Race the Sunrise

Thanks to Jonny Herbert (he who suggested the Alpha and Beta challenges), this one appeared on my radar recently. You start at midnight and you run up as much mileage as you can before sunrise. Timing my run for the full moon on 7th / 8th May it meant I had 5 hours and 19 minutes. Obviously the later the date (up till the equinox) the less time available to run until sunrise.

Lockdown limitations apply too. It has to be from your doorstep and you can’t venture too far from home, so this dictates local laps or out and backs. The likelihood of meeting anyone else at this time is also very remote so social distancing is highly unlikely to be an issue.

Pack on with a jacket and some food, as well as 2 litres of drink, I set off at bang on midnight. Clare was joining me so it was nice to set off on an adventure together. Straight away she moved ahead and seemed to be moving well. For some reason I felt stiff (maybe due to the concreting I’d done earlier) but felt confident this would ease after a couple of miles. It didn’t. Ever.

There was patchy cloud cover but the full moon did cast sufficient light that we ran sans headtorch for the road section down to Stockley trail. Even on the trail we were able to run solely via moonlight, except when we got into the thicker canopies. Visually it was quite a treat, everything bathed in pale monochrome and the Hawthorn blossom lining the trail edges like natural runway lights. Other than ourselves, movement was provided by many bats after the nocturnal insects and the odd tawny owl. It would have been brilliant to see a barn owl on such a night but alas it was a no show.

As it had been a hot day the latent heat in the earth was providing a feast of aromas and we felt like we were travelling the world in our semi stupor. The smell of the plains of Africa in sections where the trail passed by fields, the jungles of Asia when we ran under the canopy, the Okavango delta when we ran past the reed margins of the nature reserve. This was the biggest treat of all, the lake of the nature reserve in the moonlight. Geese and swan silently floating away from us whilst the reed beds chirped and twitted with a variety of residents. I stopped to attempt to take photos. Sadly a phone camera just does not have the aperture to capture the scene and after 5 minutes of fruitless fidgeting with controls we set off again.

(Best effort I’m afraid)

By now, Clare’s heel is starting to cause issue. She loosens laces, stretches and prods. I’m sympathetic but also aware that time is marching on and I ask her to be realistic about her condition. After another lap to the far end of the trail she agrees to retire and we both turn up the road towards home. Aaah this means running up an unscheduled hill which will surely affect my mileage. But hey, I have to be the dutiful husband don’t I?

Once Clare had been jettisoned I turned back for the trail. Now I’ve no one to share the experience with the mind games will be between me, myself and I. Time to up the game and seize control. Somehow the differing mindset seemed to work. It had only taken two and a half hours, but now I was feeling capable of a bit more effort, I was up on my toes and moving at a slightly more brisk pace. I was totally absorbed in the run and the surroundings, gaining energy from the natural environment and feeling blessed to be part of it. I’d glanced at the watch and noted that I’d reached 14 miles, not great but I’m in such a space right now that I can easily double that before sunrise. That was that, run but concentrate on my surroundings, be careful, the moonlight often robbed the trail of any relief and I did stumble / trip a few times on invisible lumps and bumps. By making more use of the headtorch my pace went faster and the faster I went, the more smoothly I appeared to be running. I had originally likened myself to Kryten, the robot from Red Dwarf, now, although still far from perfect, at least I was no longer a mechanoid.

My next pass of the nature reserve was my favourite. A slight breeze through the reeds brought them to swaying hypnotic life and the hidden denizens, whether amphibian or feathered, were even noisier. This was truly natures alarm clock and it pushed me on. The trail is based on an old railway line and the 2 mile straight passed by in a blurry black and white film. Crossing Rylah and now well into the Bramley Vale end I glanced at my watch to see what time it was. 2:57.37 jumped back at me. Bloody hell, I thought it would be later than that, confused I noticed the seconds weren’t counting up. I pressed the buttons through the functions, heart rate, climb, time……time…..it read 3.47. So what was the….oh no….I pressed back to 2.57 and press the start button. Tiredness and disappointment made for a very crushing few minutes. I hadn’t been recording progress for the last 50 minutes. I was still on 14.8 miles when I should have been approaching 20. Being unable to present a factual figure to the Challenge organisers meant there was little point carrying on. I walked back and forth giving myself a stern talking to. Yes, I was an idiot. Yes, I was out. Yes, I can give up and get an extra couple hours sleep – this had been billed as a sleep deprivation exercise, no sleeping was allowed before the midnight start. But, but, there was something deeper here. If I was on an event and had to get to the finish I would be forced to carry on. Mentally it would do me more harm to quit than to complete. I had less than 90 minutes till sunrise, it was time to make those minutes count.

In truth I did and didn’t. It was still forward progress, but nothing like the running of 30 minutes earlier. It’s strange how being in the right place mentally can affect the physical output. I didn’t want to use anger as a fuel as that would have crashed me quite quickly. It was still a full moon, it was still beautiful, it was getting colder, use these natural factors as motivation. Progress. My slower pace allowed me to work out that I would manage another loop, and then if I turned for home across the fields maybe a lap of the village would get me to sunrise and an earlier breakfast. By 4.20 the horizon was colouring. By 4.30 the colour had permeated into the landscape and a cacaphonus dawn chorus erupted from what appeared to be every tree on the trail. A final loop of the lake and I turned across the fields for home. It’s uphill though and I was reduced to a walk, and once I’d started walking I couldn’t get back to a run again, legs were too tired.

Still looking back over my shoulder and the view was uplifting.

15 minutes before sunrise over ‘Bosa’

I tried to run again but my legs weren’t having it. I’d drunk enough but I’d not eaten anything and on that realisation I suddenly felt hungry. It was too cold to stop and eat so I just carried on and by the time I walked through Hall Farm my alarm announced sunrise. Looking back I didn’t actually see it, there was a bank of cloud on the horizon and it would be another hour before the sun cleared that particular barrier. By which time I wasn’t too fussed as I’d already eaten a bowl of porridge and was tucking into a full English!

Great challenge, frustrating yes but one which I’d really like to return to again. Hopefully with less issues.

Looking forward to the next event suggestion on the Facebook group “Challenge Your Limitations”

Published by Jamie Glazebrook

Fear of a flat planet.

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