Last weekend I ran this event. Here are my thoughts and feelings three days later.
After never really consider running a marathon, I ran one in 2012. And then another. I continued in 2013 and by the end of the year I had run 4 marathons and 2 ultras. This year, however, I really got stuck in and this was my 6th (and last !) in 2014.
I had run this in 2012 in a time of 4:03:52 which remained my PB. In truth, with the exception of Edinburgh in 2013, the others were all true hill affairs and a PB was never a possibility. So I came to this with the goal of a PB and a sub 4 hour time.
Perhaps not ideally, I ran the Yorkshireman marathon 3 weeks before, had great fun and felt strong throughout. This gave me a big boost in confidence and all my training had gone well.
I don't have experience of revisiting marathon courses usually, but this time I did. Would this be helpful or not? I remembered from 2012 how undulating the course is and how hard I found that and so it proved to be again. I decided to try to take it steady, walk every hill and run it smart !
I did start off a little quicker than I intended, but its so hard not to when you are fresh. It was nothing silly and I was quite happy trotting along at 8.45 pace for a good few miles. I knew that 9.09 was 4 hours roughly. I passed halfway in 1:55, knowing the sharpest hill is not long after. I happily walked it. I was not long after that that I started to feel things. First were my hip flexors, next was my left hamstring. Nothing major, just them letting you know that they're working. I rarely get cramp but had an attack in my left hammy whilst sitting on the sofa on the Friday night and again in bed on Saturday morning. This was where I was feeling it now.
I watched as the average pace rose on my watch and started trying to do some mental arithmetic. I'm generally good at this but its amazing how muddled you can get whilst running a mara ! Crossing the dam (mile 17-18) I reckoned if I could keep knocking out the miles as I had been, I'd be fine for both goals.
Now I can guess that you are thinking that there must be a twist to come. Oh yes ! Two actually. Firstly I has forgotten how undulating and hilly the section after the dam is and secondly I'd made a schoolboy error. I'd realised this error around halfway but now it had become a problem. My shoes were too small ! I have a favourite pair of shoes that are quite hard up now and decided that some others would be more suited to the nature of the paths we were to be running on. I had run this before so I remembered the surface. I had not long got these shoes, which were a half size smaller than the 1st pair I'd bought, and had my suspicions that they may be a tad too small. I'd run in them several times, but obviously not over this distance.
As my feet screamed at me, I battled on and my watch showed that my average pace had dropped to 9.10 pace. I said to myself that if I could maintain this, surely I could raise my game for the last mile. Immediately the pace rose to 9:11 :-( It was at this point I decided the sub 4 was gone, but the PB was still on so I eased off slightly.
I couldn't help myself from trying to continually work out the maths. Was this still on or not? I caned the last mile to finish with a time of 4:00:41. I'd got my PB by 3 minutes+ but not the sub 4.
Thinking the race through, I'm fairly happy with how I executed it. The shoe gaff is my biggest regret. Could I have found 42 seconds in other shoes? Possibly. But I also remind myself that I know I left nothing out there on the course and so that time was the best I could come up with. I was simply not fast enough. As this had over 1700 feet of climb and I've only ever run one road marathon and said I'd never run another, perhaps thats where I have to go if I really want to bust the 4 hours:-)
About the event itself. There are many many water stations which allowed me not to carry water. I like this as I can run light so to speak. I do enjoy the hill marathons where you have to carry full kit as well as water, but it was nice to set off running not feeling you were carrying a load.
The marshalling and support was outstanding. The route is pretty self explanatory but where there were marshals they were so positive (if you've ever run a mara you'll know how much of a lift this gives you).
In summary, from my limited experience this is a quite unique route. It is entirely runable. There are no bogs, gates, stiles yet its quite hilly. Maybe it fits the bill for 2 types of runner? Someone moving from the road to the trail and a hill runner looking for a faster run.
Should you consider running Kielder? Your call of course, but if you were to ask me I'd say "HELL YEAH "
Thanks for reading and remember this, if I can so you can too.