Trail Outlaws – “Dark Skies Run” at Kielder Water & Forest Park



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Report submitted by Shaun Edwards

The Event: ‘Dark Skies Run’ at Kielder Water & Forest Park
Overall Score (Out of 35): 21 – That doesn’t do it justice
PB Potential: 1 – If you want to enjoy it, I recommend not going for a PB
Atmosphere: 4 – Obviously no spectators, but Marshals were top draw
Organisation: 4 – seemed flawless to me, but others missed an unclear check-point
Scenery: 5 – It’s Kielder Water and it’s under the stars
Value for Money: 4 – I’ve spent more on other Saturday night’s out.
Beginner Friendliness: 2 – Its certainly not flat and has the potential to be lonely, especially in the dark
Club Support: 1 – The only other Bounder was Hippie Lee Nixon, who gets this point.
In short: A well organised run around Kielder Water …. In the dark

I’d read a while back that plans were afoot by the Trail Outlaws team for an organised night time run at Kielder Water & Forest Park.  The idea of running in the dark with a head-torch, on a route needing no navigational skills appealed to me and when the run was confirmed, I registered as soon as entries opened for this inaugural event.

I wasn’t worried about the distance, which was billed as being 26.5 miles following a similar route to the Kielder Marathon along the Lakeside Way trail.  I had no intention of racing it, only to take it at an easy pace and enjoy it.  In fact, I didn’t want to go too fast and find that I finished before it got dark.  To help ensure that everyone got the opportunity to finish in darkness, three starting waves were available, depending on your expected time to complete the course; 4:30pm, 5:30pm and 6:30pm.  For insurance purposes, everyone had to be finished by 11:30pm.  I opted for Wave 2.

On the Saturday of the event it was a lovely warm sunny day with clear skies that were scheduled to stay that way into the night; we’d got lucky, this was perfect conditions.  I set off for Kielder in plenty of time, getting there for about 3pm.  This gave me the chance to register and have my [compulsory] kit checked, before just dwelling around and chatting with Hippie Lee Nixon who was there in photographer mode.  I was already aware that no other Bounders had entered.  At 4:30pm I cheered off the fifty or so Wave 1 runners and set about getting myself together before the Wave 2 race briefing.

At 5:30pm I was off.  In Wave 2 there were about 25 of us.  Now, I have a tendency like many others to go off fast too early, but not this time.  I set off at what seemed a ridiculously slow pace and had to remind myself that this was the plan.  Slow, steady and enjoy.

I soon found myself in a group of three others, also running at a similar pace.  They were using the event as a training run for the St Oswald Way Ultra (100km) in July.  As a group we also found ourselves running intermittently with another small group from Northumberland who had completed marathons in recent weeks and were taking it steady, including one guy, who like me, was training for The Wall Ultra in June.

Running at a gentle pace afforded us the opportunity to take in the scenery and the stunning location of Kielder.  It was a still evening and the water was calm.  As the sun started to set it truly was picturesque.

What added to the enjoyment of this run were the checkpoints en-route, which were each being manned by friendly folk with a healthy supply of jelly babies and flat cola.  Again, with not racing it, this allowed us time to stop for a few minutes and chat each time, before setting off again.

At about the half way point, we started to catch the slower runners from Wave 1, which gave me a bit of a boost and it was nice to see some new people, and we slowed up or walked for a while to chat with them.

At the 16 mile mark, we arrived at the Dam and a once again a jovial check-point.  Here we stopped for a good few minutes to refuel.  This was also to be the “key-change” moment.  Daylight was now reducing quickly and the cool evening air was setting in.  Out came the jackets and on went the gloves and head-torch ready for the final stint.

A few miles after the Dam and the head torches were a must as the dark skies were upon us.  At first, the stars weren’t obvious and some of the group even expressed disappointment at the lack of them.  However, the more you looked, the more you saw, as they filled the sky; this was the part of the run we’d paid the money for, wow.

The gradual inclines were now starting to become more noticeable on the legs and we were now catching up with more runners from Wave 1 and Wave 2.  Two of the other guys I had been running with so far were slowing up and decided to take the last 5-6 miles at a slower pace, leaving me and the other guy with a decision: Stay with them and finish together, or kick on.  “How are you feeling?” I was asked, “still pretty strong” I replied.  “Right, come on then, let’s get this finished” he said, the decision was made.  With that, we set off at what seemed a much faster pace.  Now, this was a new experience for me, I am always blown out in the latter stages of any run and I NEVER get to catch others up, with others usually reeling me in, but not this time.  Moving comfortably at this faster pace, we could see head torches bouncing around in the distance, which looked good against the surrounding darkness and gave us targets to try and catch, and we did, several times.

We soon found ourselves running through the car park and back at the Scout Hut, the finish.  My GPS watch stopped at 4hrs 49 and having run 27 miles.  Back at the Scout Hut we picked up our finishers medal and set about the vast array of food available as the other runners returned, before the winner presentations were made.  I then took a quick shower and drove home, satisfied with my Saturday night’s entertainment.

Whilst I may not participate in many organised events, without doubt, this is up there with one of the most enjoyable.  It was a great event which had clearly been well organised by people who enjoy running similar events themselves.  Similarly, the marshals were simply awesome.

When can I sign up do it next year?

Bounders, you should take note too.

(Photo courtesy of Lee Nixon)

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