Last weekend I attended Scotland's toughest night trail race: The Illuminator. I signed up for the 15-mile distance (24km) with 610 metres of vertical gain. The race started at around 6:20 pm and advertised a beautiful night run through Glen Tanar, a national nature reserve. It took place in Aboyne, a town 30 miles west of Aberdeen (where I study). I rented a car with Co Wheels and made my way there on Saturday afternoon on the autumnal B-roads.
The kit list for this race wasn't too big but I had to borrow some things (as always). Most importantly, the head torch! Without that, you would be completely lost in the darkness and the ground was very uneven and had some technical elements to it. Of course, I also brought all the essential clothing items mentioned in the PDF file. Once I had everything assembled my bag was quite heavy. Most of the items are always for absolute emergency situations, but it's the name of the game. Maybe bringing two base layers was a bit excessive, but I just always like to make sure. It is very advisable to come by car to this event as there is no bag drop and it might be nice to have some dry layers/socks and water nearby.
The gathering point for all the brave runners and walkers (8k and 15k) was the Deeside Community Centre. This offered enough space for everyone and was nice and toasty. Maybe even so toasty that I wanted to skip going outside altogether. What I especially liked was the water fountain and clean toilets. The registration process was super easy and quick and was well organised. There was also a cute medal making station and a little table with tempting souvenirs for the race. This race was trying to be as environmentally friendly as possible so I loved the colorful chords for the medals instead of having so many pre-made, cookie-cutter medals.
So, how was the run through the night? It was INCREDIBLE. The race went by so quickly, I checked my Garmin for the first time almost two hours after I had started. We were assembled at the start line and shivered anxiously in the cold hoping to finally set off. I was also scared because I had forgotten my trail shoes at home and managed to bring the worst shoes on earth for this race. (Sketchers!!!) Please do not make the same mistake, I paid the price. People were doing kit checks and I was worried they would pull me out of the race.
This race can be separated into 3 parts: The Uphill - The Nice Part - The Killer Uphill
The first 3 miles (Uphill) went by quite slowly. I couldn't really find a good rhythm and had to constantly adjust to the big crowd of people trying to get up the first hill. I also had massively overlayered and had to peel off a jacket before I could take another step. I saw some people running in shirts and I honestly don't blame them. It's quite crazy how much heat energy you actually produce.
The next 10 miles were phenomenal. I was flying on the downhills and had no people around me, so I felt like I was running alone through the night. It's great to hear the rivers next to you and just have the little circle of light around you. The air was so fresh and crisp, it was absolute racing heaven. The first aid station came up shortly after the halfway point and offered hot drinks, snacks, and water. I only spent a minute there because I wanted to keep going. I was in my element and loving it!
Just after aid station 2 you see the horror unfold. No one was running from this point onwards. The Killer Hill was very, very steep and by this point, your legs were starting to hate you. I was determined to run this bit but didn't manage to go for longer than a minute. I just prayed to get to the top so I could finish the race in under 2:30:00. At the top, you were 'welcomed' to the almost-finish line by the bagpiper who gave the runners and walkers the needed motivation to make it to the end. I was buzzing to get back to the center and receive my medal.
Hoping to sprint the last bit for a good time, I was denied that goal by my crappy shoes. The steep downhill back to Aboyne was so muddy and slippery that I couldn't run without breaking something. There was no profile on my shoes and I had to succumb to walking half a mile. Seeing the finish line was rough because you had quite a bit to go but I sprinted there nonetheless. I made it through the finish with a big smile on my face. This was definitely one of my favorite runs of all time!
If you want to try something new and exciting, then definitely sign up for this race next year! The staff was incredibly helpful and it was well organised. The race definitely isn't for the faint-hearted and it is important to have a big meal before such an unusual racing time! But if you want to just experience Glen Tanar at night without too much strenuous exercise, then sign up for the lovely walking routes! I recommend this 10/10 and will be back next year! Thanks to all the organisers, volunteers and route markers!
Find my activity on my Strava:
Find the Illuminator Race online: