|(C Bert van Tuijl)|
The “Blacker than black Black Rock Race” is aptly named. You peer over the railings of the esplanade at Kinghorn into the darkness of the Firth of Forth on a cold January night, in a chilly wind with the rain blowing through, no moonlight, and eyes desperately searching for the landmark from which the race takes its name – The Black Rock – invisible against the dark sea water surrounding it. On race evening the conditions ensured that the race lived up to its name of “Blacker than Black” and the moon didn’t make an appearance so tonight wasn't going to be a moondance.
There was a lot of gallows humour in evidence at the start. For such a short race there was an awful lot of excitement and nervous anticipation – how deep and how cold will the water be? Will we get round the rock? When did I last re-charge the batteries in my head torch....?
After a quick blast down the road and the concrete ramp the runners are plunged into darkness as they make their way across the hard sand left in patterned ridges by the retreating tide and pools of water, generally pre-fixed by the words ankle, knee, thigh or waist to denote the depth to which you have just been submerged. However you only get wet once so after the initial icy shock and a bit of hard running the body returns to something like a reasonable temperature and before you know it you have arrived at the Black Rock. Every year Frank “Mermaid” McLaren directs the runners either round the rock or if the water is considered to be too deep* then the runners are directed a little way up the beach inland before turning back in the direction of the finish.
With your eyes focused on a single beam of light straight in front of you, it’s amazing how the dark distorts your distance judgement and perception and I suspect I didn’t take a particularly direct line running back to Kinghorn as I waved between running towards the lights on the shore, following other runners as well as staring at my own beam of light and avoiding the deeper pools of sea water and the metal posts, part of anti tank defences on the beach, left over from WW2. Finally there’s a soft dry patch of sand and a quick ascent of the ramp before reaching the road again which feels amazingly smooth and easy to run on compared to soggy ridged sand.
I spent most of the race chasing the first female runner until the last half mile when I concluded she had got faster and had left me for dead so imagine my surprise at the presentation to be awarded the first female runner prize. Like I said, running in the dark does funny things to your vision.
The “Blacker than Black Rock Race” is one of a series of races which make up Fife AC’s “nightmare series” put on by “Twiggy, Prince of Darkness (aka Chris Russell) all of which take place at night, in the dark, in the winter months somewhere in the wilds of Fife.
The races in the nightmare series always throw up a few stories. Like the time the two runners got lost on the top of West Lomond on a dark and misty night and the entire field had to go back out to find them or the year when the tide was completely misjudged at Black Rock and the beach was virtually unrunnable. There was the time in Ladybank woods when the entire race field went the wrong way and the year when the roads were sheet ice and everyone had to run to the start line in the depths of Pitmedden forest from Muchty as it was impossible to get cars to the start. The conditions may not have been good for running but that night we were treated to a spectacular display of the northern lights. I don’t know about a moon dance, the entire sky appeared to be dancing that night.
There have been occasions where the race hasn’t featured a forest and it has been a bright starry night and a head torch has not been needed, a proper moon dance. The secret is to allow your eyes to adjust to the dark, indeed on odd occasions I’ve resorted to switching my torch off so that anyone chasing me may not be able to spot me up ahead and also with the hope of being able to sneak past any runners ahead of me. Conversely I’ve also had that “nightmare experience” of my torch batteries dying mid race - and when that happens its never going to be on a clear night away from a forest now is it?
At some point somebody thought it was a good idea to recreate the popular Black Rock summer event as a “nightmare race” running out along the beach in darkness but missing out the road sections at the start and finish. And in the depths of winter……. What a great idea! And this is conclusive proof that a race doesn’t always have to be far in distance, or far away in geographical location to be an adventure. Sometimes great adventures are to be had close to home.