All my best ideas come when I’m not thinking about anything in particular, often whilst I’m day dreaming, in a ‘running trance’. This one was no different. I was out for a long run, enjoying one of my favourite Lake District trails along the east side of Coniston Water.
As I climbed out of the woods into bright sunshine, skylarks singing overhead, I stopped and admired the view. Blimey, I thought to myself, as I looked at the toy white yachts, way down below. Imagine an off road course going around the whole of the lake. I wondered how far that would be? Would it be a marathon distance if Tarn Hows were included somehow?
A decade ago
That was a decade ago, way back in 2008 and it took another three years of hard work to turn that dream of an idea into reality. First, I had to convince the National Trust, as most of the course was on their land. This included the ‘hallowed ground’ of the Tarn Hows beauty spot.
Fortunately, I had the help of John Atkinson, who farms up and around Parkamoor and worked at the time for NT. I’d worked with John before with our Coniston Trail event, so we knew each other. He immediately saw the potential of the event and the advantages to Coniston village businesses and surrounding areas. He was a big help in making the first event happen. We even got permission to do a complete lap of Tarn Hows and by including Beacon Tarn, we made it up to the Marathon distance of 26.2 miles.
There were many more agencies and stakeholders to win over though and this took time. Natural England, Forestry Commission, Lake District National Park Authority, Bethecar Moor Commoners, Torver Back Commoners, Cumbria County Council. The list was endless. Meetings in dreary offices with some people who had never run a step in their lives.
In June 2010, I walked the entire course with our nine month old son in a backpack, taking photos of my partner Claire, the ‘model’ for the slideshow of the course. It was another sunny day. The views were breathtaking. I knew immediately that the course was destined to become a classic. Maybe even one day becoming one of the World’s iconic marathons?
I remember bumping into a couple of running friends that day. Myself and Claire must have looked guilty, as they asked me “You’re not planning another of your Lakeland Trails here are you?” We didn’t want to let the cat out of the bag with another year still to go, laughing it off. Towards the end of the route, we were both hot and tired, our son fast asleep, his head lolling to one side. Then, as an added bonus, we found a few big, fleshy cep mushrooms, a gastronomic treat to finish our day off perfectly.
The first Marathon Trail
So at 7am on a beautiful Sunday morning in 2011, the very first Trail Marathon in the Lake District set off from Coniston. History was in the making. We’d planned this early start with the National Trust, to avoid the busy crowds around Tarn Hows. It’s become a truly memorable way to start our Marathon. The air is cool even on those sweltering June days, the lake often steaming as inverted air tries to escape, still like a mill pond.
Almost a thousand runners started this inaugural event, shared between the Challenge and the Race, setting off two hours later. We gave a generous 8 hour time limit for the course, 6 hours for the Race, knowing that the underfoot conditions and relentless climbs would take their toll.
You can forget about your road times on this course! You have to earn those views with plain graft and hard work. This, the most beautiful marathon in the UK, could also be described as one of the toughest too!
Gradually the event has grown and now runners from all over the world come and take part. A couple of years ago we were even awarded the status of “one of the World’s iconic Marathons”. Another dream come true.
Half Marathon and Mini Marathon 10K added
We included a Half Marathon Trail in 2012, which takes in much of the first half of the Marathon course as far as Tarn Hows. Then in 2016, we added a Mini Marathon Trail Run 10K.
This year is the 8th anniversary of the event. So far, we’ve had six warm sunny days and one cool one when the rain poured down. That year, 2012, was also the year both course records were set – Ben Abdelnoor from Ambleside AC in 2hrs 53mins 50secs and Jo Zakrewski, Dumfries Road Runners, in 3hrs 21mins 34secs. I wonder if anyone will get close to them this year?
Finishing alongside the lake shore, through dappled sunlight, the trail amongst mature oak trees, the water shining silver, you’ll feel as though you’re in running heaven. You’re not going to ‘hit the wall’ either, as we take down the dry stone wall making it easier to enter the event arena.
Knowing once you cross the line, you only have another few steps before submerging in those cool waters to relieve your tired muscles. That will keep you going.
Then to bask in the warm sunshine. The afterglow, knowing you’ve really, really earned your finisher’s medal. And ice cream. And as much food as you can eat. And even more ice cream.
Remember my friend John Atkinson who helped with that very first event? You’ll see John handing out drinks as you pass his beautiful holiday cottage at Parkamoor, just after half way. On Marathon day, one of you will win a fabulous weekend’s holiday to come back and stay here. Now, that would be a perfect way to round the day off, wouldn’t it?
28th May 2018