Sunday, 1 July 2012

A very muddy day in the Lakes

After Comrades, I though it was important to get some off-road running in before the Davos Swissalpine, and spend some time out on my feet, so when Graham Patten of Lakeland Trails offered me a place to run the Coniston Trail Marathon, I thought it was an ideal opportunity. Unfortunately, a relatively sleepless night courtesy of a youth hostel group room didn’t bode well for a good run.

The course itself looked quite challenging, with >2200 feet of ascent and descent over the marathon distance. The weather seemed to have improved somewhat from the torrential overnight rain, but this was just the lull before the storm as it recommenced while we were marshalling for the 9am start. My waterproof jacket was so wet within 5 minutes of the start that I decided to hand it over to Doug who was waiting for the later half-marathon start. Skin is meant to be waterproof and it was definitely comfier without sleeves but it wasn’t fun with the strong winds, driving rain, and poor visibility on the upper parts of the route.
Through the village, having already ditched the "waterproof" jacket

 The initial course involved a lap and a half of a muddy school field (trying to avoid falling in the longjump pit in the crowds)  then went straight up through the village towards the coppermines, before heading off on a variety of trails and roads. We ran on both steep tarred roads and rocky trails along the route of Yewdale Beck (quite literally so in places) and over Oxen Fell, before crossing over to lap Tarn Hows. I was running alone for much of this portion, and there were few people out in the bad weather, though a “friendly walker” told me at one point that he’d left the gate ahead unlatched and I just needed to push it. This made a welcome change as every other gate needed to be unlatched, opened, closed and relatched, so I ran full tilt into it with my hand out to push it……only to find that it had become relatched…..owwww!!!

Round the final field, still carrying the gels!
The lap of Tarn Hows was a great feature as it meant you could catch up and run with runners further back in the field starting their Lakeland run before being directed up onto the fells to run along the length of the lake. It was a great shame to miss the amazing views due to the thick clag (a friend later told me how uplifting he found it to see the clouds breaking over the lake as he ran along), but I breathed a sigh of relief to be down the horrendously wet, slippy, muddy, shaly descent at the far end of the lake. The relief was shortlived as the route then directed us away from the shoreline for a couple of miles through deep bog which was completely unrunnable, due to ankle-deep mud with many hidden slippy rocks underneath. Many people ended up wearing more of the mud than they waded through. The last few miles really took their toll on tired legs as they were on narrow paths by the lake, and if not concentrating 100% competitors would trip and stumble on the roots and stones. The challenge event had started 2 hours prior to the marathon race and followed the same course so there was great support and encouragement as faster runners passed the earlier starters (though this was not always easy on the narrow paths). We again finished by running round the muddy school field, though this time I was so focussed on just getting to the end that I don't recall even seeing the longjump pit, so I guess I was lucky not to end up in it!
"One-size fits no-one"survivor t-shirts!

The race was run by International Mountain Runner Ben Abdelnoor in an amazing 2:53, but I was very happy to finish 5th overall and 1st lady in 3:21, especially considering that I hadn’t taken on the gels I’d been carrying round the course, as my hands were too cold and I just wanted to get back to the warm hall and hot food at the finish. Doug was back from the half-marathon ahead of me, even though a missing marshal had meant that several of them ran off route for some extra training. All in all, it was a great course (and good solid Swissalpine training – weather included) and I would have really enjoyed it in slightly better weather…….in fact, I cannot believe I am actually thinking of taking up my prize of another free entry to the race next year!

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