A dark run
Today was one of the best races I've ever entered, the Silva North Downs 10km Night Trail Run. Rosemary was my support team and her mother was driver. On arriving at Cranleigh, I registered quickly and got ready to race. The 1st decision was what to wear. It wasn't cold and rain was unlikely so I chose only one layer.
Sadly, I pulled on my Inov-8's for the last time. These trainers have seen me through peat bogs, over snowy mountains and along the Ashton canal for a few years now and I love them. Alas, they have developed large holes in the uppers, to the point of nearing complete failure. Bin time after the race. Once attired, I trotted up from registration to the starting area, a field on the edge of town which was perfect for the initial warm-up.
A motley field of around 100 runners had assembled, most stood around chatting in a large tent. I could tell we were in Surrey as lots of people were in pristine technical kit. There were even a few (males) with full Salomon adventure racing vests, fully bottled and gelled up. Giving them the benefit of the doubt, I thought they must be practicing for a major Amazonian Expedition race rather than being the male version of a chicken.
There were only 3 of us outside the tent, doing strides and short race pace efforts. Bruce Duncan, from Team Haglofs looked concerned at the bald newcomer beside him. After a brief briefing, we all lined up, switched our head torches on and waited. Rosemary said I "looked serious". I was. The course would be muddy, technical and hilly....everything I struggle with, but I was determined simply to run as hard as I could. That takes focus.
Nicky started us with a megaphoned 3-2-1 Go! The 1st km was on-road so I didn't hold back, knowing that it would be impossible to maintain race-pace in the gloop. I was in around 15th place as we turned and headed off into a wooded trail. The mud wasn't bad, but it was a distinct advantage to be a short-arse as I was continually ducking under branches. People were passing me by this stage but I was determined to have fun.
The 1st hill was a beast, steep and slippery. Fortunately, it was dark and not knowing where the top is in such situations is a positive. I started to walk, driving alternate hands just above my knees for added propulsion. I've learnt that this technique is faster than running on steep ascents. I passed a few people as a result. My downhill technique was less good, so I dropped down the field again on the steep, treacherous descent. The rain had carved a groove in the middle of the trail and the odd scramble was required. I was, however, travelling faster than in daylight simply because I couldn't see anything beyond my light beam.
The 5km mark was hit in around 32mins, reflecting the technical nature of the trail. There were many huge puddles, tree roots and muddy hollows between me and the finish. The final climb ŵas much easier than the 1st though. On the non-technical sections I seemed to travel much faster than those around me. Later, I suggested to Rosemary that based on speed, I think I would have finished much higher up the field. She politely pointed out that technique was an important demand of trail running so my argument was a poor one. She was right.
The final few km's were mainly downhill and I had become more confident. I was now running hard and found myself regularly swapping places with a guy in an orange top. I could hear a small group behind, shouting warnings to each other about mud or holes. "No loosing position now" I said as I hurtled down a narrow path with a barbed wire fence on one side and trees on the other. Orange topped man had gained about 50m on me! My foot shot down a rabbit hole, but I managed to stay upright without doing any damage. I shouted "hole" to warn those behind. "Hole" was repeated about 10 seconds later as the girl behind found her foot in it too.
In the last km, the trail became less technical. I was chasing Mr Orange and another guy down and was catching them slowly. We reached the 400m to go sign, a cue for me as I love track running. The 'other' guy sped up and I smiled. "Ha ha......you really think so Sunshine" I thought. Mr Orange stayed on his heels and I followed on a shoulder. Shortly afterwards, Mr Other blew and was soon far behind. I was feeling confident as the balesha beacon kicked. 200m to go! It was hard but the bit was between my teeth and I still had a bit left. Nicky called over the mic "we've got a sprint finish" and it was my time to kick! BOOM! I was up on my toes and feeling strong. Rosemary saw me and shouted "come on Andy!".
Yes! I crossed the line just ahead of Mr Orange in 33rd place. Booo....he dibbed quicker than me so appeared ahead on the result sheet but I didn't mind. If it was for 1st and 2nd place, I would have been pissed, but hey.....I had enjoyed the race as much as any and done better in the technical sections than ever before. It was my first night race too!
James and the gang at Open Adventure had done a fine job in route planning and signing the course too. Their attention to detail is as good as, if not better than anyone in the UK. They know that people appreciate having the basics done superbly and that optional extras are simply unnecessary. A brill night!