Climbing the Coniston Old Man

The crowd buzzes with excitement. At 10°C, the weather is perfect for running minus the grey sky, though rays of sunshine peeks in and out of the clouds from time to time. All around them, runners gather in small groups, chatting among themselves as they wait for the race to begin. A lady warms up by raising her legs in quick alternative motions. Toddlers weave in and out around the festival area, squealing and laughing as they chase each other around.

At the start line, she rubs her palms together to stay warm while she looks on at the massive mountain in the distance. Three months ago, she vowed to herself that she would step up her training plan and increase the distance of her Sunday runs. Now she regrets not following through. Looking at the grey sky, she hopes that it doesn’t start raining.

 

“Ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five…” the crowd chants, snapping her back to reality.

 

“Four, three, two, one!” The crowd starts to move along slowly. As their feet land on the timing mats, the crowd speeds up.

 

For the first 3km, it is relatively smooth. They maintain their normal pace, just like their practice runs. At 3.5km, they hit a steep incline. Many runners slows to a rapid walk. She was no exception. In fact, she is probably the worst as more and more runners pass her. He keeps ahead by less than 500 meters, just enough to keep her motivated, constantly glancing back to see if she is still keeping up.

 

The beginning of the race when they could still see most of the runners…

 

On the steep incline, he slows down even though she knows very well that he has the stamina to keep going. She feels guilty for slowing him down. There is no way he would achieve a personal best at this rate.

 

She quickens her step so she catches up with him. “Please go ahead, you don’t have to wait for me,” she says.

“No, we started together, we will finish together,” he says with an encouraging smile. “I would not have asked you to run the race if I didn’t want us to run together,” he added.

If she isn’t so breathless, she would have laughed at his corny comment but at that moment, his encouragement gives her just that tiny bit of motivation to keep going.

Little do they know, the steep hill is actually the Coniston Old Man, one of the tallest summits in the Furnness Fells in Lake District. After what seems like forever, they finally hit flat ground which she thought would make everything better.

Instead, the trail is unbelievably narrow and rocky. The weather gods choose this moment to open up and let heavy drops of rain pour from the open sky. The trail is composed of millions of stone slates, making it extremely slippery in these conditions. She follows closely the footsteps of an elderly runner, whose physique look so frail and skinny but must be a seasoned runner. “Keep it up, you are doing well,” she smiles. Her encouraging words and friendliness gives Sharon another bit of motivation. She runs past a few more puddles, now not caring that her trainers are completely muddy. She just wants to finish the race. Please don’t let me sprain my ankles, she prays even though she is an atheist.

When she takes a moment to look around, the scenery is actually incredibly beautiful and she suddenly understood why it was consistently ranked as one of the most scenic races in the UK. Running on the edge of a mountain cliff, she could see rolling hills and valleys far into the distance. They even came across a waterfall.
The first sighting of the finish line!

The first sighting of the finish line!

For the last 2km, volunteers were dotted along the route. Every time she passes one of them, they would say “almost there” except “there” never seems to arrive. Yet somehow they managed to cross the finish line within their target time. What a sweet relief.

The best part was definitely the massage afterwards. Thank you, that was such a sweet surprise.
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