For the runners they are an essential part of a gruelling challenge; for the students the athletes are an ideal opportunity to put into practice the skills taught as part of a leading sports rehabilitation course.
The Brathay 10 by 10 – ten marathons undertaken in ten consecutive days – is billed as the UK’s ultimate endurance race drawing competitors from all over with some making return visits.
The route around Windermere might be picturesque but the undulating course can take its’ toll which is where the second year sports rehabilitation students from the University of Cumbria come into their own.
Under the guidance of sports rehab programme leader Dr Katie Small and placement co-ordinator Adam Smith, 20 students spend ten days offering support to the competitors.
“They perform therapeutic treatment for the runners helping them warm up before they run and looking after their active recovery afterwards,” Dr Small said. “The placement is part of the programme but it’s unique to be able to assign the same person to a runner to see how their body changes and adapts to the challenge of running 26 miles each day for ten days. As well as the physical side of things there’s the psychological too; runners experience highs but also massive lows so to be able to help here really boosts students’ confidence ready for their third year of study.”
It is five years since the university began to support the event which provides vital research data in areas like injury rates and recovery time. Now academics are exploring psychological areas such as how athletes cope with emotions during and after events, something Dr Small describes as uncharted territory.
This year seven of the students have been so inspired by the athletes they are looking after that they have agreed to run the final marathon too.
“These guys have inspired me,” Matthew Hines from Saltaire near Bradford explains. “I’ve run a half a marathon before but the terrain here is very hilly – I’ll just take it easy.”
The placement at Brathay follows another at Barrow Raiders which, as a keen rugby league fan, has helped make his second year at Cumbria memorable.
For colleague Joseph Morrell from Huddersfield too the placement has been invaluable.
“This is the crown jewel of placements – to get to work with one athlete for ten days is unheard of and the atmosphere is brilliant.
Race director and head of fundraising at the Brathay Trust Scott Umpleby paid tribute to the work of students who have kept the athletes on the road.
“We just see fantastic support from the students at the university which is really inspirational and with Brathay a charity around inspiring and developing young people this is a perfect example of that taking place with one of our running events,” Scott said.