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Friday 1 November 2013

The Skeleton Run - Massive Cow Fear & Night Hill Running

Running through the darkness, my breath was ragged in my throat and it seemed like the hill would never end. I was running hard, but in the small white circle from my headtorch, all I could see was the trail stretching upwards, steeper and steeper. Then all of a sudden a huge, shaggy monster rose in front of me. In the light of my headtorch, a rolling eye and huge, wide horns tipped with a devilishly sharp point were suddenly visible. 

“Bugger me” said the skeleton who was running next to me. 

I didn’t have the breath to respond but I understood the sentiment. When I signed up for The Skeleton Run, I was expecting darkness, massive hills and awesome fancy dress, but hadn’t expected Highland Cattle to be among the scary beasts on the trails. I had expected zombies, corpse brides, skeletons, superheroes and Grim Reapers but hadn’t thought I’d need to worry about becoming kebabed on the horns of a huge cow. Or burying my feet up to the knees in a (monster) cow pat.

Edging around the cows who were standing in the middle of the trail, it gave us an extra incentive to find some more speed up the first hill. I’d started off far too fast and as the hill became steeper and steeper I was beginning to regret some of my earlier enthusiasm. I knew that the first mile was all uphill, becoming more sheer towards the top ... but surely I must have run at least 2 miles by now? I was panting like a dirty caller and even with the Massive Cow Fear I knew I was slowing down.

I could see orange lights sparkling on my right, far below and knew them to be Loughborough and realised that coming up on my left would be the Old Man, the rock formation shaped like the profile of an old man. It was far too dark to see anything, but I was sure that a patch of black was slightly less black than the darkness around it. Around me skeletons, corpse brides and ghosts were grinding to a halt and starting to walk. I knew there couldn’t be much further to go of this hill ... pride and Cow Fear kept me running. 

Suddenly there was a feeling of space then the path cut through a narrow gate and then – gloriously – a steep hill below. The next mile was all downhill and it was a chance to try and regain some of the time lost on the first steep uphill. The path was corroded and bumpy but my feet flew over it. I tried consciously to relax my shoulders and to persuade my body that this was it’s recovery. Despite doing a sub-7 minute mile.

I flew down the hill, stones rolling under my feet, chasing the small white circle of light my headtorch cast on the ground. Occasionally there was a glow stick hanging from a tree to mark the route and sometimes you could see the headlights of other runners through the trees, glowing like werlights. It was too dark to judge the how far away they were, you could just see the circles of light like an eerie procession through the gloom. 

There was a drinks station at the bottom of the hill at mile 2 but I didn’t stop and swerved sharply to the right following the path down a gentle hill ... then up. And up. And up. I’d started too fast on the first hill from enthusiasm and from not wanting to be trampled in the stampede of witches and skeletons and I could feel my legs wanting to slow now. The hill felt never ending, I’d raise my head and spot a landmark on the path ahead – a pale nettle, a stick on the path, a dark tree trunk and focus on that, then look for the next. I had company, someone running with me at my shoulder but neither of us had energy or breath to spare to speak, we just ran together on and on ... and on. If there was a runner’s limbo, this was it.

The hill just wound up and up and it felt like a horrible déjà vu. Every section looked the same, the hill reaching up as far as the headtorch could reach. My companion slowed and said “I can’t run any more”. I told him “It opens up ahead, we’re nearly there.” He started running again, my invisible companion at my shoulder. I had been persuading myself as much as I was persuading him, but I knew the hill had to be nearly finished. Please. No more ... We turned another corner and there was more uphill and the path just looked the same. Dark, treelined and stretching upwards. The path was blocked by a fallen tree. We jumped it and suddenly - like a spell had been lifted - the trees disappeared and we crossed an area of darkness which had no trees that despite the pressing dark, felt like a wide open space. We passed through a gate and finally, finally the path sloped ... downwards. 

I tried to consciously ease my breath and relaxed my shoulders and took advantage of the downhill to push the speed and try and regain some of the time spent plodding up the hill. The next mile was undulating - which as any runner knows means it’s hilly, horribly hilly but it was a change from the never ending uphill and I tried to keep pushing the speed and take advantage of the downhills. I knew I wasn’t going to be breaking any PBs on this course, but I wanted to push myself. And I was damned if I was going to be beaten by some bloke dressed as a pumpkin. 

The path curved round a corner and into a sharp uphill. My quads groaned, but I remembered this hill! This was the last uphill! The LAST one!! I coerced my legs into as much of a fast run as they’d allow and pushed on. I spotted a marshall lurking suspiciously behind a tree and remembered that last year one had leapt out at me with a bloodcurdling howl. At the time I’d been extremely impressed with not wetting myself at the apparition. That was the REAL win of 2012. I kept my headtorch focused on the lurker, determined not to be caught by surprise this year. I was wearing a cop outfit and felt that the effect may be ruined by a pervasive smell of urine. 

I rounded the corner, through the gate and onto the final mile. From here on it was ALL downhill to the finish line! I tugged my police officers hat straight, straightened my handcuffs and kept a firm grip on the truncheon ... right. Time to test the legs. I flew down the hill, following the winding path in between the trees, trying to keep going, to eep the speed up. As I ran I was conscious of a light behind me, another runner closing the gap. I pushed harder, increased the speed, tried to widen the gap. I didn’t know whether it was a man or a woman, but I didn’t want to be overtaken by anyone this late in the race if I could help it. I hadn’t checked my pace at  any point in the run but I’d kept pushing and had hoped it would be enough to stop anyone catching me up. It wasn’t. The light behind me came closer. I dug deeper and pushed harder. The light receded slightly. I saw lights in the trees and knew the finish line must be close. A sharp corner and deep mud took me by surprise and I nearly lost my footing. I regained and saw the bright lights of the finish and a row of people watching. Not now! I can’t lose my place now. I sprinted for the line. Push! The final stretch should be the easiest bit but it felt hard and I was conscious that I could be overtaken by the other runner at any moment. And THROUGH. Across the line. 

Me and Superwoman ... also known as @Vickyemmamurphy

I collapsed on the cold grass with my arms full of goodies: a lovely medal shaped like a skull, a tshirt and a toffee apple. I heard a “Hello” and the runner who had chased me down the last hill introduced himself (Waves at Andy). I was thankful to meet the person who had kept me pushing the speed although not as relieved as having the opportunity to finally stop running up hills. Mustering the energy, I dragged myself up off the grass and went to cheer on the other runners. There’s nothing quite like watching Dracula and the Grim Reaper battle it out in a sprint finish. Except possibly trying not to look to closely as a group of blokes in ‘Sexy Santa’ dresses try to reach the finish line without flashing their Halloween Horrors at the crowd. 

Buff, water bottle, t shirt, skull medal, helmet/hand/ bike torch - my awesome haul for being 2nd lady!
Hope Skeleton run
2nd woman/121
23rd / 245

Full Garmin info here

You can get further information on the Skeleton Run or view further pictures by James Kirby on their Facebook page here here


  1. Wow this made me exhausted just reading it - another fab race recap Sarah I love your writing always guaranteed a giggle!
    If the hills hadn't killed me the sight of a bloody huge horned cow would definitely have done the trick - that's not a fair game now is it?!

    1. Thank you!! Massive cows were NOT on the race description … these things were huge!! But at least they made me speed up going up the hill - they had horns like spiky broom handles!!

  2. Yay! I get a wave! Waves back! :-)

    I ran my fastest ever mile, 6:14, trying to chase this lady down. She would not give in! Awesome run by an amazing runner. :-)


    1. Ha ha! That may possibly be MY fastest mile too!! Kept seeing your head torch come up behind me and trying to speed up!! You definitely kept my speed up on the last hill … and nearly killed me in the process ;) Great to meet you!!

  3. Haha brilliant post and sounded like a great event, well done speedy :)

    1. Thanks Paul! Is a cracking race and some AMAZING costumes!! The atmosphere is always a brilliant one too. Can highly recommend it if you fancy a hilly run!

  4. Well done! Sounds like a great (but tough race). Awesome goody bag too :)

    1. I love this race! One of my all time faces … but I am always completely exhausted by the end! :) Yes loving all the goodies in the bag this year!! Was like a running Christmas!!