Report by Sumanth Nayak
Kielder marathon, round 2. Rumble in the…..lake? This was my first attempt at the marathon distance last year and it completely broke me. I hadn’t done any hill sessions whatsoever, set off like a rocket, broke down after 17 miles, walked most of the hills thereafter and finished a right mess. Thankfully, I wasn’t demoralized to the point of giving up marathon running. This time, as for the Coniston marathon, I used our favourite Monday night route Denton Bank for hill training and did that countless times in the weeks leading up to the race.
Thankfully, the weather on the day, unlike last year when it was pouring down and blowing a gale, was absolutely perfect. Clear blue skies and bright sunshine meant I could actually enjoy “Britain’s Most Beautiful” as the race is billed. Paul Hughes, another veteran of Kielder, gave me a lift there and we met up with Adrian Conlin, Tim Pigott and Mungai Wairia.
I set myself an ambitious target of 3:30 (8min/mile) feeling the training had me well prepared for the brutal hills. Again, I set off a bit too fast, averaging 7:30 for the first 5 miles. I probably got carried away with everyone flying past me. I thought it would help to get a good lead on my target time before the real hills started at around 9 miles. The sun was out, I had some absolutely spellbinding views of the lake and was feeling great. Last year, I first had to walk at mile 13 but this time, at the same point, I just carried on, taking the inclines at a good pace. I was getting passed by a lot of people but I resisted the urge to speed up, knowing the pain to come after the dam.
At mile 17, we ran onto the dam, the only flat bit on the course. Thankfully this time, there was no wind and the going was pretty easy. A huge crowd was gathered here and the shouts of support were really encouraging. Shortly afterwards, on a rather tough incline, a woman told me that I was only metres from the top and it was all downhill from there. Lies! Now, a little encouragement is surely a good thing, but giving a false sense of hope with another 7 miles of pure horror to come is just plain wrong!
The south shore of Kielder, known as the Bull Crag Peninsula is quite possibly the worst bit of the course. The hills from miles 20-24 are steep, long, and undulate relentlessly. I was going well until this point, even passing loads of people who had flown past me much earlier, feeling smug because I had paced myself well while they were all slowing down. Unfortunately, this is where the wheels came right off. At mile 22, there was a series of 5 or 6 nasty switchbacks and just as I was approaching the summit, my legs just gave out and I had to walk for the first time. Mental strength can only go so far, when your body gives up, there’s just nothing you can do. From here on, it was a case of running a bit, walking a bit and the last four miles were pure torture.
My hamstrings were seizing up and with 800 metres to go I was constantly run/walking. I saw on my watch I had another two minutes to beat last years’ time. With 200 metres left and the finish line and crowd right around the corner, I gave it one last big effort and ran across the finish with a huge fake, beaming smile as my name was announced on the PA in a time of 3:51, a minute quicker than last year. I got a printout of my unofficial result straight after, I finished 199th!
In the marquee, I picked up my finishers’ t-shirt, medal and Start Fitness goody bag and made my way to the huge spread of homemade scones, cake, flapjacks, and other assorted goodness a body needs after 26.2 miles of grueling punishment.
I’m disappointed not so much at finishing outside my target time but at the fact that I had to walk so much again in the final few miles. I’m determined to someday finish the course without walking.
Britain’s Most Beautiful? More like Britain’s Most Torturous.