With my triathlon calendar filling up I was looking for a tough challenge in spring to ensure my training was heading in the right direction for the summer races. The Keswick half marathon was billed as ‘probably the most scenic 13 miles 192.5 yards in the country’.
This means it’s going to be hilly, and probably cold. And wet! Perfect. I like to run when it’s tough and the elements are against me. Growing up in Cumbria does that to you. The weather is grim, the hills are steep and there is no getting away from it, you just deal with it or don’t train.
After night shift I walked out of work at 8am on a miserable, bleak Sunday morning. Tired and not looking forwards to what lay ahead; my initial enthusiasm was long gone. Phil James, Harra and Naz were there waiting for me. There was a quick update on last night’s Britain’s Got Talent as we drove to pick up John ‘Father Jack’ Longstaff and headed for the Lake District.
The following 100 miles or so were filled with laughter, club banter and unrepeatable stories involving Thornton’s chocolates, tents, broken gates and stolen cars. My mood was lifted no end and I was almost looking forwards to the race. We eventually arrived in Keswick and stopped to at the only Halal Greggs for breakfast. The rain was still pouring as we picked up our race numbers and got changed into our race gear. Long sleeve and club vest were order of the day. Phil had a bin bag and his usual short shorts while John was braving it in in just a vest with a white Buff worn around his head making him look as if he had suffered a nasty head injury.
Graham attempted to keep off some of the rain by wearing some sort of pedal bin liner, only managing to cover an arm, half his chest and his neck. Graceful in defeat he gave up and braved it like the rest.
Off we went to the start, hike over a hill, jump on the waiting speed boat then wander through the woods to the start line. The boat ride was particularly cold and unfortunately Naz had forgotten his usual life vest.
We chatted with a few other competitors on the start line, many of them dressed in big waterproof jackets and rucksacks, possibly full of sandwiches. The 5 minute call was given, a more sedate than usual ‘HOOOPS’ announced our presence and we were ready to go. Already tired and cold, I knew this was not going to be a race to push hard. As the klaxon sounded the pack barely moved, this wasn’t a crowd that would tolerate the elbows out, argy-bargy chaos of cross country. So up onto the verge I hopped, skipped through gaps and nipped in to any opening I could spot. This carried on for the first mile or so on narrow roads until the first challenge of the hill towards Newlands. I suddenly felt good so started to push on, passing a few from Lowfell and a couple of Bounders.
The route then dips down for a quarter mile or so then another steep climb. Some had already started to walk, I pressed on again giving a little encouragement as I went. Then a mile steady downhill before the punishing climb out of Stair towards the foot of Catbells. This is the hill where John offered to help a fellow runner who was going to struggle, a lady with 15 years on him. In his own words ‘ howay hinny nee bother i’ll get ye up that hill nee bother’. Up that hill they battled and the gentleman that he is didn’t leave her side until she could go no more, true sportsmanship was shown on that hill.
It takes something special to turn around and run back, but in true Saltwell spirit John did. He dragged his companion over the top of the hill. Only for her to blast right past him and down the other side, that would be the last time john would run with her.
On the downward couple of miles to Grange the views across Derwentwater are incredible; this half marathon was truly stunning. Although many of the mountains where covered in low cloud and the roads had been tough I spent the last 7 miles enjoying some of the best racing the Lake District has to offer. The route was dotted with spectators who gave the odd ‘well done Saltwell’, I even got a nod of the head and a raise of the mug from a walker who had stopped on the roadside for a cuppa.
The last undulating stretch on the east shore of the lake came and went quickly. I moved between small groups of racers, tagging along with some faster lads who dragged me to mile 12. I made a big dig and left them, but this final mille was a long one. I eventually hit Keswick and knew there were only a few corners to get around before arriving back at the rugby club. I finished with a time of 1:37.52. I was glad it was over but I knew I had raced a superb course. Phil James took the race to the line, sprinting it out against a Blackhill Bounder to a time of 1:47.22. Graham finished with his usual smile in 1:52.22. John was back next, just a couple of minutes behind in 1:54.01. Naz finished in 2:08.55 with the biggest grin on his face, or was it a grimace. It certainly turned to a grin. I doubt anyone enjoyed the run as much as he did.
The return journey was again filled with laughter and entertainment but with some added cramps, a foot massage, the usual aches and some snoring from the back seat.
Keswick Half certainly was brilliant, one to be done again next year. Hopefully with a little more sunshine and a few more from the club. You won’t be disappointed.