Race Rundown: Kielder Marathon, 13th October 2019

Kielder Marathon Weekend
12th/13th October
Stick to the plan, man

I have taken part in races at the Kielder Marathon weekend every year since the event was launched in 2010. In that time, I have been part of a relay team in all of the Kielder Run-Bike-Runs, usually as part of the ‘Sedgefield Specials’ with Roger Whitehill and cyclist Ian Dunn. In recent years, I’ve also returned to Kielder on the Sunday to tackle the half marathon. I love both events; being part of a team in the run-bike-run is always fun, while the half (added to the weekend about four years ago) follows a challenging, but attractive route that includes parts of the full marathon course.

However, until this year, I had never tackled ‘Britain’s most beautiful marathon’. For the tenth event, I made a late decision to scratch that particular itch and booked a place a few weeks out. On the Saturday, Rog, Ian and I travelled up to Northumberland for our annual date at the Kielder Run-Bike-Run. This year, ours wasn’t the only Sedgefield team in the race. David Bentley, Rob Spink and Mark Raine grabbed third overall with an impressive performance, while we were a respectable fifth. Young guns Ciaran Lines, Tom Hearmon and George Hampson also finished in the top ten. Meanwhile, Tracy Henderson was second overall in the women’s individual race, a place higher than last year’s excellent result. On the same day, Karen Killingley and Jennifer Chaytor completed the Kielder 10K.

I was back up at Kielder early the following morning for the start of the marathon, along with Gary Thwaites (for his 98th marathon!), Ray Carmichael, Dave Walker and Lisa Darby. I had already decided to not put pressure on myself by targeting a fast time, partly because I had always intended to really push myself in my 11K leg the previous day, partly because I knew it was a tough course, and partly because I hadn’t been training for a marathon. However, I wanted to aim for somewhere between 3:30 and 3:45. Chatting to Gary, Ray and Dave ahead of the start, I established that they had important targets in York the following week, so were planning to run a steady pace, aiming to finish in a little under four hours. I was tempted to join them in that, but decided to stick with my plan and set off with that in mind. This meant that I went out a bit faster than my fellow Harriers, but I soon found myself running in other good company.

The opening few miles were very familiar, following the same route as the first leg of the run-bike-run, and establishing a familiar pattern of undulations and the occasional challenging switchback hill, all in stunning surroundings, even on that dreich day. For regular participants in Kielder Marathon events, there has been an in joke for years about Northumbrian Water’s ‘Steep Incline Ahead’ and ‘Steep Decline Ahead’ signs, which used to appear with alarming frequency along the course (and featured on the finishers’ t-shirts one year). Although those signs are no longer employed as zealously as in the past, they do pop up every so often and are a fairly regular reminder that running around Kielder Water doesn’t involve following a straightforward, flat lakeside path. It’s lumpy up there.

Despite the remoteness of the location, there were spectators out along the route, offering encouragement alongside the ever-brilliant volunteer marshals. I settled into a comfortable pace that I was able to maintain and then moved onto a section of the route that I hadn’t run before, around the north west corner of the reservoir, before heading east along the northern shore. It was during miles seven to 17 that I really started to appreciate just how beautiful the setting is, and that certainly seemed to help me along.

For me, one of the biggest challenges in a marathon relates to nutrition. I can’t digest sucrose or maltose, which really limits my options for energy replacement. I still haven’t found anything that can do the job of a gel, so if I ‘bonk’, then I’m in big trouble as I can’t take anything to give me a quick boost. Earlier this year, I managed to find a Swedish brand called Nick’s that makes genuinely sugar free chocolate and some of the company’s products incorporate seeds and nuts. So, I carried a few of those and maintained a discipline of eating one about every hour during the race, managing to coincide each with the lead up to a water station for washing down the chocolatey goodness. For possibly the first time for me in a marathon, this plan seemed to work as intended and I don’t think that I ever really properly hit the wall. I was certainly knackered towards the end of the run, but that was more due to the fact that I hadn’t run anywhere near the distance since January and my limbs were screaming blue murder.

Anyway, back to the marathon course. I had been warned that one of the tough sections was at around 14 miles. So it proved, with a tasty, sustained switchback climb through the woods. Being prepared for it helped and I worked hard to not work too hard, if that makes sense. After that, I enjoyed (genuinely – look at the uncharacteristic smile in the pic!) several scenic miles heading towards the dam, gradually gaining a few places along the way. I was also caught by a couple of runners, who trotted off ahead of me, but I didn’t try to stay with them like I might have done in a shorter event. Stick to the plan Chris, stick to the plan.

By the time I reached the dam (the only significant flat stretch of the day), I was back on familiar territory, as the marathon was by now sharing a route with the half. Psychologically, this was a double-edged sword. On one hand, I knew what was ahead in the last eight miles and could prepare myself for that. On the other, I therefore also knew that this included a brutal, multiple switchback climb in the 22nd mile, the toughest section of the whole marathon. At least it didn’t come as a surprise!

By this time, the weather had closed in and it was raining steadily, but that didn’t concern me. I reached that crux hill still feeling okay and, crucially, I managed to run from bottom to top without slowing to a walk (even if my pace was barely above a walk, my method of movement was a run and in my mind, that was very important). Once I reached the top without any ‘damage’, I knew that I was going to be okay. Complacency is very dangerous in a marathon and can easily happen when you’re tired and struggling to concentrate, but I kept my head and continued to stick to the plan, eating my last bar of chocolate despite not feeling like I needed to.

The last four miles were tough and my lack of training/marathon conditioning did slow me down a bit, but some of the runners ahead of me were slowing even more and I gained a few places between miles 22 and 25, including one of those who had overtaken me about nine miles earlier. Again, that helped my head. The last mile and 192 yards were actually enjoyable. I caught the other person who had passed me earlier, along with another runner, and even managed to put in a modest sort-of-sprint for the line. I finished in 3:34:39, which was towards the faster end of my target ‘window’, and therefore more than satisfactory. All of the Harriers who were taking part in the 2019 Kielder Marathon finished in times of under four hours, which was great running all round. I think that Lisa got around in just under 3:41, only a week ahead of her brilliant club record in York. Meanwhile, Marie Walker, Ian Hedley, Emma Featherstone and Christine Hearmon also ran well in the Kielder Half Marathon.

I can heartily recommend the Kielder Marathon, not for a PB (unless you haven’t run a marathon before!), but certainly for the atmosphere and the amazing scenery, which definitely lives up to the billing. And If you don’t want to tackle the full marathon, there are plenty of other events to choose from over the weekend. Next year’s events will be on 3rd and 4th October. Find out more at www.kieldermarathon.com, and make sure that you have a plan…

Chris Lines.

Race Rundown: North Wales Half Marathon, 4th August 2019

I suspect that Ciaran and I share a ritual with many Harriers. When the Lines mob is planning a holiday, one of the items on the list of priorities is to find a parkrun that is local to wherever we’re staying. Another is to speculatively check whether there happen to be any appealing races in the area while we’re in the vicinity. I should add that this ritual only applies to Ciaran and me, and not the rest of the family!

This year, the parkrun fix was provided by Penrhyn parkrun, which is set in an impressive National Trust property – Penrhyn Castle is an imposing, relatively modern (for a castle) landmark near Bangor. As ever, parkrun was a welcoming and friendly experience and the perfect way to start a weekend.

However, for me, the following day delivered the running highlight of the holiday. I had spotted that the North Wales Half Marathon was taking place during our trip, but hadn’t got round to entering before the online deadline. Luckily, the organisers confirmed that a few places would be available on the day. So, I rocked up in Conwy at 7:30am and managed to secure one of the last numbers.

The race started on the beach at 9:00am (it was being set up when I first arrived) and the first mile was on the sand, which I found to be a little softer and more challenging than the similar surface during the recent Northumberland Coastal Run. Then, we followed a fairly flat route west for four miles, along a tarmac path by the sea. This was great for finding a rhythm and comfortable pace. One guy from Kirkby Milers eased past me, but I picked off a couple of runners who had set off a little too fast. I reckoned that I was placed somewhere in the top 20. At about five miles, we turned, crossed a footbridge and headed into the village of Penmaenmawr (I’m glad that I only had to type that and not pronounce it!). By this time, after taking turns to lead the other for a little while, I had got ahead of the Kirby runner again.

Then the hard work began. A series of longish steady climbs took us towards Sychant Pass and the eighth mile was the crux of the race – a steep and sustained section on road and trail up to Conwy Mountain (a grand name for a modest sized hill really, but a very tough part of the race nonetheless). By this time, I was on my own, but could see about eight runners not far behind me (including Kirkby man and a local runner who seemed to be enjoying himself far too much). I managed to stay ahead of all of them during the final climb, as my delighted expression near the summit testifies.

After that high point, there were some lovely undulating trails, during which runners were rewarded with a fantastic view of Conwy and its majestic castle. I glanced back a couple of times and Kirkby guy and happy Welsh runner were still on my tail. Then, we started the steep descent back into Conwy, which worked well for me. I gained distance on my pursuers and got ahead of another runner who was being cautious during the downhill section.

By the time I got back onto more level ground, I was 10 miles into the race. I was about 150 metres ahead of Kirkby man, who had also got ahead of the guy I passed during the descent, but that lead didn’t feel secure as I was starting to get pretty tired. We headed west for a couple of miles, before turning right and back onto the beach for the final mile. Once again, I found the sand section to be tough and Kirkby man started to gain on me quite quickly, along with the runner who we had both passed during the downhill, who had recovered well. Thankfully, for me, I was able to find enough energy to increase my pace for the last few hundred metres and crossed the line about 50 metres ahead of the other two, in a time of 1:32:14. My watch shows the distance as a little under 13 miles, but it was definitely a harder race than most half marathons that I have completed.

I finished seventh overall (higher than I thought I had, which is always nice!), out of 365 finishers. It was a thoroughly enjoyable race, which was very well marshalled. Miles seven and eight were particularly tough, but that seemed to work in my favour on this occasion, and this was a run during which there were times when I could really appreciate the setting. I didn’t know anyone else who was running and as always in such races, I tried to find someone to match myself against, and aim to beat. The Kirkby runner was that person this time and it was satisfying to win that personal battle.

If you’re ever in North Wales in early August (and assuming the race is run again), I’d certainly recommend the event. More details at www.runwales.com.

Chris Lines.

Race Rundown: Kieran Maxwell Memorial Open 3000m, 7th April 2019

“…its not about you joggers who go round and round and round

I always used to be more daunted by a 3,000m on the track than a road half marathon. Theres nowhere to hide on the track you can feel exposed, with all of your athletic shortcomings on display for anyone to see and judge. I also used to find the experience oddly claustrophobic. Hmm, Im not really giving track and field the big sellhere am I?

The truth is that I am a convert, but the above paragraph is my attempt to avoid being that most annoying type of person the atheist turned holier than thou evangelist, or the reverse for that matter. So now that I have got that out of the way, I will unashamedly eulogise about running on the track!

Its a great experience and whats more, it has helped me improve my performances on the road. The discipline of getting into a rhythm and consistent pace on the track can have a significant impact elsewhere. In 2018, after running distances from 1,500m to 10,000m on the track during the summer, I managed to set new PBs at both 5K and 10K on the road, having struggled to get close to my previous bests for several years. A coincidence? Of course not.

Were really fortunate that there is a well-established calendar of track and field events in the North East, and I particularly recommend the NYSD series over the summer, which this year will all be held at Middlesbrough Sports Village. You can register in advance, but you can also enter on the night, and they are extremely welcoming events that give anyone the opportunity to have a go at track and field without feeling like theyre in the crucible of competition. Thats not to say that the meetings are not competitive, just that the focus is as much on participation as it is on performance, and in that environment, its much less daunting. Last year, as well as racing on the track, I had a go at long jump, triple jump, discus, shot and high jump (think less Fosbury Flopand more Lines Lateral Leap’ – note the crucial problem with the latter!).

Another great aspect of the NYSD series is that its open to people of all ages. Track and field is a vital element of any young athletes development, so I have been trying to get my oldest son Ciaran along to as many meetings as possible its a bonus that I can participate too. The traditional outdoor season curtain raiser used to be the Anne Marie Readshaw event at Shildon, but that no longer takes place and in the last two years, the baton has been passed to the Kieran Maxwell Memorial Open, held in memory of an inspirational young man who I was fortunate enough to meet on a couple of occasions. Like the NYSD events, anyone could take part, though all registration was in advance and the event filled up quite quickly.

Ciaran and I both tackled the 3,000m, which was held in a single heat that attracted a mixed field of junior and senior men, and one lady. As I lined up, I realised that some pretty speedy young men had decided that this would be a great opener for their seasons. I was already reconciled to being towards the back of the field, but identified my own battles with a couple of the other vets, with Ciaran, and versus my time of 10:35 from the same event in 2018.

For those who dont know, the Linesy sub-text to all of this is the countdown to the (inevitable) moment when Ciaran (who will turn 16 in July) gets officially faster than his old man. Hes been getting very close in recent months, but hasnt quite managed that at 5K or other longer distances. In the immediate lead up to Sundays race, I predicted to a few folk that this could be the moment, but I was determined that Ciaran would have to work hard for it.

Back to the race. We set off and I kept close order with Ciaranfor about 200m. Then he scampered off up the track with a group and I was detached. I ran most of the race in splendid isolation, some way behind Ciaran and several young whippersnappers, but ahead of a few of the other older runners. My hope was that Ciaran had gone off far too fast and that I would gradually make ground on him. It didnt happen and while seven and a half laps can feel like a long way, its not really, so theres not a great deal of time to claw back a significant gap. The overall winner of the race was New Marskes Dean Newton (in a rapid time of 8:52), who I am relieved to admit was the only person who lapped me. I crossed the line in 10:24, 11 seconds faster than at the same event last year (but a little behind my PB of 10:16). I don’t think that I could have gone any quicker on the day.

As for Ciaran, well he was a minute faster than last year, finishing in 9:58, so not only did he comfortably beat me, but he also blitzed my PB. I call that pretty definitive. I am genuinely delighted for him (really!). Im also glad that hes had to work hard to get ahead of me in the Lines pecking order at one distance, because thats how it should be, and I will now redouble my efforts to stay ahead of him at other distances. ?

Finally, once again, I highly recommend that junior and senior Harriers have a go at track and field. Its fun, competitive, accessible, and can definitely help you improve in other aspects of your athletics. You can find full details of the NYSD series here and theres also a well established series for veterans called the North East Masters full details here. If you really want to challenge yourself (and put yourself out there), theres also the NECAA North East Track and Field Championships on 11th and 12th May see details here.

The results from this years Kieran Maxwell Memorial Open can be found at www.kieranmaxwellopen.co.uk.

Thanks to Karen Harland (Dean Newtons mum) for the photos.

Chris Lines.