The running blog of Kielder Marathon, 2017. It is long, so buckle up.
I decided a while back that I wanted to do another marathon – last year, I was keen to do the Toronto Marathon 2016, having done the half fairly regularly since moving there. I was keen to run the whole city in October before leaving in January to head back to the UK. Training for that marathon went a bit haywire just after the ill fated Crawcrook marathon – with 25k+ runs happening in 25-33C. Building up the runs in August, I realized something was up – age? Shouldn’t I be fitter? Or is it due to the young Ben Heron who arrived in March? I wasn’t sure, but my training started to suffer.
After a trip to the Rocky Mountains of Colorado in October, I noticed my breathing was abysmal. Short of breath in the high altitude. This was to be expected, I thought, but I was a little disappointed. Then on the week of the Marathon, I attempted to run 5K in mild weather in Toronto. It took me about 29 mins. I had to walk a few times. I was done.
So, I started the 2016 Toronto Marathon with a marathon bib, hoping just to run as much as I could, but walk it if needs be. After 6 miles I was beat. Ready to throw in the towel. It was too much for my poor lungs. I made it to where the marathon and half marathon split, and went to the half marathon section. I dragged my body over the line and nearly fainted. I grabbed a paramedic and made them talk to me until I got my footing. I managed to pull it together to head down and cheer on some friends who were running in the marathon, but I was disappointed.
A quick trip to the doctors a couple of days later revealed I have developed sport and stress induced asthma, which would ultimately put me on inhalers for the next 5 months. I put this down to a crazy work schedule, a new born, and moving countries. And the heat, and the altitude. haha.
So, fast forward to Feb 2017, feeling lighter in my lungs, I signed up for the Kielder Marathon. A marathon I knew little about, but it was close-ish and titled “Britain’s most beautiful”. Having lived away from the North East since leaving in 2002, I thought this would be a great way to get reacquainted with running and the excellent outdoors we have.
This time, I wanted a decent running plan. I am very lucky in that I know a lovely person who is a Coach at Nike in Toronto. Making training plans for all levels, distances, etc. Inge provided me with a tailored plan that was intense – 5 days a week of session. However, we both agreed that 3 of those sessions a week would be enough. The amazing session that were planned were incredible (thanks!!).
I had lofty goals of 3h45 (not really knowing much about the hilliness of the marathon itself) – my previous marathon was ran in 3 hours 62 minutes. As training went on, and the many busy periods occurred, I could see my mentality changing from 3h45, to sub-4. About a month ago, after running some serious hills in my final long runs, I was happy to do any time. Time was not important. Secretly, i wanted the family marathon record (4 hours 1 minute). But, in all honesty, those times disappeared during my long runs. I would have to keep up a decent pace for ages. And those hills were not going to let it happen.
I missed a few long runs, but not many. Life gets in the way. But, mainly, I managed 3 sessions a week.
As what always seems to be the case, loads of things got in the way in the last month. A trip abroad, prep, everything. But, I was still vaguely happy with the long runs. I had in mind that 4h15 would be doable. Anything over would be disappointing. 4h on the cards?
So, after that long preamble, race day! We stayed at my mam’s and left Ben there, Missy and Beardsley came up to Kielder to watch, with Missy never having been up there. I think I went when I was about 4, but it was all new to me.
I hung out with Ben in the morning, while feeding myself a big bowl of porridge, a banana, a satsuma, an apple, and two slices of toast. I then went mad on water. Just nailing it.
We got in the car around 8.30 and made the 70 minute drive up to Kielder. I realized I hadn’t really thought too much about race day. So as we were driving, I saw the start line, pulled up on the grassy verge, got my gear on, and bid Missy farewell.
“You go park and I’ll see you at the finish line, which is also the start line, here, in about 4 hours to 4 and a half hours.”
Off she went, and off I went, down to the rather small start line.
I was hanging out at the start when I noticed something was a miss. All the pace times were mega fast – 1h30, 1h40… I had got off at the half marathon start.
I quickly ran back up the hill and asked a steward where the marathon start line was.
“About 6 miles down the road!”
Luckily I was able to jump on an empty shuttle bus that was ferrying people from the car parks to the start line.
Then I realized… MISSY! Will she notice? Will she head back to that start line?
I picked up my phone – NO SIGNAL! ARGHHH!
The bus was stuck in a mega traffic jam, but was plucked out of it by some stewarding cars, and we hurtled towards the car parks. I saw Missy in our car about 15 back, so I got off the bus and let her know that I had messed up! She managed to get parked and head down to the correct start line to hang out with me before the delayed race began.
As usual at the start line, I was chatting to a few people beforehand and they kept going on about the hills. I was a bit naive, but hopeful that they wouldn’t be horrific. They can’t be as bad as Durham to Stanley. Nothing is worse than the runs I had been doing from Durham to Crawcrook.
So, we set off… looping from the start back to the finish line and off around the lake. Never have I ever ran such a stunning course. It was a lot of fun. The views, the trees, the lake. The bridges. But the hills. They were constant. Up and down, up and down. I kept pushing the thoughts out my head that this would take it’s toll.
I was feeling really really light and fresh at the start. I didn’t walk any hill for about 25 k. I killed them. Up and down, gliding. About 16 k (10 mile) in there was a huge hill, winding and steep. Loads of the people I had been running with (at a very stead 5:15 per km pace (8:30 mile)) started to drop. I found some other people to run with, silent friends I kept up with, setting my pace. With every hill came people slowing down and then speeding past me on the flat. I kept a steady pace. Killing the hills without breaking pace one by one.
First half was done in 1 hour 54, 5:25 mins/km, just under 9 min miles. Very happy with that, I thought. I had been getting water every stop, and contained all the way. Drinking it slowly on the way round, and depositing it at the next station. I had a few isotonic drinks when they were offered, too. But, nothing else. I had no gels. I had never really gotten round to trying them. Previously, I had felt they drained me. Sugar and me aren’t good pals. But that was a long time ago. Now I’m curious, could they have helped me? Everyone else had them!
I could feel my legs tingled as I passed half way. Trying to keep the dark thoughts from my head, I try to push on. I did have one thing up my sleeve though for fuel —— a penguin bar! I had it in my little belt pouch and I was waiting until 30k to take it. See if it would give me something extra. A penguin bar. I felt like I was on a school trip and me mam had given me something to tide me over. In fact, it was the same penguin bar that I made Missy put in her purse for the wedding we went to two weeks earlier. Now it was running around a lake with me.
I wanted to wait until 30k, but I could feel the legs struggling after about 22-23k. I don’t know whether I had gone out too fast, or hadn’t respected the hills, but I felt I was on the verge of trouble.
I stopped, and I had my penguin, and the familiar faces I had been running with over took me on their way. Would I be able to start again? Was I going to cramp? I didn’t know. But I was genuinely worried. The race between 23-31k was a disaster. Slowing down, walking. Struggling.
But from about 32 k, 10 k to go, I got a second wind. Let’s call it the Penguin Impact. I felt light, and I felt fast. I wasn’t fast, I’d slowed to between 6:10 and 6:40 a km, but I was flying! The music was playing, I was passing people, I was really enjoying myself – especially cracking jokes to the volunteers.
One spectator, who I will call the Running Guru, cheered me on and looking me dead in the eye said:
“In life, never look back, always look forward”.
He was right! Only 5k to go! I was flying! Dipped under 6 mins for km 38.
Then that final mega hill. It winds up through the forest, 4 switchbacks, perhaps? I looked up at it and saw everyone, to a runner, was walking. Everyone. So, being the novice, I started to walk too.
I got about half way up when I heard a voice from an Essex Police officer saying –
“What is wrong with you all, come on, let’s go! Let’s get up this hill, I’ve come all the way from Essex for a run!”
He sported past me, so I jumped on with him. Chatting as will climbed this hill together, the only ones running. Kings of the hills, conquerers of Kielder.
We had been going for about a minute when he turned and said:
“Actually, it is a bit steep. I’m stopping. You go on ahead fella.”
I laughed and off I did. But, there was trouble brewing, my legs felt weird, my head felt weird. Managed to get on some flat and maintained a pace and the Essex fella caught me up. We had a chat about pace and I said I would just follow him in. On for a 4h 10 finish. I was happy with that. That would be incredible. This is a hard course. A very hard course. And I would be very pleased with such a finish.
Then my pace started to fade, and he started to get moving. I watched him go, cheering him on. Then other runners who I had been previously with started to pass me. All the old faces. I cheered them on, mainly because I had formed silent friendships in my mind with them as we all ran together. I was amazed to see loads of runners who had stopped with cramp that I had a chat with, all rallying towards the end. Incredible testament to the human spirit.
I never got cramp, but I was petrified that it would occur. And that I wouldn’t be able to get going again.
The last 2 miles were horrific. Half walking, half running. Trying to keep it together mentally and not be sick, fall, or faint. When I got to 26 miles I thought “finish strong!” But there was a little hill there that floored me. So I walked. Then the crowds started to appear in trees – the noise was unbelievable. A great crowd at Britain’s Most Beautiful. I felt honoured to get their support for those last 700m, and very pleased to keep running towards the finish.
About 100m from the finish, I clocked Missy and ran over to give her a wee kiss. This was greeted well by the crowd and the announcer, who asked if “anyone else wanted a kiss from Phil Heron?”. I found the other announcer, Barry, 20 m from the finish and give him a big peck on the cheek. I was having fun, and loving every clap and cheer.
Time 4 hours 13 minutes, 13 seconds. Very happy, very tired, and very emotional. And I had fantastic hair throughout.
However, I felt ill. I managed to get a tea in me, but water wasn’t happening. I struggled with a cheese sandwich in the car on the way home (laced with crisps), and felt like I was going to vomit on every bend.
My legs weren’t too bad, but very sore. Getting back to my mam’s, we played for a few hours, had a sunday dinner, then heading back home.
I had a quick beer to celebrate the run, and went to bed feeling uncomfortable, but happy.
Then, at 1am, I was violently ill. Being sick every hour until 6am, sweating. From what I understand, I have a virus of some sort, as I write this, still haven’t eaten anything (at lunch time the day after). I feel pretty terrible, with my legs sore, body drained, and really struggling to keep water in me.
Sitting here writing this, off work(!), I’m hoping I don’t associate this feeling with running. Those damn hills were incredible and the Kielder Marathon is indeed Britain’s Most Beautiful.
I wonder what will be next.
“In life, never look back, always look forward”.