As the Dark Mountains race looms on the dimly-lit horizon, we thought it would probably be a good idea to get out for a long run to get some miles in my legs, especially as I hadn’t been for a run since the 2nd day of the New Year. Conveniently, Northumberland hosts a fine array of potential running locations to head out to and get the legs moving again. After a little deliberation we settled on Kielder Water as the Lakeside way comes in at a satisfying 26(ish) miles, or more impressively – Marathon distance; a nice easy warm up before the main event.
It was also decided to head out to start just before dusk, having been given a new head torch for Christmas (thank you Jim), and to get some night-miles covered in preparation for the Dark Mountains event.
Kielder Lakeside Way is mostly trail, with the odd bit of tarmac thrown in here and there where old roads still exist. It’s also fully signposted, so navigation was never going to be an issue which, as it turned out, was probably for the best.
Mid day saw us packing the essentials into my trusty Pete Bland bum-bag; wind smock, compass and whistle (why?), headtorch, gloves and buff, and two gels, one trek bar and 500ml of water. Looking back, I’m not sure what I was thinking, and I paid the price for my idiocy, but a lesson well learnt!
Starting from Leaplish at 16:24, the first half hour or so was run in daylight, at a pace which felt fairly rapid, but comfortable. I stopped off a couple of times to wet my feet in a small stream as they felt as though they were heating up just a little too much, and wetting them seemed to do the trick. At this point I was covering ground at about 6 to 7 minutes per mile – if I could keep this up then I should be able to hit my target of about 3h30.
About eight miles into the run I knocked back an energy gel, as I could feel my blood-sugars dropping and my thoughts beginning to get a little confused. That seemed to fix me for a while, and I managed to bash on for a while at about the same pace; all-in-all I was feeling pretty good, and the Lakeside markers for Kielder Dam were ticking by at a pleasant rate.
With five miles to the dam however, things got a bit wobbly. Thoughts got confused, doubts began to creep in, and a fine rain started to fall to accompany this sudden downwards change in feeling. Out came the Sonic Smock to keep the worst of the weather at bay, and the trek bar was munched down to perk me back up again. Having washed this down with my rapidly diminishing drink, my pace increased again, and it felt as though the target time may be back within reach.
I finally stumbled into the car park on the northern side of Kielder Dam and found a sign showing a map of the Water. Legs were wobbling and thoughts were a little scrambled again so the final gel went to meet its maker within the void of my stomach. It looked as though I was way past half way, possibly even two thirds or more round, and my spirits picked up – especially when I used the scale shown on the map to have a quick estimate of distance remaining; only five miles! Let’s go!
Oh how wrong I had been – an inaccurate map and scale had tricked me, and the next waymarker showed a depressing 8 ½ miles to go. At this point the only way out was onwards, a feeling I’m all too familiar with from my Lakeland climbing days, and fortunately the next couple of miles seemed to pass fairly quickly but then my legs started to seize up once again. I’d started my stop watch just as I’d hit the south bank to show me how many minutes over three hours I was, and with about six miles to go, it was obvious that the 3h30 benchmark would sail by. Ok, four hours was the next hopeful time – let’s get that.
It was not to be. As the miles trickled by like cold treacle, my legs progressively seized up more and more, and I had to switch to walking for sizeable sections. My thoughts turned to food and the hope that the Creme Egg was still sat in the car. Finally, after a serious grind, the Leaplish ½ mile post appeared and soon after the bright lights of Leaplish beckoned me home. Four hours had been and gone, as had 4h30, but 9 o’clock was just round the corner. Could I make it back to Lucy’s car by 9?
I did, with 20 seconds to spare, but it’s these little victories that keep us coming back for more. Even better, the Creme Egg was still there, though not for long! In the end, my first marathon run had come in at a slightly sluggish 4h36. I feel I can console myself slightly with the fact that the Lakeside way, whilst not mountainous, does have some ups and downs, and that the run was done mostly in the night; plenty of room to improve however, watch this space.
Lastly, a few words of wisdom, as much to myself as to anyone else reading this account; take food, plenty of food. If you get hungry, you get slow; you get slow, you seize up; you seize up, you slow down, and so on. Clothing seemed about right for me, but I run hot; if you run cold, a fleece may have been a necessary accessory. Also, birds suddenly flying across the path in the middle of the night makes me jump.
I’d like to thank anyone who made it this far for reading, and I hope it’s been an entertaining read. I also hope this inspires a few to get out and go for a long run, but make sure you have enough food; you’ll regret it otherwise!
Post by Johan