A Message from the Dark Side

In summary – a reasonable time in an excellent, if somewhat unusual, 10k race.

Night time racing is relatively common around the globe with New York’s Electric Run in September, the Cursa del Port de Barcelona, Seville’s Carrera Nocturna del Guadalquivir (blogged about by a I race walker I follow) as well as Nike’s series of women only ‘We Own the Night’ races in London, Paris, Berlin, Milan and Amsterdam in May and June. The key features of these races seem to be pleasant locations and warm weather in late spring, summer or early autumn.

So what on earth made me think that a night time 10k on multiple laps of a cycle park on an exposed hillside on the outskirts of Gravesend in December would be a good idea?

One of the few other regular winter night time race series is the Weston Prom Run, although at least that has ocean views and a pleasant enough sea front. Gravesend Cyclopark has an expansive vista of the A2 dual carriageway.

Explosive cyclogenesis had been a big feature of the news in the days leading up to the race – this seemed rather appropriate given the race location, but it was nothing to with a volatile Genesis bike – rather it is an alternative, more technical term for ‘weather bomb.’ While this refers to a storm which quickly intensifies and pressure rapidly drops in the centre – by 24 millibars in a 24-hour period – the net result is strong winds and at times heavy rain. The remnants of this were still present when I arrived in Gravesend with a brisk 15 mph (24 kph) wind buffeting the course, but it was not as bad as the forecast 24 hours before which was for a stronger wind and torrential rain.

I did venture out a bit to loosen up but was rather beaten back by the wind and the cold, so my warm up (like that of almost everyone else) mainly involved staying in the warm of the cafe and a few desultory attempts at running up and down on the spot in the foyer.

As for the race, other than the conditions there were no surprises – I ran a 10k there on a pleasant summer evening in 2013. It is a 7 metres short of 2.5 k loop, although it was run the opposite way around to when I last ran there – a long downhill section largely into the wind, a little meandering at the bottom of the course and then regaining the height just lost, before some undulations back to the start. And repeat ….three times. While the course around the pavilion is floodlit, the rest was a bit hit and miss – much of the far side of the course is lit by the A2 and there was a van with headlights on strategically placed at one point of the course, but there are places where you are just watching the outline of the runner in front and having to trust what is underfoot. Trust it you can though – smooth tarmac, no potholes, no street furniture and no trip hazards.

My target time was 45 minutes, although this was probably a little optimistic given the wind. The first lap (and 28 metres) was a little too quick in 11:05 but I was feeling pretty good. After being really blown around by some strong gusts, at the end of the second lap I saw the clock at 22:21 when I passed, the third time at 33:50 and after putting a real effort in on the final lap to counteract my tiring legs I stopped my watch on 44:21 – the official time was 44:27, but I had started too far back and had failed to pay attention to the start.

All in all, a really enjoyable, well organised race – my watch time was quicker than my time over the course in 2013 in much more benign conditions, I was the first MV50 home (OK I was beaten by three MV55 runners ….) in 24th place from around 70 – a good evening’s work.

The cold gave me the chance to have a look at some of the old cycling jerseys on the wall – while there was an old British champion’s one belonging to local cyclist Reg Smith, there was one that really caught my eye – the 1983 Milk Race sprints jersey. While it was still an amateur race in those days, it was that race and that year that got me interested in professional cycling. One of the stages passed where I lived in Birmingham and a young Dane attempting to ‘bridge’ to a break ‘up the road’ hit a pothole next to me and took a tumble – I got his chain back on while he dusted himself down and then he was off. I’ve no idea whether he got over to the break, but he certainly didn’t win – the German Peter Becker out sprinted the great Tony Doyle that day in Coventry. I found the results in the Guardian the next day and then kept looking for cycling results and reports – something that has never stopped.

Anyway, back to the running, if I haven’t put you off, the Gravesend Floodlit Winter Series continues throughout the winter on the second Thursday of the month until April 2015. It is a really good race at a really good venue. Whilst there I picked up a flier for the inaugural Ashford & District Marathon next spring, which is also being organised by Nice Work, and given my lack of a London place it has got me thinking ….


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