Team nocturnal: running by night
If you have been running for a while and are starting to feel like your regular races are all a bit samey, then it might be time to switch things up a bit and add some night running into your calendar. An increasing number of night races are cropping up all over the UK, catering for all levels – from fun runners to seasoned athletes looking for their next big challenge.
Keen to experience night running for ourselves, my friend Lianna and I decided to give White Star Running’s trail quarter marathon, the Dark Ox, a go. Having previously run their Giant’s Head and Bad Cow marathons, I knew that the White Star experience would be more about fun than trying to get a PB, so our priority was to find fun, glow-in-the-dark accessories, rather than trying to break land-speed records in preparation for the race.
Our debut night race was also the perfect place to give our new Proviz kit an outing. I was keen to test out my Reflect 360 running gilet and PixElite running tights and Lianna her PixElite running jacket and running shorts (worn over leggings as the temperature was on the chilly side). As we gathered at the start line, it quickly became obvious that our kit was doing the job we had ordered it for. I obviously couldn’t see how super reflective the back of my gilet was, because I was wearing it, but Lianna said later that running behind me was like running behind a glowing storm trooper, so I think it was working!
Out on a traffic-free trail run, the need for visibility is less important than on a busy December road in the evening rush hour. However, it seemed courteous to be as visible as possible to other runners on the rural trail where the only light sources were our head torches. The unevenness of the terrain meant that our touch beams were often trained on the ground directly in front of us and a runner dressed all in black would have been a ninja-style trip hazard we could all do without.
Running through the dark woods in the depths of rural Wiltshire was a curious first-time experience. The all-too-real nocturnal sounds, such as the hooting of owls and the rustle of leaves in the wind seemed installed specifically to unnerve us. There were just 200 runners taking part and we were soon spread out fairly thinly over the course – the fastest person finished in just over 43 minutes and the slowest took more than two hours. At times it felt as though Lianna and I were running on our own, so shining like a couple of little glow worms made us feel a bit less intimidated by our spooky woodland surroundings!
Hannah and Lianna at the start of the race
Before the race started, we were shivering and wishing for additional layers but, once we had got going, we soon warmed up. I found it perfectly comfortable to run with the gilet unzipped and was particularly happy to learn that it made me look like a luminescent superhero when I leapt across ruts and over fallen tree branches. Lianna found her jacket lightweight enough to tie around her waist when she had warmed up. Even then, the reflective areas of the jacket continued to make her visible to runners behind her and the rest of her reflective gear made her visible to me every time I turned round to make sure she hadn’t fallen down a badger hole!
It was a challenging course, especially in the dark, but I really enjoyed the new experience of running a night-time event in a rural environment that would otherwise have been a bit forbidding – in other words, not the kind of route you would choose to take on late at night, on your own. Knowing that we had the best high-viz kit for the job and were safely visible to marshals and other runners meant that we could focus on more pressing matters, such as not twisting our ankles in rabbit holes, or running into trees. I would definitely sign up to do this race again, as it is just the right balance between challenging nocturnal trail run and friendly, relaxed potter around rural Wiltshire, culminating in excellent race bling – it’s the biggest, heaviest medal on my medal hanger at home.
It’s made me consider other night events, as it certainly provided something new and exciting in my busy race diary. Ultimately, I’d like to target a longer race, such as the Marmot Dark Mountains overnight winter marathon – not for the faint-hearted, or the navigationally challenged, but what’s the point if it’s an easy ambition?
Hannah and Lianna’s pick of the best night races
If you are tempted to give night racing a try, here’s our pick of UK races taking place over the next 12 months. There should be something for everyone, so all you need to do is find the one that appeals most to you and make sure you’ve got all the right kit on the day.
This is a sunset run with a real difference. The river Severn is Britain’s longest river and has one of the largest tides in the world. In this race, you’ll follow the tidal wave.
If you fancy taking on a whole series of night events, then sign up to these seven winter trail runs in southwest England. It includes what is billed as Dartmoor’s toughest night race (Race 6).
If running a conventional race at night isn’t enough of a challenge, why not try a night obstacle race? This 10K promises more than 40 obstacles and plenty of mud.
The race organiser for this gem is called Brutal Events, so everyone who signs up should know what to expect! Set in Wales’s Brecon Beacons, this marathon starts as the evening light fades, finishes in the dark and incorporates a gruelling ascent of Pen Y Fan. Definitely not one for the faint-hearted, or the semi-fit!
If you are curious about night running but not in the market for gruelling long distances on cold winter nights, then Glow in the Park might just be for you. Events take place throughout England with a focus on fun. Courses are five to six kilometres long and take runners of all abilities through six ‘glow zones’, from foam to UV paint blasts.
There is no official date for this event next year, but follow White Star Running on Facebook or keep an eye on their website for more details – they will probably make you laugh in the process, as their sense of humour pervades everything that they do.