My intention for the Dusk ’til Dawn event this year was to have another crack at the ultra distance (50 miles). I’ve been on the start line for this event three times already. First in 2013 when I won a place through Operation Ultra in Women’s Running Magazine. Next in 2014 when I returned with friends Kev, Tracey and Tom. Finally in 2015 when Tom and I returned to attempt the distance (with friends also running ahead). The 2016 event fell a few weeks after I first came home from hospital after having Oscar, then the event didn’t take place last year and here we are, already in 2018…
Although I knew that a half marathon and marathon event were now also on offer alongside the ultra distance, I really wanted to prove that I was able to complete the 50 mile ultra event within the time allowance. The race is called ‘Dusk ’til Dawn’ due to it’s start time coinciding with nightfall on the Saturday night and the cut-off for the event at the point the sun rises the following morning. As Richard, the Race Director’s Father had sadly passed away this year, the race began one hour before dusk, to be known as ‘Eddie’s hour’. The extra hour was another reason I felt like I was meant to enter the ultra distance this year.
However, when I first entered the event months ago, Tom had also signed up for the ultra and we had planned to run it together. I had fully intended on completing my 100 mile ultra journey at the South Downs Way 100 in June earlier in the year. I hadn’t planned on stopping at mile 78 of the SDW, continuing to train and then eventually completing my 100 mile event three months later in the middle of September, just six weeks before the 50 mile Dusk ’til Dawn ultramarathon.
My feet hadn’t fully recovered from the 100 by the time the week of Dusk ’til Dawn arrived, and Tom also informed me that he would be pulling from the event due to injury/lack of training/a house move. With five other runners from my club running the marathon event I decided to make the switch down to the marathon distance and knew that this was the sensible choice, although one day I will be back to prove myself at the 50 miles!
I hadn’t had the best week leading up to the marathon. That Wednesday afternoon Oscar had been incredibly grouchy and tearful when we returned from the baby group in town. He refused most of his tea, asked for a glass of warm milk and disappeared to bed very early in the evening. I put it down to being overtired, but he was back up and crying for me by 9pm with bright red cheeks and a very high fever. He wanted to do nothing but lay on my chest and cuddle. He had a hacking cough which developed further over the next few days and despite maximum doses of Calpol that evening his temperature never stayed down for long. Needless to say, the next few days were spent with Oscar laying across me feeling rather sorry for himself on the sofa downstairs. By Friday afternoon I was still relying on Calpol to get his temperature down. The bottle states that a child shouldn’t be taking maximum doses of Calpol for more than 3 days in a row, and I worried that I wouldn’t be able to get a doctor appointment for him over the weekend if his temperature remained high by the following day. So I booked him a last minute appointment at the doctors in town for Friday afternoon. Once seen by our doctor, he was referred straight to Kettering hospital with suspected pneumonia. A quick google on my way to hospital revealed some alarming pneumonia facts, but also cleared up for me that he had most likely caught it from another child, rather than just gotten cold because I had let him run around in the garden without his coat on. Luckily, it wasn’t as bad as it could have been and after being observed in hospital Oscar was sent home with a course of antibiotics to take which cleared things up really quickly. It was rather worrying when we were first referred though.
Dan was home all day on the Saturday so could take over from me as head rest and medicine-giver for Oscar. I needed to get out of the house after spending the last two and a half days cooped up on the sofa. Packing for the race was done last minute and I was rather blase about the whole thing. Meh, it’s just a marathon, right?…Turns out I ended up missing the printed instructions from the list of race essential equipment, so had to borrow a set from a friend when we arrived.
The weather was pretty rubbish the whole journey over. The windscreen wipers were on most of the time and we knew it was due to be pretty cold that night. Lots of layers were absolutely necessary!
The race is known for the ‘Grim Sweeper’ who runs at the back of the pack, picking off runners who don’t make the cut-offs in time. I’ve met the sweeper once before, back in 2013 when I ran with Charlie Sharpe, the sweeper for that race, having won the event the year before. Rather fitting that the sweeper head was covering the defibrillator as we lined up for our race briefing before setting off!
I was in two minds whether to run alone or as part of the group, but in the end the six of us from Wellingborough ran together and I realised how much I missed being out there running long distances with friends! Having not run the marathon course before (or read the directions for the marathon distance beforehand, initially thinking that I would be running the ultra) it was probably for the best that I stayed part of the group anyway to be honest!
We nearly missed the start, leaving it to the last possible minute to sneak back to our cars to change out of jeans, boots and oversized hoodies and into our running gear for the night. The six of us were casually waltzing over to the start line, my phone in hand – getting ready for a pre-race club photo when we realised that the countdown to the start had already begun! As everybody crossed the line for the start of the race I was still busy trying to zip away my phone and pull the headtorch from my bag for the run!
Even then, we had gone more than half a mile when Gary turned back, declaring that he thought he had probably left his headtorch in the boot of his car as he had just realised it wasn’t on his head! What an organised bunch we were!
The first few miles of the course were the same as the start of the ultra route and I recognised long sections of the trail. There are some tough, technical climbs (and descents) on the course. I am fairly confident at picking my way up steep, rocky ascents. I don’t have quite so much confidence with my downhill running but I have definitely improved since the first year I headed over to the Peak District for the race.
Because we had the extra hour this year, it meant we were running in daylight for the first few climbs and got a chance to appreciate our view. As I waited for others in our little group to navigate to the top of the climbs I pulled out my camera for a few photos.
Some sections were more technical than others. This first climb wasn’t too bad, but later climbs involved more careful placing of feet on the rocks that were jutting out. I worried that the rocks would be slippy from the rain we’d had earlier in the day but they ended up not being too bad.
I recognised the point where my parents and Dan had sat on the side of the road in a car at the first checkpoint (now several miles into the course) back in 2013. I had been the last person to come into that checkpoint then, but not the last to leave and I started picking other runners off from that point back then. It felt like so long ago!
Navigation was fairly straight forward this year. Gary had run some of the ultra course in 2015 and Kev had run some of the ultra course back in 2014, so between us we barely needed to check directions for which way to go, although took along paper instructions with us just in case. Gary had run the marathon course with Tom back at the 2016 event, which was held just a few weeks after I had Oscar, so Gary was fairly confident in how to navigate the marathon course once we turned off for the shorter distance.
I didn’t enjoy the race as much from the point we split off from the ultra route. The majority of the marathon route was run along roads, whereas the ultra had been almost entirely on the trails. The roads on the marathon course were fairly flat and long and runnable and not what I had expected having run the majority of the ultra route before. I like the challenge of technical terrain!
There was a really eerie section along an old railway line where we ran through a couple of large tunnels. I ran in the middle of the pack here, with some runners from our group speeding off ahead and some falling behind. Everybody’s voices were echoing all around the tunnel as we ran and it made it really hard to locate whether someone was ahead of you or behind. I was glad to be running with the others as we ran through this section, and I was very glad when we turned off and began our next climb!
There was another really eerie section where we ran alongside a field of sheep…or the field of red eyes, as the sheep all clustered into the corner nearest to the path. As our headtorches reflected on their eyes they glowed red like demons.
I didn’t really eat much out on the course, choosing just to pick at a couple of bits on offer at the checkpoints. We weren’t moving particularly fast and I didn’t feel like my body needed any more to keep it going so I kept my snacks in my bag for the race.
The last mile or so was run all on road. Gary ran ahead to beat us to the finish, but the rest of us all trotted over the line together and headed into the hall for hot drinks and pasties. That cheese and onion pasty and hot tea at the finish were the best things I’ve been handed at a finish line for a long while! It had been super cold out there on the hills, and at any point we had stopped we all really began to feel the chill. We were all ready for something warm at the end!
I changed back into my boots, jeans and a hoodie fairly quickly afterwards, babywiping as much mud from my legs as I could spot in the toilets! The medal is a nice one.
Official time: 7h 18m 57s
Gender position: 4/7
I traveled back from the race with Gary, who has heated seats in his car. I had those seats heated to the max for the whole journey home to warm up!
Have you run a race at night before?
What was the nicest food you received at the finish of a race?