Andy Porter is the husband of Kathy, one of our Members here at the Centre. In March, he undertook a fabulous fundraiser - running around Coniston Water with his nephew, Ian, taking part in the Coniston 14 Road Race.  Andy raised over £1,400 for the Centre - we're so grateful to him for undertaking this challenge on our behalf.  

Nobody tells it better than Andy himself, so here's his account of his achievement.   

14 miles around Coniston — A Lope on the Lake

"We start together, we finish together!"

I glanced around at the three beaming 30- and 40-something faces and listened to their chat.  “I’m taking it easy after the Liverpool Half last week, I did a sub-1’45” said one… “Me too, it’s a nice little warm up for the London Marathon next month” …"I’m not pushing it, maybe settle for 2 hours” …   I was thinking "Thanks, lads — that’s great, but I’m a lot older than you, and I might need a little more time..."  

When my nephew Ian suggested accompanying me on the Coniston 14, I was delighted. The Lake District is in our blood. My Dad was born a few miles south in Ulverston. As a youngster, Coniston was his playground — climbing classic routes on Dow Crag, skating on the lake in winter or swimming across it in the summer months; he loved the place.   My grandmother spent her last years at Water Yeat Mill, and we would go to see her there, combining the visits with many memorable picnics.   

Dad took me up Coniston Old Man one very hot summer’s day when I was 9. I've loved walking in the mountains ever since - so many fond memories of being there with Kathy, our own kids and Bryn, our chocolate lab who loved to retrieve sticks from the clear water or, when he was old and grey-muzzled, just to paddle and gaze philosophically across the lake.

I first heard about the Coniston 14 ten or so years ago and knew it was something I had to do. I signed up for the 2020 Run, but at the last minute it was cancelled as the country lurched blindly into Covid 19 and Lockdown. 14.05 miles around the lake can’t be bad, can it? I mean the lake is flat and if you’re running round it. Coniston Water is indeed, flat. That’s why it was the location for Donald Campbell’s tragic, fatal attempt on the World Water Speed Record in 1969 in the legendary Bluebird.

However, it is also surrounded by hills, from the craggy and benevolent Old Man at one end to the Furness Fells at the other. To run around the lake, you have to negotiate the contours of these hills. So, the run has a total ascent of around 900 feet. It’s not flat. The first mile is ALL uphill. It’s a challenge, but nothing like the challenge of MS, a challenge Kathy faces every day with practicality, good humour and determination.

The Neuro Therapy Centre in Chester has been a brilliant discovery since Kathy’s first visit nine years ago. She attends gym and Pilates sessions twice a week and has nothing but praise for the fantastic, highly trained team there, who enable people with neurological orders such as MS to exercise together and stay active and healthy.

Since Kathy's diagnosis in 2003 I have had the chance to do several charity runs. This time I decided to run for the Neuro Therapy Centre, having seen at first hand the impact it has, and knowing that, like all small, local UK charities it depends entirely on donations to survive and enable more people in need to benefit from its amazing work.

I had not done a Half Marathon since 2020. Running these days entails a few cursory stretches followed by some stumbling around the lanes and trails of our home village, Great Barrow. I do this once or twice a week, in an attempt to keep moving and avoid any damage to my fragile left Achilles or right knee. Occasionally I get distracted by a podcast and take a wrong turn (OK, those senior moments have got more frequent since I turned 60). This means I run farther, so they contribute to what I laughingly refer to as my “training programme”.  Every weekend I run with “The Barrow Buzzards”, a group formed in Lockdown who meet on Saturday morning for 5K, either off-road or on-road. Runs end with coffee and home baked cakes. I am not a dedicated ultra-athlete or even a conventional “runner”.

So there were definitely a few butterflies at the start of this one. Ian’s friends were brilliant. Two Wigan lads, both called “Mike”, which made communications straightforward. I told them how I had failed dismally to nail down the recommended pre-run pasta the night before. There was only one Italian restaurant in Ulverston, where I had stayed, and by the time I got there it was closed. Instead, I carb-loaded with fish and chips from the excellent ‘Chippy Bank Café’, munching them out of the paper with a small wooden takeaway fork in a car park. At that point I did not feel like Mo Farah.

The next morning brought beautiful spring sunshine and the village of Coniston was buzzing, with lots of locals out to support the runners. Picturesque daffodils lined parts of the course and the bracken cloaked hills stood out against a sky that had more than a trace of blue. Darker clouds were gathering to the north, but we ignored these, wished each other luck and concentrated on the steep climb up to Torver.  

I could see a lot of club running vests, with competitors from Ryton, Glossop, Lancaster and Barrow-in-Furness. Nobody was in fancy dress, so at least I would not be overtaken by a pantomime horse  or anyone wearing a rhino suit. As we made steady progress along the more populated West side of the lake the 1500 or so runners began to spread out. I was surprised that we seemed to be passing more people than were passing us. “We’re on for a decent time" commented one of the Mikes, and the pace is steady”. I felt good, despite leaving my wine gums in the car, and took half a paper cup of water at both water stations. There were Herdwick sheep nibbling in the fields and the lake surface was like glass. We crossed a river in full spate cascading through a wooded glade. "That’s what we came for  -  beautiful” commented a Mike. At six miles we reached Water Yeat and I pointed out Grandma’s room to Ian, and the little beck where I used to fish for bullheads and baby trout.

Running across to the east side brought the mountains at the top of the valley into view. The east of Coniston is a magical place, with Grizedale Forest running right down to the lakeside. The shoreline is a tangle of silver birch and Scots pine, heather and rocky outcrops. It is usually very peaceful and the country’s only indigenous red deer live here. I remember almost bumping into one once  -  we gave each other quite a shock.  

The weather began to close in and a full rainbow appeared ahead of us.  I was conscious of the steep hill which loomed at around 12 miles, after we had passed John Ruskin’s house, Brantwood. The other lads were now beginning to pull away from me  - that’s fine, I needed to keep my pace steady and dig a little deeper for the hill. They were waiting for me at the top. “We start together, we finish together”.  

The sharp descent to the end of the lake was tough on the knees and just as we hit the last mile or so a squall blew in across the lake, whipping up a spray from the surface with horizontal hailstones peppering our faces. Now it felt more like a proper Lakeland day. As we entered the village the crowds were out in force. I remembered the advice from an old friend before my first Great North Run, seventeen years earlier: “Engage with the crowd”. It gave you a boost to be cheered on by smiling, clapping strangers who knew what you had just done, calling out your name, printed on the race number on your chest. “C’mon Andy, you’re nearly there!”

We crossed the line again, this time for the finish, and picked up another cup of water and a small Coniston slate drinks coaster as a memento of an incredible day. Our times arrived almost immediately. 2hours 1 minute 34 seconds. With all those hills? Not shabby at all. And in there, somehow, was my best half marathon time in 15 years. Running with the “youngsters” had done me no harm after all.

Within 30 minutes we were in the Black Bull pub sipping pints of Bluebird Ale, brewed on the premises, and tucking into yes, yet another plate of fish and chips. The pub was full of chattering, brightly coloured, damp runners. Would we do it again? Too right we would. The Coniston 14 had been uplifting, in every sense.

 Andy Porter, March 2024


We're incredibly grateful to Andy and his nephew, Ian, and all the people who supported and sponsored him.   If this inspires you to set yourself your own fundraising challenge, please contact [email protected] and we'll give you all the support you need.