the night and then Paul (I think he was called) dug into his bag and produced an anti-inflammatory for my now swollen ankle, which was quickly washed down before he could withdraw his offer. As they slowly disappeared into the distance, I shifted all thoughts of finishing, to just getting me to check point 4. 40 miles is still a respectable distance I tell myself. I would at least then be warm, safe, dry and I could eat and rest, I would come back another day and complete the race. I plodded on, one foot in front of the other, in my own dark world.

I sit in the tent at CP4, it looks horrid outside, but you don’t notice until you get out of it. Its warm and dry in here, I don’t complain as I’m passed another cup of soup. I look at my map, suddenly as the soup warms me I don’t want to quit. I’ve got this far, I can get further. The warmth of a dry car beckons, but the stone arch at Losehill Hall and glory also beckons. I hear tails of the Grim Sweeper, slowly catching up and claiming souls. Its now or never, I force myself out into the cold night.

I jog slowly along the ridge with another runner, we try to make conversation, but neither of us are in the right place for chit chat, so I move slowly on, soon disappearing in to a thick mist. Gradually as the mist envelops me, my speed increases, my legs come back to life. Its as if I’ve woken from a bad dream, as the agony of the last couple of hours slips slowly away. I run down a hill, and out along a rutted Land Rover track. I catch up with Paul and his friend, I thank him again for the pain relief and carry on. I pass more racers, I’m alive and loving running in the thick mist and dark night. Through gates, the track is like a stream as water pours off the moors, it reminds me of running at home in North Yorkshire. Without realising, I’m suddenly at the final vehicle checkpoint. As I’m handed cold pizza and vegetable samosas, I learn that the final leg has been altered due to the weather. From here we are to stick to the road back in to Castleton, avoiding the final leg up and over Lords Seat and Mam Tor, I set off slowly head down, hood up against the pouring rain, running in the gutter, splashing through the endless stream.

A car slows next to me and Richard sticks his head out shouting encouragement, it spurs me on as I head into the wind before tucking down through Winnats Pass. It is steep, and each step is hurting my ankle again, but a little over two miles away, there’s a dry room and cooked breakfast waiting…

Running through Castleton, its seems so long ago that I was last here, I fight myself to keep running, forcing out each step, every corner brings false hope that its the last. Foot steps behind me force me forward. I struggle to lift my head, but when I do, I see Katie waiting at the road end. She shouts at me, telling me to go faster, I can’t stop now. My mind played tricks, convincing me the drive to Losehill Hall was short, as I run those final yards, I feel every single one, and its by no means short.

I stand under the arch, confused. There are lots of lights, but no sign yet of the dawn. Its still raining and I no longer need to run. Katie is excited. I am tired. I wander in circles, trying to work out what I am meant to do now. I had planned the run, but never thought about the finish. Eventually I’m pushed and pulled towards the van, dry clothes, food and coffee… I have a new t-shirt, maybe a couple of new blisters and 50 miles of memories.

Dusk_til_Dawn_0050

50 Miles, 9000ft of ascent, Darkness, 13 Hours 57 Mins of Running, 41st place.

Now I can sleep.

3 Comments

on “Racing through the night…
3 Comments on “Racing through the night…
  1. Pingback: Heading to the Dusk 'Til Dawn 50 Mile Ultra | Reuben Tabner

Comments are closed.