May 2017 – Asics Brathay Hall Windermere Marathon
Marathon day had arrived.I woke early, opened the curtains of the room at the Ambleside Youth Hostel and looked out. RAIN!!! And plenty of low hanging cloud bringing visibility right down. From our room the view across the lake wasn't quite displaying the weather I had in mind. But too late now, I was here, already registered (the night before) and determined. I had travelled up the day before with my good friend, training buddy and member of the Poplars Running Club, Jorge Bonet, who had kindly agreed to accompany me on this run. He can do marathons in sub 3:30 so this was all in a day's work for him. Plus I feel I should mention he is 27, some 13 years younger than yours truly and he's been running forever. In my case it's a fairly recent phenomenon. But I digress.....
I'd been training for this for months now, several "hilly" 20 mile runs under my belt, even a full marathon in training (which apparently is a no no, according to my much more experienced and accomplished running friends) so I felt I had done as much as I could. Anyone following me on Strava will know I put the miles in. But nothing can ease that feeling of self-doubt for the challenge you are about to take.Yes, sure enough I had done the distance in training, but that was along the canal tow path from Barrow to Kegworth and back, and was as flat as a pancake, bar the run from the top of Barrow down the hill (and back at the end).This was Windermere, the heart of the Lake District, forget flat, the website says 430 metres of climbing (it's more). Would I crumble at the 20 mile mark, would the hills simply be too much? To say I was nervous was an understatement. I look at the home made banner my 5 year old daughter made me, my wife and daughters couldn't be there on this one but their spirit was, "Go Daddy – you can do it." Can I........ ?
Still, I was up, showered and headed down to the kitchen to get some porridge, the staple breakfast I had become used too with the training regime. Jorge was sorting himself out and it seemed to blur past. A brief conversation revealed other YHA guests who were also doing the run. One or two had done it before and targets were discussed. Mine was the simple aim of under 4 hours. The look on the faces of those who had done this before, linked with a sense of "you picked this as your first marathon, why?" didn't do much to ease the nervous tension I was carrying. But I guess I'm not one for half measures.
Jorge and I finished up, went back to the room, set ourselves up for the run and headed off. Brathay hall is about 10 minutes drive, if that, from the Ambleside YHA. On arrival it was well organised with plenty of people assisting in where to park. Etc. We sat in the car for 15 minutes and watched the rain come down.It was 9:30am, the race started in an hour! Were we going to be soaked before we even started?
After some deliberation, we decided to head up to the finish line & registration area where the field was gathering. There was a good atmosphere despite the weather doing its best to dampen spirits, even a band was there to get everyone fired up for the off. We found a marquee to keep us shielded from the elements temporarily and keep warm. Several visits to the facilities later and Jorge and I found ourselves with about 10 minutes to go before we were all due to start. The nerves were still there as we chatted politely with a few people we had spoken with back at the hostel. But as I looked out a pang of hope strengthened as we realised it had stopped raining and the cloud was lifting.
With new found enthusiasm we all mustered to be led to the start line at the bottom of the main drag up to the hall by the band drumming furiously as we went. We lined up, made a last couple of nervous adjustments, the band stopped and the gun went. We were off! The band fired up again instantly cheering us on the way.
My Mum and Dad had come to support us and were standing about 50 metres down from the start on the right hand side. A quick photo and we were round the corner straight on to the first hill! Jorge "helped" by then telling me it was the toughest start to a marathon he had ever experienced. We cracked on.The sound of the drums faded and we started to settle in for the long haul.
Immediately I was aware of my pacing, my head was screaming slow down, you're over doing it. But the legs weren't listening, hill after hill, quick on the downs pushing on the ups. All the time I was trying to rein it in and save energy for later. Lord knows I'd need it!!
I jogged on, happy that I was settling in, but frustrated at the difficulty I was experiencing in trying to control my pace. Hawkshead came and went, locals were out in the streets cheering us on, hikers and ramblers taking a moment to acknowledge us also as the torrent of runners poured through the little town. We pushed on passed 7 miles and ran on to one of the two most pronounced hills visible on the run profile! I had done several hills by now, but this one was much more noticeable, we were in beautiful woodlands near to Esthwaite Water which was gradually being left behind us, I rounded a corner and saw the road rise steeply in front of me! This was the first real test of stamina, the road went up and carried on. I pushed, feeling the burn in my legs, round a bend, left, right a little time to recover then up again, another bend or two until finally petering out at the top to start a gradual descent. My legs were still surprisingly fresh and I had passed several runners on the way up the hill by not giving in to the all too easy walking when it gets tough approach! My target was 4 hours and I was going to do it! Simple as that.
Nerves were subsiding now as we descended again to probably the flattest part of the course running down towards Lakeside and the Aquarium. Windermere itself came clear in to view at various points and the true majesty of the surroundings helped to raise my head and urge me on until eventually getting to the crossover point at Newby Bridge. From there you head back up towards Bowness. We hit Newby Bridge and again supporters lined the roads, not London Marathon style, but enough to make some noise and pick you up. The 13 mile mark is shortly after Newby and as I Iooked down at my Suunto I realised I was on track for a first half time of around 1hr 52 mins. Too quick! Was I going to realise my fears and burn out by 20 miles.
"Go on Neil," cheers from the side of the road as we pass the edge of Fell Foot Park, my Mum & Dad had pushed down to the bottom end of the lake to cheer me on. Other supporters join in the shout, Jorge and I are lifted again, waving and playing to the small crowd. It's short lived and we plod on, but it's a welcome little boost all the same. We quickly realise that the road is heading up again and we gain height to look down on Windermere. The next mile few miles are fairly steady, but the tiredness is creeping in to the legs. I'm gradually passing runners who passed me in the early part of the race. Mind games again, have they got their strategy wrong, should I be slowing down. A look at the watch tells me that by now I'm averaging 5mins 30s per Km and am still ahead of target, perhaps going a bit too quick. We press on into Bowness and the small crowds of tourists and supporters give us a cheer. It's a brief respite and the Suunto briefly shows a spurt of pace as we pass the waterfront and the hire boats, but the legs are burning and I'm heading for another hill. We hit 21 miles and the legs are heavy, Jorge starts to edge away, his legs are heavy too, he wants this done. I can't fault him, we hit the 22 mile mark and he pushes on.I'm tired but determined, my time is dropping off some but I'm still on target, not helped by the more hilly nature of the second half of the marathon. I press on passing ice cream vans and people giving out free sweets.I'm at 23 miles, it's within my grasp and I'm determined I will keep running. I start looking for the 24 mile mark, aware I've missed some markers earlier as they were on the other side of the road, I'm scanning. Have I missed it, where is it, I must have passed it or is someone covering it up? It seems like an age and the legs are heavier, my shoulders are hurting now, holding my arms up and pumping them for 24 miles is taking its toll.
Finally it appears, 2 miles to go. I 'm running into Ambleside, I know I'm going to pass the Youth Hostel shortly as I reach the Waterhead, and that a warm shower is on offer. But no, I've a job to do. Left turn at the traffic lights and down I go, Youth Hostel left behind. My legs are burning more than ever now and I know that once I cross the footbridge the last part of the run is uphill. There's a photographer on the bridge as I come across. I'm trying to smile "is that a smile or a grimace mate?"the photographer jokingly asks, I'm tired and my brain has no witty riposte. But I'm tuned in 1.2 miles left. I follow the winding road side up to the junction for Brathay. There's a descent down just before the junction and once again my Mum & Dad are there cheering me on. This time the other dozen or so supporters they are standing with join in and all I can here is my name. I'm completely choked, I wave and push past. The 26 mile marker is there and so is the hill to the finish. My head kicks in "I am not walking one bloody step of this!!" Keep running, passing people on the final ascent. I hit the peak, it's 50 metres to go. I can see Windermere beyond the finish line, there's a carpeted run in and supporters are all along the sides. I hear the announcer shout my name and I look at my watch. I'm on track. The Suunto says 3hrs 57mins 4s as I stop it dead on the line. The medal goes around my neck and I'm elated grabbing bottles of water like they are going out of fashion.
Jorge is waiting just beyond the finish, he's done it in 3hrs 51, slow for him but he's happy it's done. Massive hugs all round as my Mum & Dad appear, I'm a happy boy with proud parents. I might be 40, but you can never feel better than when you see that look of pride on your parents faces. They are stars and Jorge and I are in their debt for their fantastic support. What's more they took us out for dinner that night too.
I will never forget this marathon. Yes it's tough and I can see why people would shy away from it as a first one, but if you are going to challenge yourself.......
Well then you really ought to go for it. What an experience.
(My official race Chip Time was 3hrs 57mins 1s)
A fantastic run from Neil, and thank you for sharing with this race report. If others would like to share a race with the club please send to email@example.com (ideally with a photo) and we'll get it online.