11 years ago, in only my second year of what I considered to be ‘proper’ running, I ran the Coniston 14. As its name suggests, it’s a 14 mile road race around Lake Coniston in the beautiful English Lake District. It was a glorious spring day and I ran really well, so I vowed that one day I would go back and run it again.
When I saw that the 2016 edition of the race was going to be on my birthday, I knew the time to run it again had come. What better way to spend a part of a special day! I was certain that the blue skies and sunshine of 2005 would not be repeated, so I packed a variety of running clothes; come rain or snow, I would be prepared. Come the morning of the race, the forecast suggested that shorts and vest would be the way to go though, so despite witnessing many other runners dressed for arctic conditions, I put my summer running kit on and headed to the start.
For a very small village Coniston hosts a rather big race, with over 1200 runners on the startline. It was therefore a real surprise to bump into someone I’ve known for years, and then someone who belongs to the same club as me, although we had never met before. The running world is certainly a small one!
My GPS watch was not happy at the start, so as I crossed the timing mat it was refusing to pick up a signal and I had run a couple of hundred metres before it would revert to basic stopwatch mode. This meant that my planned focus on good pacing went out of the window from the start; I could only estimate how I was doing at best. The first three miles or so were pretty crowded as we ran along the rollercoaster of ups and downs; I felt strong, and was very relaxed about people passing me. I knew I might pass them back later on. The scenery was lovely and rural, with green fields, spring lambs and dry stone walls; wooded hillsides with occasional glimpses to the lake below. The tranquility was only marred by some car drivers, impatient that their way was blocked by runners; hats off to the family who had turned their engine off and got out to cheer us on.
As we turned onto a smaller road at about three miles, the cars disappeared and the runners started to thin out. My rough calculations told me that I was running at perhaps slightly too fast a pace but as I felt so good, I decided to keep it up. I worked hard at maintaining a steady effort up the hills, down the other side and along the few flatter bits. Because there will still quite a few runners around me, I decided who was on my ‘list’; who I wanted to finish ahead of.
I went through the 10k mark at pretty much the same time as I ran my best 10k last year, albeit on an easier course, and as we turned onto the lakeside road to head back to Coniston, that pace still felt right. The sun was out by now and I was so pleased with my choice of attire. The warm sun and lack of wind in the lee of the hillside made me appreciate the plentiful water stations. How sensible to be giving out water in decent sized paper cups rather than those little plastic ones that split! Despite having a quick walk as I drank, I did not lose sight of those I had on my ‘list’. In fact, rather bizarrely for someone who now lives on one of the flattest parts of the country, I found that I was actually stronger on the hills than many of those around me, including some on my ‘list’. It was only on the longest, steepest uphill at about 12 miles that I had a little walk; my hamstrings were feeling a little tight and a brief walk brought some welcome relief. From there it was a steep downhill and a flat mile to the finish.Still feeling strong and passing two women from my ‘list’, I made my way through the village and past the crowds on the final 200 metres to the finish.
In 2005 I ran this race in 1.56. I knew that I would get nowhere near that this time, being older and heavier and all that, but I’d had the figure of 2.30 in my head as a target. As I heard the band at the finish line and crossed the timing mat, my rough calculations told me I’d probably finished in about 2.28, or maybe 2.27 if I was lucky. I was delighted to receive a text later on confirming a 2.26 finish. Yes! Who needs a GPS watch to pace? Not me if this race was anything to go by!
I’m always a bit wary of going to back to do a race again when the first time holds such great memories, but my second run at Coniston 14 was every bit as good as the first. The route is stunning, with lake and mountain views aplenty, and the organisation superb. Perhaps I won’t wait another 11 years before running it again!
The true test of my run, and my training, was how my legs felt the next day. In a nutshell, they felt fine, fine enough for a recovery 8.5 mile walk up the Old Man of Coniston, Swirl How and Weatherlam, looking down on the lake I’d run round 24 hours earlier.