I didn’t have anything planned after Centurion’s NDW100 and everything that happened after that race was a tad spontaneous.
It was Monday and my legs just about stopped aching after number 104 the day before. It is a well-known fact, that when you can’t walk the day after a race, you sit at your laptop with a coffee and sign up for the next one 😀 Hello Midnight Marathon!
Midnight Marathon starts at Queen Elizabeth Country Park on Saturday at 21:00. It is an out and back course following South Down Way . The aid stations are every 7km (ish) which makes it perfect for everyone with OCD, it definitely made me happy. You have 7-ish, then 14-ish and a halfway/turn around point. A brilliant way to split it.
South Downs Way is a challenging course anyway, let alone at night, so it sounded great to me! I’ve done this marathon a year before and knew full well what to expect. Every loose, chalky stone that you trip over is made up by a smile of a marshal at the aid station.
I was meant to be doing the race alone but I had a chance to practice my lone night running recently, so decided that it was fine. Well, it would just seem that I’m not the most spontaneous one: Ann and Alan made the decision about signing up on Thursday and actually signed up on the day before the race (check the website that this is an option first). Fab, I wasn’t going to be alone!
Ann and Alan picked me up from Godalming and we set off at 19:30. We got there with plenty of time to sign up, get our race numbers and glow sticks, catch up with friends and queue for the loo 😉 It was chilly whilst waiting around, about 13C, so additional layers and hiding in a bag-drop tent helped us stay warm.
In the race briefing, Phil warned us about the tricky conditions en route. After heavy rain during the week the chalky paths were very slippery making it easier than usual to fall, broken collar bones, etc. were mentioned. Phil is a runner himself, so I knew, that this wasn’t an exaggeration of any kind.
There were quite a few people attempting their first marathon – hats off to them, not an easy start! And (of course) a few people from the 100 Marathon Club, me included (yay!).
We set off at 21:00 sharp and it was already dark, especially with a cloudy sky. Last years’ race was in July and on a clearer day which made a difference in the available daylight. This time our head torches were on straight away. We warmed up pretty quickly and didn’t need any of the spare layers, just T-Shirts were fine.
The route starts with an uphill, which carries on for a while. I was conscious of my tired legs and Ann of her upcoming 100 km run, so we took it easy and walked.
We came up to the first downhill that I know very well from Queen Elizabeth Spring Marathon which leads to one of the Park car parks. I like downhill running, it’s good fun. After that, we had a short road section that was another ‘walking up the hill rest break’.
Another few kilometres and we got to a longer road section which was a very comfortable downhill. I remembered walking up it during a very hot South Downs Marathon a few years ago. It’s funny how bits from different races merge together 🙂
The crowd quickly spread out and there were less and less people around us. We rejoined the trail and carried on with the hills.
There were a couple of road crossings that (as always) were very well marshaled. A big thank you to all the cheerful volunteers who made sure that we were safe.
The first station at 7 km came very quickly. There was plenty of sweet and savoury food, coke, water, and fruit. Yum!
Ann, Alan and I were running together and so far we felt pretty good. I didn’t want to be too optimistic as we still had a long way to go. We went through a ridgeline which was quite exposed and definitely colder. The wind was strong which made me think that on the way back when we will be tired, we’d have to run into it… But so far, so good, the wind was pushing us forward.
Running at night with a head torch gives you a strange ‘tunnel vision’ sensation. You only see a small patch of the path ahead of you and you need to focus a lot on the terrain. It required a lot of energy. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I was constantly hungry 😀
This section had some exciting hills, both up and down. We had to watch our feet and be quite careful, it didn’t look like a nice ground to fall over on. Again, I enjoyed the downhills a bit too much, until I slipped (didn’t fall) and reminded myself to not be too cocky. The three of us were running and chatting so the time went really quickly and before we knew it we were at the next aid station. More food, more drinks, more happy and helpful marshals 🙂
After a small downhill, the route started climbing, there were still ups and downs but significantly more ups 😉
This is when we saw the first runners on their way back. First three man (Hi Dan!), very impressive, very fast, still very nice saying ‘Hello’ and all that.
The 7 km to the halfway/ turn around point, went especially quickly, there were more and more runners coming back and we could see a line of head torch lights coming towards us. This was the time for ‘hellos’ and ‘well dones’. It’s hard to spot people with their head torches on, as you can only recognise them once their light is not blinding you and you passed each other. I still managed to spot and say hello to a few friends 🙂
Once we did all the climbing there was a long downhill. One of the runners fell over quite badly, injuring his head. There were plenty of runners who stopped to help, applying first aid. Someone confirmed that they called the marshals already, so we noted the race number of the man and distance (about 19.5 km) and carried on to the next station.
I stopped briefly to say hello to Paul (who was pacing me for my first under 5h marathon) and his lovely wife Vikki (whom I met for the first time).
Shortly after we were halfway. The marshals were aware of the accident and knew the runner’s race number.
After refreshments, we carried on back up the hill, perfect really as we could finish our food and drinks. I got a hot coffee which was really nice.
The way back was the same in reverse. Ann and I felt a bit stronger and went ahead, meeting Alan either at hills or stations.
It started raining and it made the route quite significantly trickier. We slipped even walking up the hills, so often tried to walk on the edge and use the grass to stay upright. It worked.
The way back went just as quickly as the way there. Ann and I just having a really long catch up 😉 We felt strong and overtook a few people. I still had a chance to stop and have a quick chat and a hug with Brenda, which was lovely.
At the last aid station, I felt quite cold as my clothes were wet from the rain. There was no need to wear my waterproof before, as I would have been too warm wearing it, but standing around eating I really felt the need for that extra layer.
We carried on, the last stretch. We had a few little breaks walking up tracks and road sections and soon we were back in the Park. There was just one ‘real’ hill and after that a straight road home. In the last kilometres Ann picked up speed and I was just trying to stay with her. We found a happy medium of her not running as fast as she could have done and me pushing a bit harder than I would have done. Before we knew it we were at the finish line!
We got our medals and chatted for a while with Phil. There was a choice of free food and hot drinks, which is always greatly appreciated.
Shortly after, Alan joined us and we had some lovely Kendal Mint Cake Liqueur. It’s the first time I’ve had it, the colour was quite intense but it was really nice.
We thanked Phil for yet another amazing event and set off on our way home.
I had so much fun running with Ann and Alan, thank you so much, guys!
If you haven’t done a night marathon, this one is the one to do. Phil and the team have a great experience and always look after the runners.
And if you can’t wait another year, there’s Winter Cross Ultra coming up 🙂