If I wrote this report last night, it would have been my last race report ever! As this race finished me before I finished the race. At 2am I swore off running forever!
From the start this was billed as a different trail marathon with the requirements to have a head torch, spare batteries, fully charged phone and jacket as part of your kit. The reason… the race started at 8pm so most would be run in the dark with only head torches to light the way.
Reading the kit list the day before the race made me realise running packs would be required, so a quick trip to Decathlon and two hydration packs purchased – who says, ‘Never use new kit in a race!’ – had obviously not met me.
Upon arrival at the Sea Scout hut in Shoreham the hydration packs made us blend in with the other more experience trail runners – next time we need to remember to pin our numbers onto the legs of our shorts as that is what all the sinewy hardened experienced trail runners clearly do.
The course was a relatively simple and flat affair – after two laps of the rec, run up one side of the river Arun, cross a bridge and back down the other side before repeating this twice. The pre-race information was clear a strict 6 hour cut off, knowing that running in the dark with just a head torch would be harder going I knew the initial pace would need to be higher to allow slippage later in the race.
In the car on the way to the race I made a promise to Mary that I wouldn’t run off and leave her to run alone in the dark, so as the hooter sounded we raced off, at pace equivalent to her parkrun SB. Although this pace was rapid for Mary it wasn’t for the rest of the field so we were left at the rear as others stormed off.
Saturday was easily the best weather of the weekend and the 8pm start time had pleasant temperatures and clear blue skies as the sun started to set over the bluff; a perfect start to the race. Quickly dropping into a very easy pace despite the uneven terrain, narrow path and occasional long grass I dragged Mary around the first 10km a fraction over the hour with my breath only puffing when I had to take a suck on my hydration pack. Mary on the other hand sounded like she was auditioning for the voice of Darth Vader as the pace for her was on the edge of discomfort but we knew that every extra metre we got in the before the dark set would be worth it if we were to make the cut off.
As luck would have it, on the same time, on most of the same route a herd of pole wheedling maniac walkers would be taking part in an event, a quick judicious positioning of a marshal helped us runners stay on course. Although the lack of politeness of the more bearded of walkers made circumventing them far more difficult than necessary.
Heading back to the turnaround point to end the first lap the sun finally set and darkness crept in. Suddenly the need for a head torch was obvious as there was a total lack of any man made light upon the unpaved wild route with just a half moon shining down out of the misty sky, however we were well within the time we set ourselves for the first lap.
Grabbing a cup or two of coke, flapjack, fruit and jelly babies – as our number was marked to indicate we had completed a lap – we set off for the second lap, still making good time. We passed 13.1 miles in 2hrs 20 in fine form our pace slowing slightly as the darkness fell and the path narrowed and the blackness of the Arun came closer to run route.
There were no facilities on route, however the close proximity of nature and darkness meant a wild wee was no biggie. After the furthest control point as we crossed the river, my mind said no more, my legs said no more and I dropped to a walk. After a half mile of walking on the best paved surface of the route (wide compact gravel path) we decided to run again and until the stile made good pace under torch light. At the stile I missed the route and ended up on the raised bank, rather than the path alongside the river.
My pace slowed as the grass got thicker, and higher. Mary made the sensible decision to slither down the bank onto the path I kept trudging on; fighting the grass and cursing the nettles. My toe which had been aching since mile 1 hurt more, my inner thigh I pulled at parkrun moaned, my stomach bloated and gurgled like a blocked drain, I was a broken man and gave up. Telling Mary to go on without me as I was finished running I watched the halo of her head torch disappear into the dark and I was left alone on the bank. I tried running but my body was having none of it! As I dragged myself onwards I was passed by the race leaders, had there been anywhere to stop and sit I would have done so, but not wishing to be stung or prickle further I had no option but to keep going.
Slowly I made it to the control point, and was given the choice go on as I was within the cut off time but after the last mile of walking I just wanted the run over, to be honest I wanted to be driven back to the scout hut for tea and cake, but I had to stagger on myself a beaten man left to worry about Mary alone in the dark! Would I ever see her again!
After navigating the (1/2 mile – ummm long half from my Garmin!) bumpy rutted path I made it back to the hut, grabbed my hoody and tracksuit and a cup of much needed tea, I waited for Mary. After seeing runners missing the last turn (the arrow was tough to spot) I sat and directed runners home as I tracked Mary (always useful to know the Device Manager details for Mary’s phone).
After pinging Mary and realising she wasn’t in the river but on track just going slower – hardly a surprise after all that way alone in the dark! I knew she was going to make it. The ping had rung her phone so she turned on the Road Id tracker during one of her walk breaks on the toughest section of the run so I could follow her far easier.
Once she was on the final run in path I let out a, ‘Go on Mary!’ bellow. Much like the cry of an Elephant over the Savannah. I was sure it could be heard at least a mile up river. Slowly, I saw the bob of two head torches coming towards the finish. At the far aid station along route, Mary collected a fellow runner who waited at the aid station who was in need of company in the dark and they ran the final five miles together, the last two runners home.
Seeing Mary cross the line and collect her crescent moon medal I was full of very mixed emotions; pride that she had run so well in the tough conditions but total frustration that I failed! It is at that point I quit running for good – much like Sir Steve Redgrave in 1996, ‘If you see me in a boat again shoot me!’ Unlike him I didn’t finish with a medal around my neck just disappointment!
The Lunar-Tic Marathon was a well put together race, the aid stations were well stocked and well manned by runners (probably multiple marathon runners) who know how runners would be feeling. Running under torch light was eerie but lots of fun.
Mary Connolly 5:38:52
Daniel Connolly DNF