Lakeland Marathon 2012!
It really didn’t properly dawn on me that I was ‘doing’ another marathon until I was actually in the muggy school hall at the pre-race briefing… a very rare situation really, where I have been inside a building about 10 minutes before a race surrounded by all the other nervous marathon participants sucking back on my first caffeine loaded High5 energy gel. I noticed how a lot of the other runners were looking down at each other’s feet… I anxiously looked down and saw a plethora of trail shoes…darker than your typical bright road footwear. I had (at the very last minute) opted for my road running Mizunos although I had a pair of trails with me…I had rather foolishly taken the view my feet would be more comfortable and that there was probably little soft/slippery/muddy terrain to navigate as the website race description of the course was mainly hard-packed gravel… and I also overheard a club-mate say at registration they had said road shoes were fine (instead of Walsh’s) for the half marathon at least. Had I known then what I know now, I think I would have opted for more grip!
Having arrived in Coniston on the Friday evening I was fully acclimatised to the drizzly weather – which was definitely my preferable running weather as there was a concern about heat (being Summer!) I was wearing my new Salomon grape lightweight windproof jacket … with cool little thumb holes and luminous yellow zip. This was even cooler as it had a little flap which you could read your Garmin through the sleeve. ..purchased in Pete Bland, Kendal on the Friday (seemed a lot of other trail marathoners had made the same pit-stop judging from conversations at the till!) I had a good night sleep the night before at the conveniently positioned Sun Inn… where a few club-mates from Kenilworth Runners were also stopping. It was only 10 minutes walk from the start although the landlords didn’t appear to acknowledge the event was even happening (chef would be in at his normal 8:30am for breakfast!) We asked for some bowls so we could prepare our own breakfasts in our bedrooms early on. I have to say my microwave raspberry porridge prepared with hot water instead of milk was NOT the tastiest of breakfasts, but it sufficed.
Out in the school field in the drizzle… there were vivid lime sails lining either side of the starting area and an inflatable red Start arch, so a nice official touch…with some accompanying music (muffled) – I am sure I heard Chariots of Fire. Also some stands for other events and a Smart car half converted into a coffee machine (‘Bobs’ apparently!) There were around 300 starters …so fairly cosy (bony shoulder to bony shoulder), but I was very conscious these guys looked (in the main) like fell/off-road runners and there didn’t appear to be a single jolly ‘fun-runner’ type unlike you would expect in larger more ‘commercial’ marathons. I positioned myself optimistically in the middle(ish) of the group. The gun went and we commenced on a double loop of the school field before exiting in the corner (winding through cars trying to enter the field) and heading out into the Lakelands. I did almost have an unexpected fall into the school sand pit on the first loop (looking ahead and not down).. although this was the least dangerous of ‘hazards’ about to cross my path!
The ‘Challenge’ marathon event had started a couple of hours earlier, at 7am! I was aware my club-mate Sally was somewhere out on the course already… probably nearing the halfway point. I had an Inov-8 race ‘fanny-pack’ loaded with gels and a bottle made up with pink grapefruit electrolyte. I felt suitably ‘carb-loaded’- mainly from an extravagant lunch at ‘Lucy’s on a Plate’ in Ambleside the previous day (recommend) and legs were feeling fresh…probably helped by very little running in the last fortnight when I was on antibiotics recovering from a chesty cough virus – though luckily this was during ‘taper’.
We moved out of the field and a short section through Coniston, then into one of the ‘hard-packed’ gravel sections – which moved up and down like the runaway train ride… winding through woodland and already testing our pacing rigour and my Garmin signal! It was very wet – and although my cap and the trees shielded my eyes from the rain – my new jacket was clinging to my skin, as were my shorts! I might as well also point out I had gone commando as I hadn’t packed any ‘running pants’ – I don’t know why – but it actually felt remarkably comfortable! I had a number belt pulled up over the jacket so I decided to pull the jacket off after about 5km exposing my green club vest and pulled the number back up on this. We moved up quite a steep ascent – my legs still felt good so I carried on running (slowly) to keep up the momentum although several others had started walking the ascent. There were several ascents like this…as this flattened off runners looked up ahead at the point where running would commence again, although often I noticed this was later than necessary so decided to ignore others and run/walk as I felt. After some squelchier grass/mud running when I started to doubt my footwear, we moved into softer woodland trails to ‘Tarn Hows’ where we did a complete loop section of the most idyllic low lying deep blue lake with little islands dotted in the middle. It was beautiful.. I pointed this out to a runner next to me and I noticed he had elaborate tattoos on each calf (see bottom left corner of picture below!!) I wondered briefly if that hurt to have done as much as the last few miles of a marathon. On the far side of the lake was a water station and someone over-enthusiastically shaking cow-bells…which was about the only enthusiastic marshalling display on the course (although as it was the most picturesque I can understand why!) At each water stop there were Nuun electrolyte drinks available too – but I tended to just reach out and grab what was nearest to supplement my own supply.
Coming back into the woodland after circling the Tarn, I noticed I was in a small group of a couple of females and three or four guys …we peeled off left where the loop had started (loosely indicated by a marshal we had seen first time round) overtaking a few runners just beforehand who I assumed would be moving out on their loop to the right as they were slower, although I think they may have followed us to the left of the marshal point. I did wonder if they realised the sign saying simply ‘Loop’ with an arrow by the marshal was enough indication, and if these runners now have no official marathon time as there was a mat on the far side of the Tarn to ensure each racer had done this.
The race now became ‘interesting’… from about the halfway point. To summarise… running down tumbling rocks with rivers running through… down, up and even wading across rivers, through deep peaty-bog, slippery stony descents… up over slate stiles and through heavy gates … exposed grassy/muddy tracks! There was a steep decent at one point where I noticed several guys standing on the side stretching out calves! In fact about three people in a row were doing the same thing! Needless to say, this was NOT going to get me my anticipated sub 4 hour time… which I had already added some ‘fat’ onto a ‘normal’ expected marathon time for me…this was more about survival of the course and the body coping with it all for 26 miles! It definitely kept the mind occupied, which was something I had struggled with on other marathons. It was actually pretty darned good fun! At the final feeding station following some steps up to a road crossing – a lady happily pointed out I was from Warwickshire pointing at my Kenilworth vest…I couldn’t even muster a smile of acknowledgement and she seemed incredibly fresh and smiley…I looked up at her – I believe I might have just stated ‘yes’ with a small smile but just wanted the end now so slurped down the drink and (rudely) ran over the road not wanting to stop and converse! The body was crumbling slightly – and by the final 5km through a skeletal maze of tree roots right beside the lake at Coniston – also tumbling up and down, my legs were not going to take much more. I reached a gate and attempted to open it but the latch was on the opposite side and I remember struggling for what seemed about 2 minutes with a lady patiently waiting behind me (I was starting to get angry with it – my brain just wasn’t in gear). I apologised when I finally released the catch mechanism… I was starting to feel this was becoming a bit too punishing for my training efforts.
It was the final 2km and I made my way towards the field I could see the red inflatable in the distance and muffled noise. Pete had met me at this point and reassured me I was doing well and gave me a quick summary of my club-mates achievements. I was slightly concerned when he mentioned Sally had blood on her knees (completed the Marathon Challenge though). My body willed itself to completing the test. The lady who had waited patiently at the gate moved up ahead and I respectfully let her go without any attempt of ‘racing’ her to the end. I looked at my watch and anticipated about 4 hours 30 at the finish… I could really go for it and try and get under this time, but I really was just hanging onto what strength I had left so was just over this in 4 hours 34. Not bad for my first off-road marathon… a personal worst time but a personal BEST achievement! I even managed a little sprint finish over the line – hearing some cheers (I thought might be the other Kenilworth Runners who had run the half marathon… but turns out they buggered off after their race to get showered and out of the rain!) A nice shiny medal and a red technical T with ‘Survivor’ on it. Not kidding either.. I was only slightly miffed that I missed the Kendal mint cake on one of the stations and there wasn’t any at the end.
Note – I must apologise for the ‘fire-alarm’ incident at the Sun Inn later … this was caused by my steamy shower setting off the hotel alarm and I was not in any condition to go outside to any fire meeting point. Luckily they stopped after a minute or so… but sorry for any concern I raised.