Kielder Dark Skies Weekend, 22nd-24th March 2019

The BBC (Bonkers Bunch of Claremont)  have been having fun this weekend at Kielder – at least if your idea of fun is running marathons in the dark! The latest to join this elite female group of super-runners is Sarah Bowen who sends this report:

Dark Skies Runs @ Kielder 22nd-24th March 2019

First I was somehow inspired to sign up for these, then to get round them, somehow also to do some extra (10!) miles over the weekend (with the dangling carrot of pub lunches at the end) and now to write this… What a skill our ladies team captain Nina has in “inspiring” us to do things we never thought we would!

I wanted to run the marathon last year at the last minute but races sell out quickly (get your entry in for 2020 as soon as it opens), so I got my entry in promptly back in August and it seemed a safely long way off… The bumph tells us that “runners are being given an out of this world opportunity to race under the darkest skies in England… Kielder is the perfect venue for the ultimate starlit running challenge”. As an aside, if you’ve never been to Kielder then go! Kielder water for water sports (or running around!), the largest working forest in Europe for walking, mountain biking (or running around!) and a lot more…

They put on a 10 mile race on the Friday evening, a 26.5 mile race on the Saturday evening and a 14 mile race on the Sunday evening with the option of people entering both the marathon and half-marathon for the “Double Crown” or all three for the “Triple Crown”. Marie Slack went for the double and Julie Dumpleton, Nina Jensen and I went for the triple (or treble? This much debated grammatical point whiled away a good few miles!).

Friday afternoon came and Julie, Nina & I headed up Hawkhirst scout activity centre where we gave the camping pod option a miss after Nina and Julie’s literally freezing experience last year and went for the en-suite lodges with bunk beds (not easy to get down from a top bunk with a lot of miles in the legs as Julie discovered!). Everyone marvelled about how lightly I’d packed and how excessively Julie had packed but it turned out that 3 pairs of running shoes, a Claremont vest & a head torch isn’t all you need and so once the kit was re-distributed, with Nina & Julie making offerings of pyjamas, socks, shampoo & food, we had just about the right amount of kit between us!

All the runs started off before sunset, with lovely views and as the sun went down, the head torches came on and it was great not to be able to see the hills ahead, but instead see the line of twinkling lights and runners bobbing up and down around the forest with the blue and white (Claremont coloured) fairy lights welcoming us into the finish. The first 10 miler was great… a lovely warm up.

Marie then joined us on Saturday ahead of the marathon, which went right around Kielder Water. We were told we might see the Northern lights at 9pm but unfortunately it was too cloudy and so we settled for a lovely sunset and the twinkling head torches instead. It got quite cold as the night came in but we all prevailed and made it round with a massive sense of achievement… maybe only surpassed by the winner, who finished with a new course record of 2:52:00, narrowly beating us all. Julie treated herself to a massage after all the exertions and we headed to bed at about quarter to two.

There were some navigation concerns over the weekend as two of Claremont’s “navigators of the year”, with a history of navigational issues around Sport Central, never mind the great outdoors, came together in this large rural expanse but with Nina aka “mum” keeping a close eye throughout and talking us through turning left out of the chalet each day, disaster was averted and no-one was lost… Nina’s mum role developed to being the go-to for every question or decision that faced us including what to eat, when to eat it and what colour buff to wear! She also gently explained to me that putting a hat on as well as head torch wouldn’t be a problem and block out the light as the hat would go under the head torch, not over the top!!

Sunday then came around and we were bussed off to the other side of the lake and dropped off in preparation for running back. It was threatening to rain and be a bit more windy than it had been all weekend but it turned out to be a lovely clear night with a fantastic display of stars and so we turned the torches off a few times to enjoy it to the full. This was a real test of endurance but we made it, all 4 of us crossing the line together to receive our double or triple crown plaques. So satisfying.

Really the weekend was a bargain as all the runs were longer than advertised and Nina threw in an extra 5 miles each morning. The marshals were all fantastic; so encouraging. What a brilliant weekend had by all. We’ll be giving the Monday club run a miss mind!

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