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I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to write about this race. Partly, I didn’t want to write an account that sounded in any way like a bad review, or anything too negative. Partly, the story is kind of personal, and I can’t write about this race without going into Personal Stuff in at least some detail. But I like to write these reports for my own records, and after reading a comment on the Lakeland Trails Facebook page this morning about someone else going through something similar to me, I thought it might be of use to someone if I were a little bit open about this stuff. So here goes.

This race was almost a DNS (did not start) on countless occasions. On almost every long run I’d make it to the one mile mark and consider turning home and dropping out. I never did. My training runs were poor at best, but I did every single one, totting up some of the highest weekly mileage I’ve ever managed. Running became increasingly difficult, and when I went to see my doctor (also a marathon runner) who said I probably wasn’t over-training, I went for some tests to work out what was going on. Two days later I got my B12 anaemia diagnosis, and my first thought was that I’d finally have a real excuse to pull out of this race.

And I was looking for an excuse. In the paradoxical world of being human, I was pushing myself out on runs of up to 20 miles, when even walking around the corner to Sainsbury’s was becoming a problem. The long runs were a nightmareish story of grumbling anxiety peppered with full-on panic – I did one 16-miler without straying more than a mile from my front door, just looping around a nearby 3-mile circuit where I felt ‘safe’. To put it bluntly: panic attacks. Daily, sometime hourly, bursts of near-death experience. As I write this I’m wondering why I didn’t just give myself a break and pull out of the race.

The panic wasn’t enough to stop me, and neither was the anaemia. I found myself in Coniston on 4th June, overwhelmed by the brightness of the sun and the greenness of the trees. There was so many people, children everywhere, bright colours and shrieking from every angle I turned. There was no peace, my mind was raging with the explosion of newness around me. I really really tried to look forward to the space of the marathon the next day, but there was only dread, and under that, utter terror. After a night of almost no sleep, I found myself at the startline at 6:45am, where finally there was peace as runners assembled all with their own nerves and fears about the day (and the heat! it was already hot!) ahead. I cried into Daniel’s chest, totally resigned to feeling too fragile to run a marathon. We had agreed weeks before that I would pull out at the first nudge of anaemia-ish symptoms – I was going to start the race, that was all. A DNF (did not finish) seemed inevitable.

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And so we were off and I was crying as we set out, but soon enough it was ok. I focussed on my steps, upon setting a gentle pace that I could keep up for a while as my thoughts slowed into a comfortable rhythm. It was ok, I was ok. Not great, but ok. Not even two miles in and sweat was dropping from my face, but the heat wasn’t really an issue; if I could deal with my head I could deal with the heat no problem. At mile 8 there was a feed station and I noticed that one lady was dropping out. I could join her. A car will be coming, I could wait and get in that car and we can go back together. I carried on, reluctantly – mile 8 seemed too soon to drop out without an injury.

We got to the beautiful Tarn Hows section and I remembered walking here on the last day of our honeymoon. We talked about all of the things, it was warm and sunny, I was totally content. I tuned in to that day as hard as I could, remembering that feeling of joy and newness, tucked away in the Lake District far from all of the normal life stuff. I chatted to a few other runners here, pushing down the nausea and battling forwards. My Garmin beeped 10 miles and a small group of us cheered – 10 miles already! Around and around Tarn Hows and then up a track past some super marshalls to find James basking in the sun with his camera. I think I felt good by this point – certainly good enough to have a joke about suncream. It was hot, and not even 10am. It was getting really hot.

Coniston

Another feed station, almost 12 miles in and just before Grizedale forest. I had been looking forward to shade: there was no shade. The sun was blazing right above, and everyone kept stopping to walk, drink, moan quietly. I stopped to reapply suncream, afraid of heat stroke, alongside everything else. This was getting hard and I didn’t think I’d be able to finish. But all the time, as always, amazing runners sharing the dregs of cheer that they could muster up. Some familiar faces from previous races, a lot of new people to talk to. The next feed station was at 19 miles – Just another 10km and then I’ll see about pulling out. I looked forward to being shuttled back and sitting in the sun waiting for Daniel to finish his half marathon. Dreams of pulling out pushed me forwards, albeit incredibly slowly.

At mile 16 I saw a marshall. It had been a very long, lonely mile or so and I was at rock bottom. He told me I was halfway. But I’ve done 16 milesOh you know these events, 26 miles is just an estimate, he replied. I had done the run last year, I knew it was 26 miles, not 32. But my spirits dropped from low to rock-bottom. The next 3 miles are a blur in my mind. I was dying the entire time, seemingly encapsulated in panic, far from anyone or anything, with no shade from the sun. I was in one of the most beautiful landscapes I’d ever run in, and I couldn’t think coherently enough to enjoy it, only feeling surges of dread all over the place as I clambered over the rocks. It was here that I encountered The Guy Who Got Me Through, though it wasn’t until later that he really saved the day. We were both in a slump – he said he’d love to be sitting at home drinking a tea. I hadn’t even had a cup of tea that day (no wonder I didn’t feel good), and all I could think of was sugary tea from there on (note: I felt too ill to eat by this point, and was relying on coke from the feed stations to get some sugar in me).

This is a long account. It was a long day.

Every story needs a hero, and there are many many heroes in this one, but my first hero (and probably that of many other runners that day) was the ninja feed station at mile 19. It was here that I was supposed to drop out – I had actually decided that this would be the case – but instead I came across a little table and two friendly people handing out water and Kendal mint cake. They had done the race before, but had decided this year to hand out refreshments to runners instead, setting up outside a friend’s house where they could use a tap all day long (bearing in mind that the official feed stations were usually tap-less, so precious water had to be shipped to us – water really was at a premium that day). Here I got chatting to a small group of people and it turned out that we were all struggling with major issues. I WAS NOT ALONE. I told them that I had decided to drop out, but that their company might be enough to see me on a little further. We ran together for a while, and stuck together on and off for the remainder of the race.

This was the turning point for me. It took 19 miles (and who knows how many hours) of journeying forwards before my mind started to calm, but I got there. By this point the heat was seriously bad, and I was aware that it would be too much for many people, but miracuolously I felt ok. I had ample water and was soaked in suncream. I also have to mention here the lovely family of one runner, to whom I’d mentioned that I was getting some chafing from my backpack. She had given her family a description of me, and as I approached them they were holding out a tub of Vaseline, complete with kind words and well wishes. I wasn’t surprised – this level of kindness and camaraderie is what I’ve come to expect on Lakeland Trails events. If you’re reading, fellow runner, thank you – and well done on such a great run 🙂

The last six miles? Easy peasy compared to the first 20. I had blisters all over my feet, I was starving hungry, I had a grumbling headache and I hadn’t had a wee for more hours than is probably safe, but I felt as if I could do it for the first time since March. I ran along chatting to the same guy who I’d met earlier (now known as The Guy Who Got Me Through since we didn’t bother asking for names), whose company and really good conversation (how is it that you can be that tired and still really enjoy a conversation?) took me from enduring to enjoying my time out on the fells. He was one of a number of really awesome people who I met – always a theme at Lakeland Trails days out!  I actually felt kind of cheerful, and when we reached the final aid station (3 miles to go!) it was a veritable festival of joy. Here I bumped into Mark (sorry I called you Jeff – was a bit delirious by this point!) who was ploughing along like a running machine, and who offered me some great words of encouragement to see me through those last couple of miles. Up a bit, then meet the lakeshore and just a couple of miles of flat from there (oh and a wall to climb over).

I petered out in the last few hundred metres and ran in a sort of ‘creeping’ style over the finish line – not the strong finish that I usually like to go for. But who cares? Somehow I’d made it, battling on past the lowest of all lows to actually gain some real positivity from the run. Ask anyone who has ever run a marathon and they will tell you that the challenge is almost completely mental. Mostly, I agree with this. But somehow this run showed something different. I had no mental strength that day, none whatsoever. The thing that got me through that marathon was the strength of others. So, while I am free to think what I want of my own mental strength, which may or may not be available at any point, at least I know that there is a goldmine of strength to be found in other people. And I really hope that I can give back as much as I take – the runner who got treated to my ‘Last few miles rap’ at mile 24 (sorry) may have something to say about that one…

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*To the tune of So Solid’s 21 Seconds, but replacing the seconds with distance as you get closer to the end…

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The Hoka One One 25km race was the main reason for our visit to the Keswick Mountain Festival, and also the reason I decided not to take part in Keswick Half Marathon (which took place just two weeks before the festival) for the first time in six years. I figured that a 25km off-road run would be a much better option for my UT55 training, and gosh, I was right.

I’d noticed on the entries list that only 252 people had signed up for the race, which immediately left me worrying that I might come last. Generally I don’t come last; usually I’m around the middle of the pack (and am always happy to be there), once I was sixth in my category (those were the days, eh?), and, just once, I did actually finish a race in last position. Still, for whatever reason I was panicking – I guess I didn’t want to be demoralised at this stage in my ultra training; as it turns out, getting practice at being demoralised is incredibly good for ultra training!

In the starting pen people were bandying around their expected finishing times – I heard a few people mention times over 4 hours, which I thought was odd; I hoped to finish in about 3-3.5 hours, based on my normal ‘ultra(slow) pace’ plus some time for walking and even a bit of stopping. Perhaps I wouldn’t finish last after all – phew! Daniel took the generic starting pen photo and then headed off for his boat to the start of the 10km, and moments later we were off!

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You could say that the race was off to a bad start before I’d even left Crow Park; I was too hot, I had a wedgie (note to self: a 25km race is not the time to start experimenting with different underwear) and my new shorts, which I’d bought two sizes bigger as my normal size was just so…short, were riding up and giving me rather a lot of grief. Still, I got into a nice steady pace, feeling surprisingly good despite the previous day’s hilly 15-miler still in my legs, and at about mile 1 I started to feel more optimistic. The hills came and they were MASSIVE. That’s ok; I can deal with hills – I ran up the less steep bits and power walked the rest, and was able to overtake a few other runners here. I gained some confidence and settled in to the race; by mile two I was flying along, and really enjoying what was a phenomenal course. Trails took us through glorious woodland filled with bluebells, and around every corner was a glimpse of the surrounding mountains before they were hidden again by thickets of trees.

Once out of the woodland the terrain started to get tricky – I found myself walking increasingly often, as the trails were too narrow and totally unforgiving if you should land a foot in the wrong place. It was slow and exhausting, but at least the other runners around me were also having the same issues – we egged each other on and swapped encouraging comments; the awesome thing about these races is the other runners, always. It wasn’t until Ashness Bridge – probably around mile 5 or 6 – that the terrain became a little easier, but even then I was walking more than running. I stopped off for a loo break at this point, and by the time I was back on the course I was completely alone; all the other nearby runners had passed, and I started to feel incredibly demoralised.

There were only two things keeping my spirits up by this point: firstly, the friendly walkers who had endless flattering and encouraging comments – one guy told me I was a hero, which was rather nice. The other was the spectacular scenery, which just kept on giving with every corner and climb. I even stopped to take a selfie, but then a nearby walker (who stopped to check I was ok as he saw me fumbling in my bag) offered to take the picture for me; these were real high points, enjoying the humbling combination of kindness and nature. It made me very happy to be alive, and gosh, if nothing else I really did feel alive. Finally another runner caught up, and we ran together for a while, joking (in all seriousness) about how unforgivingly hard the race was, and how we could always pull out and go to the pub instead. She assured me that a checkpoint was around the corner, but not before the most ginormous hill of the whole race, veering upwards towards Rosthwaite. I pulled forwards at this point and left her behind for a while, and it wasn’t long after we separated that the lows really started to come.

No photographers at this event, so I had to arrange my own...(and why the thumbs up everywhere?!)

No photographers at this event, so I had to arrange my own…(and why the thumbs up everywhere?!)

After the massive ascent there was an equally steep descent, which was so rocky underfoot that I had no choice but to walk very carefully, sometimes using both hands to lower myself down between the rocks. Twice I went over on an ankle, and here I noticed that there hadn’t been a single marshall since about mile 2. I started to panic. The day before I’d been marvelling about how wonderful it was to be completely alone and miles from anywhere in such an incredible place, but now I was becoming pretty fraught for exactly the same reason – what if I fell and couldn’t keep going, who would help me out then? It wasn’t long before the girl behind me caught me up again, to my relief, and here my fear was proven to be justified: she’d fallen in the stream running parallel to our route, and had to get running pretty swiftly in order to stay warm. I think we were going through similar crises, and stuck together until we finally got to the check point at Rosthwaite.

After this point I knew the trails pretty well, and had walked and even run on them a number of times. I knew it was going to get easier, and so I was able to pick myself up a bit and keep on going. Not long after the check point, though, my ankle started to ache pretty badly. I was able to run, but with every step I felt a dull thud rising through my foot and lower calf, which started to unnerve me over time. I made it through the woodland section near to Grange, but as I climbed towards the foot of Catbells I started to toy with the idea of pulling out. But wait, there were no marshalls: at the very least I had to run another three miles before I reached the next check point. I was lamenting at the fact that I might have to ruin my hopes of running the Lakeland Trails marathon in three weeks simply through poor organisation in this race. I was angry at the organisers and the festival, and this only perpetuated the negative energy that was hindering my running.

Luckily, I came across two other runners who were obviously struggling, and shared some of my chocolate with them as one guy was obviously in a pretty bad way. Chatting to them perked me up a bit  – as I get deeper into despair I put on an increasingly cheerful persona, which actually helps in these less-than-cheerful circumstances. I also had some chocolate, and found myself enjoying the soft terrain underfoot and the opportunity to get covered in mud, safe in the knowledge that there were only a few miles left. At the road the route was completely ambiguous: a sign with an arrow reading ’10km route this way’ but no mention of us 25km-ers. Luckily I know this area well, and decided to follow the arrow anyway as it would eventually get me back to Keswick, whether or not I’d be following the right trail. I didn’t see another runner for the entire stretch, but it was my favourite part of the race – such beautiful running next to Derwent Water, and even though my foot was hurting I was in reach of home. I texted Daniel to let him know that I’d be 20 minutes or so as my Garmin beeped 13 miles, and a comforting sense of optimism started to grow inside me.

I still have no idea whether or not I took the correct path at the road there, but as I came back onto the main road there was a sign reading ‘5km to go’. I’d already run 14 miles and wasn’t in the mood for another three, but I had no choice. The lady at the checkpoint joked that I was getting more for my money but I found this incredibly ironic and couldn’t even feign a chuckle. I was exhausted, in pain and angry. I ate a Penguin bar and gritted my teeth.

In fact, those last three miles were really fun, and probably better for my UT55 training than anything else I could have done that day. I ran past a number of ultra runners who were coming to the end of an even tougher course that was also double the distance, and swapped encouraging comments with them as I ran by. I found some power from somewhere (probably that Penguin) and forgot about the pain in my foot. The crowds got bigger and louder, and it seemed that everyone was cheering me on, as if I was about to win (I definitely wasn’t). A cruel rocky hill up into Crow Park and I could see the finish – I crossed the field and the finish line, and felt more relief than joy or tiredness. I really didn’t think I’d finish that race – mainly because my heart left the building for the last few miles and I didn’t want to risk an injury in a race that I wasn’t enjoying – but there I was, and glad to be there, too. Daniel greeted me with a hot Vimto, and then we headed to a lovely cafe, the Little Chamonix (another great spot – do try it out) for a hot chocolate and a tea cake. We swapped stories, and I was so pleased to hear that Daniel had run a great race and enjoyed every minute – certainly our experiences were very different.

Proud 10km-er

Proud 10km-er

I want to say here that I’ve heard only good things from other people about this race, but for me the organisation wasn’t quite up to it. I’ve never felt afraid on a race until this one, and certainly I’d never felt so alone on a route – I didn’t pull out only because there were no marshalls around to make sure I got back safely, and I don’t think that’s nearly good enough. It cost £28 to enter which is as much as any brilliantly-organised Lakeland Trails event, yet there was minimal support, no photos, and a goodie bag of stuff that we’ve mainly recycled or given away already. I’m not in it for the free stuff, obviously, but when I spend that much money I do want to feel that I’m part of something, and not just on another run. The course was spectacular, though, and I’m so glad that I did it despite all of the negativity.

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And, in terms of negativity, this is something that I’m now glad to have had practice with. I felt so low, and I’m sure I’ll feel similar at points on the UT55, but I was able to practice picking myself up and drawing from the other runners, as well as giving back to them. I didn’t come last, and I met some great people en route – I see that they did all get back ok in the end and I hope that they have some good memories too. Running is so much more mental than physical, and timing the most mentally-challenging event I’ve ever done only six weeks before the ultra was in fact excellent planning!

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When your hometown club puts on a race, it’s pretty difficult to opt out of taking part. Especially when it’s a comeback race to celebrate the club’s 30th anniversary. And when your parents are the main sponsors of the event. Whether or not I fancied running a half marathon in the first weeks of ultra training, circumstances left me with little choice, and so we showed up at my parents’ early on Sunday morning for what was to be a brilliant day out.

Unluckily for the organisers, but perhaps luckily for those who took part, the race coincided with the much heftier ‘Yorkshire’ half marathon, with thousands of runners flocking to Sheffield instead of the West Riding that morning. Corporate events aren’t my favourite, and though I do have a soft spot for the Jane Tomlinson Run For All events, you can find cheaper marathons with much smaller carbon footprints to boot. This was totally not the case at Ackworth: for a rather humble entry fee, runners were treated to a brilliant course, excellent support, FIVE water stations, TWO medals, and a goodie bag like none I have ever seen before (more on that to come).

I acknowledge that I’m a little biased in my review of this race – I do have personal interest in its success, after all – but all of the feedback I’ve heard and seen has been unanimous: it was awesome. We arrived at the start line – a big field on top of a hill next to the prominent local landmark of Ackworth water tower. It was freezing, and a bit windy, and husband and I huddled together for warmth as everyone got organised. There appeared to be a strong contingent of club runners, as well as lots of beefy chaps with lovely thick West Yorkshire accents (again, I know I’m biased) and people just out for a nice morning run. There were a few charity runners, and no one was in fancy dress. We stuck kind of near the middle, as I was in it for a PB, and I need the faster people to set my pace for me in the first few miles. Daniel was taking it steady, as he always does, and I was so tempted to stick by him and just enjoy the ride. I’d been up all night worrying about the race, and my nerves had taken firm residence in my stomach, which had not taken kindly to any attempt at eating breakfast. Still, I was determined to give it a good try since I was on home turf. I knew all the roads, so I kept in mind the bits to look forward to, and had a plan of action for the difficult sections that were familiar in the unfriendly sense.

Photo credit: Andrew Thrippleton

Photo credit: Andrew Thrippleton

The horn sounded, and we were off! It was strange to be running in a pack of people around local streets that I’d so often run alone, but the roads were closed and the day was still young (yes to 9:30am starts!), and I’d managed to gather a nice comfortable pace from the outset. Things were looking good, and despite the rather meagre chocolate coins that I’d managed to digest successfully, I felt pretty good, too. I managed to break the 5km point with an average pace below 8;30, by which point I felt able to keep it up for at least another four miles to my first gel. The hills came and everyone slowed, but every hill was matched with a downhill, and generally I was easily able to make up what I’d lost. We turned in to the village of Wentbridge and I knew we had a killer climb ahead, which I had done only once before. I’d forgotten exactly how killer it was – easily a match for the bigger hills at Keswick, even – and I began to question whether I should stop running and just walk for a bit. “You’re nearly at the top!” shouted a nearby onlooker, and as I looked up I saw the hill becoming a little more gentle in front of me; ‘nearly’ was a little optimistic, but the climb became easier and I managed to push it to the brow of the hill. No mountains to see over the other side, unfortunately, but there was a great view of the three local power stations, as well as the water tower, which would continue to bob on the horizon for the rest of the race.

Photo credit: Andrew Thrippleton

Photo credit: Andrew Thrippleton

The next bit was my favourite, as we left the main roads for a quiet single-track road that I’ve regularly followed both while cycling and running. At this point we were coming to seven miles, and I knew that I was in for a pretty solid PB if I kept it up – I hit mile 7 around the hour mark, and stopped briefly at a water station for a gel (which exploded and covered me in ickiness) and a sip of fluid. Stopping didn’t hinder me too much, and I felt good as I continued down the road. But then we turned left, and I knew what was ahead: the road of eternal gales. It lived up to its nickname*, with strong winds blasting us right in the face, making forwards-motion seem almost impossible. I got into a pack of other runners and ran along quietly, listening to their conversation to distract me from the discomfort. The winds picked up, the road climbed upwards and then down a bit and then up again and then a bit down (‘undulating’ always sounds so appealing, doesn’t it?), and I just kept pushing forwards with that water tower in the corner of my eye. We turned back into Wentbridge and it became apparent that what was just a chilly breeze a few miles back had become a proper bit of weather, and whichever way the route turned, the wind was never in our favour. Another hill, and this time I felt as if I were trudging, using everything I had to keep moving forwards; suddenly things weren’t going so well. The empty stomach that I’d set off on came back to haunt me around mile 10, as I bottomed out and felt totally unable to keep going: my pace was slowing but I didn’t care, I just wanted to stop. I had another gel and pushed and pushed, and just as I passed the 11 mile marker I heard a familiar voice behind me, and almost tripped over in shock as I saw my husband rushing past. I may not have cracked it that day, but he certainly had! I felt an overwhelming sense of pride, which was quickly scrubbed out with annoyance that he was so nonchalantly rushing past me. Oh well.

Photo credit: Andrew Thrippleton

Happier running times, around mile 7. Photo credit: Andrew Thrippleton

The last mile was a killer, but it was almost irrelevant as I was kept entertained by some ‘inspirational’ signs that someone had put up by the side of the road. ‘Humpty Dumpty had wall issues too’ was a particularly pertinent message at that point. I checked my Garmin, almost not daring to look, to see that I could still come in under 2 hours with time to spare so long as I kept moving forwards. With 200m to go I dared to push to a sprint, and made it over the line with relief, rather than joy. I spotted Daniel in the crowds and rewarded him with a sweaty, sticky runner’s kiss – he was the winner of the day, after all. My Dad had pulled out due to a calf problem early on so he was also frustrated, but none of that could distract us from the fact that it had been a resounding success: brilliant marshalling, loads of water stations, great course and a really fun local event. Just a shame about the wind!

Photo credit: Andrew Thrippleton

Photo credit: Andrew Thrippleton

The fun didn’t stop there, though, as we were handed lovely Ackworth AC goodie bags complete with two medals (both engraved), water, chocolate…and a set of false eyelashes. Apparently they make you run faster, so perhaps I will test them out at my next race – maybe they’ll help me get through those last three miles, next time.

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*not actually an official nickname – it’s just known as Wentbridge Lane

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I work for my local Up and Running shop, and when I completed the Windermere marathon my manager asked me if I’d mind writing a review for the online blog. The blog is part of a new online running community that the company is developing, featuring advice, race reviews and more.

Of course, I was more than happy to contribute! I’ll take any chance to talk about my marathon experience!

You can read my review here.

Note: there is a slight error with the photos – these appear to be from a different race!

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So, I did it!

Yesterday I ran my first ever marathon! People had warned me otherwise (too hilly, apparently), but the Brathay Windermere Marathon turned out to be the perfect place to start with marathon running.

I’m still on a blow-out of a high: my mind is in the clouds, back on the roads around Windermere, anywhere but here. I will try my best to summarize it appropriately – watch out, this post could be longer and more winding than yesterday’s race!

We decided months ago that driving up from Yorkshire to the Lake District and back in one day, plus running our first marathon, wouldn’t be a sensible thing to do. So I left my Mum to arrange accommodation near enough to Brathay, as well as booking a couple of decent places to eat before and after the race.

My parents picked us up on Saturday afternoon and we hit the roads, the car loud with conversation and rattling with nervous energy – I had put in hundreds of miles of training, and had invested so much in one race, while my Dad (also running a marathon for the first time) had been injured from day one, and had done practically no training other than a couple of half marathon races in the run-up to Windermere. I kept nervously asking him if he was ok, worried that he might not really be ready for such a bit physical ordeal.

We arrived in the Lake District and headed straight for the Expo to pick up our numbers and goodie bags. The Brathay 10 in 10 was going on at the same time (the last race coincided with the full marathon on the Sunday), and so the atmosphere was already quite pumped and exciting. The 18 amazing runners were hobbling around in towels with their legs strapped up with tape; seeing them boosted my confidence a little, as it reminded me that everyone here was actually just a normal person with a day job, a family and a love for running! We collected our numbers and had a chat with some of the people holding stalls at the Expo: one lady who was a running coach and had written a book about people who run over 100 marathons, and a couple who were providing the energy drink for the run. I was reassured that it’s only really hilly for the first 17 miles, after that it’s an easy ride…!

Huuge map of the route!

We piled back in the car and headed to the B&B to check in and then head out for some food. It turned out that this would be a luxury marathon experience, as my Mum had booked us in at a 5* guest house and asked for superior rooms! Far from the hostel accommodation that I’d had in mind when I’d asked her to look into it for us! The place was absolutely stunning in every possible way, and set me in a really relaxed mood for the first time in days. It had a massive, 5 acre garden, which I roamed around that evening to stretch my legs after the journey. We then headed out to a vegetarian restaurant in Ambleside, and again my Mum had come up trumps when we were faced with a menu of carbs! I had gnocchi with a tomato sauce to start with, and then spaghetti pomodoro as a main. Delicious! We arrived back quite late, but I took advantage of the complimentary camomile tea and ginger biscuits while I wrote in my diary before bed.

As I had been expecting, I slept reallyreallybadly that night. It took me ages to drift off, and then I woke up at 3am and didn’t really get back to sleep. I watched the sun get brighter through the curtains, and just waited in nervous anticipation until it was time to get up and get my running kit on! It was the first really beautiful day in ages; the birds were singing, the sky was faultlessly blue, and the mist over the valley was rising and promising some warmth for the day. Daniel went out for a run at 6am, while I sipped a peppermint tea and ate some Soreen, and worked out how exactly I was going to arrange myself. Running kit on, bags packed and hair clipped and waxed into place (my hair is always a point of trouble for me when I run – I never know how best to arrange it), we went down to an amazing breakfast buffet of cereals, juices, fruits, yoghurts and the option of a full veggie English breakfast. I reluctantly refused all the decadence, and stuck to a huge bowl of porridge made with water, with loads of honey and a banana. I didn’t even have tea as I didn’t want any reason to stop unnecessarily during the race. We then got straight in the car and headed back to Brathay, ready for the run of our lives!

Porridge!

The atmosphere was instantly wonderous, as soon as we arrived into the massive field of a car park. Everyone was in a good mood, the sun was shining, and the lake stretched out for miles behind us. It felt fantastic to actually be there, after all those months of training! The 10 in 10ers were due to set off for their 10th marathon in 10 days at 9:30, so we went to watch them have their pep talk and set off on the last leg of that massive journey. It was incredibly emotional, and I wasn’t the only one to find my eyes welling up as they huddled together in lycra, strapped up and ready for one last massive push. Little by little the atmosphere and adrenaline was working its way into my bloodstream, and I found myself looking forward to getting going on that amazing course!

Windermere is behind me

I faced the dreaded Portaloos with as much bravery as I could muster (“Daniel, quick, hand sanitizer please!!!”), had the first few swigs of energy drink and put on my running shoes: we were ready to go! I kissed Daniel and my Mum goodbye and we set off to the starting field to warm up. We heard the pre-race announcements from the organizers and then an amazing drumming band started up, and lead the march to the starting line on the main road. A lady from my running club came over to say hi, and we walked down together, enjoying the atmosphere and excitement that was surrounding us and welling upwards in a massive frenzy.

Ready to go!

I was stood a little too close to the front for my liking, but as the roads were closed I was confident that it wouldn’t really matter anyway.  My Dad asked whether my shoes were done up ok, so I tied a triple knot in the laces (which are a little too long), just to make sure. The drumming stopped and everything fell silent, the way it always seems to do just before a race, and then ‘beeeeeep’ and we were off! I wished my fellow Strider a good race and reminded my Dad to take it steady, and then there I was, running a marathon! Crossing the starting line is still so vivid in my mind; I was so aware that once I was through that was it, no turning back and, as far as was possible, no giving up. The drummers were playing again and the crowds were roaring and clapping, but I was so overwhelmed with panic, fear, and the realization that my shoes weren’t done up right, that I couldn’t relax into it and enjoy it.

The first couple of miles were always going to be warm-up miles – just to set the pace and to find my ‘running zone’. However, I found myself running as I would a half marathon; my pace was way too fast, and I was trying to keep up with the crowd, which was hurtling past me alarmingly. I was also very conscious of my shoes, which felt as if they were slopping around on my feet. As I hadn’t done a warm-up jog (the field was too bumpy and the prospect of 26.2 miles seemed to not warrant a quick jog around the car park!) I hadn’t tested how my shoes felt, and I couldn’t rid my head of the fact that they were too loose. I was uncomfortable, running too fast and massively overwhelmed, and for the first couple of miles I felt like a rabbit in headlights. I ran past Daniel and my Mum on the wrong side of the road, too, so they were unable to get a decent photo of me passing by.

I’m in the black cap at the back of the photo

At about mile 4 I had come back down to a more steady pace. I had planned to run at 10;30/mile, but I was running at 10/mile and felt comfortable – I was worried that a slower pace would actually feel less easy as I had so much energy, and so much training behind me. The route was incredibly hilly, not so much with big ascents, but more continuous ups and downs, as well as a lot of long, mild inclines that were quite hard work. We arrived in Hawkeshead and I was starting to really enjoy myself, so I finally decided to make the feeling complete by stopping to tie up my shoes – those triple knots didn’t help matters and loads of people shot past as I frustratingly fiddled with my laces! I got started again, and set my pace back up nicely, running close behind a couple of women chatting happily as they ran. I always prefer to run alone, and never ever with music, but during a race I do like to hear other people chatting away around me – it sets a good, sociable mood without me having to take any part in it!

The miles seemed to simply fall behind me, and there appeared to be a mileage sign or a drink stop around every corner! There were refreshments (water, energy drink and Kendal mint cake!) every 3 miles, and I had planned to take on water at each of these points, as I didn’t have any of my own. I took my first gulp of energy drink at mile 6, just before the biggest hill of the race which stretched right from mile 7 to mile 8. At this point I was the only one around me who wasn’t walking – I find that jogging lightly on my forefeet takes up less energy than a striding uphill walk, and morale remains high as you reach the top without stopping, too! At mile 8 my knee started to twinge, and I remained conscious and nervous of it for some miles ahead. Still, I knew things were going to hurt more with every mile, so I tried my best to enjoy being relatively pain-free while it lasted!

Energy started to wane a little at mile 9, so I took my first energy gel, which left me feeling fantastic again. The first real discomfort started at mile 10, when my feet were aching from the road. I always wear the lightest possible socks when racing, but they do tend to leave my feet feeling raw after about 10 miles, and this was no exception. Still, the miles kept coming, and I was running very comfortably behind a group from Ripley AC, who helped me keep an absolutely solid 10/mile pace.

Up until now we had run through countryside and woodland, and right down the western side of beautiful Esthwaite water, but I hadn’t had a glimpse of Lake Windermere since changing in the car park! At mile 13 we reached Newby Bridge, and here the tip of the lake shimmered out behind buildings as we ran past. The streets were lined with people clapping and cheering – it really was absolutely incredible, and I was amazed at how much I’d enjoyed myself so far, especially in light of the wobbly start! I was also feeling incredibly confident in my running, and 13 miles in I still felt as strong as I had at mile 5.

The roads had been closed to cars for most of the first 13 miles, but the second half took us up the eastern side of Lake Windermere, right along the A591 and A592. The roads were coned off at the side to make room for us, and though the traffic was passing regularly, it was all very respectful of the runners, and most cars cheered and beeped as they passed, which was very encouraging! From here much of the course is a blur, though I know I still felt strong at mile 15 as I was thinking about the first 15 mile run that I did, which was a killer fell run over Ilkley Moor in the rain and wind! Things couldn’t have been any more different on this race!

What I do remember is the long hills, and the realization that I didn’t have enough gels on me to get through without hitting zero. I remember desperately searching my bag for an energy bar and coming out with a block of dates, and I remember gnawing on them like a complete animal! Mile 17 came and the lady from the Expo was right, as the roads flattened out and houses lined the route, with massive rhododendrons in a range of amazing colours bursting from almost every garden. People were in their gardens clapping and cheering, but my humour was long gone and all I could focus on was the increasing pain in my entire body, and the many miles which were still there ahead of me.

By mile 19 I was starting to feel really bad in my knees and hips, and every step hurt. I stopped at the drinks station and the relief felt like angels singing inside my chest and legs, and the more I stopped the more difficult it was to start again. I gnawed on an energy bar and dreamed of orange juice, recovery shake and ginger beer.

At mile 21 I was set to give in. Seriously. My brain was mush, I felt sick, the muscles in my entire abdomen – from my diaphragm to the top of my groin – were burning with every breath, and somehow I couldn’t seem to get any air into my lungs. I decided to give in to my last precious energy gel, and then to the last drops of energy drink. I knew I was taking on too much water, too, but it was addictively refreshing, and I kept pouring it over my head which sent shocks down my spine and woke my mind up a little. We came to a downhill in Bowness on Windermere and I remember calling out in agony as my knees crunched under my weight. At the penultimate drinks station I topped up my bottle with energy drink – it had bits floating in it from the road and tasted horrid, but I didn’t care at all! I knew that if I didn’t get my mind back I’d be giving in very shortly, so I filtered through some subject matter to see if I could find anything that my brain would allow me to focus on. My up-coming wedding, Daniel, university, work, friends – none of these things that I so often think about on long runs triggered any sort of spark in my brain. So I decided instead to remember a time that I had felt this bad in the past. And the one person that got me through that agony got me through this one, too: my Uncle Rob, and how amazing he was, and how much I miss him.

So I continued running, and the mileage signs started to get huge. 23 miles?! No way! I passed a couple who had given in to an ice cream van en route – brilliant idea, and a shame I didn’t bring any money or I’d have joined them! I was in so much pain that it couldn’t get any worse at this point, so I kept going, one foot painstakingly placed in front of the other. 24 miles, my word. By this stage we were approaching Ambleside, and I could actually see the finish across the lake – there was a huge hot air balloon on site which we’d watched being fired up that morning, and I had a clear view of it between the trees. I ran ahead of the man in front of me and pointed it out – he grunted in recognition.

I ran through Ambleside, groaning with every curb and cobble, and almost knocked over a group of old ladies who were intent on crossing the road right in front of me. It turns out that absolute exhaustion turns me into a social nightmare. By this point I knew I had to make it, and that I’d do it much more quickly than I’d anticipated, too! I was expecting to complete the race in around 5 hours, though had optimistically paced myself for 4;30 – from my watch I could see that I’d be comfortably between the two times, and I was delighted and rather impressed with myself!

Mile 25 came, and I reminded myself that this mile was the reason I’d put myself through all of that – this was the mile I had to enjoy. And I guess I did, to some extent! I particularly enjoyed seeing the number 25 on the sign, and knowing that I’d run incredibly far! The road ahead seemed to go on forever, and helpfully (not) there was a long ascent ahead, up which I could see runners struggling even to walk in the last few hundred yards of the race. I kept running, and kept passing people limping to the finish, and I couldn’t help feeling so grateful that my agony was consistent throughout my body, and not concentrated in one joint or muscle. I was a little wary of my calves, which were so tight it felt like they might actually pop, and I was trying to decide whether a ripped calf muscle would be worth it in the end. Probably.

I turned a corner back into Brathay Hall, and saw the big yellow Mile 26 sign as if it were the sun landing on Earth right before my feet. Two men ahead of me were trying to run, but one, in a red tshirt, was struggling big time, and slowed to a sorry limp just as I passed. His friend was being so encouraging ‘just keep going, just keep going’ he kept repeating. Then I saw my Dad, with a medal around his neck, and I was so proud that I managed to find a bit of extra energy somewhere inside me. (It’s all so vivid as I type this that this paragraph might go on for some time) I kept running, up the hill, up up up, and the finish line was there, right ahead, lined with what seemed like thousands of cheering happy faces. The grass was covered with a big rope mat, but still my knees cracked and crunched under me as I ran over the uneven surface. I saw Daniel and my Mum, taking photos and cheering, and wow, this was it!

Heading for the finish line!

Then, out of nowhere, the man in the red tshirt came crashing past me, and almost knocked me to the floor! Not exactly good etiquette if you ask me. Then there was the finish line. And a medal and a really kind face handing it to me with some water. And the man in the red tshirt bent in half and dribbling onto the floor (I sort of hope he was sick, is that bad?). I wandered in a daze through the crowds and collapsed into the grass. Everything hurt everywhere, like I’d never felt before, and I just called out and drank some water and called out some more. Everything hurt, everywhere. I got up with Daniel’s help, and I remember looking into the grass and realizing that I’d actually done it – I’d actually run a marathon, and something welled up inside me and for a second I was about to cry. Then I hurt so badly that I had to walk around.

Finished!!!

I made up some recovery shake and went and stood in Lake Windermere, up to my mid calf. The rocks hurt underfoot but the cold water was fantastic and soothing. I looked out to the largest lake in England, which I had just circumnavigated and then some in 4 hours and 43 minutes, and it was shimmering and so beautiful and huge.

We got back to the B&B and I had a bath and got into the most comfortable clothes imaginable. Each individual toe was sore, my hips were bruised, the sides of my ribcage hurt to touch, the backs of my thighs felt bruised, my arm was stiff and painful from holding the water bottle. I say all this in the past tense, but it’s still true today. We snuggled up on the bed and put on a film, drank sweet tea and ate crisps and cereal bars. I lounged like this for as long as I could, then that evening we went out for an amazing meal at another amazing veggie restaurant, but this time there wasn’t any mention of pasta on the menu! Another successful choice on my Mum’s part! Watercress soup, loads and loads of fresh white bread with butter, butternut squash and goats cheese with a sundried tomato salad, gingerbread cheesecake with strawberries and a huge glass of wine. Marathon complete, wonderful day complete, fantastic marathon experience complete!

And I seriously enjoyed my veggie full English this morning!

 

So, to summarize, this was the perfect first marathon. For runners such as me, who love a few torturous hills, it was a great race. The winner came in at 2;40, which suggests that it’s not one for a PB, if that’s what you’re after, but if you love a good atmosphere, fantastic organization, and a really well-rounded racing experience, then this is the job. It was worth every 5:30 start, every painful uphill sprint, every 20 mile run, in fact, it was worth every minute that I put into it. I want to go back and do it all again just like that, but this time I’ll check my shoes first!

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For the past three years now, the first Sunday in May marks one of the best events in the year’s calendar: the Keswick Half Marathon. This race was my first half marathon back in 2010, and has sentimental value reaching beyond my running history, as the route passes through a host of the best childhood holiday memories any person can have.

This year, my Dad, my Taller Half (as my husband-to-be will hereby be known, thanks to his 6’5 stature) and younger brother also took part, and the shared sense of nerves and excitement provided a super-charged car journey over the A66 to the Lake District. We ate bagels in the car at around 2 hours before the race was due to start. This was on top of large bowls of porridge and honey which we made time for before the long drive to Keswick; a long drive always mixes up the routine a bit, but this can actually be useful as, for me at least, I generally eat more than I usually would if a race is taking place nearby.

The forecast was good, but as we arrived into the car park it started to drizzle. Not to be deterred, we went for a walk to Derwent Water to stretch our car-heavy legs and take in some fresh, spring air. We collected our numbers and started to prepare for the race. The rain got heavier, and though the lack of wind was a real relief after a very blustery race in 2011, it was inevitable that the weather wouldn’t be changing fast.

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I prepared myself with waterproofs, and decided to stick with the cooler option of no mid-layer, as I tend to get super-hot very quickly! I’ve taken to attaching my race number to my shorts instead of my vest, as I’m constantly off and on with various layers as the weather changes! The starting line is a mile away from the car park, in a nearby village called Portinscale, which means you have to leave the car in good time before the start of the race at 11:30am. And behold, at 11am, just as the weather forecast had promised, heavy rain started beating down on the car roof. We decided to wait until it calmed down rather than getting soaked and freezing before the start, and luckily it turned from downpour to drizzle in a few minutes while I crammed in a couple of slices of Soreen. Unfortunately this meant a rush to the start line along with everyone else, and the atmosphere was quite tense and frustrated as everyone rushed to get there in time. We were bottle-necked at a kissing gate and then again over a narrow footbridge, and just as the frustration started to turn itself outwards I heard a voice over a tannoy, and then the starting horn – we had missed the start! The start of a race is one of my favourite things in the world: the tension and excitement turning emotional as everyone comes together, the smell of deep heat, the sound of all the feet clattering as we set off, the colours sprawling out ahead. And Taller Half had missed his first ever race start!

Not to be deterred, we warmed up quickly, and then started jogging towards the start line. I hit ‘start’ on my Garmin as we passed the man with the horn, and we were all systems go, just as the sun started to come out! I found myself running a little faster than I normally would have in the first half mile as I desperately wanted to catch up with the other runners, but then I reminded myself that I would anyway, and not at the expense of my energy levels, which I wanted to remain as constant as I could for the first seven killer miles.

Keswick is areally hard route. The first 8.5 miles are absolutely stunning, but you have to push hard for the best views; the course is mainly very undulating, but there are three hills in particular which leave you burning from top to toe. Many people walk up these hills (and who can blame them!), but I have managed to run every step of the way for the past 3 years – the feeling when you get to the top, lungs on fire and heart popping out of your chest, to turn and see the spectacular views offered by the natural landscape is just fantastic, and shouting out in agony and joy is one of my secret indulgences! The last few miles are all along the main Borrowdale road, without much in the name of scenery, and often with cars crashing past a little bit too close for comfort. Then there’s the final uphill climb to the finish, which takes up the last three miles of the race.

Hard as it may be, it’s the perfect mix of scenery, fresh air, ups and downs, pretty villages and wonderful people. My third experience of the race was as fantastic as the previous two years’, and this time it didn’t all start to come undone at mile 10! I felt powerful throughout; as I was running with my Taller Half I didn’t push too hard, so when it came to the last mile I was sprinting gleefully, full of energy and excited for the next challenge taking place at Windermere in under 2 weeks’ time!

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Thanks to running 13 miles in almost brand new running shoes, I gained a big blister on the inside of my foot, and my knees were rickety and clicking from the 51 miles I had accumulated that week. I was hobbling but less so than usual, and I have to say that I rather enjoy the aches and pains that come after such endurance. We brought ourselves back to life with some recovery shake and flapjack, and, as is the tradition, we went to our favourite vegetarian café in Keswick for a post-race refuel: The Lakeland Pedlar. A sweet tea and a bowl of fiery hot chilli was enough to revive me past the nausea and exhaustion, and as the afternoon descended into early evening we headed back along the A66 home.

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