The Coniston Trail races are part of the Lakeland Trails Series. As well as a half-marathon, the Coniston races include a marathon race, marathon and half-marathon challenges (for people who want to walk) and kids’ races. I chose it because I was looking for a June half-marathon and liked the idea of scenery and trails, though this would be my first trail race.
We arrived at the Coniston Boating Centre just before 10 am on race morning, just in time to see the Half-Marathon Challenge set off. All but two of them were running and at a pretty brisk pace. Eeek! I started to think I should have been with them rather than in the half-marathon race. Jason, Greg and I had spent the morning (and much of the quite chilly evening before) discussing what we should wear. I had carefully packed for hot and medium weather and completely disrregarded the possibility that it might be freezing. I started to panic and looked around the Asics tent for long sleeved tops, but in the end decided to risk it in my shorts and t-shirt, but bought a Lakeland Trails buff to at least keep my neck warm! In the end I removed the buff two miles in and was dressed perfectly.
There were about 300 entered in the half-marathon race and we headed off at a very rapid pace. I checked my Garmin and realised that I was running under 10 minutes/mile, which there was no way I could sustain, so I let the gap widen between me and the main group, with a handful of people behind me.
The first miles wound through the narrow streets of Coniston before moving onto walking/cycle paths, farm lanes and then into countryside. The course was very well marked with either Lakeland Trail signs or marshals and I was never in any doubt of the route to take.
The two photos above demonstrate the terrain very well, which, as you can see, varied between fine gravel and mixed rocky/gravel. There were a couple of sections of mud, but they were easy to run around or rock hop through and I managed to avoid getting too muddy. I have to say that I loved the terrain, it gave the course great variety and it was something to focus on when the views got boring (the views never got boring!).
The other thing I loved about the first 6 miles? The undulation. I know, it’s weird, and I don’t know how to explain it other than I felt so strong and capable and so alive in the beautiful surroundings, and it always felt manageable. I walked the steeper, longer sections but was able to tell myself that I would run to a certain rock or a particular tree and was always able to get at least that far and sometimes further, sometimes even to the next crest without having to walk.
At the halfway point we were directed to Hows Tarn, an idyllic spot that was clearly popular with walkers of all abilities. Since leaving Coniston itself this was the first time that there were large numbers of other people. The course involved a lap and a half of the Tarn which meant that as I entered the loop I met up with runners who were completing their lap. I found this section a little hard going, mostly because I was suddently reminded that I was in a race and I was at the very back of that race because I’m slow. I started to think it would be nice to be a faster runner. But once the other runners finished their loop and headed towards the return journey, I forgot about them and started to enjoy the views.
Just after the above photo was taken the course headed into the descent back to Coniston. At this point I had a running buddy, a man I had overtaken in the early stages as he stopped to remove an ankle support, who had then overtaken me around the tarn, before I caught up with him just before the descent. We chatted a bit and it was nice to have company. The descent itself was exhilirating, rocky but not too technical and through woodland with the dappled light from the sun falling on the path.
The final part of the course was 4 miles on the flat through Coniston and along the edge of Coniston Water. Though completely flat, this was by far the hardest part of the course. I reached 10 miles, doing just over 10 minutes/mile and told myself that it was only a parkrun to go. Oh, but it was the longest parkrun of my life! Why was it taking so long for my Garmin to beep its mile mark? With 1.5 miles to go the event village and finish kite loomed ahead and I decided that my Garmin must be wrong, perhaps the woodland had affected the accuracy and I was close to the end. But no, there was a massive loop to be done around the park, past the carpark and all the departing cars, past the camping area, past the families enjoying the sun, all the way around. Greg and Jason spotted me and shouted as I passed and I ignored them because I was so grumpy that they had finished and I still had a mile to go!
But finish I did! In 2:28:52 which I am very, very happy with.
There was no goody bag as such (fine by me, I can do without leaflets and Maggi noodles) but there was a Lakeland Trails technical tee in both male and female styles (and the marathoners got a medal).
This was by far the best race I have ever participated in. The organisation was excellent and the atmosphere was great but it was the course itself that was outstanding, helped by some fairly outstanding weather. I cannot recommend this race more highly!
edited: to correct my time which I have just realised was an hour out – oops, sorry, no wonder everyone thought I was so speedy!