Canary Trail Events 3rd 1st Annual Headtorch Marathon – Dec 19

Letting the air breathe on a freshly uncorked bottle of Chateauneuf-Du-Pape greatly received from friend and collaborator Rob Cowlin and putting off editing Rik Vercoes lecture on Race Directing for the second instalment of the xmas “Band of Runners” podcast, another RD, Allan Rumbles wanted to know (“asking for a friend”) where the blogs were for the 3rd Annual Headtorch Marathon from Canary Trail Events (CTE) that was held late one night on the 28th of Dec 2019.

I’ve written a lot about the Canary team recently when comparing against all other races I have ran in and between the three of theirs I have now done.  I guess they have a hidden talent to stimulate the senses with their events which on reflection is why they get a mention. 

The Annual Headtorch marathon is NOT a race.  This is a group run of marathon distance by an experienced team who do this shit for fun, running  in/out and around the Surrey Hills and North Downs way. 

The route is not published, marked or for beginners.  The start time is 19:30pm. We finished at 3:13am.  Just a point to take into consideration when signing up for next year.

It’s local to me starting/finishing at Mickelham village hall (as do all their events).  Kit list requirements are checked on registration.  Hallelujah! I find this to be such a rarity in the marathon/ultra scene. Serious players of the running world make up the staff of the Canary team and the runners they attract. 

This particular run is their showcase event.  Run purely for Mark Thornberry’s chosen charity, Kings College Hospital (  For more of my thoughts on him read the Raven blog.  A raffle and party was put on at the finish to drum up more cash for the evening. When I last checked over £3,500 was raised on the evening.

I ran the event with quite a few members of the running family.  Jason Mccardle, Danny Cunnett, Sarah Marshall, Jon White, Rich Williams, Gareth Allen, Barry Gerhold, Claire Foley and Ian Love.    We didn’t sign up as a team or anything,  we barely know one another out of running gear, we were just there, same place, same time.  But I value these people as some of my closest friends.  Nuts isn’t it?  But, build a brand like CTE then this is not an uncommon phenomenon to have people from running world flock to it.

A few of the team from L to R (Gareth Allen, Ian Love, Me, Sarah Marshall, Jon White)

Christmas cheer was encouraged, by that I mean festive refreshments.  My choice (a tad too early) was Brewdogs Punked IPA.  At 5.6% it is not a tipple I will be packing again anytime soon for a marathon.  Luckily I’d seen two cans off before the briefing so only had to carry the other two around for the 26.2miles.

The start was announced and so was Brewdog number 3.  The first 6 miles were brilliant.  Tough and technical terrain. I wasn’t too fussed, just chatting as fast and as hard as I could at Sarah, Jon and Rich about life and how we were all getting on with it. 

Around mile 6 and as many toilet stops, my senses returned to me.  I was familiar with most of the secret route as it kept close to that bloody NDW and other local areas.  Following a very muddy section of the NDW we came off at Reigate Hill which was a relief, it’s not a pretty climb.  We traversed east along the path and were greeted by the most stunning incline I think I had ever undertaken at night.  In my head we were alongside the NDW Reigate Hill going straight up.  Most runners were huffing and puffing.  I was lapping it up.  The skyline was spectacular, I’m guessing Reigate and maybe Gatwick in the distance all lit up.  A sea of head torches assaulting the ascent.  It was in my head, a masterpiece.  So much so that at the end of the race I asked Allan for more detail.  I’d fallen in love with a hill!

Time for Brewdog #4 to come out.  The nutrition for this run was not going well and come mile 10 I was counting down for the mince pie aid station (the only one on the route at mile 14).  As we pulled in I queued up and pillaged the table for everything.  Three mince pies in as many seconds.  Tried a bit of mulled wine but it wasn’t going down well.  I decided to refill the water bottle as we made our way into what was left of the night as morning was fast approaching.

As we got further into the run I heard mutterings.  “This is my longest marathon time; I’ve never been out this long” etc.  A few of us started playing games.  My longest marathon time went at 1:45am in the morning.  A time claimed previously by CTE!  Jon and Sarah were next.  Can’t remember what time of morning it was.  I was disorientated but I think Barry had the longest marathon time due to running it at a timed challenge event whilst his partner Claire was running a 50miler at the same venue.  (Please correct me Barry if I’m wrong.  Was a long night!).

During the later fatigued stages what was apparent is that poor Barry had work in the morning!  I thrived on this.  I had a lull around 1 to 2am and it was a bit of a reminder for those longer races I have coming up that this may be something I need to work on.  Luckily we had Barry who had work in the morning.  I found this so entertaining and I would remind the group at every given opportunity of Barry’s situation. The guy was out here and needed to be at his desk in literally 6 hours.  I love knowing lunatics like this.  We pull each other through. We laugh, cry, reminisce and share secrets and stories that just don’t get shared anywhere else in the civilian world.  Most people will not recall what they were discussing at 2am on the 29th of December.  I know that I was laughing with good friends having covered 20+ miles of a rather tough route knowing that Barry had to go to work and having all surpassed our longest marathon times who knew when this would be finished!

The giggles were quashed when we all had a bit of self reflection and all agreed that with family commitments, children and pets we would all actually prefer Barry’s situation!

We made the finish around 3:10am.  Great, party time and raffle for those still with a sense of humour.  A familiar and rather tipsy marshal approached me.  “Simon.  That bottle of port you brought for the tables. Well….  I hope you don’t mind, but, I’ve stuck it in the raffle.”

If this was anyone else I would not see the humorous side of this.  But this is Karen Webber. Marshal extraordinaire with a spanking great chip timing company (timing monkey) she runs with her partner Matt who was also a great benefit to the Canary team that night.

The raffle gets drawn.  At some stage I’m asked to raise my hand so that a winner can come and claim their BoR technical running top/vest and buff from the podcast I host with Rob.  So cringe.  Understand people, Rob is the man who pulled the trigger on merch.  I wrote her an email and if you do read this dear lady then do not despair.  Mr Cowlin is on it and I will beat him until your prizes are received.

Sarah, Jon, Gareth, Rich, Ian and I almost outstay our welcome.  Still in full flow discussing life till around 5am.  I’m eternally grateful to know these characters (and all those named above).  The Headtourch marathon gives people like us the chance to all run at the same pace.  We had over seven hours that night. We were served on a plate to each other.  Nothings taboo on the discussion table after running for so long.   Our normal routine is to chat frantically at race briefings before the gun goes off and when it does we go our separate ways at our separate paces, finish and go home.

With that then the Canary headtourch marathon is more than a group led run in my honest opinion.

It’s an opportunity, time given to you with running friends that you would not normally have due to pace, time restraint reasons or the mundane and monotonous 9-5 routine that a lot of us are controlled by.  I don’t think I have experienced this outside of ultra distances.  You will be tired the next day, but for one night only let it go…..

I’ll make a promise here. Whilst I’m still fit and able enough to do this thing, I will be at every Canary headtorch marathon going. Well done CTE.  We have a love/hate relationship you and me, but you got me with this. BTW, I’m a UKA qualified run leader should you need a guide next year?….. x

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