Oh the Wimpole Night Run. Where oh where do I begin? If you’re looking for a race that’s fun and messy in more ways than one, you’ve come to the right place.
I first heard about the National Trust Night Run series last year, and I got so excited when I heard that there was going to be one locally at Wimpole Hall (already home to a parkrun) which is only around a 45 minute drive from me. When I found out that they’d organised the run for the night before the 2015 Cambridge Half Marathon I did wonder who had done their research and was frustrated that I’d have to miss out. Having now been to their 2016 Night Run, I’m beginning to think that organisation is perhaps not their strong point…..
When Rachel and I first turned up at Wimpole (along with Pete, designated driver and cheerleader), we knew that it was likely to be a pretty muddy run, due to a ton of rain midweek and the fact that a parkrun had happened earlier that day. But that’s ok – cross country involves mud a lot of the time, so I rocked up in trail trainers and felt prepared for that at least. The registration was also pain free (except for the deafening volume of the music) so after picking up our race numbers we pinned them on and were ready to go.
We were pretty bemused to see that they hadn’t made an effort to get in some extra toilets as we joined the usual mammoth queue for the ladies’. Wimpole only has three toilets in the main ones by the entrance which has always surprised me from a visitor point of view, let alone when there are a few hundred runners milling around (190 of them female according to the results). But still, we had 40 minutes to kill before the race started so what’s a queue eh?
After we’d loaded ourselves up with glow sticks and found the courage we needed to discard our woolly hats and layers, Rachel and I then headed off to the start while Pete went in search of a hot drink. And you’d think that the big inflatable gantry with the words “START” on it would be where we should go. But alas that was not the case, and so began the comedy of errors that was the Wimpole Night Run.
When we’d finally been herded to the actual start (two sorry looking pink flags), we didn’t have even the smallest of scoobies as to what was going on because we simply couldn’t hear the announcer. Luckily someone near the back of the crowd obviously got wind of what was happening because like a Mexican Wave a countdown rolled down to the front and we managed to join in from about 7 down to 1. And then we were off.
And boy was it dark. The visibility from our head torches (mine being slightly more useful than Rachel’s one from Sports Direct but my sweaty forehead meant it refused to stay pointing in the right direction) was sketchy at best, and the only sign that a massive section of bog was coming was the squelch from the runners in front of us. At about 1k in we ran through a pair of gates with a particularly marshy section, and after the two of us had waded through it we heard a cry of “my trainer!” come from the gloom behind us as one unfortunate runner had a shoe sucked off their foot, leaving us to wonder if we’d tied our laces tightly enough!
When it came to the marshals, we made sure to thank every one we ran past (it was freezing!), but it seemed that there was no consistency in their dress (some in high vis, some in dark clothing) or whether or not they had torches to help direct us. And since the signage around the course often consisted of a single glow stick attached to a random tree, it was sometimes nearly impossible to see where you were going, especially as the number of runners thinned out in the second half of the run. When a marshal said “go that way!” we quickly responded with “WHICH WAY?!!” because funnily enough, a hand gesture can be hard to see in the almost pitch black. And as for the marshal who was sat on the ground on her phone…….
There were numerous moments when Rachel and I thought we were going to faceplant in the mud, and how Rach stayed upright on one particular corner I’ll never know. Her recovery skills were immense. And somewhere around the 6k mark (I’m guessing here, since if there were any distance markers we didn’t blooming see them), there was a massive pit on our left that we saw at the last minute. I’m not sure what it was (it had concrete sides) but I am gobsmacked that they didn’t think to mark it up as a hazard to avoid. It was a health and safety nightmare.
When we finally saw the lights that indicated that the finish was in sight, the two of powered to the line, finishing no more than a second behind the couple in front of us. Sadly there was no funnel or funnel manager in sight, so when they stopped to hug we pretty much barrelled into them as there was no one to move them on. There was then a plethora of people handing out bags, medals and water bottles, with no one keeping supporters back from the finish. Why they didn’t think to put the medals and water IN the bags (which contained little more than material on the National Trust, a Cotswold water bottle, and a leaflet on how to run – a little late there guys) I’ll never know. And even though neither of us were running for a particular time, it was a little frustrating to see that I was recorded as being 4 seconds behind the couple in front of us with Rach another 4 seconds behind me – we crossed together! I know it’s not chip timed but the human eye should do better than that.
Now I know it sounds like I’ve been a bit negative about this run, but it’s more of an opportunity for me to provide feedback on what is still a very new race. And I would run it again. It’s mental, and ridiculous and totally haphazard, but I don’t think I’ll ever forget the sight of looking over my shoulder and seeing all those lights bobbing along behind me. Plus the medal is pretty nice. I just hope that maybe they neaten up their processes a bit more next year, get all of their marshals on the same page (high vis or no high vis, torches or no torches?) and make sure the finish is a bit more coherent. Plus a snack in the goody bag wouldn’t have gone amiss!