Having entered The Moonlight Challenge not long ago my approach to it was to treat it like a long training run rather than a full on race. Having logged some solid mileage during January I was fairly confident it would go well. During the last 10 days before the event I developed a slight calf injury that I had to carefully monitor otherwise I was in danger of not even starting the run. I decided to keep the week before by minimizing the number of runs I was going to do, stretch the legs out and generally keep relaxed about it. A kind of mini taper if you like.
The pre-race atmosphere was full of good humour, chatting to the usual suspects (Jerry) and finally meeting up with Matt Biggin who was sporting what can only be said to be "minimal" gear for what would be a cold and wet night ahead. The conditions were cool at around 4C and very wet as the rain hadn't stopped all day. I had heard that there were some deep puddles out on the course and that the persistent rain the past couple of days had made the off road sections very treacherous underfoot. It would prove to be more like running in a mud bath than on solid ground.
The course is 6.55 miles in length and comprises of tarmac, cinder (gravel) tracks and partial tracks. The aim is to complete 5 laps (32.75 miles) within the 8 hour time period. There is no obligation to do this but that was the target I was aiming for. Anything between 5.30-6.00 hrs would be a decent long run in my book.
The organisers gave us the pre-race briefing and after discussing with Matt where we would position ourselves we decided to head to the front of the pack of runners. I don't know why I did this but I had the desire to get out there early and see how things felt especially given my dodgy calf earlier in the week. The event was going to kick off by using a firework. When the rocket went BOOM we were off. I sprinted away with Matt, head torch on and looking for the first turning.
I was feeling very good from the off and moving fairly quickly (7.30 min/mile pace). The first four miles passed by very quickly although it became evident that I wasn't going to maintain this pace the entire way as that wasn't my intention. It was clear to all as well that the mud bath like condtions would taxing on the legs with each lap done however I was determined to see how long I could keep the pace up before ultimately slowing down. A few runners did overtake us on that first lap but I wasn't even thinking about placing at this point. I completed the first lap somewhere around 53 minutes. I quickly picked up another bottle of drink and headed out for Lap 2.
I was feeling good but decided to back off slightly and reduce the pace. My calf felt surprisingly good also and with having another runner close by it definitely motivates you to keep moving as fast as they are. I felt so good in fact that I missed the first turning on the course and had to track back a couple hundred yards. The lap went by quite quickly like the previous one although it was apparent the muddy conditions were deteriorating due to the amount of people out on the course. The ground was literally being torn up and it was like running through treacle in places. At the end of the lap I was feeling both hungry and thirsty (not drinking enough). I clocked the lap time at around 57 minutes, grabbed a banana, another bottle of drink.
During this lap it was the first time I saw a lot of other runners out on the course coming the other way. You could tell who was enjoying this and who was not by the level of communication when you pass by. I always encourage people that they are doing great and to keep going. This was something I greatly appreciated in my first ultra and I believe in doing it in every event I do although I am sure some persons won't take kindly to it but that's who I am and that's life. My pace had dropped but I was determined to get the third lap done without introducing some walking breaks. I was beginning to feel sore in my lower back and hamstrings due mainly to trying to stabilise myself on the muddy sections. I came in at the end of the third lap in around 64 minutes. I grabbed a banana and a bottle of drink and headed out albeit walking at first.
After running the first 20 miles in around 2hrs55mins I needed to slow things down a little bit as I didn't want trash my legs completely as this was meant to be a training run although I knew I was looking at a solid time based on the three previous laps. I introduced some small minute walking breaks to break things up. I quickly got cold though when walking so I started to run again. Matt had gone off ahead of me around the 21 mile mark so I was for the first time during the event on my own. During this lap I ended up twice on the floor as I slipped quite badly on the mud, luckily no damage but it did remind me that I was feeling a little tired and my senses were not 100%. It was around mile 23 that I had a low point so I decided to walk it off. I knew it wouldn't last long and within 4-5 minutes I was feeling better again after drinking the rest of my bottle. I must of lapped quite a few people during this lap and this was a great psychological boost. I came in at the end of the 4th lap feeling a little beat up but I had got used to the pain especially in my hamstrings. The lap time was around 70 minutes. I performed the same nutrition and hydration routine as last time and was looking forward to the last lap.
I had gotten over the major slump I had during the fourth lap and intended to run a fair bit on this lap although with walking breaks when necessary. The course by this point was swimming with liquid mud and it must of been draining for all taking part. I am not someone who enjoys running on tarmac particularly but the relief it brought from more taxing off road sections was helping with keeping the pace up. The last lap was passing by without much incident apart from one last runner overtaking me but I didn't care too much as I had got what I needed out of this run. As i came into the penultimate checkpoint I noticed Matt was walking from it. After catching him up he told me he had overcooked it a little bit by the end of the last lap and had been paying for it ever since. We run / walked to the last checkpoint at which point I took a spectacular tumble into a puddle. No harm done except soaking my legs completely. As we reached the road turning 100yds towards the finish I saw Matt speed up. I felt so good that I kicked as well and out sprinted him to the finish line. I crossed the line in 5 hrs 18 minutes. Lap time was around 73 minutes. A great bonus was that I finished in 6th place, but to be honest everyone was a winner out there as it was a tough challenge. Total mileage varied by around 0.5 miles and to be honest I am not surprised given the twists and turns on this course.
I was very pleased with the run overall especially as I didn't intend to go out fast but doing so gave me a great incentive to see how far I could sustain it so some good lessons learned. Looking back on this maybe I could of paced it more steady and hydrated more effectively but with the conditions the way they were I think I would of settled into a slow pace early on and not learnt that much from it. Sometimes you just got to try something new and for me the event and competitors taking part were awesome. I would definitely recommend the event to anyone who wants to spend their saturday night in a non traditional mudbath!