Salomon Kielder Marathon
6th October 2013
Chip time – 4hr 56m 05s
Finish position – 655/826
Gender – 154th/225
Apologies for the lateness of this race report, but at least I’ve managed to publish it within the same month as the race. Read on for the tale of my partner Kynon’s first marathon, the off-road Kielder Marathon, which takes place in the Northumberland National Park in the North East of England. I have asked him to write his own race day thoughts for a guest post, which I hope to publish soon after this.
Our race morning began at 5:50am when my alarm went off in anticipation of our room service breakfast which would arrive promptly at 6am. Hot coffee, pastries, cereal bars and yogurt were delivered at 0600 on the dot which set a new standard in race morning preparation! We had traveled to Newcastle two days before and enjoyed spending time in the city where I went to University. A lot had changed and not many of my old friends live there any more, but we managed to traipse around many of my old haunts and enjoyed some lovely food. Newcastle is a great town.
My clothes had been laid out the night before so I didn’t have much to think about on race morning. The weather forecast had claimed to be 10-13C with thick cloud and a bit of rain but the view from the window was cloudless. Knowing we would be driving at least an hour inland I wore my planned race gear but took just about everything else I had with me in anticipation of changing weather.
At 7am we left to walk to Newcastle Central Station to catch the shuttle bus to the race. This was a brilliant idea – Kielder is very remote and accommodation is not in abundance so this allows people to combine a rural race with a long weekend in a city.
The buses were easy to find and we joined the crowd of runners milling around waiting to be let on for the princely sum of a tenner return. I could not have been less nervous about the race, but what was bothering me most was the bus journey itself. I am incredibly prone to travel sickness and when traveling on buses or coaches it is almost inevitable for me. I can combat it with making sure I eat a lot of sugary food, have plenty to drink, and also to sit as far to the front as possible.
Luckily I managed to wangle top deck front seats with a great view, but I wasn’t going to shovel my usual pound of sweets down my neck due to the 26.2 miles to be ran that day. Soon enough I was achingly desperate for the toilet anyway so I was too distracted to entertain any nausea. Being stuck on the top deck of a wobbly old double decker bus rattling around Northumbrian lanes does nothing for bladder strength.
The journey took about an hour and a half, which could have been quite relaxing had it not been for aforementioned toilet issues and an Irish lady sitting behind us with a voice like a fog horn and an unusual obsession with farm animals.
“Oh look at dose beauties! Dey’re belted blacks!” *points at herd of cows*
“Oh MY ladies, you’ll be missing that lovely wool soon won’t ya?” *Talks out the window at some recently shorn sheep*
Oh well, it takes all sorts I suppose. I bet she had a great day out in the country.
At around 9am we pulled into a car park and I was off that bus like a shot to find some portaloos. After taking care of business there was a short walk down to the waterside where a race village had been set up.
We were able to leave our bags in the secured drop bag area and just as we’d changed into our race gear the rain started and I wondered if I ought to have taken my windproof/waterproof jacket with me, but I decided it would probably be a nuisance and to just cope without it. It was very windy and we were told parts of the course was very exposed, but since the air temperature wasn’t actually that cold I decided we would be fine.
We posed for a couple of pictures and I asked Kynon how he was feeling. He hadn’t seemed obviously nervous or anxious about the race but I knew he had to be at least a little bit apprehensive. I doled out the most sensible advice I could think of which was to remind him that his legs would attempt to give up long before his heart did and to just keep moving forward one way or the other until he got to the finish, no matter how tough things got. He seemed distracted and looked at me like I’d suggested he ran the race backwards – so I knew he was going to be fine.
The announcement came over the tannoy that it was time, so en masse we evacuated the tent and made our way to the start line in the drizzle. The first mile is a loop on tarmac before the route sticks to the lakeside for the entire circumference of Kielder Water, so the start was a long, thin bit of road on a gentle incline away from the water.
I was really happy to be doing this race with Kynon, but I was nervous about the latter stages of the race and how he would cope. The longest we’d ran in training was 22 miles and we’d done plenty of off road running so on paper he was good to go, but you never know what will happen on race day in an event this long and many people under-estimate how hard those last few miles can be. We started the race in good spirits though and despite the torrential drizzle and wind we were both running with big smiles on our faces.
We were loosely aiming for a time of 4:30 so started at a pace which reflected this. Whilst we knew the course was on trails and was very undulating, I was confident this was achievable as long as we kept the pace steady and walked any stupid steep hills.
Once we were on the waterside path the race began fulfilling its promises of being ‘Britain’s Most Beautiful’. The path wiggles around every nook and inlet of the waterside, clings on to the hillside and winds through forests. It’s hard to believe that Kielder Water is man-made; unfortunately we didn’t get to see it in its full glory due to the dreadful weather but it is clear that this is a beautiful part of the country.
Undulating is probably too kind a word to describe the route. It is the cruelest kind of hilly – short and steep and relentless. I think the only flat part of the full 26.2 miles was running across the dam at 17 miles; if you weren’t going up you were going down and it was impossible to lock into a steady pace. Despite the odd bit of power-walking up hills, by 10 miles in we were still sticking to the plan and cruised through in 1:45. We were both absolutely soaked through but thankfully not cold – the rain was very refreshing. Also spotted marshaling just after 10 miles was the unforgettable face of Roger Uttley, former English Rugby International and ex-British Lion. Both being big rugby fans we were chuffed to have received encouragement and banter from such a sporting legend.
One of the weird things about the weather was that the wind was carrying the sound of the music at the start/finish ares right across the water. Despite only being half way we could hear the distorted dulcet tones of Psy from the finish and I gangnam-styled my way down the hill to the half way point. We hit half way in 2:18 which was a little slower than planned but by then we had realised that our hopes of 4:30 were perhaps a little ambitious given the terrain. The continuously changing ascent/descent was quite tiring and felt more like an ultramarathon than a marathon, but at least it kept us mentally on our toes – there was certainly no way to get bored.
I’ve been trying to think of mileposts to build this report around, but up until 20 miles the race is mainly a grey, drizzly blur. The route, whilst stunning, looked and felt the same all the way with the exception of the dam at 17 miles which was stunning to run across. It lasted about three quarters of a mile and the flat road was a great relief to Kynon’s fatigued legs. I was still loving everything but I was becoming aware that he was tiring and beginning to find running painful – his left hamstring had become very sore in the site of an old injury, and his ITBs were locking up causing knee pain with every stride.
This would be the hard part for both of us – for him, he was battling the agony of racing a marathon for the first time, and for me I had to find the right balance of tough love, encouragement, patience and positivity to get us through the last 6 miles with bodies and relationship intact at the finish. I KNEW he would be fine, I knew we’d get there in the end, but I also knew the impenetrable fug of pain that can cloud the mind and make the shortest of distances feel impossible at this point in a marathon.
Whilst he was in a lot of pain he could still run, so I focused on keeping him running as much as possible – I didn’t want to see him give up and just walk it in like the others we were passing. I knew he would regret it later if he took the easy way out and he is a tough person who can withstand a lot of pain – I was not going to allow slacking. For example; if he was asking to walk I’d say we could have one minute, or we could walk when we reached the next crop of trees. Bargaining like that and setting mini-goals seemed to work for us.
These switchbacks at mile 22 were a killer
At mile 23 he was deep in the hurt locker and suffering badly. I gave him a caffeine gel and ran a few paces in front, telling him just to focus on my feet and forget about everything else. I chugged along at about 11:30 pace and thought about the changes in my own running in the last year and a half or so. Whoever thought that a marathon could be easy? This had just felt like a fun long training run and not an inch of me was hurting. I felt like I could have ran forever.
My daydreaming would be interrupted every so often by grunts or sighs from behind me as Kynon fought his battle with the race. It was very hard to see your loved one in so much pain but equally I was very, very proud. Despite the pain he was in he wasn’t moaning or complaining and was just getting the job done. 4:30 was out of reach but I was determined to get him in under 5 hours; the wind and rain had picked up and was not making it easy though.
In the last mile his temper finally began to fray. I attempted to give positive encouragement as the final distance signs popped up by the side of the trail: “800m to go – that’s twice round a running track! 5 minutes and we’ll be done!” “I KNOW. I KNOW. I CAN SEE THE SIGN” so I decided just to keep quiet. Cheering spectators telling us we were nearly there were subject to a similar sense of humour failure which I was confused about – I thought that he’d be happy to be so close to the end.
In the last 200 meters, spectators lined the route and Kynon found his last ounce of strength to pick up his pace for the glory leg. I was so, so happy to see him finish strong and my heart was bursting with pride.
4hrs 56m and 6 seconds later, the Redwinerunner family had a new marathoner. Kynon fought so hard for that finish and I just wanted to smother him in hugs and kisses but unfortunately someone had caught a case of the finish-line rage and wasn’t interested in any of that. He was mad because everything hurt so much and because the race had been so damn hard, with some added frustration of not finishing in the time he’d aimed for.
“Honey you did it! You just ran a marathon!! *tears welling up* I’m so proud of you! You did it! How do you feel?!”
“F**king awful. *limps onwards* F**king knees are in f**king bits and I …AAOWW!! my F**ckin FOOT %”£*%$”%&” etc etc.
The delicate ears of the kind Rotary Ladies at the finish line had never heard swearing like it! They wrapped us both up in foil blankets which were sorely needed as we were very cold and wet, and sent us towards the finish tent.
And on he stomped under his own little thundercloud towards the bananas, with as much strop in his stride as a person with a post-marathon limp could manage. I was confused – usually even after the worst of races people can muster a smile of relief and show visible delight when it’s over.
After receiving our lovely medals I pottered along after him through the finishing tent and was handed a cool Kielder Marathon drawstring shoe bag full of goodies, and then we were told to open it as we went through and the volunteers filled our bags with tshirts, bananas, energy bars, coconut water and a pair of lovely Salomon socks!
Everyone reacts differently to pain in races but I think the best solution is to laugh about it and get on with it – after a certain point as long as you keep running you will hurt and that’s just how it goes. You can’t change anything so there’s no point in getting angry about it; besides, marathons are supposed to hurt and if it was easy everyone would do it. I figured Kynon would come around soon enough and realise that’s he’d just done an awesome thing – after all, he’d just ran a marathon and been in pain for some time so his mind would be a bit addled. I was a bit sad that he wasn’t quite ready to share the joy together though, but we can do that at the next one 😉
It is worth mentioning though, that a few days later once the dust had settled he was delighted with his achievement. Given time to contemplate the race, he realised how tough it was compared to other road marathons and that to step up to Kielder for his first was a brave move. Finishing under 5 hours and still running right to the finish was extremely commendable for a first timer, and now he’s wondering how he would fare on a road marathon…
We got changed and then Kynon went to try and see if he could get a massage whilst I went to check out the cake situation. As you can see it was quite credible – there were groaning trestle tables of every kind of cake imaginable and buckets of tea and coffee on tap. I took a seat and refueled whilst himself got the worst battered out of his legs. 45 minutes later he returned and we went to investigate our return bus to Newcastle. It wasn’t until we were in the queue that I realised we hadn’t even got a picture together with our medals…
I was quite tired on the bus so leaned on Kynon’s shoulder to rest. I was just dozing gently when I began to smell some awful smoke. I opened my eyes and the back of the bus was reeking with something so a girl ran up to the driver to get him to pull over. The fumes were making me feel pretty sick so the whole bus evacuated on to the side of the A69 about 10 miles from Newcastle…
…Which is where we would remain for the next 2 hours. We were on the last shuttle bus from the race location so no-one else could pick us up, and the bus had been hired from CARLISLE which is where they had to send a replacement from. After they got the Sunday on-call mechanic out to the yard of course…
Remember the stuffed goody bag? Well I have never been more grateful for bananas, energy bars and even rank coconut water as the runger kicked in big-style. Our plans had been to return to our hotel for a wash then go out for a big curry, but it was getting on for 8:30pm when the replacement picked us up, so our plans were refocused to something involving much less effort. Straight off the bus we ended up crossing the road at the station, going in to the nearest Wetherspoons and ordering the biggest burgers on the menu with the biggest bottles of beer we could find. Thank heavens for Wetherspoons’ quick and dirty food – it was in front of us within 10 minutes and was disappeared within another 5.
Replete and happy, the two sweaty tracksuited marathoners hobbled along the road back to their hotel through throngs of Newcastle’s Sunday night party people. I ran up the stairs to dump our stuff and grab my laptop so we could head to Brewdog for more beer and some wifi – after all I had a race to enter…
I’m glad to say that Red Wine Runner and the Highland Fling v.2.0 is happening next April. Despite my protestations immediately after the 2013 race of not being able to take part next year due to the impending nuptials/honeymoon, the thought of not being there on the starting line is not one that makes me happy; so I’m in. Next year will bring plenty more challenges which I will detail when I begin regularly updating again in 2014, but for now I’ve taken an easy month in October and will commence winter base building in November, working on leg strength and developing my hill endurance.
‘Til next time…