March 21, 2023

Dark Skies Run @ Kielder 26.5 18th March 2023

Nick Gant reports on his weekend’s entertainment
Back in 2019 I had decided that I fancied trying a marathon distance event. A ‘friend’ had completed the Dark Skies 26.5 event in 2018 and claimed to have really enjoyed it, so it seemed like an interesting event to do so I entered Darks Skies in 2020…
For those of you who I haven’t bored to death on club runs, the route circumnavigates Kielder Water in Northumbria in a clockwise direction. The event HQ is the Scout Camp at Hawkhirst. This is the site made famous by the bloody battle between the Duncanites and the Gryllians for the leadership of the Scouting movement. After a fierce battle with brutal hand to hand fighting, Peter and his supporters were overcome. Stood there among the trees you can almost hear the victorious cries of ‘Back to the 5 star hotel for G&Ps!’ of Grylls and his victorious warriors.
In March 2020 the organisers decided to delay the event for some reason. They kept delaying it and were all geared up to go ahead in March 2022 but Storm Arwen in November 2021 had other ideas. Eventually the event went ahead this past weekend.
Enough of the history.
The event starts at 17:30 so you spend the first hour or so running in the fading light until you eventually have to put on the head torch to light you way along the track. The idea is that when the skies are clear you can pause for moment, turn off your head torch, look up and gaze at the heavens in the Dark Sky Park. It was cloudy on the day of my race.
We set off of on the route which according the gpx file had 230m of ascent. This seemed believable so I didn’t check the course details too closely after that. I should have done as the total ascent was closer to 700m. For the first half of the race I was going pretty well and maintaining a good pace on the climbs and then letting go on the descents. On the flat section about 2/3 distance I even caught and passed a few people.
Then the last 10km effect that most marathon virgins seem to report kicked in. You just start to suffer, even if you have fuelled properly and done the training, just keeping moving becomes the main ambition. The last few climbs were a test of willpower. I can’t decide if not being able to see when a climb ends is a good thing or a bad thing. I ended up slowing down to a walk on a couple of climbs and took on some food to try and get something going for the last few miles.
Eventually I saw the lights of the camp as I passed the 26 mile point. I turned around at the last gate and there was the light of another runner a few hundred metres behind. I managed to pick up the pace to hold off this runner and cross the threshold into the scout hut, finishing 10th in 3h53m44s.
The race was won by Stephen Shanks of Victoria Park Harriers & Tower Hamlets AC in 3h16m01s. First female was Kate Halliman of Red Kite Runners in 4h15m26s.
There are no race photos of me yet so I have included an interesting picture from the hotel we stayed in the night before the race. It is the Olympic restaurant at the White Swan Hotel in Alnwick. The interior of the room is made up of materials bought by the hotel owner when they scrapped the RMS Olympic, one of the sister ships of the Titanic.