Petzl Night Runner Grizedale Forest

A few weeks ago I saw an event called Petzl Night Runner at Grizedale in the Lake District.  I decided to combine the event with a couple of days of annual leave to spend a long weekend in one of my favourite parts of the country.  The event had been in doubt as there was significant flooding in the area due to Storm Desmond and on the day itself there was quite a lot of snow in the hours before leading to a lot of criticism from some competitors about whether the event should have gone ahead - more about that later.

I knew the course was going to be tough; firstly its the Lake District and secondly the course map made it clear that there were going to be some significant uphills so any idea of running a good time was out of the question!  The course suggested a 30m climb in the first km but between 2-3km there was a 100m climb at an average of 10% and a further smaller climb over the following km!

I decided to use my old orienteering head torch made by Silva with a huge spotlight and large battery pack strapped to my back.  I felt the additional weight I was carrying was worth it as the light it emitted meant I would have no issues seeing where I was going!  Almost everyone else opted for the standard lightweight head torch.  The weather was very cold, probably just a little above freezing point, no wind to speak of and a little snow underfoot at the start but nothing of significance so conditions were good.  Due to the route being all on forest tracks I opted to wear my trail shoes which I have not worn for at least 7 years!

We headed off and in the first 200 metres I was about 5th with only the leader a few metres ahead.  We came to the first undulation just before entering the forest and the people I was running with just fell back and I caught the leader with ease.  I decided just to sit back, knowing that the huge hill was still to come.  After that first undulation a runner went swooshing past me and I thought he was either mad or a seriously class athlete so at that point I was third.  There were then a series of further undulations before hitting the large hill - the thing to point out here is that you were never really sure whether each undulation was the start of the large climb due to the limitations of what you could see at night.  As the gradient started to get steeper the leader fell back and I never saw him again so it just left myself and the earlier leader of the race.  I wouldn't say that I was feeling good as the gradient took a serious amount out of my legs but at the same time I felt I was running within myself and just sat back behind the leader whilst everyone else behind dropped further back.

The hill continued and continued and frankly I couldn't believe how long it lasted, it seemed like an eternity!  As the climb started to level off I'd think right, its done now before hitting another smaller undulation and climbing a bit further.  I remember passing the second mile marker in exactly 16 minutes which would be 50 minute 10k pace - it just goes to show how severe the gradient was.  As it got flatter the other runner tended to up to the pace on the flat and I could just about keep up but he was clearly faster than me on the downhill and I struggled to keep up a little.  When there was a small incline things tended to even itself up a bit and on occasion I would move ahead a little although 90% of the time we tended to run alongside each other.  I knew though that I'd struggle to beat him to the finish as the majority of the route from the half way point was downhill  but just tried to hang on as best I could.  The conditions under foot were for the most part good, although for 2-3 miles it was snowy / icy under foot from the earlier snow but cant say it affected me at all.

At about mile 4 there was a hairpin bend and I looked back and could see lights in the distance but its very difficult in the dark to gauge accurately how far back the other runners were.  I guessed 30 seconds or so and the other runner felt it was nearer a minute as we spoke briefly.  As we continued back downhill to the finish I started to feel the pace the other runner was doing and at about 4 1/2 miles I couldn't keep up any more and I was more or less in the red zone so was just a case of holding on even though my pace was reasonably quick due to the descent.

Just before exciting the forest I had a look behind me and couldn't see any head torches so knew I was safe and continued into the finish about 25 seconds or so behind the leader in a time of 39.37.  For a 10k its a poor time but it was never about running a quick time on that sort of course at night.  I ran the first 2 miles at 8 min/mile pace and the rest of the course at 5.36 min/mile.

The first three.

One thing that has perplexed me is that the results officially have me down as only having beaten third place by 4 seconds, but the reality was far from that.  I genuinely do not understand how that can be accurate as I could not see any headlights behind me and I had already exited the finish before the person behind me came in.  One of life's little mysteries!

I found out I wont a prize - a Petzl head torch which the following day I saw retail at £50 and also a silver engraved plate.  To say I'm chuffed was an understatement in what is only my second event since re-starting running a few months back!

Me and the prize!

Back to whether the event should have gone ahead in the first place?  In my view the event organisers made the right call.  I know others would say I'm biased but when looking at the facts: 1) The event centre was unaffected and was fine under foot 2) The event notes suggested coming from the South at J36 of the M6 (circa 20 miles away) and getting to the event centre from there was fine.  I appreciate many others had issues from further afield and they would have made the right call to not attend, however to cancel the event for those not affected in my opinion would be the wrong call.  Yes - a lot of people were affected from the North but at what point do you decide to cancel the event - those affected from 20 miles away, 50 miles, 100 miles?  What happens if there was snow in Staffordshire (where I live) and 30 or so competitors are affected - would it have been right to cancel the event for everybody else?  As I say, I think for those affected they made the right call not to attend, but it was also the right call for the organisers to continue with the event for those not affected.  Whether or not those affected should be due a refund, or have their entry carried over for a future event is something I'll stay out of!

I'm entered for the Wheaton Aston 10k in a couple of weeks time.  Its reasonably flat so I'm hoping to improve upon the time I did at the Tamworth 10k.  In the meantime I've joined a running club, well actually Mercia Fell Running.  I've done it for a variety of reasons, I have an interest in fell and off road running but also the local clubs tend to be more social running or track based and is not something that fits for me.  I've got one or two fell type events planned in the coming weeks so hopefully I've made the right call!


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