I would never recommend starting your marathon training plan by running a marathon, especially a trail marathon with over 2,500 feet of ascent and to be honest it’s not something I would normally do especially when I haven’t been training for a marathon. My normal training load is pretty high with a weekly volume of around eighty miles per week which is what I would normally do when training for a marathon. The difference is my weekly mileage has been made up of running twice a day most days and has been missing the key elements of a marathon training plan which are a mid week medium to long run of around ninety minutes and a weekly long run of two hours. I have only ran four training runs over sixteen miles this year and I was just about to start my marathon training plan for an Autumn marathon. I was confident I could handle the distance but there’s a big difference between running 26.2 miles and racing over this distance There’s not many races I see and instantly think I would like to do, especially when I haven’t been training for that distance. This race really caught my attention as I know the area well and it’s in a beautiful part of the Peak District. I messaged the race organiser asking for more details on the race route and really liked the look of the route. The route mainly followed the path around the Ladybower Reservoir but with the added challenge of a two mile climb from mile fourteen to take you away from the main paths and the chance to see some amazing views before a quick technical decent taking you back down to the tourist path. The lack of long runs in my current training was putting me off entering and there wasn’t much time to start upping my distance. I decided to keep tabs on how the race was progressing and who was entering. As the weeks passed the race was getting more and more interest and I noticed one name get added to the start list that I knew would make it an interesting race and would be a great way to test my fitness on the trails.
I decided to keep my decision to enter this race to myself and entered on the last day so there wouldn’t be any added pressure come race day. I saw the familiar face of Matty Brennan as it was his name I had recognized on the starting list. We know each other from the few ultra races I have done in the past and were both a part of Team Mountain Fuel. He’s really well known in the trail and ultra running community for being a tough competitor and always finishes on the podium at some of the biggest trail races in the UK. I was looking forward to toeing the line to see where my fitness level was but most of all, I was looking forward to running the route as I knew the views were going to be spectacular.
The race started from the Fairholmes visitor centre and head out in a clockwise direction around the Derwent and Howden reservoirs with a check point around every five miles. My race plan was to run in my threshold zone (159 bpm – 169 bpm) and slowly increase the intensity as the race went on. Running a marathon on heart rate is a great way to manage your effort levels especially on a hilly course or on a windy day. I quickly settled into a good rhythm at the front of the race along with my team mate Matty. It felt good to be running my own race and have someone for company. We chatted away discussing heart rate training and what heart rate we were going to try and keep through out the race. I’m sure we were trying to work out each others race plans, I know I was anyway. I thought I would have a slight advantage on the faster and more runnable sections due to my speed and quicker leg turn over from racing on the roads, while I was sure he would be a lot stronger on the climb and descents due to him been a fell and ultra runner and targeting the Lakeland 50 in July.
This would be the first time I have used the Mountain Fuel range as my nutrition over the marathon distance. I had made up four On the Go Mountain Fuel gels to use at miles 5, 10, 15 and 20 which is my normal nutrition plan for this distance. The first twelve miles went pretty much to plan, we both were running our own race and didn’t really worry about what the other was doing. I just kept my heart rate towards the top of my threshold zone as I know I can hold this effort for three hours. I would open up a small lead at the first two check points as Matty was stopping to grab hand full of sweets to fuel his run and he would catch me up on the climbs. This was working well for me as it allowed me to relax on the climbs and take my fuel on board with out worrying about losing time. There was a wooded trail section just before the big climb on the route and for the first time I wasn’t able to match his pace and I was been forced to work a little too hard keep in touch so early on in the race. There couldn’t have been a worse time to start to lose ground as I knew the next section he would be even stronger on. Luckily there was another well stocked check point just before the start of the climb and he stopped again to grab some fuel which allowed me to close the gap. The climb was split into two sections and with my heart rate rising to 176 bpm at the top of the first section I was working way too hard to keep within touching distance, so I decided to let him go. I could see some cyclists half way up the second part of the climb and to give you an idea of how well Matty climbed and descended this section, he managed to catch the cyclist before they reached the summit and was able to descend quicker than them he even had time to shut the gate before they reached the bottom. They weren’t very happy about this and while holding the gate open for me I got some words of encouragement along the lines of ”the f###er shut the gate on us, hope you catch him”. I was confident I would be quicker over the final section but I was probably about sixty seconds behind.
This is where I would normally take my third gel on board but I didn’t feel like I needed it as I was full of energy and decided to wait until mile 20 to take my next one ready for the final push. On the Howden reservoir there’s a dog leg section where I managed to catch sight of him on the opposite side of the water and from what I could see he wasn’t moving very quickly and I was quickly closing the gap. Luckily for me he had been forced to walk due to getting a side stitch, I was rather pleased by this and thought to myself he must have worked to hard earlier to open up such a big lead on me. As I got closer he was forced to try and run to stop me from going past, I tried to go past and got some words of encouragement “go on mate push on I’m not holding hands with you over the finish line” but for some reason I couldn’t push on past. I decided to tuck in and recover a little until we reached the final check point where I would take my final gel and make a long run for home. With my heart rate already at the top of threshold I was mentally prepared for a long hard run home and thought I would be able to pick up the pace from the top of the dams. I told myself it’s all down hill.
As we headed over the bridge at the very top of the dams ready to take the sharp right hand turn and make that long hard run for the finish I cramped up, probably due to the change in my running gate. I tried to run it off but there was no chance as I cramped up in the other leg. It’s the first time I’ve ever had to stop due to cramp, I’ve been close a few times but I’ve always managed to run it off. I had to stop and stretch out my hamstrings while watching Matty disappear in to the distance. I had no option other than to chase hard to make up the lost time but I knew I wouldn’t have anything left if it came down to a sprint finish but I had nothing to lose. I was working hard and not paying attention to my heart rate I was just trying my hardest to slowly close the distance. My quicker leg turn over seemed to give me the slight advantage I needed on the short descents. As we approached the final dam wall I managed to get back on level terms but unfortunately he must have heard my foot steps behind him and he picked up the pace before I had chance to go past. I tried to match his pace but there was no chance as I had nothing left. I gave it my all and ran a really good race which I was really pleased to finish around twenty seconds behind him in 2nd place with a time of 3 hours and minutes.
If you are looking for a friendly, low key marathon with fantastic views for 26.2 miles then this is the race for you. I would really recommend entering this race next year. The check points are really well stocked every five miles too.