Thursday, 21 July 2011

Coniston Marathon

The Coniston Marathon entered my race diary as a way to ensure I didn't sacrifice my endurance as I try to improve my speed-endurance.  With a long, but not unduly arduous race in the offing, I had to keep at least half an eye on training time in spite of the shorter races dotted through the Summer.  So, having found a new marathon in a new, scenic location, I duly signed up and talked Nic into doing the 10mi race.

One of the nice things about a Sunday race is that you can drive out on the Saturday.  The 3-day weekends I'd been taking for the 7x Challenge were great, but they use up a lot of holiday allowance!  We took our time getting up to Coniston, enjoying the scenery once we'd escaped the M6.  We pitched our tent in the official campsite, and headed for registration.  The site wasn't the most peaceful, but we at least had a deal which meant the tent didn't have to come down until after the race - a real bonus!

Saturday had been quite warm, but the night was rather chilly.  We're going to have to invest in better sleeping bags if we don't want to be in our thermals during the British Summer!  Sunday morning was sunny and cool.  But, it was set to get relatively toasty in the afternoon.  I faced the difficult question of "to hat, or not to hat?"  The benefit of a hat is it keeps the sun off my head (especially where the hair has unkindly decided to stop offering protection).  The drawback is that I find hats add warmth on a hot day.  With plenty more hot running and hiking planned for my trip to Georgia the next week, I opted to experiment with a hatless run.

Nic enjoys the sunshine.

Warm & sunny, but why's the hat back in the tent?

The race eased its way out of Coniston and fairly quickly entered some narrow woodland trails.  I'd opted to start about 2/3 of the way back, to ease into the run.  I was warmed up, but didn't want to leave too much energy on the first 5k, knowing that the real uphill section started about four miles in.  For this early section, I was very happy with my hat choice - I'd have been wearing it backwards through he woods anyway to give maximum visibility, so it would have offered no benefit.

With the first few miles out of the way, I decided I was feeling good and would push on just a touch faster than an "I can do this all day" pace.  Another experiment for the day was to go without my HRM.  I managed to power my way up almost all of the inclines without walking and sped down the drops as normal. The trails and fire roads were in good condition, so I managed a steady 8 minute mile pace on the flattish sections.  There were also plenty of good views to be had along the way to keep things interesting.

One of many nice views along the early miles

By half way, I was in good spirits and feeling fairly strong - if somewhat perplexed by the course markings.  My Garmin was running about a mile behind, so either the course was short or we would have some very long breaks between markers later on.

Blue skies & green grass - wonderful surroundings for a day out.

The accidental result of fighting with the camera, but pretty cool anyway!

The course crested out at around 14 miles with some great views over Coniston Water.  We then began the long and reasonably technical descent towards mile 18 and the final climb of the day.  By now, the sun was beating down onto my shiny pate and I was thinking that the hat might have been a good bet.  I briefly considered using the buff in my emergency kit, but decided would be too warm and probably too itchy.  So, I put it out of my head and kept plowing down the tricky little rocky paths.

Fabulous view of Coniston Water.

That's how we get to earn the great views!

I'm certain that many found these trails to be pretty unpleasant, but I really enjoyed the mental challenge of finding a good line.  The reward was to quickly reach the bottom and ford a river due to a downed bridge.  The water was a bit more than knee deep (so the camera stayed in its dry pouch!), was clear, cold, and wonderful. I cupped water up onto my chest to help cool off and proceeded to smile my way to the penultimate water station.

The final climb of the day took us into a more "fell-running" style of path.  The fire roads disappeared as we headed away from the river.  By the time we peaked, I knew that my strategy of pushing to 20 and then picking up the pace down the long hill to build up for the flat final few miles was going to fail. There was no real trail now, just less boggy bits in between more boggy bits.  The more solid footing had a variety of large loose stones to add to the fun.  With fatigue increasing, heat and sun taking their toll, and no fast descent to put me back on track, I basically just tried to survive this section and hope I could get it back together for the flat finish.

Tempting to stop for a swim, but I decided to plod on.

The final water stop arrived, signalling a return to more straight-forward footing. I checked my pack and determined that I had enough water to continue (mistake!).  So, I took a couple of cups of energy drink and didn't re-fill my bladder.  I ran out of water about a mile later, with the heat continuing to grow (oh, to have worn a hat!).  I ran well for a while, but finally tripped over enough tree roots to decide to ease off rather than risk a nasty fall.  A combination of jogging and walking got me back to our campsite (nice of the organizers to route through it!), where I found a tap and enjoyed a cool drink before continuing on for the final mile.

The approach to the line was again on nice tracks.  Combined with my unofficial waterstop and the good footing, I was able to get back up to a fast plod to cross the line.  The announcer was doing a great job of mentioning everyone's name as they approached.  I heard him talk about another runner far too soon after my "shout out", so I put in a last burst for the line to avoid being overtaken.

Once finished, I was finished.  Nic led me to the picnic blanket she'd laid out while she's waited, and I duly flopped onto it while she got me some water.  finally I remembered my buff, soaked it in water and put it on my head.  that and a light fresh top to keep the sun off helped me cool down enough to enjoy the undoubted highlight of the event:  the most delicious falafel pita I've ever eaten.  The race had been marked short, probably by the amount caused by the last-minute bridge closure by the local council.  But, even with that factored in, I managed to have a wretched last 10k due to some poor heat management decisions and still come out with a new trail marathon best time.  Another day, another challenging marathon, another great way to spend a day out!

(Pictures now added 31-July-2011)