Report from John Davis
There are two races I’ve done three times, the Bluebell Trail and this, the Lakeland Trails’ Marathon in Coniston. In both cases, the reason for coming back’s the same – some beautiful scenery, varied and interesting running, and a beast of a challenge.
Coniston is a trail marathon – a little road running, but mostly on tracks and paths. It starts at a campsite below the village, heads down to the lake shore at the Gondola landing , up to the north end of the lake, and then through the village and off towards Ambleside, before turning to circumnavigate Holme Fell, briefly dropping into Little Langdale before rising back to the Ambleside-Coniston road and up to Tarn Hows. This early section comprises the bulk of the road running and, despite never really getting to the high ground encountered later on, is probably the toughest running, with a lot of little climbs. Certainly, most of the runners I spoke to found this to be the case, and I did wonder how I’d cope. The occasional few drops of rain were refreshing, but never lasted and the weather started to get warm late on, but never so bad that heat exhaustion was a factor.
Once you reach Tarn Hows, you run once round the tarn and then climb up Monk Coniston Moor. There is some slightly tricky woodland running before you come out onto a forestry track. This leads you quite painlessly and quickly onto Parkamoor. If the running was all like this, the run would be a doddle but, if the run was all like this, it would lose both its charm and its challenge.
After the rolling hills of Parkamoor, there is a steep and very rocky descent to the south end of the Lake. A little more road running and then the last big climb, up to Beacon Tarn. At this point, my legs were really starting to tire and I tended to trip on the loose rocks, particularly when helpful marshals called out encouragement unexpectedly! A boggy circuit of the tarn and then the long descent back to the lake began. Another helpful marshal, another trip, but I couldn’t believe him when he said I was on for a sub-5 hour finish “easily”, because it was “all easy going from here-on”. I’ve run this before, and it isn’t easy. The descent is not simple; it rises and falls, and twists and turns and, before you can get any momentum going, another pile of jagged rocks means you have to stop and clamber over before you can start running again.
Down at the Lake shore for the last 5km, and it’s now just a “march or die” mentality. I literally lost count of the number of times I tripped and stumbled on tree roots and rocks, jarring muscles and bones painfully, but managing not to fall. I was glad not to be suffering worse than the people around me, and was in much better shape than in 2015, when I completed almost unable to walk. I even managed a little sprint round the field to the finish line. Hobbling back to the village for a traditional burger and pint in the Black Bull, I was able to applaud the half-marathoners in, as they approached their finish, and feel smug.
I initially thought I’d got a personal best for the course, finishing at 5 hours, 1 minute, 26 seconds but, when I managed to get wifi and actually check my previous results, found this was my slowest run, by 23 seconds from 2015 and way slower than my 4 hours, 49 minutes 14 secs in 2012. Still, it was *way* faster than I’d expected and (so far) no more than normal aches and pains, and no injuries, so I’ll be looking to go better next time, health and conditions permitting! Monday’s rain was stair rods, so we’d been really lucky to miss that.