Galloway Dark Skies

So as a bit of background… this one I didn’t train for and I entered 3 days before the race. I had absolutely no goals, no idea what it would be like. I had limited knowledge of night running and really didn’t know what I was entering. The day I entered the forecast for race day was good and I just decided to do it for fun. My mileage had remained high after my marathon in July so I knew I had the distance in my legs I was fairly confident I could do it. 
As the week progressed the weather started to look more and more ropey. I prepped by pretending the race wasn’t happening and instead caned 2 days of all you can eat buffets at the Lego Hotel with my kids. At one point I was dipping cake into a pint of melted chocolate I had liberated from a chocolate fountain. This was a particular low point in nutritional strategy and taking carb loading to a whole new level. 
The day of the race came and Adrian my running buddy and I set off for Galloway. About 3 hrs away. Race HQ was a lovely cafe in Galloway forest park. We had our kit checked (less required than most other races I have entered) and registered. I then hastily wolfed down a sausage roll as I’d had no lunch .
The race briefing was all about being careful, staying warm, how to call for help, the markers and some warnings of some ‘boggy areas’ and a stream crossing. We were also told the first checkpoint had a very strict cut off and if we didn’t make it we wouldn’t be allowed to continue.
We set off at 4.30pm. With 1.5 hrs to sunset. The first two miles were absolutely AWFUL. I was too hot, I got a stitch, I had heartburn from the sausage roll, it was uphill and Ade was beasting it. I am certain this was because he was unsure about the cut off time at the first checkpoint and he was wanting to make the most of the smooth track before things got difficult. I struggled to keep up. We were pelting up hill at what felt like tempo pace and I hated it. We were passing multiple runners and soon there was just us and a hardcore pack ahead of us.
We hit a boggy hill and slowed to a fast walk. This saved me as by now I was feeling like dropping out I was so unhappy. A little negative voice was saying ‘no not today, just stop, you can’t do this’ I tried to get it to shut up but I wasn’t in a good place at all. We trudged uphill on waterlogged grass until we came to a more solid surface and started to run again. The track opened up onto stunning moorland and we trotted over it for a few miles in pretty good spirits.
Then the path became less clear and we followed the flag markers over boggy terrain for a mile or so. I ran where I could until a wrong step had me up to my thigh in mud. I climbed out of the pit I had inadvertently stepped in (using some choice language) I decided walking might be more prudent at this stage.
It was starting to get dark and I was twitchy about the cut off time. Two women passed us at here. They were clearly experienced on the difficult landscape and hopped through it with ease. The path led through a deep violently flowing stream about 2m wide. It was too wide to jump so I just waded through it. Adrian was a little behind me so I waited for him to reach it, to shout a bit of encouragement and give him a hand. We had a steep slope to climb to a tree line, there were gullies in the moor full of rushing water that we had to run and leap over. These would have been death traps in the dark and I could see why they wanted us to get through this section before night fell.
We reached the first checkpoint with 10 minutes to spare. And hit a wide forest track. We ran here a couple of fast paced miles to the second checkpoint. We took stock and changed our strategy a bit as we knew we were too fast paced for a 30 mile run. We walked swiftly up a very steep and endless hill then pelted down the other side to the 16 mile checkpoint. We stopped to chat to the marshals and we were told the first 6 miles were such a slog they’d had to extend the cut off or half the field would have been unable to finish.
We ploughed on running the flats and the downhills and fast walking the ups until mile 18, I was starting to tire and the familiar long distance ache in my legs was setting in. They felt heavy and I was struggling a bit on the hard trail. Then the path narrowed to a single track and led down a steep hill. It was flooded with calf deep water running down it like a stream. It was too dangerous to run down so we walked down it. It went on forever. My slowing down meant I started to feel very very cold. My feet were numb and the rain was pelting down. The two lady runners caught us again and flew past us.
I became a bit hysterical at this point. I found the situation comedic and my bog trudging was peppered with profanities and laughter in equal measures. It kept getting more and more ridiculous. There were great pits full of muddy water you had to walk through and all sorts of obstacles to get round. All in pitch black with a head torch to guide the way.
We came to a stream we had to wade across. Followed by a series of blown over pine trees that needed climbing over. Then there was a 3m wide steam that was thigh deep with a raging current. And a tree trunk to steady yourself with. A marshal helped us out and we were at the 20 mile checkpoint. I grabbed some sweets and a cup of coke and knocked off two very fast miles. Both to bring my body temperature back up and to try and lose the other runners, we had caught back up with the lady runners here. It is unnerving running with head-torches as someone behind you casts strange shadows and it feels intrusive so I was determined to leave them behind if I could.
I could sense Ade struggling and he had a bit of a tummy issue which he managed to sort out while I walked slowly up a steep bank. He caught me up and we carried on. My legs felt great and we got into a nice easy running pace. Mile 23 the sky cleared and we turned off our head torches and just took in all the stars. It was breathtaking. And it kind of felt like we were being cut a bit of slack. It kept our spirits up until we bombed into the 24 mile checkpoint.
I was handed a caramel slice and we had a bit of banter with Karl and Hippie the two marshals. The markers were a bit tricky to spot here but we found our way. We ran on. Pretty much bang on 26 miles I tripped and flew along the gravel spectacularly. I managed to keep the chia charge bar I was clutching completely intact and pristine. Quite an accomplishment considering the force I hit the ground with.
I regrouped and trotted on. I wasn’t physically that tired but the concentration I needed to watch the path in-front, in a torch-beam, was waning.
At mile 27 we knew we were on the home stretch and just ran. We ran fast. There were 3 cattle grids to prance across which were taxing at that stage but we did it. And we sprint finished. I was so pleased we were done! I stood there beaming and saying to the organisers how much fun I’d had and how fantastic it was. When one of them came up to me and said ‘you are First Lady in’ I was absolutely astonished. I didn’t believe it and I was certain there must have been a mistake.
So what do I think now it is over?
  1. I loved night running, I had thought I would hate it but it is a strangely cathartic experience that focuses your mind and I think not seeing what is to come really helps you mentally at long distance.
  2. Bad weather is fine if you have decent waterproofs
  3. Sometimes a rubbish start doesn’t necessarily mean a bad race.
Would I do it again? Hell yes!! It was extremely well organised, well marked and a cracking route. One of my favourite races to date! I highly recommend it if you want to step just beyond your comfort zone and go on an adventure.



Laura Gledhill
102 Sheriffs Highway
Tyne and Wear