Monday, January 16, 2012

Brathay Windermere Marathon 2011

Unfinished business?  I had already done a marathon.  I was aiming for a sub four hour finish and just missed it at Edinburgh 2010.  The elation of finishing my first marathon faded eventually but not before succumbing to the temptation of signing up for another marathon in quick succession.  On reflection, this was ok as a plan but my laissez-faire attitude to training was my undoing.  In fact, the Birdathlon, a self-concocted event which was the original reason for starting this blog, and the purpose of which I convinced myself was to celebrate my 38th birthday, was also a plan to catch up quickly on some training.  Having pulled out of the 2010 Lochness Marathon and trying, and failing, to persuade myself that a slow 10k was an acceptable substitute, I nursed my IT band for the rest of the year before eventually, probably with new year zeal, deciding that I wanted to do another marathon.

Following the usual rejection from the London Marathon, looking around for something that met my criteria (interesting course, no out and back, no double laps, not too far away, levelish) proved fruitless.  All the major marathons sell out a long time in advance and I'm not interested in charity running mainly, but not only, because I don't think it's fair to ask people to sponsor you every time you run.  I was also concious that Edinburgh is an easy course in terms of elevation, where I had failed to run below four hours.

The solution was easy.  The Brathay Windermere Marathon, it met (nearly) all the criteria.  It certainly wasn't too far away, it's about 40 minutes drive to Ambelside from home.  The course is one lap of Lake Windermere, couldn't get much more interesting or beautiful than that.  I was obviously in a positive frame of mind because my rationalisation in terms of the elevation was that, if I cant break four hours on an easy course, doing so on a difficult course would really address my sense of satisfaction.  I have to admit that, in the back of my mind, was the thought that I could use this as an excuse if things didn't come together.


1. Run all the way around.
2. sub 4

I had used the Runner's World Garmin Ready training plan for my previous marathon training but this time, I decided that I would actually follow it!  You see, for the last marathon, I had just kept at my steady 8.30 per mile and would get the distance in, regardless of what the programme actually said: long slow 15 miles? 8.30 pace, speed intervals with an overall distance of 5 miles - 8.30 pace.  This time around was different; if my plan said to run 11 miles at 9 minutes per mile, that's what I did.  As the long run mileage built up, I soon learnt some psychological techniques of the out and back run.  I found that, if I had say 10 miles to run, the difficult part was putting the first 5 miles in, to the turn around point, but then the 5 miles coming back home were much easier.  When I was running out and got to a mile, in my head I was thinking that it was 2 miles by the time I got back home.  I also tried some different ideas for nutrition.  I quickly found out that gels weren't really my thing and settled on a mixture of sports drink and love hearts (I think that this may be an area I can still make gains in).

All in all, my training went well, I didn't get injured and I got pretty much every run in.  I resisted running most other races but did succumb to the Great Langdale St George's Day 10k, I actually held back a little bit at the end but still managed to get a really good pb time (I think my plan said something like 5miles goal pace).

Heading for race day.  A few concerns about the weather the night before:

Still, got to Brathay Hall with plenty of time, well managed traffic and parking 2 minutes from the start/finish.  Well done Brathay!  Still feeling quite calm at this point, we had been the day before to register and pick up number etc.  Used the toilet (no queue!).  Then waited while a hailstorm caused me a slight concern.

All the runners were told to gather on the lawn and then were lead down to the start by Boom Dang, a great drumming band that really set the atmosphere, it felt like they were leading us into battle!

Not much hanging around and we were off! Slow, Slow, Slow, keep it slow.  I had driven around the course the week before and knew that there was a tough hill at about mile 7.  My revised plan (not sure why I had to revise a plan that I had vowed to stick to) was to stick to 9 minutes per mile but try to keep the effort levels the same up and down hills - so I would go slower up the hills and faster down them.

So, first seven miles were, err, too fast - doh!

You really can't put time in the bank in a marathon.  I'm still trying to learn that going faster than your planned pace is as much of a mistake as going slower.

Here's the elevation for the first seven miles, you can see the hill at the end of this section.

Which, as per the revised plan, I took my time going up:

I was feeling great at this point, which is part of the reason why I was going too fast and, in turn, going too fast made me feel great because I, wrongly, thought that it was good that I was ahead of schedule.

passing through Hawkshead, trying to look calm and in-control

I like that all the people around me look like serious runners.  You can spot serious runners by the way they under dress rather than over dress for races as well as by the length of their shorts.  The really serious runners wear vests.

please note the knee length shorts and jacket

being chased?  Still look like serious runners?  Take care not to be photographed with either a runner in fancy dress or someone 30 years older than you when running a marathon, especially if you are looking tired or crossing the finish line.

absolutely beautiful (the scenery)

Getting to Newby Bridge which, athough under in mileage, feels like the halfway point as it is at the bottom of the lake.  Lots of great support here (there's a few pubs) and I ran past a 10 in 10er, very inspirational.  Still feeling good but the hills between here and mile 18 took it out of me.  Around mile 18, the start of a long climb known as Ice-cream Mountain because there is an ice-cream van at the top, my shoulders started to ache (old injuries) the slog up the hill to mile 20 really used up a lot of energy and I was grateful for the marshal at the corner who told me that it was all down hill from there.

So here we are, mile 20 of the marathon.  6 to go.  I can run 6 miles, that's less than a 10k.  I was feeling tired now and made a calculation that I could slow down and still come in under 4 hours.  So this is what I did.  The last six miles were a slog:

this guy wasn't too happy that I overtook him, right by the photographer as well!

"eat my dust!"

The last few miles, I was doing so many sums in my head.  By the last mile I worked out that I had about 13 minutes to come in under the magic four hours.  I knew I could do that!  Climbing up the drive to Brathay Hall and turning the corner to the finishing line, I though, "There's a lot of people here!" and then, "remember to look like it's easy"

still running!

"don't trip over now!"

"no sweat" (well, quite a lot of sweat actually)

Crossing the line and realising that I could actually stop running took a few seconds to sink in.  Here's the stats:

My wife and daughter were there to give me a big hug.  What a great experience (the marathon I mean, although hugs are good).  I had come in under four hours on what is widely acknowledged as one of the toughest road marathon courses.  The organisation was brilliant.  Well done Brathay.  We stuck around to see some other people finishing and then headed home.

I proceeded to bore everyone on facebook and at work with my achievement.  I would really recommend this marathon.  It is a tough course but the scenery is beautiful and considering it is in the middle of the lake district, the organisers do a brilliant job of getting everyone in and out without long delays.  I had learnt a lot from this marathon.  My run was by no means perfect but there is plenty of time and plenty of other marathons to hone this skill on.

Right, off to look for another marathon to enter!


  1. As fellow Steve said above; excellent write up.

    I was there last year myself and this brought back great memories.