Known as ‘The Beautiful Marathon’, the Brathay Windermere marathon treats runners to a 26.2 mile loop around England’s largest natural lake, skirting the edge of Grizedale forest and passing through Hawkeshead, Bowness on Windermere and finally Ambleside before returning to the finish line in Brathay.
Sunday 20th May dawned bright and sunny – the first sunshine in Northern England since March – and 737 runners gathered at Brathay Hall to run the sixth Brathay Windermere marathon. This was my first attempt at a marathon, and I had been warned by many fellow runners that it would be a tough one for first timers due to the large number of tough hills. Having run Keswick Half Marathon for the past three years, as well as a number of fell runs, I felt I was up for the challenge, but still I was nervous and prepared for the worst!
The roads were winding and the hills kept on coming, but they weren’t nearly as bad as I’d feared – quite harmless when compared with Keswick Half, or a run on Ilkley Moor! The miles seemed to be disappearing underneath my feet, and refreshments were stationed every three miles, which helped break up the distance into smaller chunks. They were giving out energy drink and Kendal Mint Cake as well as bottled water, but as I’d brought my own energy drink I stuck to the water as I didn’t want to try out anything new on marathon day!
The first 13 miles were stunning, and mostly shaded by trees from the surrounding forests. At mile 13 we ran through Newby Bridge, which was lined with people clapping and cheering, and from here we met the main road back up to Brathay. Although I’d run 13 miles along the western side of Lake Windermere, it was only here that I got my first glimpse of the lake since we left the car park, and now it would accompany me for the last 13 miles. The second half of the course was less picturesque than the first, but it passed through many more towns and villages with people all shouting words of support.
It wasn’t until mile 21 that the distance really started to hit me, and from here my steady pace petered out into what felt at the time like a painful shuffle. Still, I kept going and kept running in the only way I seemed able – very uncomfortably! There was an ice cream van at around mile 22, which one couple had caved in to and were walking along with vanilla cones in hand. I was very tempted to join them, but the determination to complete the marathon the way I had intended to complete it (without walking, and without ice cream!) took over and I kept on.
The last 2 miles were buzzing with encouragement from the on-lookers, and seeing the numbers on the mileage signs getting bigger was incredibly exciting, none more so than the 26 miles post! The last tiny bit of the race was on a long, pebbly hill back up to Brathay Hall, and though I know now it was only one fifth of a mile, it seemed to go on forever! The last few metres of the race are still vivid in my mind – I can even feel my knees crunching as I ran over the roped mat to the finish line, unable to believe that I had actually done it! I was handed my medal and a banana, before I stumbled down to the lake to cool my legs down in Lake Windermere – a fitting end to an incredibly tough but fantastic few hours!
Catherine from Up & Running York