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Wednesday, 28 September 2016 19:20

Running the Bay Cycleway in 3 days - Mark Houghton Featured

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The urge to push ourselves, whether its physically, mentally or emotionally, is something many of us share.

In my case the overwhelming desire seems to be the need to see what I'm physically capable of doing.
It wasn't always the case but back in 2013 I ran my first half marathon and since then I've not stopped challenging myself. Last year I did a 450 mile solo charity walk from Northern France to Lancaster. It was hard not impossible and once I'd finished I wondered about the next challenge. My walk was 3 weeks of effort but I toyed with the idea of something more phsically challenging, something more intense.
I came back to live in Lancaster in September 2015 and heard that there was a brand new cycleway which ran from Walney Island to Glasson Dock and this got my interest. Now clearly lots of people have cycled this route but in all my research it didn't seem that anyone had run the 81 mile route and I really liked the idea of being the first. The idea seemed to have wonderful symmetry. A local challenge. A local man and so logically it had to be for a local charity - St Johns' Hospice in Lancaster. It would be such a massive challenge for me but by running it for charity it would really keep me motivated and also impossible to back down!
At this stage the furthest I'd ever run was a half-marathon so I needed to do some serious training. My first target was to run a marathon so I signed up the Blackpool marathon in April. I finished the race but a leg injury slowed me up for the last few miles so my time of 4:58 was hardly stellar.
And injury of one kind or another dogged me through the whole period of preparation. I had hoped to run at least a back to back half-marathon but even this proved impossible. However, I suspect my injuries actually were advantageous. If I couldn't run then what else could I do? I joined the gym at the university and if I couldn't run I'd row and swim. So for a sustained period I'd row 10km and then swim 1k in the pool, six days a week and I this really improved my core strength.
For the run itself I decided to have a support cyclist with me to carry my liquids, food and other bits and bobs. I'd decided that I'd run the route in three days so to begin with I thought this would be effectively three marathons in three days. However, as I finalised my plans things changed. I was planning to come home every night for a sports massage and a good sleep and the logistics of getting me and my support cyclist to and from the start/finish points by car was problematic so I decided to use the rail system. The implications for the run were massive, particularly on the first day. I was starting my run at Walney Island and if I stopped for the day at Ulverston railway station then I'd only run about 19 miles which wasn't far enough. The problem was that the next rail station was Cark & Cartmel which was at the 33 mile mark! So on my first day I'd be running an ultra and not a marathon! Gulp!
Day two would be from Cark & Cartmel to Silverdale, a distance of 26 miles and my final day would be a mere 21 miles. Psychologically I think this would be good as each day I'd be running 7 miles less than the previous day.
The run began on 9 September at 0900 at Walney Island. Conditions were good - it was dry, not hot and whilst it was windy it was blowing in the right direction. With my support cyclist Andrew Holme (a volunteer at Lancaster parkrun) I made excellent progress. At Ulverston I met with Ron Eadington who's one of the volunteers at Fell Foot parkrun. Together we ran up the hills behind Ulverston and then I carried on alone down to Greenodd. Mile 24 and I was going pretty well but then I faced the enormous hill that Bigland Hall sits on above Cartmel. I just didn't have enough in the tank to run up it! So I walked but as fast as I could. I felt like a wimp.
The run down to the train station was long and hard but I ran and got there at 2pm which amazed me. I wasn't trying to break any records but I'd done 33 miles in 5 hours which equates to a sub 4 hour marathon!
Day 2 found me back at Cark & Cartmel well rested. I'd had a massage from Billy Gardener and an ice bath before eating a lot of food and going to bed. My support cyclist was Jim Bacon, another regular volunteer and runner at Lancaster parkrun. The day went well and there were none of the killers hills of the previous day. I had a few breaks in the day for fuel/liquids and met up with Steve and Christine Perry at Witherslack - their support was much appreciated. It was a long hot slog past Sandside and after a break for tea and cake at Arnside the last section to Silverdale was very very hard. The road was so up and down it was hard to get into a decent rhythym and I was tired. But I made it.
And so onto the final day. Billy had given my another massage and I felt pretty good. With only 21 miles to go I knew that unless something catastrophic happened I'd make it. It was a lovely sunny day and at Silverdale station I met up with other parkrun friends who would cycle with me. Although I had a slight niggle in my right knee I fairly powered up the road which flanks Warton crag and then onto Carnforth and the canal towpath. I also picked up a couple of runner friends and it was in my mind a bit like the last day of the school term - a bit of a holiday atmosphere. The run along the front at Morecambe was lovely and we picked up more runners including Steve Perry and later in Lancaster Lisa Preston. The final trot down to Glasson was fantastic and I was on a real high as I knew I'd make it. My friends were collecting money for me as I ran and they got lots of donations at the Cafe de Lune at Conder Green. I also got a round of applause which was a bit embarassing. And then the final bit to Glasson and I just had to sprint it.
81 miles run in around 15 hours. I had run further than I'd ever run before and whilst it was physically hard it was actually less gruelling than I expected. I put this down to being really motivated but at the same time the support of my support cyclists was invaluable and I was lucky. Lucky not to pick up an injury and lucky with the weather. It was an amazing thing to do and it still surprises me that I did it. And so what now? Only time will tell.

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