So, in preparation for the Marathon des Sables it is quite good to get used to running in the dark. During the last two times I have run the MDS, I have always quite enjoyed the sections of the race that end up being run through the night. Not least because you mentally reach a stage where it becomes quite surreal. I always go down bizarre mental tangents and become enthralled with the small pool of light thrown ahead of me by my head torch and the almost sci-fi green laser beam thrown into the air from an all too distant check point. You have the glow sticks marking the route every few hundred metres appearing like little glow beetles on the horizon that occasionally disappear as you drop down between sanddunes or rock outcrops. The moving glow sticks attached to the back of other runners that muddle in with the markers and make you feel like you are following some strange elvish trail in the dark in Middle Earth. (I admit that it might just be me that thinks this!). The only noise is your own breathing and efforts as your run/hobble/shuffle through the desert’s complete darkness before the crazy stars start to light up the sky.
Running in the dark along the Camel Trail in Cornwall is a slightly different kettle of fish. For starters, simply because it is January and not a desert, it does feel a whole lot colder (even though the desert can reach freezing and below at night). Tonight I ran a quiet run of 9 miles towards Bodmin from Wadebridge and back. As I set out from Wadebridge, the last light of the day was just fading and I had my head torch on. Unlike running at night in London, there are very few street lamps once you get outside the town’s limits and literally none along the Camel Trail and very quickly all I can see is the pool of light and the odd twinkle of the first few stars as they appear. It isn’t silent though, as the River Camel burbles alongside the trail, although in the dark it loses some of it’s poetic merriment as the shadows of the trees occasionally loom darker than the inky sky behind them, creating eerie shapes and a sense of running through long tunnels. Every now and then a light from a cottage twinkles through the darkness and the smell of wood smoke pervades the air. However, I find that what takes most of my concentration and attention is trying to spot the odd pile of horse poo! The light from my headlamp is bright but everything is lit up in black and white and several times it isn’t until I tread in a rather soft mound or kick a rather large but soft lump that I realise I am upon and past the horse poo. I giggle to myself as I run, imagining it is just one horse that has left a trail of dung but in reality it is probably several! I also hope that it is only horse poo and not the rather nastier and smellier dog poo which also frequents this trail (but is mostly picked up by convivial dog owners!). I say to myself as I completely miss seeing another pile of dung that it is like yomping through small clumpy bits in the desert where the occasional sand dune tricks you in the dark – but it isn’t really. As I turn back towards Wadebridge having reached my halfway point, the noises of the river at night, and the occasional rustle in the undergrowth are joined by the hooting of owls who seem to be having some sort of intense discussion – they are perhaps just greeting each other for the night’s activities. But, I like to think that perhaps they hare having a debate about something, maybe the hilarious notion of Trump as president of the USA! On the way back the stars are brighter and as the lights of Wadebridge grow brighter I am surprised as I run past the bird hide – there are three people sitting in there…I can’t really imagine what birds they are watching and I suspect they may be some of the Wadebridge youth hanging out. This seems even more likely as a young teenager walks past me as I go past the first street lamp as I re-enter the town.
It is as surreal running at night here in Cornwall as it is in the desert, and as beautiful. But totally different and there are more owls and a lot more horse poo!