On Friday 30th September I headed North with Pip after work, embarking on a 5 hour car journey to a cottage in rural Northumberland where we were staying for the Kielder Marathon.
If you picture an extremely isolated farm house in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by fields, forest, sheep and grey stone walls, you will have a pretty good idea of the type of place we were staying. We were sharing the cottage with our friends Kate and Hannah, who had booked the day off work and were already there waiting for us to arrive. Following a pretty seamless five hours of A roads and motorways, our sat nav decided that it would attempt to take us to the cottage along narrow tracks that went across fields and into dense forest. After a half an hour of driving in the pitch black; a few tight three-point turns, a couple of face-offs with sheep that wouldn’t move and Kate and Hannah driving out to meet us, we eventually made it to the accommodation. I was hoping this wasn’t a sign of things to come and that navigating the marathon route would be easier than navigating rural Northumberland!
We were running Kielder Marathon to raise awareness for the charity CALM. Sadly in November 2015, my good friend and keen runner Mark, Hannah’s partner, took his own life. Myself, Pip, Mark and Hannah had always spoken about running Kielder but we had never got round to arranging it. We all love trail running and visiting beautiful places, so there was no better marathon to run than “Britain’s most beautiful” marathon. 2016 seemed like the perfect opportunity to have a go at running Kielder, whilst at the same time raising money for a very worthwhile cause.
Saturday was a lovely day and with acres of countryside, tracks and trails on our doorstep we headed out together for a little pre-marathon leg loosener. After an easy three miles in the countryside taking in some brilliant views, a few puddles and an excitable dog that decided to join us, we drove up to Kielder Water to recce the area for the race the next morning and take a look at the course.
Due to the early start of the marathon and the hour drive from the cottage to Kielder, we were up early (I think that the time started with a 5!)
to ensure that we had all of the kit we needed and to de-ice the car! It actually turned out to not be such a cold day and I was glad that I opted not to wear a base layer, I think I’d have been boiling. The team at Kielder do a great job with the organisation, laying on shuttle buses from a dedicated car park to the start area, ensuring there are plenty of loos available and there were huge marquees for baggage and catering. This made it so easy to get to the start area and ready for the race, there was no stress at all.
Before we lined up at the start we bumped into some fellow runners and friends from our running club, Ipswich JAFFA. Hayley, Nigel and Gemma had all travelled up over the weekend for the marathon and it was good to see them there before the race started. The race starter was marathon runner and Olympian, Aly Dixon, who had taken part in and won the 10k event the previous day. Kielder put on a 10k, half marathon, marathon and run bike run events over the whole weekend which means there’s something for everyone and a great atmosphere around the reservoir. The course is known for being relatively undulating and they make off you start up a hill, although it is quite nice to get one of the main hills out of the way early into the race!
I started the race running with Pip, Hannah and Kate. Just 7 days after the Berlin Marathon, I’d decided that I was going to take this one a little easier, enjoy it, take a few photos and generally have a good time.
We all ran together and I was running ahead, snapping a few photos on my phone of them, joining them again and we were all soaking up the atmosphere and taking in the beautiful scenery. After around the 5km mark, the girls decided to stop for a toilet break. They waved me ahead and told me to run on and see if I could catch Nigel up, I wished them luck and said I’d see them at the finish.
The course follows the perimeter of the reservoir around man-made trails, through forests, across bridges and winds up and down. I was loving taking in some new scenery and running on the trails. Much of my training for Berlin had been on the road and it was nice to get away for the tarmac for a little while. I managed to catch up Nigel after about 8 miles. Nigel always has a marathon, ultra or some sort of crazy race lined up, he’s done a fair few including the Dragon’s Back, Autumn 100 and the Lakeland 100 multiple times. We spent some time running together, catching up and getting the low-down on which races I should aim for next! After a few miles Nigel told me to push on and I started to make my way around the North of the reservoir, heading towards the dam at the East end of the water.
After continuing along trails surrounded by woods and up a couple of short hills I arrived at the dam where the trails temporarily turn to concrete paths for a short amount of time. From here we looped along the South of the reservoir and back towards the start. I stopped a few times to take some photos on my phone of the brilliant views. You can see right across the vast stretches of bright blue water and with it being a bright and clear day, the big skies and lush green trees made for inspiring views.
The support at the finish was absolutely brilliant with spectators lining the barriers all the way to the finish line. I crossed the line, collected a great goodie bag containing a brilliant medal and t-shirt. I gathered my belongings and quickly made my way back to the finish, armed with my camera, ready to see Pip, Hannah and Kate cross the line.
There was plenty of tea, coffee, cake and snacks available afterwards, the perfect post-marathon recovery treats. After a brief re-fuel and recovery we made our way back to the car, parked in nearby Falstone, via the free shuttle buses provided by the marathon. On the bus back I mentioned to Pip that just before I got to the section of the course along the dam, I’d noticed a man dressed in black who was part of the organising team and I thought looked to be the spitting image of runner and ex-Olympian Steve Cram. I did say I might have been a little fatigued at that point so wasn’t entirely sure!
We had just pulled into the car park at Falstone and who should greet us off the bus, it was Steve Cram! Together with his partner Allison Curbishley, they run Events of the North, the organisers of the Kielder Marathon. Steve very kindly posed for a photo with his before we returned back to our rural cottage for recovery beer and fish & chips.
An excellent weekend and definitely one of, if not the most beautiful marathon that I’ve run. Check out the Strava below.