Coniston Trail marathon – breaking my duck
A late night watching and celebrating a Champions League final win, followed by a 05:05 wake up to arrive in Coniston for 8am is ideal prep for a trail marathon isn’t it? Oh and the fact my longest run was the 18k Staveley trail event in May!
Hardly textbook preparation, though for me this was all about quality time on feet on Lakeland terrain. Ideal preparation for the Lakeland 50 attempt in July. I’ve only ever done the half marathon in 2015 and it was such a gorgeous and challenging course I was very keen to do the full for the experience and test as well as to build fitness. Many people I know who’ve done it highly recommended it – though they all warned me about the very testing last 10 miles!
I was mightily relieved that fellow Rochdale Harrier, Mark, was able to offer me a lift so early on a Sunday. I really hadn’t fancied driving up at the best of times. With having to manage fatigue very carefully, I was already risking 3 things that I generally steer clear of:
1. A late night (though I’m teetotal)
2. A very early morning
3. A marathon
If Mark hadn’t been able to offer me a lift I know that the drive there and back would have really meant severe fatigue for the following week which wouldn’t have been good for anyone, most importantly family and work. So I was grateful to play it by ear and know I was in good enough shape to attempt it come Sunday.
Humidity was forecast to be 90% – 93%! The good news is that we were forecast cloud with the occasional bit of sun. We were forecast 80%-90% chance of rain so knew we were probably going to benefit from a cooling down while out on the course! So club vests it was – with a bit of added sudacrem or vaseline to prevent any chafing while out for 4-5 hours. (I only put sudacrem on my chest and under the vest straps – a decision I was to regret! I blame the pre-race nerves due to having looked at the course profile again and noted that for the majority of the first 25km we were basically climbing! I also knew the descents were very technical in parts so not fast, relaxed running. But that’s absolutely what makes running these events so enjoyable, challenging and interesting 🙂
Although there were plenty of water and feed stations on the course we all went with a race vest to ensure we each had our own water supplies consistently, plus any fuel we decided on. I took some homemade energy balls (chocolate orange flavour), and some oatcakes. They were all to come in very handy indeed as I struggled through the last 12km.
I predicted Fiona would be first home in around 4:15 – she’s in excellent form and has developed into a very strong runner indeed. Probably Mark second home, followed by Stainers then myself bringing up the rear. I genuinely didn’t have a target time but said I’d be happy with anything between 4:30 and 5:00 hrs. Mark’s advice to walk almost all climbs and to fill up my water bottle at every water station was priceless advice. With the humidity so high we must have sweated out so much fluid around the course, hydration was absolutely key to getting round as he’d told me so clearly. Ditto taking something at each feed station.
Steady first half
The first 20km was a case of running at a steady, low intensity pace. For me I was doing 5:30 p/km which I was very happy with. This meant I ended up around 5-10 seconds behind Stainers and Fiona for the first 10-15k. Mark had set off a little quicker though he again was going steady. What was a massive surprise to me – and it reminded me of what happened during the UT55 ultra, was how much gaps can open up and close between not just ourselves but fellow runners. About 12km in I caught Mark and we chatted for a few moments before he said he wasn’t getting sucked into making a faster descent than planned with me. Ditto I hadn’t even tried to catch Fiona and Stainers who had pushed on up some climbs. I could see them but knew if I tried to run some of the steeper inclines I was just going to blow my legs completely.
The loop around Tarn Hows is a beautiful section where you loop round 1/5 times (about 3.5km). Here there are many hikers and tourists to encourage you on with a shout, clap or thumbs up. Stuff like that really helps you stay positive when you know you’re not even half way around the full marathon. The climb out of that is where ‘Jumpy James Kirby’ is waiting to take picturesque shots as you put in the effort to get to higher ground. From the Tarn you’re on a general climb for around another 12 km! At this point I was a few minutes ahead of Mark and at least 2-3 minutes behind Fiona and Stainers. Things change.
Running in the clouds
What followed from that point I can only describe as something transcending running. As we continued upwards, running near High Wood, various plantations, Monk Coniston Moor, Heald Brow Pasture and so on, there were times when I was running with/near others on wide forest plantation tracks, then totally alone through single track woodland literally in cloud mist. On those lone sections, I could hear literally nothing apart from my own feet, breathing and the occasional wildlife. Talk about mindful running! In such tranquility and on such terrain it made it easy to simply run ‘in the moment’. On coming out from the protection of the trees, we were treated to what I can only describe as breathtaking views of Coniston. Occasional glances to my right and I could see over Crab Haws and Birk Knott down to the lake and Coniston Steam Yacht making their trips. Again this took my mind off some of the fatigue that was beginning to set into my legs. I saw one Japanese runner literally stop in his tracks at the very highest point of the marathon to take in the views. Who could blame him?!
(Very) technical descent
The next section down to the tiniest spot called High Nibthwaite was a very technical rocky section. I love descents and am very confident and this really did demand your attention, especially due to the on-off drizzle we’d been getting all morning. It was on this section, about 30Km in that I heard some familiar footsteps behind me, followed by a familiar voice. It was Mark catching me up – almost exactly at the spot he’d caught Stainers last time they both ran this course. We chatted a bit as we headed to the village. Stopping for what turned out to be an unofficial feed station, stocked by the loveliest couple who had decided to set up some tables and lay out water, jelly babies, swiss roll, banana, crisps and flapjacks for us passing runners. Such lovely kindness and another boost to tiring minds and bodies. They’d done this despite the next official feed station being only 1 mile down the road. Whoever they were, thank you so much:) After the official feed station Mark pushed on and I didn’t see him again. Things change.
That next 5km through shrub, over several smallish climbs, through bog and around Blea Tarn (I think), I can only describe as a suffer fest lol! I could barely move my legs and felt I was falling forward rather than running. In fact if it hadn’t been for the amazing marshal with his herdy sheep under his tarp I’d have found it hard to keep going. His enthusiasm when standing in the wet and probably getting cold was unrivalled! I’m pretty sure he’s the same marshal who lines up the herdy sheep near the top of the Hawkshead coffin trail!
Wierdly, at around 35k I started feeling a bit better again. The legs were moving more in a way that meant I didn’t have to force them forward (this was only temporary though!). Suddenly I could see Stainers ahead as he was clearly now suffering. As I passed him we encouraged each other. I was surprised to see him as I’ve never passed him on any long run but then the mad b*stard had done the 17km Grasmere Gallop the previous morning! Things change.
Fecking tree roots!
This last 6-7km I’d been warned about. It’s such an undulating section of often very technical running through gnarly tree routes along the western shoreline of Coniston. Talk about testing! After only a kilometre of this I knew I wasn’t going to go 4:20 ish as I’d thought I might at one stage. Instead I accepted I would probably miss 4:30 and it was a question of focusing and pushing on to try and beat 4hrs 45 mins. With mutual encouragement, myself and fellow marathon racers kept moving on. Willing the end to be in sight and at the same time enjoying running (and occasionally hiking) on such ground. We passed several people doing the marathon challenge and I can only take my hat off to each and every one of them as they continued to stride on having been out for so long (they started 2hrs before us).
After what seemed like several false hopes of getting back to Coniston Hall it was finally onto flat ground – apart from that jump they throw in at the wall just before you get to the event village. Somehow my legs just about held off the cramp that had been threatening for the last 6-10km. There was an attempt at a fast finish but all my legs had left was a slight increase in speed as I headed around the field and into the home straight. What a relief! What a sense of achievement! What a route!
It turned out Fiona was home first in 4:13:39 – a fantastic run! Mark was second home in 4:27:34 – no mean feat given he hadn’t marathon trained either. Myself next in 4:42:05, followed by poor Stainers in 5:08:10. I say ‘poor’ because he’d cramped so badly through that shoreline wooded section he hadn’t been able to get his shoe back on after taking it off to remove a stone!
After a bit of a stretch, myself and Mark got ourselves changed into warmer and dry clothes. Stuffed our faces at Green Canteen and enjoyed a coffee. I could have easily eaten another fab dish from them but we needed to head home as all of us finishers were getting cold by this point. I was gutted to later find out I’d missed Pete Lashley singing a special version of You’ll Never Walk Alone but you can’t have everything I suppose. I did continue to wolf food for the next 3-4 days – oh the benefits of trail marathon running. And I’m well on schedule for the 2019 #Run1000miles as per Trail Running magazine 🙂
Oh I nearly forgot… the chafing. Let’s say I totally forgot I hadn’t ‘sudacremed up’ my undercarriage. I was reminded when I soaped up while washing later and nearly shot out the shower!! A lesson for next time 😉
I’ll definitely return to do the full marathon again. Perhaps with some proper marathon distance training next time. I can’t recommend this enough, whether you do the 10km, the half or the full. It’s a great day and all our testing and scenic courses.
All the best