By Michael Connaughton
“Mike, you have to do Coniston 14.”
Lines uttered to me umpteen times by Lee, a guy I used to work with in Stockport. More of a cyclist and swimmer than a runner Lee however waxed lyrical about the 14 mile race around Coniston Water pretty much every time running cropped up in conversation. Thankfully in 2019 it fitted into my diary so at 0730 last Saturday morning I departed North Manchester bound for the Lake District.
The convenient gun time of 11am allowed me to sneak in a parkrun at Fell Foot near Newby Bridge on the way up. Now the last time I was in Newby Bridge, on Lake Windermere’s southern shore, I was repairing the roof of a rich man’s tennis court building when suddenly a US Air Force F-15E screamed by directly overhead. The shock and deafening noise nearly knocked me from the roof and my future running could’ve been ended before it started by an ‘oversexed, overpaid and over here’ Yankee airman on a Lakes training sortie.
After a quicker than planned parkrun at Feel Foot mainly due to a bit of friendly rivalry I got my barcode scanned, swapped the trail shoes for road shoes and set off on the thirty minute drive to Coniston village.
As I approached Coniston Water the race feel became apparent. Marshals were out on the course, water stations were being set up, cattle grids being taken care of and mile markers were already in place. The approach also hinted at what was in store namely country roads filled with upping and downing.
The race HQ was in John Ruskin School but with numbers already posted out there was plenty of time to take care of last minute toilet business, browse expensive running clobber at a mobile store (£140 for a light jacket!) and soak up the vibrant atmosphere of a Cumbrian village taken over by runners. I met up with Glyn, a Salford/Prestwich birunningclubual, who was taking on the race for the tenth successive year. Meanwhile his much better half and Prestwich AC (PAC) race chooserer Jo was scaling the nearby 2500ft Old Man of Coniston rather than racing. Moments before the start we bumped into Andy and Steve, a couple of ex-PACs, and a non-running PAC in Tony.
Coniston Water is the typical long and narrow glacial lake, 5.5 miles in length by 0.5 mile wide. Coniston village is located at northwestern end of the lake and the route followed an anti-clockwise direction around it. Due to being a participant in next week’s Greater Manchester Marathon I fully intended to take it easy and enjoy this scenic 14 miler and initially I did. However following the steepish climb out of Coniston village along the A593 the gradient eased somewhat and my legs took the run of themselves and quickened up. It then settled into the lumpy up and down affair and after five miles of running on country road between rock, greenery and trees the route proceeded to pretty much border the lake from there on in to the finish.
Upon reaching Water Yeat at Coniston’s southern tip we made a left along a farm track, crossed the River Crake and then turned left again shortly after and headed north along the quieter eastern bank road. This is where the scenic beauty of the race truly imposed itself upon us. The Lake District needs absolutely no introduction but the views across the Water toward the Coniston Fells were bloody breathtaking. Thankfully the early morning low cloud had receded leaving Old Man of Coniston and other fell summits in full view. Simply majestic.
I had been forewarned about a rather arduous incline at Brantwood between 11-12 miles and by God it duly delivered. It was a real pace reducer. The benefit of the climb however was the opportunity to look down from height directly across from Coniston village and up toward The Old Man. The two mile remainder of the race route could also be viewed.
What went up sharply also dropped sharply and pretty soon we were down by the lakeside once again for the final dash around the north of the lake, through Coniston village rammed with vocal support to finish where we had started just off Lake Road. My finish time of 1:48:17 ended up nearly twelve minutes ahead of what I intended but hey what can you do when your legs take the run of themselves. Not the best of marathon tapers.
After collecting the branded Cumbrian slate coaster at the finish, I’m a big fan of useful race gifts, and perusing the cake stall we repaired to the Black Bull Inn for post race chat over chips washed down with a pint of Old Man Ale for me and Special Oatmeal Stout for Jo and Glyn from the local Coniston Brewing Co. There I met some fellow parkrun/race doublers, one of whom I had previously met at the all beach Portrush parkrun last September, who had like me done Fell Foot or Ford parkrun in Stan Laurel’s home town of Ulverston.
Running the Coniston 14 is a truly fantastic experience. I grow weary of the expensive big event races so it’s refreshing to participate in a decent sized race cemented with a local ethos and brimming with community spirit. From it’s humble beginnings in the early 1980s the money raised from the registration fee right down to the cakey buns sold in the school gets redistributed amongst local charities and organisations. It’s the type of event where you feel good parting company with your hard-earned readies.
I am definitely a convert to the Coniston race and it is now copper fastened into my annual race diary alongside the Goof Friday Salford Road 10k (if only for the scrap washing machine with the ‘caution runner’ sign on it) and the Dublin Marathon. To others that have not yet experienced it I simply quote my pal Lee when I state that ‘you have to do Coniston 14.’