Trail26 Grizedale Marathon, Lake District
The Lakes, Trails and breaks.
On a dreary February Saturday afternoon the car was loaded and the three of us (Ian Mulry, Neil Warby and Mark Beasley) headed for the Lake District for the annual Grizedale Trail 26 Marathon hosted by the same company that organises the Lakeland 100/50. We had high hopes for the set up and organisation as their main event of the year in July is run with military precision. The race was described as 'lumpy' although Mark had ideas that it was going to relatively easy going, now that was going to come back and bite him.
The journey up consisted of torrential rain and was dampening our expectations for the weather for the race. Our accommodation for the night was simple, a private room with four bunk beds in the Coniston Youth Hostel. We checked in shortly before 8 and headed into town to find some food. One of the local pubs looked busy so we headed in only to be greeted by 'race night'. Had we not knowingly driven through a time warp and ended up in 1992? It seemed the entire village were there from all age groups... We promptly ordered, ate, and left before we got tangled in the local weekend entertainment.
On race day we woke to broken overcast sky and a temperature of 6 degrees. The first decisions of the day needed to made, which shoes and how many layers. The final choice was Hoka's and a merino wool base layer with a OMM jacket to stop the wind. The merino wool idea was something that Glyn tried at Winter Tanners in January so I thought I would give it a go. We all ate a full english in the hostel before making the 25 minute drive to the start.
We arrived at the visitor centre to find that the main car park was almost full so we had timed it perfectly, any later and we would have had 10-15 minute walk from the overflow car park. With no baggage area this would be horrible at end. The registration was painless and the visitor centre was also serving breakfast. It is a large building with plenty of room to stay warm and drink tea prior to the start. There was also ample toilet facilities for the amount of runners.
We were called to the race briefing 10 minutes before the start and were told about the course and the cautions. For those of you that do not enter trail races this a very different time than a road race. There is no jostling for position at the start line, no one looking for that super fast sprint from the gun. Everyone just mills around somewhere close to the line and when the countdown ends we all just shuffle off into the wilds.
The route consisted of two separate loops of 13ish miles. The only part of the written description I had taken any note of was that it was 'lumpy'. That was if anything a little bit understated. The first 4 miles saw us rise to just under 850ft and Mark set off at his usual 'out of the blocks pace'. Within 3 miles he was out of sight, never to be seen again and Neil and I were killing ourselves. We dropped the pace back slightly and settled in for the day and started taking in the scenery. The views from the highest point on the first loop were across Coniston Water to the village and on up to the low clouds shrouding the top of the 'Old Man'. In the far distance was the snow covered peak of Helvelyn. The trails of the first loop were mainly the wide fire breaks of Grizedale forest, the very same fire breaks that Colin McRae would have thrashed his Subaru Legacy around in the early 90's on the Lombard RAC rally. There were also some tight forest tracks and some exposed grass areas that were greasier than a fifties quiff.
It was clear that by the halfway point on the first loop that Neil was having an issue with his recently broken foot. Each loop had an aid station and we were expecting to see the first one around the 6 mile point but it just seemed to never arrive. It was almost as if it had been set up in the wrong place as it eventually appeared just before the 10 mile mark. I was trialling a new energy source in preparation for my bigger events later in the year so had planned to be self sufficient for the entire race. Neil on the other hand got stuck into the fluids, flap jack and jelly babies. We had only a very brief stop for less than a minute before continuing.
With only just over 3 miles to go to the halfway point we descended back to the start/finish location where the second aid station was positioned just next to the finish gantry. Another very quick stop and we were out onto the second loop. This loop was described as more technical and that was painfully obvious from the outset. The climb out from the visitor centre was quite brutal, extremely rocky and very rough under foot. It took me back to the climb out of Kentmare on the Lakeland 50/100, very similar in gradient and terrain. Although Neil was clearly finding it tough now he was determined to press on and he was hardly slowing as we again climbed up into hills. We knew we were returning down this steep rocky gully to the finish in a couple of hours and inside I was looking forward to the challenge of getting to the bottom as quickly as possible picking people off along the way.
We had met one of the organisers at the hostel the previous night and she had warned us that the second loop was pretty wet and we would struggle to get by some of the boggy parts and that there was now a river crossing where there used to be stream. Due to the sheer amount of rainfall we had already been running through running water on the first loop as the tight rocky paths turn into natural drainage ditches for the hills. At the top of this first climb we were met with the first of these 'boggy parts', a muddy gloop covering the entire path with reeds all around, the tale tale sign of wet ground. We picked our way through it and continued to be immediately met by the first technical descent. It was a steep rocky ravine that had been cut into the hillside by rain water trying to find its quickest path to the lakes below. I could tell that Neil was now finding it hard going by the groans each time his foot was hitting the ground and the rugged paths were only making matters worse. It was at this point that Neil suggested that I go on ahead as he was going to slow me down due the pain he was in. In the words of Viper from Top Gun, 'you never leave your man'. We had started this together and we were going to get to the end or at least as far we could together if he had to DNF.
Following the descent there was a fairly long road section that gave some respite before another bumpy climb up to an exposed high section along the edge of a tarn. The sun made a brief appearance although the wind was still blowing hard enough to help you run along. The views were again breathtaking.
The next descent was the down to the edge Lake Windermere, it was like running off the edge of a cliff. The path had been laid with local stone but infilled with the autumnal leaves that had fallen over the previous years. That coupled with rain water rushing between and over the rocks made it particularly tricky to get down at pace. I quickly caught and passed a couple that were hesitantly picking their way through the dry sections. When I reached the bottom I stopped and waited for Neil and when he appeared his skin was grey. The descent was very tough and he had felt ever step. We were approaching the last aid station and I was truly expecting him to DNF. We managed to get into a groove along the flatish (there are no flat bits in the lakes) path that ran along the edge of the lake and the aid station came into sight.
I again abstained from outside assistance and stuck with my plan. As Neil arrived every marshall and the first aider were immediately concerned, he was still looking very grey. He ate some food, had a drink and some pills and suggested we get on with it. I think if that had been me I would have been done, after all it was just a training event. The first aid guy gave Neil advice on how many tablets and what concoctions were the limit and we made our way back up into the hills via another very steep woodland climb. To give you an idea, it was like the big dipper but probably 5 or 6 times longer.
We were now on the final leg and the terrain varied greatly between rocky paths, woodland trails and open fields. All of them wet! As we exited the last of the woodland section we were greeted by the stream that was indeed more of a river. You could see that there once stepping stones but these were totally submerged and the only option was to go through it. It was refreshing but best of all in numbed the pain a little for Neil who was still struggling and it washed our trainers. Were soon back out onto the fire breaks that meant we were close to the final drop back down to the finish. There was a large carving of a fox that we had passed at the top of the first climb on the second loop. We knew that when we were at that point there was less than a mile to go and it was all downhill albeit rugged. We had recently been passed by a few people and I felt that I could probably pick them off on the final descent if threw caution to the wind (literally). As we passed the fox I knew Neil would be fine to get the finish so I stretched my legs and charged off down the rocky gully.
As I crossed the finish line Mark was waiting patiently for us. He had had a good run although found the second loop very challenging due to the climbs and it had slowed him considerably. I explained what had happened to Neil and we set about going back out to help him. As we turned to leave Neil rounded the corner and crossed the line. I honestly thought he was going to collapse right there. He said afterwards that he has no memory of anyone removing his timing chip for him but it happened. I honestly don't know how he managed to complete the race, the man is a machine! We went into the warm visitor centre where tea was drank, food was eaten and stories were exchanged.
Although Neil and Mark both agreed that this was probably the toughest marathon they had ever run I thought it was one of the best. It was tough, yes, but it was different and I loved it. If you don't like hills or trails then this isn't the race for you but if you fancy a challenge without having to jump up to ultra distance then this is it.
As for the kit tests for the weekend they were both a success. The merino wool base layer under a quality breathable jacket is a winner. It wicks moisture away and stays relatively dry and is also very warm. As mentioned earlier this was a tip from Glyn and I am glad I tried it out. They can be expensive but if you shop around you can get a sale bargain, mine came from Decathlon at a bargain price of £20. The new energy source is called Tailwind and it also works for me. It claims to be all you need to keep you going all day and it certainly did that. There was no sickness feeling that I always suffer with and the flavours are not overpowering. I will be trying it out again next week but I am confident that I have found something that works for me and will power me through a 100 miles in the summer...
Once changed we piled into the car for the journey home and as we pulled out of the car park it started to rain. One brief stop on the M6 to feast on KFC, Starbucks and chocolate and then continued in the pouring rain back to LB talking about how and where our feet are going to take us on our next adventure.....unfortunately Neil's were taking him to A & E.
So the final question, would I run it again? Hell yeah!!!!
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