Dusk 'til Dawn took place 3 weeks ago. It was my first event as an organiser. Obviously I have been a competitor in a lot of races over the years, in many countries, and those experiences have given me what I hope was a keen insight into what makes a good race. Couple that with owning the Beyond Marathon website, and having a fairly scary knowledge of the hundreds of worldwide ultras and I can cherry pick elements from one race or another to produce my own race that I hoped would have a wide appeal.
So, I had an idea for Dusk 'til Dawn but it was given a purpose when Wendy my girlfriend was diagnosed with Malignant Melanoma, which is the most dangerous form of skin cancer. Wendy's diagnosis was all the more shocking because she avoids the sun all the time anyway. It was very likely overexposure to the sun as a child that caused her melanona. Her melanoma was sufficiently large (1.8mm deep) for doctors to effectively give her 50/50 for survival. She had her sentinel lymph nodes removal, and wide local excision, which means they remove a large amount of skin from around the melanoma in an effort to stop the spread. They also removed the three closest lymph nodes to the primary cancer, which is the first place that the cancer spreads too. Melanoma spreads rapidly, and once in the lymph nodes, the cancer is very difficult to treat. Secondary cancer's form in the lungs, brain or other organs and many patients die within 1-2 years. After the first operation, she was left with three missing lymph nodes which has resulted into lymphodaema (swelling) of her right arm. That's something she will always have to put up with. She has a 'shark bite'; a chunk of her upper arm missing where the excision took place. Her lymph node biopsy came back negative, which was a huge relief. However, every 3 months (for 10 years) she has to go back to the hospital for more checks to see if the cancer has returned. She then had a subsequent operation to remove more lymph nodes after the doctors found another lump. This also came back negative. She is now close to 2 years in remission, but we both still have the 3 monthly worry when the check up time comes around. Maybe this will get easier in time, but I doubt it for the time being.
Anyway, she has had great support from her Macmillan cancer nurse, so I thought we could use the Dusk 'til Dawn event as a fundraiser for Macmillan Cancer Suport, to raise awareness of skin cancer. There is no sun at night to burn you, what better time to run a 14 hour race?So, that being the premise for the race, add to it a few other twists and turns; a chasing 'Grim Sweeper', and the clocks going back that night to give the participants an hour extra before dawn. So, the ideas came together and the event website was created by me. I like planning and I like attention to detail. One element of my day job involves business continuity planning and disaster recovery. Plan for the worst and hope for the best basically. My main aim was to send out up to 90 participants out at night, on a very challenging Peak District course, and return them all safely. With that in mind I wrote the race description, and a FAQ page that I hoped would give everyone all the information they might need to participate. I created electronic maps and GPS files, and then also organised recces of the course each month from June to September where me or Wendy led participants around sections.
Next was finding checkpoint (CP) volunteers; people who I knew would take good care of the participants. That wasn't too hard because I know some great people!First on board was Mike Perry , a Stoke on Trent Physiotherapist. Mike has first aid training and is also trained is search and rescue. A perfect choice really! Mike was a very enthusiastic volunteer and also a great sports masseur and physio! Next we had our friends from Shropshire Andy and Yvette. Andy and Yvette are both excellent fell runners. They have started a business with their two friends Nick and Karen. Their business is Farafoot - Bushcraft, Wild therapy and Wild Running. A fabulous idea which I hope will be very successful. They are all lovely people who have a good insight into the ultra and fell running world and know how to look after people in the wild outdoors too! It was decided that they would sponsor and staff CP2 at Earl Sterndale School. Earl Sterndale School kindly opened their doors to us on a cold Saturday night and were fantastic hosts.
Checkpoint 4 was another obvious choice. CP4 was near Cracken Edge which is a high and cold place to be on an October night. It was near the top of a steep hill, and a 4x4 vehicle would be required to pull up into the space by the stile. Wendy's friends Debbie and Aaron. Aaron was in the RAF and has had a lot of involvement in logistical planning. He also had army medical training too. As soon as Aaron and Debbie agreed to take on CP4 we knew that it would run like clockwork to the last detail, and it did.That left CP1 and CP3. I'm a bit of a fan of spreadsheets and formulas, so I had calculated that because of the race deadlines, we could use the same staff for CP1 and CP3. Who else did I know with a large 4x4? My father. Now, he had never operated a CP before, but he was very enthusiastic and his friend Tony was a lover of the outdoors, so the two of them stepped up to the plate.
Now, I needed to fill the role of the Grim Sweeper, the mysterious figure who would chase down the participants during the night, as well as provide a safety net to scoop up lost, injured or struggling competitors. 50 miles is a long way for 1 person to sweep and to maintain the minimum required speed of 3.5 mph. So, I decided to split the role between 3 people. Clive Hevey, a friend of mine, who I met when back in 2005 when I was his personal training client. Clive knows the Peak District better than I do, and he is a Bob Graham Round finisher. Clive would be sweeper number 1, from the start to mile 16. Then Sweeper number 2 would be Andy from Farafoot, who I have already mentioned. Andy, far too keen as he was, didn't stop after his stint as sweeper, he carried on and joined Sweeper number 3 for his leg. Sweeper number 3 was James Love. I have done a fair few events abroad with James; a couple of deserts and Nepal in 2011. James is a great guy and very reliable. So the sweeper team was assembled.Finally, Wendy's sister Amy and her husband Steve. Amy is another person you can rely on completely. She would act as road marshal and event photographer, as well as a million other tasks back at HQ; boiling water, preparing food etc. It's a long list! Steve would be an extra vehicle, in addition to mine, to be able to react to situations on the course and head out to collect people if necessary. Steve and Amy did a great job on the night.
Two late additions to the team were Daven and James, two A&E junior doctors from Bournemouth. Both are half way through a year out from their medical training to get experience in wilderness medicine. They have both recently returned from several months in Nepal, and are soon to head to Costa Rica for a few months. They were keen to get involved and offered their support, which I was only too happy to accept. They were valued members of the team, and looked after a few competitors who returned a little worse for wear, but otherwise ok.I had decided I needed a venue that offered accommodation. I had read how British Explorer Ranulph Fiennes had taken part in the overnight High Peak marathon and subsequently fallen asleep at the wheel and crashed into another vehicle. I'm safety conscious and decided I had to offer accommodation too. People would come from a long way away to take part, and sending them straight home would be dangerous. I initially developed a route and approached Gradbach Youth Hostel. However, their communication wasn't that great, they already had a group booking for one of their buildings and parking was a major problem there. So, then I approached Castleton who it transpired were moving their location, from the village centre. They were in the final throes of refurbishing a Victorian Gothic Mansion, Losehill Hall as the new Castleton Youth Hostel. We saw the venue, it was perfect. The image fitted in with the slightly spooky theme too!
I don't think the competitors ever really got time to look around and appreciate the building, it's Lounge and Library etc. It's a fabulous place and the staff have been fantastic. It's possibly the best Youth Hostel that I've stayed in. I decided to use £5 of everyone's £25 entry fee for a Youth Hostel supplied cooked breakfast. The venue kindly agreed to supply breakfast 2 hours earlier than normal, from 5:30am. I think the breakfast was well received by all accounts.
As a result of the change in venue, I redesigned some of the route. I have done a lot of events in the Peak District, as well as a lot of training, so I already knew some key locations that I wanted on the Route. I wanted the Mam Tor to Losehill Ridge, Cave Dale, Shining Tor, Cracken Edge and the Pennine Bridleway. Joining the dots between them was challenging. I changed my mind dozens of times. Me and Wendy went out and recced many routes, deciding if it would be feasible to navigate them quickly during the night. I had wanted to use the area around Chrome Hill, South West of what was CP2, but it was simply too difficult to navigate; it's a maze of criss-crossing footpaths. I decided that a Dove Head and Cheeks Hill approach to Axe Edge moor was too remote. If the weather was bad, or anyone got lost then getting people quickly and safely out of the area would be a major concern. So, they were out. The key to a good route is to make it interesting, challenging but also to have a good road network between CPs to enable quick extraction of a participant in the event of a problem. I also had to factor in disturbing people in houses and farms all night, as participants came through. So, balancing all of these in the air we finally settled on a route which changed very little in the subsequent months. We wrote to the landowners and took on board their concerns for closing gates, and other than that encountered no resistance to the route.Clearly there is a lot more than went into the organisation of the event, sourcing maps, food, t-shirts, reflective tape, glow sticks, hot and cold drink containers, the wristbands, tokens and a hundred more things. We had set a moderate price with the aim of trying to achieve a profit for Macmillan Cancer Support. By the time you take away the breakfast, OS maps and T-Shirts etc, you are already looking at around £15 spent for the £25 entry fee. Items such as the wristbands, tally cards, finish line banner, and the accommodation for the volunteers was paid for by me, rather than the race. People also donated food, and all of the volunteers have given up their free time, petrol, and all their own contributions of kit, other resources, food and drink. Call it our contribution, but this will mean that the amount we raise for Macmillan is better than it would be, had we deducted all expenses. So, there is a lot that went on in the background that will take too long to explain, and you won't find that interesting. It all got done, that's all you need to know.
So, I somewhat nervously advertised the race, unsure if I would even attract 1 person, let alone 90, which I had decided was the limit. We had 45 places for accommodation and we would match that with places for race place only. Entries opened and the first one came in, soon after, followed by the second, third. The entries kept coming in and 4 days later all race only entries had sold out. There was a lot of chatter on the forums and on Facebook, quite a buzz about the race, it seemed to be capturing everyone's imagination. The places with accommodation filled up a couple of weeks after that. The event was advertised 6 months in advance, and of course over that period people got injured, booked holidays, weddings and all manner of things which meant cancellations. We refunded everyone in full up to 1 month before the event (2 months for accommodation fee, which we had to settle in advance). In total, almost 60 people withdrew, but testament to the popularity of the event, all of them were replaced from the waitlist!I decided to organise recces of the route each month from June to September. Two days each month I would lead up to 8 people around 12-15 mile sections of the course. It was great to meet them all, and they all benefits from learning parts of the course. I sent out a monthly newsletter to keep people updates with the latest course information and news. I produced electronic maps of the course, and GPS files for Garmin users. I decided to provide laminated 50k OS maps to all entrants, which I had a printer produce for the event, and was granted a free licence from OS. I also decided to get some glow in the dark silicon wristbands for each participant, which had their race number as well as Dusk 'til Dawn embossed on them. The finish line banner was ordered and delivered. The asked the competitors what food they would like at CPs via an online poll, and did the final shopping a few days before the race. We had quite a few people pull out of the race just a few days before (about 5 or 6), with late injuries, or possibly fear of the Grim Sweeper!
Me and Wendy took the day off work on the Friday, the day before the race, and headed out onto the course armed with rolls of highly reflective tape. We had stated that we would only tape the tricky bits, but we taped a great deal more, and as a result the route was very well marked, though a map would still be required. We spent the entire day on Friday taping, and still had to get up at 7am on race day and tape the last few miles. We nervously eyed the weather. It would be unseasonably cold, 7C lower than usual, and would very likely rain in the middle of the night, though the day and early evening would be sunny and clear.
Race day was a blur, we finished taping by 11am, and headed back to Losehill Hall to begin preparations. Some participants had already arrived, and some I (or the volunteers) would collect from Hope train station. I spoke to as many people as I could get around, but still didn't manage to speak to everyone. I had emailed all of them over the months, so it was nice to put faces to names. One competitor had flown in with his family from Bahrain, we had 5 from the USA, and also had many participants from the armed forces who had been on recent tours of the middle east, and had trained within military camps on 300m tracks. Amazing stuff. Local club the Goyt Valley Striders had turned out in force and were in all customer made high vis bone tshirts "Goyt Valley Stranglers". All getting into the spirit, of what I hope would be a fun event!
At 4:45 I held a participant briefing in the conference room, which has a projector and a 10ft high screen. I think this was something new for most participants, but something I always planned to do to give participants a walk through of the course and hazards.I introduced out international participants, thanks our armed forces, and explained that we were all here because of Malignant Melanoma. Plenty of spontaneous applause which was really nice. Then, I set to work taking them through a 20 page PowerPoint presentation, punctuated with maps, and pictures to help them navigate.
It was a lot of information to take in, but from the feedback it was very well recived and I hope entertaining. We also gave away a £100 1600 lumen headtorch in a prize draw from race Sponsor BrightBikeLights.com, who had come on board quite late.
Finally at the end of the presentation I introduced them to.... "The Grim Sweeper", who would be chasing them over the course.
I must say that we swapped the 5ft high vintage hay scythe (which I had spent about 8 hours restoring!) for a smaller lightweight version when Clive set off. I hadn't fancied bailing Clive out of jail in Buxton for wielding a deadly weapon during the night, so I thought that was wise. The lightweight scythe he carried had a GPS attached, which enabled us and anyone else to track the Grim Sweeper over the course. The presentation finished just a few minutes over time and we then headed out on the 5 minute walk to the startline. The Grim Sweeper lined up alongside them.
In the meantime Wendy and James (Grim Sweeper 3) were heading out to put some of the glowsticks and token collection buckets out.
I had everyone snap their glowsticks to light them, spark up their head torches, and I started the race at exactly 17:42, sunset. The night started clear and moonlit and the view up to the hill was amazing. I'm told the participants really thought so too.
I'd sent out a couple of marshals for the first mile to keep gates open to prevent bottlebecks.
I headed back to the YHA building to gather things I would need for the nights initial Road Trip. I then drove to Hope to act as the first Road Marshal. It was there that I could see a snake of white lights coming down Lose Hill, it looked pretty magical!
I had actually arrived a couple of minutes too late to catch the leaders, but assisted everyone else over the road and directed them to the footpath to Castleton. Clive, Grim Sweeper 1, eventually arrived. I relived him of the token bucket, and of the reflective tape he had collected during his sweep, and then got in the car to head towards outdoor CP1, which I have seen by one participant described as "landing strip". We had sets of arnage lights on the road, and several vehicles. By the time I got there, CP1 was in full swing with my father, Tony and Andy all very busy, with the first 10 or 20 already through. I check it was all running ok, and then set off to head for some locations I would place glow sticks. I placed some more tape at a junction where two of our female competitors were stopped wondering which way to go. I put then on track and added more tape. I got a call a few minutes later from a competitor who has in a pub in Peak Forest. Both of his head torches had failed and he had got lost. I turned the car round and picked him up. I did offer to lend him my torch but he decided not to carry on, though was in high spirits and chatted to the organisers into the night! I dropped him at CP1 so they could take him back, and then headed to Millers Dale. I put a few glowsticks to guide people over the road, and across a footbridge and up a climb called Priestcliffe. It is a really stiff climb with a handrail half way up. About half way up I had put a notice which said "Well done, almost at the top!", then a few metres later another one saying "Just Kidding!". That is my sense of humour for you. I drove around and added more glowsticks at various points, acted as a temporary road marshal for one of our volunteers who was helping out at CP1 and running late too. All the time I was relaying messages between all CP's about people who had retired, so I was a very busy boy.
I went to CP2 which was at Earl Sterndale school. They had kindly allowed us to use their school and opened it up from 8pm to 11:30pm. The headmaster and one of the school administrators were both there. Sadly for the few minutes I was there, I somehow managed not to see them, but I did phone up to say thank you the week after. CP2 had some hot water, hot chocolate, tea and coffee, and soup, bread and a whole host of other food, just like the other CPs. Race leader Charlie Sharpe got to the CP 15 minutes before I estimated the fastest person would arrive, but I had the CP setup about half an hour before that as a safety net luckily! nevertheless he still had to tap on the window as they had the door shut!
I set off again, added more glowsticks nearby, and eventually caught up with Charlie Sharpe by Buxton Speedway. He himself was speeding. I pulled up alongside and told him I was having to open all the rest of the CPs early because of him! He looked at his GPS watch and had just clocked a couple of 6 minute miles, 22 miles into the 50 miler. Unbelievable! I drove on, finally ahead of the whole field, added more glowsticks and then headed up to CP3 location at the Cat and Fiddle pub. It would be at least 30 minutes before Charlie would arrive, and texted that to CP3 staff Eddie (father) and Tony. I saw my fathers Range Rover outside CP3, so I was happy that it would be setup well in advance. I parked up nearby, grabbed the bucket and associated red glowstick which would be used for the 2nd token drop. I looked at the car temperature gauge, -2, very cold but not rain just yet (23:00).I ran a mile and half (3 mile round trip) up to the top of the highest point on the course Shining Tor, and placed the token drop, then ran back down to the car and drive back to the Cat and Fiddle with about 2 minutes to spare before Charlie arrived. Dad and Tony had been joined by a local guy called Colin who had phoned me up and offered his help. He knew several runners, and so he got to see them as well as help out.
Despite the cold weather, Charlie was still wearing shorts and T-shirt, and would do so all night! He had a head torch and a waist level torch too. He didn't stop for long. I helped him refill his water bottles, he had a few bits of food and then ran on. 2 mins later Tony noticed he had left his race map behind. With the best will in the world, there was no way I was going to be able to run after him and catch him, especially not with with 2 mins headstart! The nest place I could drive to was Pym Chair car park, but it's a knarly slow road to get there. Colin suggested driving down the Goyt Valley. Technically it is a one way road, but there was virtually no chance of meeting any traffic at that time of night, so I did just that and following 20 mins trip, left Charlie's map attached to a glow stick on the moors, on the route near Pym Chair. I texted his phone to tell him so and then headed back to the HQ.I got about an hour indoors, relaying messages back and forth, and then had to go back out to collect some people who had retired at CP3. The weather was now cold and it was raining. Add to that the wind chill up there and it was very cold. We would have used an out-house up there if we had know that other events use it! About 7 people retired at CP3, a couple at CP1, a couple at CP2, and one at a vehicle marshal point where the doctors were between CP2 and CP3. We transported them all back. Due to worsening weather, I had also gave instruction to CP3 and CP4 to offer the participants the option to use emergency "red routes" I had marked on the map, which would avoid high ground.
I got back to the HQ, with about an hour to spare before I got a call from Charlie to say he was nearing the finish. We were already prepared having calculated his speed from previous CPs. He came running up the drive and crossed the finish line in 8 hours and 57 minutes. Very impressive!
Wendy's sister was the event photographer, and a gallantly stood in the freezing rain and took finishers photos all night. I welcomed everyone, make them some tea and offered them some food to tide them over until breakfast. In total 51 people made it back within the 14 hours and 6 minutes time limit. I had to head out a couple more times to collect people who had retired or who the Grim Sweeper had caught up and retired for their own safety. One chap had got very cold, but CP4 had been setup by Aaron and Debbie, and had an arctic tent, a bed and had arctic sleeping bags and coats as well as a heater!
He was put promptly in the bag, and later I collected him along with another participant. I took them both back and had the doctors check him over. His fingers were very cold, but he was otherwise OK. I followed up with a few participants via email to check how they were getting one later in the week. All ok, it appears!
The weather further deteriorated, to the point where I had to stop people using the hillls in the last 5 miles, and send them along the road. Tales from early finishers were grim. Freezing cold, heavy rain, sleet, and zero visibility. I stand by the decision to send them along the road, and I don't think anyone would disagree. Although we didn't want to pull anyone off the course in the last 10 miles, ultimately the Sweeper team at that stage (Wendy, Andy and James) had caught quite a few more up and they were told they would be retired at the final vehicle marshal point at mile 45. No one complained as the weather was truly horrible. It was vile to drive in, let alone run in! Everyone who was retired at mile 45 I credited with a technical finish award (Daylight finish).We checked the finish sheet and cross referenced with the last vehicle marshal, and there was one person missing in the last 5 miles. I had stopped as I had drove past him on the road route back, and checked he was ok. He had been fine, and so I was puzzled about how he had got lost? Nevertheless, time ticked by and he didn't appear. I called him mobile number, no signal. We were worried and contacted his wife to ask her to keep trying to contact him, whilst we went out and looked. We set a 15 minute timer going to call mountain rescue (though we last saw him on the road!) and then drove off back along the route. We had barely gone half a mile when there he was running through Castleton. He had missed a turn in the fog and added about 8 miles onto the 50 mile route!!! So, we drove back, and let him run on, and got him in his finishers photo at the end.
So, we had got everyone back safe and sound. That was my primary goal.I had arranged for a full English breakfast, plus cereals and toast etc for everyone. It had cost £5 a head but was very well received. Everyone had their fantastic technical fabric T-Shirts which were made for us by ACWorkwear.
I eventually sat down and had a little breakfast. I was hungry and dehydrated, and well, really tired. Here is James, Charlie, Me and a few participants who had not yet gone to bed!
It was both enjoyable and stressful. Slowly everyone went off to bed or home, and I went and cleaned up the YHA kitchen and collected up the banners, and everything we had taken. I wouldn't get to sleep after all. It took me most of the day, and I didn't leave until about 4pm by which time I was utterly destroyed. Driving home I was more tired than I can remember. Window wide open, freezing cold as it was, radio on etc. We got home at 6pm, I had been up for 36 hours. Pretty soon collapsed into bed. I went out like a light for 13 hours straight. The best sleep I have had in living memory.I spent the next week recovering, doing admin, returning lost property, paying bills and eventually calculating we had raised £1100 for Macmillan. Well done everyone!
I was literally flooded with great feedback from the event. Just read down the Facebook timeline here to see for yourself! To know that I had organised something, which had been so well received was gratifying. It was all down to the the help of Wendy and the volunteers who had given their time and money too. Good planning was part of it, but how the participants were treated at the CPs was what made is special. There were 17 in total. We need a few more for a silky smooth operation, which would allow me(or someone) to stay at HQ and manage all of the comms centrally. A we need a few more vehicles on standby to collect people who retire. We coped fine, but better safe than sorry.
I was already being asked about next year. I wasn't sure going into the event if it would be repeated, but it was such a resounding success despite the unseasonal cold weather that I have decided to run it again and yet again I intend to run it for charity. However, I can't continue to subsidise it so heavily with my own money. I spent £500 - £1000 I think, not quite sure exactly. So, if I am to run Dusk til Dawn next year in October, then I propose to run other events in the year which will run for profit, but effectively allow me to subsidise Dusk til Dawn and still allow it to make a hefty donation to Macmillan Cancer Support charity.Lot of people said they would love to run the course in the day, so in 2013 the proposal is:
- May 18th - Dusk til Dawn: Sunlight. Same course in reverse, but racing until sunset!
- October 26/27th - Dusk til Dawn. Same as this year, sunset til sunrise!
Alongside that in 2013 I have a new race "The 12 Labours of Hercules", which will be almost 80 miles, and have different entry categories:
- Solo participants - Hercules / Hera
- Pairs - Titans
- Argonauts - teams
It is a 24 hour race with 17,000ft of ascent. Participants will have to visit 12 locations in the Peak District, and in some cases return items or perform tasks when they get there. The one and only location that I will reveal in advance (because it is so cool!) is that by arrangement with the owners, is that our Hades underworld checkpoint will be in a well known Cave.
The buzz about the new race is already being felt, and I am being asked for advance entry! Between now and Christmas my entire Beyond Marathon website is being redeveloped, and will get a fresh new look, and be compatible with mobile devices too. The website will continue to feature hundreds (currently over 700) ultras all of the world, as well as my own events of course. I have a lot of great ideas for races.
For 2014 keep your eyes open for this one.
So, there's plenty in the pipeline. Alongside all of that I have a winter of strength training and rehabilitation ahead of me to sort out my SI join problems which have effectively stopped me running more than 15 miles very easily in the last 6 months. I've done a month of yoga so far, I start Pilates next week and am back in the gym too. Not planning on doing much running until the new year, just focusing on core and lengthening my hamstrings and trying to release my back. recent x-ray shows it tilted and twisted, so I have work to do. I'm having a biomachanical analysis with Mark Hines on Dec 2nd in London. Mark is a well known runner and author. He's researching for his PHD and he needs lower back pain sufferrers as test subjects (How fortunate!). Assuming all of that works out I can also begin my 2013 assault on La Trans Aq (May/June), and RacingThePlanet Iceland in August. I've been performing well in multi-day ultras, so I'm keen to keep up the record. I will check in more often now I have more time, and keep you all posted on my event organising and my own running.
Have a good week!