The potential for disaster was high. The day of the Lakeland Trails Marathon dawned hot and still; I’d had five hours sleep; my preparation over the previous months had been haphazard and ill-disciplined. Then I decided to run without any additonal food or water, therefore relying on the four water stations en route. It was a dangerous tactic, particularly as stations two and three were separated by 12 arduous kilometres.
Yet, sometimes – alas, all too rarely – things come together. Despite being surprised by the quantity of ascent and descent in the first 10km, I knew I was running strongly. I motored around Tarn Hows, overtaking occasionally, before beginning an uphill stretch on which I felt unusually (but wonderfully) comfortable. A long stint of fairly level running followed. I was flying. The racing was effortless. I chatted away to two other runners as we kept pace with one another, before I gradually pulled away from them. Coniston Water sparkled. The view to the south opened up before us, revealing a distant coastline.
So mesmerised by the motion of running and the world around me, I’d hardly noticed the kilometre markers go by until I clocked the 30km marker, shortly before we waded the river that flows from Coniston Water. By this time during London I was fading badly, desperately craving the end of my suffering. I was hating every step, every moment. I was a different runner today. The ascent to Beacon Tarn was hot and slow, but not as hot and slow as I’d expect such a climb to be after running for 18 miles.
The last few kilometeres are invariably the toughest of a marathon – the end is close, yes, but the body is tired and weak, and legs begin to cramp. Our last 7km were punishing. The dotted line of the Cumbria Way that runs alongs the western bank of Coniston Water looked benign on the map; in the flesh it was a cruel combination of undulations, exposed tree roots and uneven boulders.
I kept on, passing streams of walkers who had begun the same marathon course two hours earlier, until the finish came into view. The run had been of such perfection it seemed a shame to stop. I crossed the line in 7th place, clocking 3 hours, 15 minutes, 39 seconds – not bad for a course that climbed about 750 metres in all. The guy that handed me a medal told me to ‘wear it with pride’. I’ll bung it under my bed with the rest of my medals, but I’ll always remember this rare race – the race that everything went right. And I didn’t even need the Kendal Mint Cake.