108 3:46:38 Paul Hughes course PB
130 3:53:19 Sumanth Nayak
247 4:10:22 Nina Jensen
Kielder Marathon, third time lucky? Not a chance.
I’ll keep this short(ish). I’m physically and emotionally drained and don’t think I’m up to writing an epic. This race is, I’m sure Paul will agree, the hardest thing ever. You would think that running around a lake, the course would be flat. No. With 524 meters of ascent, the hills aren’t particularly steep or long but the constant undulations, which at first don’t seem too difficult, will eventually grind you down. Both times I’ve done it, there’s a hill at twenty-two miles that switches back five or six times that’s broken me. My hamstrings have seized up and I’ve ended up run walking from there in severe pain.
I’ll get my excuses in first. Long injury, just recovered, not much time to train, blah blah blah. The truth is I felt great going into this race; probably the best I’ve felt for a marathon. The time off and fresh legs must have helped because I got back into some serious mileage straight away and while I only did a couple of moderately hilly twenty milers, they didn’t leave me feeling wrecked. But nothing can prepare me for Kielder. My aim has always been to complete it without walking. My times in 2011 and 2012 were 3:52 and 3:51. So if I could improve by a minute and run the entire way, I would be satisfied.
Paul said he would be happy with a sub-four. So when the klaxon sounds, what does he do? Go off like a rocket of course, and Nina not too far behind him. The first few miles are relatively flat and it’s easy to get pulled along with the crowd but I knew all too well the world of pain in store for me after twenty miles so I forced myself to keep it to five minute kilometers. If like me, you’re not a fan of mile (or km) markers, I should mention that there aren’t just markers for every mile but every third of a mile, marked as a, b, and c. Very demoralizing because in a long race like a marathon, I don’t like knowing how much more torture awaits me.
Because of my recently developed Lucozade addiction (you can read about it in my VLM report), I was running with a bottle of Lucozade Brazilian Guava flavor, probably the greatest drink in the world. Note, I am not getting paid for this. I just feel the need to mention the life-giving powers of this holy nectar, probably on par with flat Coke. Much nicer than the orange flavored rubbish they were giving away at the drinks stations.
I passed Nina a few miles in and caught up with Paul. From here on, we ran together the entire way. Well, almost. The constant chat with him and fellow runners really helped take my mind off the pain. He looked quite strong and I was sure he could get under 3:45. Every so often, I would tell him to push on because I was fading but he insisted on staying with me; sub-four was the only thing that mattered. At mile seventeen on the dam, the only flat bit on the course, the wind was howling and I was slowing to a crawl. I think he noticed I had gone quiet the last few miles so he picked up the chatter and I perked up a bit. Our conversation kept coming back to “that hill” and how if we could run to the top, our odds of being able to the run the entire way to the finish being quite good.
When we got there, my right hamstring was burning and I thought a walk break on the switchback would probably do me good but my stubbornness got the better of me and with Paul’s constant encouragement, we slowly (and I mean slowly) got to the top without stopping. The exhilaration of finally conquering that thing gave me a real boost and the thought of finishing under 3:45 was suddenly real. But there were more hills to come and every incline was eating away at my hamstring. Yet again, more pleas for Paul to push on but he wouldn’t have it. I have to apologize to him for the constant swearing, burps (too much Lucozade) and groaning at every hill.
Then at 40 kilometers, without warning, both hamstrings seized up and I came to an abrupt stop. I stood there for a minute or two, unable to move. After assuring Paul I would stretch for a bit and just walk to the finish, he was on his way. A bit of stretching and I got running immediately. My watch showed 3:37 so that left me thirteen minutes to run just over two kilometers and finish in 3:50. Doable but at every incline, the hamstrings flared up and I had to stop to stretch. With 400m to go, 3:51 ticked over. I wasn’t going to be quicker than in 2012. More walking and at 200m to go, a couple of Tyne Bridge Harriers shouted their support. The finish was right around the corner and I didn’t want to walk in front of the crowds so a final push and I made it across the line in 3:53.
I’m annoyed I was slower than the previous couple of times I did this but I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Paul for staying with me the whole time and keeping me going, especially up that damn hill. I think he could have easily finished under 3:40. I’m extremely pleased I got to 40k without walking and hopefully next time I can get round the entire way. Oh yes, there will be a next time. I think I speak for everyone who’s done this when I say there’s something about the course that draws you back again and again…
*Please excuse the mix of imperial and metric units. I work in kilometers but race markers are in miles.