Sunday, 6 July 2014

Lakeland Trails Marathon 2014

I'd been trying to get my legs conditioned for proper endurance throughout this year ready for the attempt at an iron distance triathlon in September. Having had a lower limb disaster earlier in the year whilst attempting to run an ultra marathon, I needed to prove to myself that I could in fact run the distance. So, I entered what I thought was going to be a lovely trail marathon that skirted around the waterside paths of Coniston, in the Lake District.

Starting a little late...
We arrived at the start in plenty of time for a leisurely coffee, and decided to wander on over to a scenic location to enjoy it: the toilet queue. The race was due to start at 9 and we still had a good thirty minutes. The queue, however,  was not moving quickly and by 08:52 I could feel myself getting agitated. I reached the front of the line at 08:57 and felt much better, it was a worthwhile wait. Once I'd exited though I could hear the 10 second countdown commencing and pegged it across the field as fast I could. I was too late. The race started and I had to squeeze down the edge of the starting funnel against all the runners to get to the chip timing mat. The man on the megaphone excitedly announced that there was a mad girl going the wrong way. I did a u-turn at the timing mat and got a massive cheer from the crowd, he then announced that I was his favourite, which was a very positive start to the race!

My plan was to run easy. I didn't want to ruin my legs for a week in the Lake District and I hadn't even really trained properly for this marathon attempt. I'd missed my last two long runs with a calf/shin injury and I was winging it a bit. This plan has already gone to pot as my heart rate had sky-rocketed by sprinting across the field to the start line, then I got all excited about getting back to whereabouts in the pack I thought I should be. As my watched bleeped for one kilometre I realised I was gasping, so I found a steady-running friend, started a conversation and settled into a nice, gentle pace.

I had to ditch my new friend at about 4km as we reached the first hill, I couldn't believe how many people were walking up it. There were two entry categories to this event, one was a "challenge", which had started earlier for those who wanted a more generous cut-off, and we were all in the "race". Whilst I had no intention of actually trying to race a marathon, I definitely intended to run as much of it as I could! I picked my way past all the walkers and was rewarded with a clear path onto a glorious, undulating forest trail which gradually built in elevation. Eventually the trail led out onto an awesome descent, which was just scary enough to make it exhilarating but not scary enough to reduce speed from full pelt.

The next part of the course was all tarmac. Steep, narrow country lanes led us through some beautifully picturesque scenery but the up and down was relentless. At just under 9 miles in, we reached Tarn Hows. For a mile or so as we circumnavigated the tarn, I forgot entirely that my legs were hurting from hills and just marveled at the beauty of this secluded spot. I ran past another runner who was taking photos and ended up running with him for a little while and chatting about how lovely everything was. We veered off after completing our lap of the tarn and pootled along another hilly bit of trail before stopping at a feed station and having an unexpected conversation with a lady veteran about running and "jiggly bits".

After a very challenging 12 miles, the route turned onto a wide byway/road which was a welcome relief. The road was definitely not flat but the even surface made for easier running and offered spectacular views of the boats on the lake from where we had begun. From up here I could see what looked like a flat, even path along the lake on the other side. "That's what we'll be running back on", I told myself, optimistically.

The road continued up to the highest point of the course and then turned sharply off onto a very long, loose, rocky ankle-turner of a descent. It was so technical that I managed to lose a bit of time on the downhill, but I kept myself going with the idea of an easy return leg. I reached 20 miles at 3:30, just an easy 10k home...

A very happy finisher
It was at this point that the race organisers became sneaky little menaces and decided to take us on an obstacle course. For the next 4 km I could barely run at all. We tottered around the edge of sodden, mucky lakes, over trails littered with big, loose rocks, over stiles and tree stumps a-plenty. Fellow participants were falling over left, right and centre. Whilst the path had flattened out a tad, it was quite un-runnable for an unconditioned trail runner like me. Trail-running down south is more just getting a bit dirty and occasionally being stung by overgrown nettles, not risking life and death. I knew my legs were tired and my ankles were turning so I tottered very carefully over the treacherous terrain.

The last feed station was at about 3/4 miles before the finish. I was onto the Nuun hydration stuff and asked what the flavours were. The volunteer gleefully told me that there were "two flavours: brown and orange", I will never know what flavour they actually were but I will tell you that should you ever find yourself in a similar situation, you should always avoid brown.

After hydrating, I managed to pick up the pace for a mile on a decent bit of trail before surviving more fallen trees, rocky scrambles and extreme tree root obstacles. Shortly before the finish you had to clamber over a blanketed pile of hay bales and then, as you could see the big, inflatable blue finish, you had to run a short but mildly soul-destroying loop of the field. Luckily, the crowds were on form and the cheering always helps.

I was aiming for a 4:41, but was entirely chuffed with a 4:56 as my first proper marathon. It was a hard and technical but fantastic course, and a fabulous introduction to running in the Lake District.

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