On Saturday night I filled up my Vango hydration compatible backpack and jogged up and down on the spot inside our family room at the Ambleside Youth Hostel.
Inside a few minutes, my back was soaked – the water bladder had a leak. Improvising, I removed the defective bladder and inserted a good old-fashioned bottle of water in its place. I’d have to remove the rucksac every time I wanted a drink, but hey, it wasn’t going to be a PB marathon anyway.
On Sunday morning I threw open the curtains and gazed across the lake. It was raining with conviction, and the weather forecast said we could expect it to stay that way for the duration of the trail marathon. Good. This was my kind of running weather – wet, with a light breeze. Perfect for cooling my body and easing the strain from my ever-tightening muscles.
I rushed down some breakfast and drove the 20 minutes from Ambleside to Coniston, accompanied by my wife, son, and a large blue foam roller. With a half hour to spare before the race start I worked my calf muscles and IT bands as best I could on the roller.
Recently, I had been getting into real trouble just 2 miles into a run with incredibly tight calf muscles, and again at around 17 or 18 miles with some serious foot pain and cramping calfs. The roller hurts, but it helps.
So my plan was to go very easy at the start, take it slow, keep it light, and stretch my legs at each food station on the course.
The race start involved a full loop of the football field on soft grass, which was a perfect introduction for my muscles. As a result, when we did hit tarmac a short while later, my legs were relaxed enough to absorb it without any protest.
As with the 2011 race, I was amazed at the number of people walking it out on the inclines at the start, and despite telling myself I’d go easy, I found myself running at a 9min 28sec mile pace and passing quite a few people.
At the 10k marker, I found I was keeping pace with a running buddy from work. James is a leaner and faster runner than I am, and I know he can put in a 3hr 30 minute marathon, so running alongside him was starting to worry me! The first 6 miles had been mostly uphill, and I had covered them in 56 minutes.
I reminded myself to keep it light, and I tried to relax on the inclines, easing my pace whenever the ground leveled off. But I couldn’t stop myself speeding up on the downhill sections – they were just too tempting. I raced down them leaping from boulder to embankment and ploughing through water features with Spaniel-like reckless abandon.
I knew I would pay for though, and, after the feed station at 18k, I did. I felt my pace start to fall away as the weight of fatigue began to bear down on my legs.
From the 18k feed station the route profile is a trudge up a minor incline for 6k, followed by a sharp and messy 5k descent on shifting shale, with a further wee stretch on tarmac before you reach the 30k feed station.
I dislike long minor inclines – they repeatedly hammer the same muscles; and while I love technical descents, running downhill for prolonged periods tends to bother my knees. You could say that the 18-30k stretch wasn’t going to be my favourite bit of the race! So I held it back on the shale and whenever I felt my knees grinding, I slowed down and chose easier footsteps.
But, by the time I hit the road I was in bad shape. My IT bands were pulling and I could hardly get over the stile that led us into the next field. Ten minutes of enforced running brought me to the 30k feed station.
I stopped. I couldn’t run any more. My calfs were cramping.
Refueling with some Kendal mint cake washed down with some water, I took onboard a few Ibuprofen tablets for good measure. Not giving in! I set myself the target of making it to the next water station.
For about 1 kilometre, all I could do was walk. And then I tried walk/jogging and generally not giving in. After a half an hour of still not giving in, my legs came back to me and I hit the next feed station running!
I had got to the 36.7k station in just shy of 4 hours. I was likely to walk/run the last 5.5 kilometres in 40 minutes or so. That would give me a similar time to last year’s trail marathon.
I did a quick assessment of myself as I downed the last of my sports drink mix…
Feet – burning pain beginning to melt away. Lungs – bring it. Calf muscles – full power, Captain. Quads – engines revving. I felt a tingling going through my body. I was in the zone.
Maybe it was just a sugar rush, but it came at just the right time. I pulled my headphones on, set the volume to ridiculous & closed my eyes.
All the training, all the hills, all the effort. Put it in now!
I was moving forward before I had opened my eyes. I wasn’t running now, I was sprinting. Full speed, full stride, full on. And this was technical terrain.
I was passing runners as if they were frozen in time. This surge couldn’t last, so I slowed and paced myself behind a pair of runners, only for them to move off the trail and wave me on.
The trail underfoot was a rollercoaster of dips and steep crags, but I felt none of it – just my feet touching boulders and the air in between them. I was running 8 minute miles, and I felt brilliant.
By the time I crossed the finish line, I had covered the last 7 kilometres (4.35 miles) in under 35 minutes to bring me a time of 4.33.07 ( beating last year’s time of 4.42.42).
I don’t where that burst of energy came from, but it made the day for me – I don’t think I’ve ever felt more alive.
Now then, what’s next on the running calendar…
- Avoiding an Injury When Training for a Marathon (massageenvy.com)