Last year, I made my running all about PBs and, with some sweat and swearing, I did rather well. Good For Age London Marathon 2016 here I come! All very well, of course, but you can’t keep going faster forever now, can you? Well, maybe some people can but I doubt if I have the inclination or the stamina. So I decided that this year I’d make it all about races in pretty places.
Race in pretty place number 1? Lakeland Trails Coniston Marathon. Gulp. Obviously, I signed up before I checked out the elevation. As you can see, it’s very, very hilly… Whenever I told runners I was doing it, the inevitable response was ‘Seriously?!’ which was also rather disturbing.
At the start line, quaking, I noticed that I seemed rather less – how can I put it? – rugged than lots of the 200 or so other marathon racers (there’s a race and a challenge with a longer cut off time). I realised that even though I run all the freakin’ time and have done plenty of tough races before, I’m a bit of a city girl, do-you-like-my-new-capris kind of runner. It would never occur to me, for example, to wear a Camelback and a belt with two massive water bottles on it as one of my fellow runners did. This obviously made me feel even more hideously out of my depth.
My nerves weren’t helped by the fact that the very second the race started, I needed a pee. Like, really needed a pee. I know all the rules about when to drink and when to pee on race day but somehow I forgot to heed my own advice. I had to do it. There was no way I could have run 26.2 miles worrying about it so I popped into a field and got it over with. This was a great relief – literally and figuratively – until I saw the entire pack of runners speed away without me. That was more or less it. I barely saw anyone else for the rest of the race.
In truth, this had its blessings. As I got into my rhythm, I just ran. Pure and simple ran. Listened to my breathing and my footfall. Listened to the birds and the water and nature being their wonderful selves. Listened to my thoughts and not-thoughts, doing their thinking thing. I pootled along, not even trying for a time, loving the sounds and enjoying the scenery.
It’s a stunningly beautiful race and those horrific hills are worth it for the views. Indeed, they don’t seem anywhere near as bad once you’re running them. The terrain is so mixed – trail, track, woodland, fields and the inevitable boggy bits – that you don’t think much about running, just about being there in the moment. You have to keep your wits about you; that mixed terrain places quite a lot of demands on your brain and body. The RunABC drills I’ve been learning while training to be a UK Athletics Coach in Running Fitness really come into their own in a race like this. One minute you’re clambering up a 45 degree gradient, the next you’re scrambling down scree for half a mile. Then, it being the Lake District, you’re straight back up a hill again and then another one for good measure.
There were four water stations and two feed stations, which weren’t marked on the course map (fair enough, they do say take your own water – hence the over-zealous Camelback guy at the start) so they came as a pleasant surprise every time. As there are no crowds en route, I had a couple of hairy moments when I wasn’t 100% sure I was going in the right direction. Each time that happened a spindly stick and a yellow flag put me right though and I was never actually lost, just being a drama queen.
Although I wasn’t running for a time, I didn’t want the ignominy of missing the six hour cut off point and, having wasted a lot of time taking photos (a fourteen and a half minute mile at one point!), I decided towards the end that I needed to speed up so at 36k I put on some rousing music, our fantastic Bruce Lee Running Club Mix (free to download here). I started pelting along – as much as I could towards the end of a hilly marathon anyway – and stressing about missing the cut off time and not enjoying myself anymore.
At 40k Bruce Lee’s slow, gentle voice came in my headphones saying, ‘Point a finger at the moon. Don’t concentrate on the finger or you will miss all that wonderful natural beauty.’ Ah, Bruce… I was concentrating on the finger!! 40k ran in one of the most beautiful places in the world and I was making racing the last 2k the important thing.
I slowed down – thanks, Bruce! – and coasted the rest of the way. Bibi came and ran the last kilometre with me and dosed me up with our world-famous DOMS-killing Chia Choc Protein Shake at the finish line (I had it without mint and with a scope of vegan chocolate protein powder – yum!) I stretched and ate and stretched some more, so glad I didn’t bail on this incredible race. Coniston marathon is the absolute antithesis of city racing. No mass of runners, no media, no choirs, no crowds lining the street. None of that. Just you and nature, blissfully at one. And if I sound like a big ol’ hippy, I don’t care. I loved this race.
The Lakeland Trails are some of the most picturesque races in the UK. Distances range from 10k to 110k so there’s a race to suit every runner. Totally recommended.