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Running ‘The Beautiful Marathon’ in The Lake District

Published on: Monday 16th May 2016

What’s it like to run the Brathay Windermere Marathon? Last year’s winner, Grant Johnson from Walney, shares his experience of the race.

After a 40 mile race, most people like to rest. In fact, it is perhaps medically advised to do so. Eight days after the 40 mile Keswick to Barrow in 2015, I had a marathon to run. Not just any marathon either - the marathon voted the UK's most scenic marathon by Runner’s World, encompassing a 26.2 mile route, anti-clockwise around Windermere, the UK's largest lake.

On race day, we were led down to the start line for the official start by the drummers. Lots of other runners and spectators started to wish good luck to one of the guys at the front, Phil Eccleston. I heard one of the guys a few rows behind say he was most likely to win. With me being a slightly competitive bloke, this got my adrenaline pumping and made me wonder if I could keep up with him. Eventually, the gun went off and I found myself pushing for place at the front, directly behind Phil.

The first hill came and we stuck together. He upped the pace down the short decline on the other side before the next bit of an incline. I continue to stick with him and held that pace. Next thing I knew, I was at the front and the lead escort car was introducing me into the first village as "Grant Johnson, an unattached runner, leading the 9th Brathay Trust Marathon and Phil Eccleston in second place, approximately 200m behind."

I had no idea of this. I thought he was right behind me, as I didn’t dare look back.

I found myself on my own. Not the cleverest thing to do in a marathon, really. However, I believed that my only hope of placing well would be to go out hard and hang on for dear life at the end... so that I did!

The route isn't a route where you can get comfortable at a certain pace and hold it there, since it is too undulating. I started ticking off village by village, with frequent updates of how far behind second place was from the lead car in front.

I put in a reasonable attempt at the steep incline of 15 per cent at mile 7 and then as I descended into Graythwaite, I was told I was over half a mile ahead.

My pace had been pretty consistent down the west side of Windermere. Despite the hilly terrain, I went through 10k in 36mins and 10 miles well under the hour.

At 13 miles, it was a run past Newby Bridge, where there was great support, and then along to Fell Foot where I followed the road back to Ambleside. Although some parts seemed fairly flat, they were false! There were also some steep climbs and rolling hills along that side of the lake, including the famous ‘ice-cream mountain’, which holds a lake viewing point and ice-cream van at the top of a hill.

I managed to plod my way to Ambleside without losing too much ground to second place. I made my way to the Brathay Estate and was greeted with what felt like a mountain of a climb up the drive to the finish. I stumbled up to the brow of the drive and could hear all the cheers around the corner and my name being shouted over the tannoy. They were welcoming me into the gardens of Brathay Hall and I didn't know what to do!

I kept my eyeline low and scurried to the finish. Five metres from the line, I raised both arms in the air in an attempt to acknowledge my achievement - first place in a time of 2 hours, 40 minutes, the fastest time in the previous four years.

Phil finished in second place with a time of 2 hours, 43 minutes - a solid performance which would have beaten the 2014 winner.

All in all, it was a very successful day for me! Exciting times lie ahead for me and the support I get from everyone, as well as the success, makes the training and hard work put in all worthwhile.

Click here to read Grant’s blog entry in full.

Find out more about Grant’s fundraising for Kidney Research UK for girlfriend Amy Rowlinson and his England ambitions.

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