Monday, 20 June 2016

Coniston Trail Marathon



This is one of the many events put on by Lakeland Trails and they really seem to have hit a winning formula. On race day you had the option of the Marathon “race” or Marathon “challenge” and likewise with the half marathon, the only difference between the race and the challenge being the more generous cut off times at checkpoints for the challenge events allowing runners to take longer over the course so there was something to suit everybody whether dependent on fitness or on on what mood you were in. They have created a friendly event suitable for all standard of runner. There was no mistaking from the start line banner and the range of goods on sale in the registration tent that this event was sponsored by Asics.
I wonder who its sponsored by...?
There was no doubt about it, it was gonna be a scorcher of a day. Even as Cath set off on her race at 7am the sun was already hot, hot, hot and showed no sign of abating as I toed the start line very conscious of the fact that two weeks previously I was hauling myself up a gulley in knee deep snow and now its forecast to be 27 degrees C and I’m about to attempt to run a marathon. How is it even possible to prepare properly?! The start line safety briefing seemed rather extensive and lengthy given the not particularly extreme nature of the terrain, something along the lines of “if you feel it’s too rocky underfoot then slow down”. Well, duh! After a couple more delays we were finally set off along the path to Coniston village. 
The start of the marathon challenge

Cath setting off



I was glad to be moving after quite a lot of waiting around so possibly set off a little too enthusiastically given the conditions but as I usually run well enough in the heat I wasn’t unduly concerned. I’ve since revised my thoughts on this. 

The marathon route is basically a big loop of the trails around Coniston water with a couple of extra detours thrown in to make up the distance. The first few hundred meters were flat but on leaving Coniston village the undulations started… and then continued for the duration of the race giving some 4000ft of accumulated ascent. Another good reason for having two races is that in some parts the paths were quite narrow and it would have been a bit of a hassle trying to overtake many more people. As it was the field spread out nicely and although I was never completely alone it didn’t feel too overcrowded which is always a bonus. Given the heat it was fortunate that the event catered for the runners well in terms of water stations although by mile 18 the temperature and lack of food took its toll and I dissolved into a greasy spot and from then on it was the dreaded “death march” to the finish. I had set off at 9am and by the first water station I was guzzling back fluid and, you’ve guessed it, my new favourite drink Coca cola but it wasn’t long before I was struggling to stomach much in the way of food and drink and the sheer effort of fishing around in my bumbag for anything became a bit too much.

Coniston Hall
A noisy spectator
It was an interesting course, never dull, on runnable tracks and trails and single track roads, a lot of the course went through wooded areas including nature deciduous woodland as well as forestry plantation. There were a couple of sections of open hillside and a loop of the picturesque Howes Tarn but none of it was so steep and rocky to cause problems although I did find a couple of the rocky descents harder than I should have later on in the race as my inability to consume much in the way of food left me with slightly shaky legs. Often the course opened out to lovely views over the lake and over the Lakeland fells, obviously the plus side of it being a glorious summer’s day. The whole landscape shimmered in a heat haze under blue skies.


I shuffled onwards from the 18mile mark to the final aid station where I took on as much coca cola as I felt able to and then buoyed by the idea of the last 3 miles being on a “lakeside path” I picked it up a bit. Suffice to say the lakeside path was not what I was expecting. It was not flat and was covered in rocks and tree routes just lying at the right height to catch your toe on and a mile and a half before the end I hit the deck. Fortunately I only suffered from bruised knees and bruised pride and an excruciating cramp in my calf muscle however the suddenness of my fall and the loudly expressed expletives must have been quite dramatic as a couple of runners stopped and expressed concern while I was sprawled out in the dust. Cath had noted that quite a few folk had crossed the finished line with bloodied knees so I’m guessing I wasn’t the only one to fall. I pondered the instructions in the safety briefing about slowing down while going over rocky terrain but concluded that if id slowed down anymore going along the lakeside path I would have actually been going backwards. It wasn’t what you might have called a high speed fall.

Running above Howes Tarn
Colin in action - There were a few folk that i knew taking part but sadly i didnt realise until after the race
I picked myself up and I hobbled along until the cramp subsided and I was actually able to run the last mile including the perfectly located straw bale obstacle jump (thanks to the race organisers for that wee gem) I was slightly worried that I was going to have to walk in through the field to the finish line which by now was hooching with spectators having BBQs, drinking beer and listening to live music. It had something of a party atmosphere in the sunshine. Just before the finish line I heard a familiar voice shout my name. It was Liz Sloan who promptly handed me a beer as I crossed the finish line. Priceless. At least it was a start in getting some fluid back down my neck to replace that which I had lost and to kick start my kidneys into back into action.

Cath had rather a long wait for me to finish so at least it was good weather, it would have been pretty grim hanging around the finish line field in the rain. Sadly we had to get back up the road and so couldn’t stay for the festivities and although I would have killed for a burger and a pint it was probably a good thing I didn’t spend too much more time out in the sunshine as I was already starting to closely resemble a lobster. Despite struggling towards the end of the race it was an enjoyable day at a very well organised fun event. Thanks to Cath for suggesting it and inviting me. Since I’ve moved to Aberdeen I don’t get down to the lake district nearly as often as I would like so it was great to visit again.
What further reason would you possibly need to visit?
Relaxing in the sunshine
Grasmere fells