Kielder Marathon in N.E. England, 17/10/10

Matt Chase from Newcastle reports on his adventure in a remote area of Northumbria!

Kielder Marathon 2010 – Britain’s most beautiful

Sunday 17 October 2010
The inaugural ‘Kielder Marathon’, my first marathon, my second ‘race’ – and first race in VR shirt.
As I awoke to find the car needed scraping as the temperature had crashed overnight to -4, I was beginning to question my sanity, not to mention my planned race-wear. I tend to travel over- rather than under-packed, so I pulled a few more options from my bag, put them all on, and off I went. The mist froze onto the windscreen again after ~400 yards, not boding well for someone who had done the vast majority of their miles over the summer.
The race itself was pretty well organised – one or two minor glitches as expected from a first event – the single-track lane trying to get athletes into the car park, and buses full out again (or vice versa) being the most obvious, and delaying the race start by 15 minutes. Unfortunately, that meant 15 more minutes standing in the cold if you had already arrived, or queuing for ages once finished.
The race started with an uphill, to the massed groans of the participants, but we quickly crossed the finish line – unfortunately with another 25+ miles to go. The track was great underfoot, with nothing worrying save getting too close to the ditches at the sides. The scenery was stunning, autumnal leaves,glassy lake, clear skies, abundant wildlife, as befits an event billing itself as Britain’s most beautiful, although I’m sure races in other areas contest the claim. The ‘gently undulating’ course, however, was something else. All of the pre-race info suggested a couple of places where ‘tactical walking’ might be sensible. My walk around the course 6 weeks previously suggested that there might be a few more of these. The course markers just kept repeating ‘steep incline’, ‘steep decline’, over and over. I kept with my plan of avoiding ‘tactical walking’ for the first 9 or so miles, but eventually conceded, losing a little in time, but ensuring I finished. At about this point I also decided I had got about warm enough to take off my long-sleeved top, and just run in my vest – idiot.
As mentioned before, I had walked the course six weeks earlier, and had identified the ‘worst’ hills as being in the middle third of the race. My brain clearly hooked onto this, and spent the majority of the middle third telling me to stop, get in the nice warm bus and go home. But I carried on, and got to the dam – the first proper flat part of the route – and the transition to the final third of the race. This clearly also gave me the boost I needed, as I picked up my pace again, with no further thought of dropping out. Running up a pathway I suddenly heard my name called, along with some encouraging words, and found an ex-colleague of mine – a rather unexpected, but welcome lift here (thanks Juliette). The march to the finish line was getting colder, and the skies were grey, so the top went back on again for the last few miles.
I crossed the finish line in 5:06:28 (according to my watch), 5:08:46 (according to my chip), or 5:11:37 on the clock. I don’t really care – I crossed the finish line.
There was a fair number of supporters cheering us on – not easy in the cold, and with access, particularly to the North shore, limited. The course was easy to identify, with good clear markings where there could have been any doubt. There were ample water stations, odd loos along the way, first aid areas, and some chemical looking blue liquid (and occasionally orange – Powerade) which I stayed well away from, and which appeared to stay mainly in the bottles strewn over the edges of the track. There was a strong team clearing up discarded bottles even as the event continued, and thanks must go to these brave folks standing for hours thrusting open bottles into thankful hands, only to collect them all minutes later, half drunk.
The T-shirt was commemorative rather than a running shirt, and I have made the most of this by wearing it to everything I have done this week – I earned it. One of the oddest questions I have been asked was someone who had read my T-shirt – it reads ‘KIELDER MARATHON Britain’s most beautiful 2010‘ (colours as per T-shirt), asked if I had run round the lake, to which I agreed I had, asked how far it was, ‘26.2 miles’, to which he replied ‘0h, a marathon’ – the only way he could have thought I’d run it at all was by reading the word ‘marathon‘ in the first place!
Would I do it again – yes, but with a lot more hill training, a lot more cold weather training, and a few more clothes – I didn’t warm up much, despite running (most of) 26.2 miles, until I got in a much needed bath in the evening!
I’m looking forward to my next event, I just haven’t decided what it will be yet (parkruns not withstanding).