Route: Coniston Marathon circuit, 26.23 miles
Waking to another clear day and feeling relatively refreshed after two days of rest, we were ready for the next set of back-to-back marathons. The mental fatigue that we experienced at the end of the Peak District run was now a (semi!) distant memory as we looked forward to a lakeside run in a National Park that both of us have spent a significant time in over the years. On top of this we had taken up the opportunity of a much needed massage the day before by Lynne and Tim, from Global Therapies, fellow fell runner friends of Claire, so our legs were now feeling far less tight and knotty. Although there was still some taping around Claire’s knee, so being kind to ourselves was, as always, still on the agenda. However, the knowledge that we had broken the back of this challenge buoyed us both along. We were feeling good!
The choice of the Coniston marathon route was quite a strategic one since we were planning on doing the Yorkshire Three Peaks the next day and needed a relatively flat course; or as flat as the Lake District can offer! Again, we were lucky with the weather as the sun shone warmly across the fields with the cool northerly wind reminding us that autumn is already here.
It was then time to set off for the short distance to our start point at the High Cross car park, north-east of Lake Coniston. We had decided on running anti-clockwise around the circuit from this point to get the bulk of the road miles out of the way first of all. We have found that tarmac surfaces have been so much more unforgiving on our legs and we had no desire to pound our joints and muscles on this hard surface at the end of 26 miles. It also placed Coniston roughly half-way around; perfect timing for a coffee and cake stop, as well as being the only feasible place to fill up with water on route.
The road section seemed to pass by quite quickly, much to our delight. We were pretty much on tenterhooks for most of it, since the high hedgerows bordering these narrow roads made it hard for vehicles to see us. At least the earlier start meant that traffic was a little lighter than usual. The fact that it was breakfast time for most normal people was also highlighted to us as we ran past the Drunken Duck Inn, tempting smells of cooked bacon drifting across the road. We had a slight reprieve from the tarmac as we hopped onto a purpose-built gravelled bike trail parallel to the road; not only kinder on our legs but also on our anxiety levels!
As soon as we reached Clappersgate, the actual start point of the organised marathon event, we jumped off the main road onto a quieter one, heading west along the river. Now we could relax a little more and start to enjoy the scenery. It really is a lovely and quite varied circuit, though not to be underestimated in its toughness. This first section took us through short wooded sections, across fields and up over hills. At one point we were treated to stunning views across to the Langdale Pikes, something we may have missed if we had rushed past in a car. There is definitely a benefit or two for taking the time to travel places under your own steam, with this being one of them! With all this in mind, we did admit to each other that we would be tempted to enter the official Coniston Marathon, even though neither of us is big on entering events involving road. The multi-terrain paths were definitely technical and challenging enough to ensure that you would never be bored.
After another short stint along the A593, we were back onto the trails, this time heading towards Tarn Hows. With the huge choice of stunning mountain paths to tempt you to higher ground, it is far too easy to forget the beautiful lowland walks that are also available. The lake side path of Tarn Hows is an excellent example and we met a number of people already clued in on this, making the most of the gorgeous weather.
Soon it was time for us to drop down into Coniston, for our designated break; a town full of history and strong links to water sports. The long straight shape of Lake Coniston provided the perfect setting for trial runs of the World Water Speed record by Donald Campbell, as well as his tragic record attempt run in his Bluebird K7 in 1967. The Physics and Engineering of the high speed boat is fascinating and thankfully, something that the Ruskin Museum and Campbell Heritage Trust are in the process of restoring for future generations to admire. See the Ruskin Museum website for more details, http://www.ruskinmuseum.com/.
Another cream tea consumed and we were back on the route, this time running along the edge of the lake for a good few miles. In addition to the rich scientific and historic connection of speed boats on Lake Coniston, the popularity of other water sports was also clear to see; sailing boats, kayaks and canoes all in use. All activities use the principles of buoyancy, streamlining and stability to power successfully through the water. As a keen swimmer myself, I have always been interested in how to apply physics to increase efficiency; the inner geek emerged when I was quite young! So it was really pleasing to see one or two hardy souls braving the cold water on this sunny day.
It was at this point that Claire’s leg began to give her trouble again, and my knees were seemingly starting to ache in sympathy as the previous 250+ miles of our nine previous marathons were starting to take their toll. A little worrying since we were only 13 miles into our marathon and there was still a long way to go. Normally we would be too self-conscious to go through some strategic yoga moves at the side of the track with so many people passing bay, but desperate times leads to desperate measures. We happily swallowed our pride and a few Ibuprofens to ensure that we could continue as comfortably as possible!
A second sizeable road section towards the end of the lake was a little nerve-racking, so it was with big sighs of relief when we hit the off-road trails again at High Nibthwaite. Here it was very much a case of up, up, up and again a good reminder of how challenging the official marathon must be. To add to our fun, we also encountered a couple of herds of cows, who were equally startled at seeing us as we were of seeing them on the narrowest section of the route. It was a good ten minutes of gentle encouragement from us to coax the poor beasts along before the path widened sufficiently for us to squeeze past.
The Lake District is one of the most popular areas for locals and tourists to visit, and even at a height of 300m, it was clear to see why. The views across the lake to the Old Man of Coniston and down to the town itself were stunning. This low-level route was exceeding all our expectations and introducing us to areas neither of us had been to before. The final section through Grizedale Forest finished off a truly magnificent day. Just in time to meet up with Claire’s parents, sister and niece for dinner!
Last but by no means least, a big thank you must go to Graham Watson for all of his help on the Science and Learning that already takes place through the Lake District National Park Authority. Graham is the Manager of the John Muir Award in Cumbria, a highly regarded environmental award that has a strong base here in this National Park. It is an award that is open to everyone, encouraging all to be fully aware of their environment and to engage with it more; perfect for school groups and families. Further details and information can be found at http://www.lakedistrict.gov.uk/learning/johnmuiraward.