After a night spent tossing and turning, unable to switch off all the thoughts and fears that were ringing round my head, it was with some dismay when I heard my alarm interrupting the melody of the birds outside my window. I’d been organised the night before and set out my clothes ready for me to fall into once I awoke at an ungodly time for a Sunday; day of rest! Ha!
I packed the car and then headed down to Coniston for the Lakeland Trails Marathon. It was already warm and both the temperature and my nerves were rising. The drive down was stunning as I wound round the winding roads of the western Lake District, passing through the picturesque villages of Grasmere and Ambleside. Despite the early start, there were already lots of people out enjoying the Lake District at its best.
I arrived at the venue, which was easy to find even for me, at 6:30am. I tried to eat the breakfast that I’d brought down with me but struggled to get much down due to nerves! Not ideal marathon preparation. I watched the start of the marathon challenge and then went to register. I spent more time loitering and using the facilities until meeting up with Sarah just after 8am.
We waited at the start and we were soon underway. My marathon challenge, the event that has kept me moving forward through the last few difficult months, was finally here!
The route followed a track up into Coniston, meeting our first serious incline as we headed into Whins Wood. Already the sun was bearing down and I knew this was going to be tough. Really tough. At mile 6, I was hit by my first stitch! It took a while to run it out and I knew then that things weren’t going to go my way. Still, Sarah kept me going and pulled me along the first half of the course.
The scenery took my breath away throughout. It’s billed as the most scenic trail marathon in Britain and it’s easy to see why. The day was perfect for gazing wistfully into the distance. Not so great for running a marathon. The terrain was ankle sprainingly difficult at times but it made you appreciate the smooth areas all the more. The marshals along the route were brilliant; full of encouragement and smiles.
It really started to hurt at mile 15. It was then that I hit my first real low and thoughts of stopping entered my mind. I wanted to just sit down and cry and wait for someone, anyone, to come and get me. I gave myself a stern talking to and told my legs to just keep moving forward. To forget about time, just enjoy the day and to get to that finish line even if I had to crawl. Through a mixture of walk / running, I kept on going. The hills were hellish, the sun was searing, but thoughts of dad, my family and everyone who supported me kept me going.
At mile 22, I reached the final feed station. There, I had two cups of lukewarm, flat cola. Never has anything tasted so good as that cola! As I went on, I could hear the finish line. I knew I was going to make it. As I entered the final mile, a lap around the field, my legs found some extra energy from somewhere, spurred on by applause and cheers from those sat by the lakeside, I couldn’t stop smiling. As I turned towards the finish, I spotted mum, my sister Jackie and two of my girls, Erin and Thea cheering me on. I felt like a champion during those last few metres; the pain, stresses and the lows of the previous hours forgotten in that instant.
This was the toughest event that I have ever done. The course was demanding but, for me, the heat was the killer. I am just hopeless once the mercury starts to rise. Despite this, I am so proud of myself that I did keep on going. The time of 6 hours 10 minutes will win no rewards, but it gives me a time to beat for next year…..!!
For the next few weeks, I’m going to focus on running for enjoyment and give my body time to recover. I’d like to thank everyone who has supported me over the last few months, donated to the Alzheimer’s Society in memory of my dad, listened to me talking about marathon training incessantly and made me believe I could do it when the doubts crept in. It is that support that kept me going on Sunday. That, and thoughts of the wonderful man whose memory I ran it in. Dad, this one was for you.