Last Sunday was my third Windermere Marathon.
It's a tough but beautiful course. Undulating is probably an under statement. The 26.2 mile course starts at Brathay Hall and goes one lap around Lake Windermere.
It remains my favourite Marathon. It is extrmely family friendly. There's plenty of food, drink and family activities including a high ropes course, a zip wire, canoeing and even archery! My husband, girls and dogs all came along to enjoy the day.
We made the decision to drive over on the morning rather than stopping over, which was probably a mistake. It was a 2.5 hour drive. I drove on the way and spent most of the journey playing chicken with fearless baby rabbits!
Sadly, when we arrived, the heavens opened and it tipped it down! Lots of soggy feet before the race even started. My family took shelter in the car for a bit, trying to dry out.
My dad and Sandra were there and had been in Ambleside over the weekend supporting the 10 in 10 runners during their final days of running! There were plenty of my running family there and it was great to have a quick natter with everyone before the race.
The rain finally stopped just before the start of the race! I had wished for sunshine - how I regretted this wish by the end of the race!
There is always a great atmosphere at the start of Windermere. A fab drumming band gathers at the finish and walks the runners down to the start of the race. Sadly I didn't take my phone with me on this run so there are no pics of the route.
The race is started dramatically by a dapper chap firing a shot gun! One shot and the race was off. Now this was my first road race in a while and so with the atmosphere, crowd support and speedy runners, I set off a tad too fast! I knew this after about a mile in. Rather than slow down, I kept up the pace. After a couple of miles I spotted my dad up ahead. He was having knee trouble and stopped and waited for me. From then on my dad was my pacer!
He didn't slow the pace - well for him it was slow, for me it was speedy. The course is as expected, hilly and scenic - simply up, down, up, down for 26.2 miles. You hit Hawkeshead at about 4 miles where crowds cheer you on but after that the roads are fairly quiet. The first nasty hill is at mile 7. I tried to run it but made it about halfway before walking. There is usually a bag piper at this point but he was not there on Sunday (luckily for me as this is one of the worst sounds in the world!) My dad was stood waiting at the top - completely puts me to shame by making it all look so easy!
My dad was running in his 100 Marathon Club vest and attracted quite a bit of attention! At one point he was surrounded by a whole group of runners all asking questions! One even wanted a photo but no one had a phone!
You would never have know my dad was running with a dodgy knee, given his fast pacing. I suggested several times that he leave me behind but he offered to run half way with me then see how he feels. At about half way, you go through Newby Bridge before turning back and heading back towards Ambleside. This is the only bit of the course that I don't really like. Yes, it's flat but it's also exposed, there's absolutely no shelter from the sun.
Despite it being flat, I slowed my pace and the sun and heat sapped my energy. As we head up towards the next water station (about mile 14) my pace increases and I am grateful to be in the shadow of the trees once again. I finally catch up with my dad who bids me farewell and runs on his way and he quickly speeds off in to the distance. I don't see him again until the end of the race!
Unusually, I tend to find the second part of the Windermere course easier than the first but this year I struggled. I don't believe it was any hotter than previous years. I just found it tough. I knew at mile 17 - 18 there were toilets with sinks so my aim was to get there and splash my face with water and freshen up. I did this and continued on but it was getting tougher mile by mile and I really started to struggle. The hills seemed steeper than in previous years! Perhaps I'm just not as fit. I started walking up the steeper bits but was still managing to run the flats and downhill stretches. You know you're in trouble when you can't even run downhill!
When we hit Bowness things went from bad to worse. I got hit right in the eye with a fly, then having taken on way too much water I needed a wee! There were plenty of toilets on the route but each one I came across needed money to use them and this is not something I had on me (spending 40p to spend a penny seemed a bit steep and unfair after running over 20 miles). After finally finding free loos, my aim was to just get to the top of ice cream van hill and the rest of the course should have been plain sailing. I've stayed in the Lakes quite a bit and have often run the last 4 miles of the route back to Ambleside so I know it well. It's undulating but scenic, with lovely views over the Lake.
At the top of ice cream van hill was an extra water station which was a lovely surprise as I hadn't expected it. The aid stations on course had water and some strange energy drink. I have still not been able to identify the flavour but it looked like wee! Mmm, appetising! I had been in need of a sugar hit for a while and at some point along this stretch there was also a lovely couple who had set up their own sweet station for runners so I stopped for a much needed jelly bean. I am very grateful to these lovely people as they weren't part of the actual race support team!
You often hear of people "hitting the wall" in a marathon. It's happened to me a few times and it's not pretty! It happened to me at around mile 23. My temperature went sky high, yet I was covered in goose bumps. I was really dehydrated and felt light headed and faint. When reaching the final water station, I gulped down a whole bottle of water! In previous years there were more runners along this stretch but it was fairly quiet this year with just the odd few dotted along the road.
There is a tiny bit of the course which goes onto the road. The road was open to cars. I was determined not to walk and hold up the traffic but about 10 metres before reaching the pavement I was reduced to walking.
At mile 24, you can actually see the finish of the race across the lake! I remember contemplating whether it would have been quicker to swim to the finish than to run to it given my slow place - it would definitely have been cooler!
I could finally see the mile 25 marker in the distance. I tried to run to it but the last bit is uphill so once again I walked. I'm sure I was swaying/staggering by this point. Finally there is another downhill bit before heading along the road again (a few cars fot a tad too close for comfort along this bit) and again I tried not to walk. Finally turning left and you head towards the finish. It is a tricky end to the race - mainly uphill with a sneaky wooden bridge en route. A few people caught me up this last stretch but that's no surprise.
A final steep down hill bit towards Brathay Hall before the final beastly hill. Cars full of finishers were patiently waiting for runners to pass. I offer my sincere apologies to these guys as I simply could not run. I really wanted to but there was absolutely no chance of me running this final hill! After finally reaching the top, I actually pulled myself together enough to run the final stretch to the finish. This was all a bit of a blur. There was my dad and then the crowd and then the finish line (such a lovely sight). I remember people talking to me but I have absolutely no clue what they were saying. I remember just wanting to lie down so I didn't faint! Sandra was at the finish and took these photos.
On this pic, I am clinging on to the railings so I don't fall over!
This next photo is not particulary flattering and I am now using this photo as my motivation to eat healthier and shed some weight!
Despite falling apart over the last miles of the race, I finished in under 5 hours which isn't too bad but is still slow for me for a road race, especially compared to my last two Windermere results. After checking my Garmin, I ran the first half (despite the hills) in just over 2 hours! A couple of miles I actually did under 9 minutes. Clearly I did not have a well thought out plan for this race!
I beat myself up about my efforts for about a day until the Manchester attack occurred and put things back into perspective! Yes, running is an integral part of my life but when there are innocent children losing their lives for no reason it makes you realise that there are far more important things to worry about than how fast you can run around a lake!
Liverpool Rock n Roll Marathon is up next and as a show of support to all those affected by the Manchester attacks, runners will be wearing yellow ribbons.
Good luck to all running this weekend. Stay strong and stay safe.