The huge success of the Illuminator Run on Royal Deeside could be the catalyst for a boom in night-time head torch races all around the country during the long winter running months.
An exciting new branch of our sport could be about to open up as the days of darkness are no longer a reason for their being a lack of new and exciting events or for restricting our opportunities to get out running in the countryside or even the less well-lit parts of our cities, towns and villages.
The Illuminator attracted a capacity field of close to 600 runners and walkers who tackled a 15 mile/25km route, including 2,247ft of climbing, through the spectacular setting of Glen Tanar Forest close to the village of Aboyne 30 miles up the Dee Valley from Aberdeen.
Organised by Firetrail Events, the company which has already developed dynamic new adventure runs such as the Prime Four Beast races at Banchory and Loch Ness, the Illuminator instantly captured the imagination of all those who took part and a bigger and better event is already being planned for 2016.
Jono Buckland, of Firetrail told me: “It’s fantastic that we reached our entry capacity in the first year and it has been so popular that we had 200 people on the waiting list. We’ll certainly be aiming to accept more entries sin 2016.
“Glen Tanar is a spectacular setting for a race and holding it at nightime adds another level of interest.The course is from Aboyne community centre and has a punchy opening with a steep ascent up the Fungle track. It then climbs Baudy Meg hill, on open and exposed moorland, then descends into the ancient Scots pine forest. Participantspass the estate’s trout loch and the FairyLochan, before making the final climb up past Craigendinnie and returning to Aboyne.”
Jono also points out that at about the halfway point everyone passes a specially created light zone. The bridge over the water of Allachy and surrounding Scots pine trees were illuminated by a mixture of multi-coloured floodlights and spot lights to create an amazing backdrop for the runners.
It was certainly amazingly inspiring to see close to 600 head torches bobbing through the darkness,creating
a spectacular flickering light-show which weaved through the streets of Aboyne, across the River Dee and into the hilly trails of Glen Tanar. I can certainly see the attraction.
Race organisers with imaginative ideas and expert organisational skills have made these events possible, but it has also required the development of good quality customised head torches, bad-weather clothing and multi-terrain shoes for runners. This combo has opened up endless possibilities for winter running and every one of the people I spoke with at the Illuminator was full of enthusiasm for the race and believed more events of this typeshould, and probably will, be organised.
Illuminator women’s race winner Steph Provan, a member of Deeside Runners, pointed out that her clubalready has an event planned. She said: “We have a weekly head torch training run but we are also organising a short head torch race up Cnoc Dubh at Cambus O’May further along Deeside on Friday 11th December.”
The race starts at 8pm and follows a 7.5km route. Entries will be taken on the night. Registration will be at the Riverside Café.
Our very own Run-4-It Aberdeen shop manager William Stewart was particularly enthusiastic after his torch run debut, especially as he ended up winning the Illuminator. William said: “The whole thing was great fun. I’ve never done anything like this before so I didn’t know what to expect. I’ve had a head torch for only three weeks so there hasn’t been much time to practice running in the dark. It’s kinda funny, you can only see about five or six steps in front but you can’t only watch your feet all the time, so you need to concentrate. I had hoped to recce the route beforehand but wasn’t able to. In some respects I’m quite glad I didn’t as I might have been put off if I’d seen the hill we had to tackle near the end.It’s a superb event and a great addition to the Scottish running calendar.”
It’s a view echoed by runner-up John Roach, who comes from Brighton but has been living in Aberdeen for the past eight years. He said: “It was a brilliant event, I absolutely loved it and it was really special to see the trail of lights at the start as the runners crossed the bridge at Aboyne, then again up on the hills. I didn’t know the route, but it was great. It was wet and muddy in places which made it tough and the hill at the end was brutal. But it’s a brilliant event and I’ll come back and try to go one better next year.”
Italian runner Francesco Mirando, who is studying for a PhD in electronics at Glasgow University, was third in 1:58:38 and he warned of making sure your head torch is properly powered up for such occasions:”It was my first night race but it was really cool, I enjoyed it. I moved up quite a few places over the final miles to take third position but I was really glad it didn’t go on any longer as my light was going out on my torch.”
Richard Lawes of Firetrail pointed out how an event of this nature has wider community benefits. He said: “We expect to raise over £8,000 for the Braemar Mountain Rescue Team, who are a fantastic match for this event and a great asset to add to our safety plan. The team not only brought their special four-wheel drives and experienced outdoor rescue staff but also contributed two stalwart pipers in kilts. They did a great job to encourage the runners and walkers to tackle the next big hill with some fine tunes. We thoroughly enjoyed working with the Mountain Rescue Team and hope to be able to contribute to their fundraising efforts again in the future.”
“This year’s event was a sell out and the Illuminator will be back next year with more colourful light displays and other surprises for our participants. We were delighted to see so many people at the first Illuminator and receive lots of positive feedback and enthusiastic comments!”
Head torch runs needn’t of course be confined to racing. Steph Provan mentioned that Deeside Runners Royal have regular training runs by torch. My own club, Metro Aberdeen, offers a weekly run through a woodland trail aided by the use of torches and many of the jogscotland groups around the country do likewise. It’s a great way to explore places which otherwise would be inaccessible at this time of year and it can be exhilarating to run through an area which may be familiar during the day but takes on a completely new feel at night. So, if your motivation to run in winter has been dimmed by the shortness of light and the lack of daytime running routes, get yourself a head torch and look at your neighbourhood’s runability in a completely new light.