Dark Skies Run at Kielder, Kielder Northumberland, Saturday, March 24, 2018

26.5 miles

Karen Wilson

Kielder Dark Skies had been on my to-do list, if I ever decided to do a marathon, the photos always looked stunning, it is such a beautiful place and to have full access to the Dark Skies was a bonus (if the weather played nice). The weeks leading up to the race I thought I may need to buy a set of waders but the weather gods looked kindly on us.

I arrived full of excitement, if not the usual pre-race nerves. Got my number, a Trial Outlaw buff (I love a buff!!), sorted my kit bag, a quick final bite to eat and went out for a wander around. Found the other Striders in time for an obligatory Striders selfie and we were off.

I tried to stick to my race plan and not to get carried away with the crowd. Had a little chat with Dougie as we dodged the mud, before looping along the reservoir and heading back up and across the start line again. It was just beautiful, running through the forest with the regular views of the reservoir.

 

I had had a problem with my foot 2 weeks before the race. Figuring it was tendonitis which I’d had in the past, I rested it and it seemed to be fine, well at least until mile 3!! Ouch. It started to hurt but I tested it and it was manageable so I carried on. A welcome downhill to the reservoir before having to turn back and go up the hill again!!

My playlist hit the spot and along with chatting to various other runners along the way, the miles ticked by. The atmosphere was fab. I was chatting with one guy, maybe around 7 pm and he commented on it still being light; we roughly stayed together for a while, when we realised it was starting to get dark. To see the stars appear almost one by one was magical and before long the sky was lit up with masses of stars. I was gutted that I couldn’t get a photo of it, but it will stay with me in my internal camera. It reminded me of the 6 am dive in the Maldives looking for Hammerhead Sharks. While waiting, the plankton was sparkling all around us and I thought then it looked like a clear night sky.

On I went, by now head torch on and I found myself alone in the forest. I confess prior to the run I had been a little nervous as to how I would feel in the forest, technically, on my own but I absolutely loved it. Kerry had said that when she’d done it, she sometimes switched her torch off and I even did this too, it was so tranquil.

What I will say, is that while I knew it would be a tough race, I had told myself I’d done a few races with big hills Hell Runner (where we were literally clawing at the bankside to get up), Hawkshead took in the Coffin Trail, Paras 10 with ridiculous hills covered in rubble and Bacchus Marathon had 2 fairly steep & long hills which we had to do twice, so the hills didn’t worry me too much. However, I was not prepared for how relentless the ups were and that they seemed to far outweigh the downs (which when they came were often steep) and I didn’t appreciate how little ‘flat’ sections there were. Boy, it was hard going!

Around mile 14 I confess I was in tears, the pain in my foot had got bad, possibly with not getting any rest from going up or down, and I did think I may have to quit at the next CP, but I was still enjoying the run and I really didn’t want to give up (helped somewhat by the paracetamol which had kicked in by the time I reached the Dam).

Taking the great advice from Kerry during our Sunday runs I went with my bronze medal plan – to cross the finish line. At the Dam I met up with a girl I’d ran with earlier in the race and after a brief loo stop and putting on my jacket as it suddenly felt cold, we headed across the dam. I walked this bit with her and once across I ‘trotted off’. She was still walking but with my run/limp speed and her brisk walking we matched each other fairly well and we opted to stay together.

At mile 19 we were still on target for a 6hr/6.15 finish and this spurred us on but after that, I don’t know what happened. Before we knew it a few people caught us and got passed us, the hills through the wood were steep and my Garmin had died so I had no idea how far we were from the next CP. I was feeling very cold and somehow I forgot to keep fuelling. We kept pushing forward and occasionally chatting about all kinds of rubbish but it kept us going, then the thing I dreaded happened…. the tail runners caught us.

We had to get to the last CP by the cut off time and their calculation was we might not make it…. I just felt sick and I know she did too, especially as she was in for the double. We pushed on and on and the lights of Leaplish were in the distance. It felt like it had been a LONG way from the Garmin dying at 22miles. We got to the CP to the marshal saying sorry ladies you’re out of time… Well I swear he must have seen our faces and quickly followed with ‘see those lights? They are the van coming down for us…. if you’re gone, you can’t be picked up’ we were like Mo & Usain as we made our way through Leaplish and I vaguely heard him say only 1.6 to go… after what we’d done that would be nothing!!

We kept going one step at a time and I have to say I was in my own little world and we were through gate after gate and then the TR said just around this corner. Pain forgotten, we pushed on and even the incline to the finish couldn’t dampen my spirits. I’m sure I grabbed her arm and dragged her with me, although I almost forgot the finish was inside the clubhouse! I have never ever been so happy to see a finish line!! I think I my eyes may have leaked!!

Before long my husband, Mum and Jonathan turned up inside. I never saw anyone waiting outside but it was a bit of whirl. We went over the road for our post-run hot meal. My running buddy was sat at a table, I stayed standing up (not convinced I’d get up if I sat down). We had a little hug before I left and she thanked me for staying with her, but it was a joint effort. She was staying over as she was doing the double. Given the time, due to being so long finishing & that the clocks were going forward, I opted to just head back. Hubby brought me a mini bottle of prosecco to celebrate my finish, which I had in the car on the way back. I won’t lie I was devastated to be in the last 2 finishers again, but with a fully functioning foot I am sure I would have at least managed my silver plan, however, I am grateful to the TR’s and the guys at the checkpoint for letting us through.

Overall, a fabulous race and I would say to anyone who fancies it do it. It is not every day you’d get to do something like this. I have discovered a love of running at night and quite like running at night on my own – who knew!

I took my trainers off in the car and my foot looked a little bruised. Still thinking it was tendonitis I wasn’t overly concerned. Got home, showered and put some ice on it and it was clearly swollen. A trip to A&E on the Sunday confirmed I had a full fracture of the 2nd metatarsal (to add insult to injury they were out of purple casts!).

So I’m hoping this is off soon, so I can get back to Club and, fingers crossed, I am fit enough to do Loch Ness in September. It has certainly scuppered my plans for the year!