It’s been a while since I’ve written about about a group run. The reason being that I’m doing them pretty much every week these days. If its not the monthly London Burger Run or the Monthly Wild Trail Runners run it is another social escape that has been arranged. In terms of blogging, that’s a level of effort I just don’t possess. That said, on a recent Friday I arranged for a group of us to attack the night and run until the trains started up again.
Why? Because we like to do these things. Because we can. Because we want to test ourselves, we have fear of missing out, we think it’s fun and sometimes because we need too. All of these reasons add up, but this time I felt I needed too. With Trans Gran Canaria looming later this month, more night practice is required. I’ll have to survive 128 km over two nights during that race. So I need to be prepared. I need to train my body to cope with fatigue and to be able to handle the darkness.
Personally I find running at night to be invigorating, but it is tough. It’s harder, much harder, than doing the same run during the day. But what makes night running so different? For me there are many reasons, but these ones standout for me…
- You’re not used to being awake, never mind exercising at that time,
- You’re tired and exhausted from the day where as I feel fresher running in the morning,
- You’re not used to consuming and fueling during the night, you just don’t want to eat in the same way,
- Your day prep is different. The simple routine of getting up, hydrating and scoffing the porridge down doesn’t apply at night. You’ve a whole day before the run to either get ready or not have time to consider getting ready. Your routine and habits are ‘off’,
- Mentally it’s tougher. Besides being tired you cannot see. So you don’t have the distractions of what you can see during the daylight,
- You have to focus more. Focus on what you’re doing sometimes even focusing on just keeping yourself awake!
- You can see and concentrate only on what’s in front and lit up by your torch. That requires much concentration and your eyes will play tricks on you for sure.
And how do you deal with this? How do you ensure you are adequately prepared to ‘attack the night’? What is it you need in order to go out and train in this way…
- Fuel. Like any long run you need to fuel. As mentioned above though you need to be more accepting of how much you can and will consume and how you might not feel like it. Tailwind works great for me here as it contains the calories I need without feeling like I’m constantly eating.
- Kit. You need adequate kit. My night runs are mostly out in the cold and wet conditions. You need to have warm clothes that are lightweight and breathable. You also need to carry spare warm/dry clothes for the finish. My Montane gear is perfect here, particularly the Micro Alleze hoody for keeping me warm and the Fireball Verso as a spare windproof and for changing into at the end.
- Head torch. Firstly it is dark you need to see, end of. Secondly you need to see adequately and thirdly you need confidence in the longevity of the light and the battery. There are many head torches out there. My chosen one is the Petzl Reactik +. I used this during the CCC and was impressed by its power (up to 200 Lummen), its battery life (up to 7 hours on a lower power setting), its comfort and its ability to automatically adjust (“react”) to the light settings around you to maximise efficiency. I liked it so much I bought a spare and have four batteries. I’m covered! I also recently bought a Unilite clip on light to provide a rear flashing red light for safety.
- Friends. This is the important one. It’s the company that makes this doable. I’d be scared (terrified) on my own in the dark trails and potentially bored out of my mind. It is different in a race where you know you are not alone and aid stations are a matter of miles away. In training though, the camaraderie and support and general entertainment drags you through when it gets tough. And it does get tough. Find someone to go with you!
So with all that in mind, On this particular Friday night, 6 of us kitted up and hit the trails. Myself, Yvette, Gif, Phillip, Dora and Arlene met and started with a late train out of London to Redhill and off we went. For this sort of run there is no time pressure. The trains wouldn’t start running back to London until about 6am. So we had 7 hours to get to our ‘finish line’. No point finishing early with nothing to do and no where to go. So no time pressure to worry about.
The route planned was along the Greensand Way. An epic trail stretching from Surrey to Kent. I experienced a very small section of this route last year when I went to meet Matt Buck and his mates taking on the fastest known time (FTK) attempt on this route (which they smashed! Go check it out on Matt’s blog). We’d be running approximately 40km towards Sevenoaks on this occasion.
We were fortunate that the night was dry and not too cold. London had recently experienced some snow and freezing temperatures, but this night we were lucky. It was however muddy (yes!), the ground was wet from the recent weather and there were intermittent Trail Paths with a few road sections in between. Through the night, not being able to see too far ahead, it felt like we did a lot of steep downhills. With the mud it was tough going but great fun.
As the miles ticked down and we plodded on on we were all starting to tire and flag. With no sleep and hours trudging through mud our bodies were beginning to show the signs of fatigue. Eventually Sevenoaks came about and we’d pretty much done a marathon in distance (admittedly slightly more than planned).
This night wouldn’t have been possible without the support and company of the friends who joined!