It was in Kendal in 1869 that Joseph Wiper came up with the recipe for his famous Mint Cake. Some 140 years on, the Cumbrian town has found the ingredients for distance-running success, it would seem. Of the five-strong Great Britain women's team picked to contest the World Half Marathon Championships on the streets of Birmingham this morning, two happen to be products and proud members of Kendal Athletics Club.
For Rebecca Robinson and Gemma Miles, the thrill of pulling on a British vest to take on the world on home tarmac will be enhanced by the satisfaction of putting their club on the global map. "It's just lovely that a small club like ours can be represented at such a high level," Robinson enthused. "Both Gemma and I have run for Kendal since we were young, so it is special." "We also have Sarah Tunstall and Laura Park running at international level," Miles added. "For a club like Kendal to suddenly have four girls running internationally is just amazing."
So the market town regarded as the southern gateway to the Lake District can now be famed for something other than the food which sustained Ernest Shackleton and Edmund Hillary on their epic expeditions, and for Alfred Wainwright, when he was tramping his beloved Lakeland fells. "I don't think Wainwright was really a fan of running," Robinson mused. "He always said fell runners missed all the scenery."
As a fell runner herself, Robinson had the glorious sight of a bronze medal when she ascended Skiddaw in third place in the uphill race at the Commonwealth Mountain Championships in Keswick three weeks ago. At 26, she makes her Great Britain debut as a road runner today, with the ultimate hope of emulating Dave Cannon and Kenny Stuart, two hardy Cumbrian fell-running greats who made a mark on the roads at the full marathon distance.
Not that it would be easy for her to fit the marathon training around her working life as a junior doctor on Tyneside. "It can limit how much training I do, because sometimes I work 80-hour weeks," Robinson said. "But I think it's nice to have that balance. Sometimes you just really need to get outside and run when you've been working on the wards all day."
Robinson, a native of Bowness, receives guidance on her running from Norman Matthews but is indebted to Steve and Dianne Priestley, the husband-and-wife coaching team who brought her through the ranks at Kendal. "They're incredibly supportive," she said. "They've got athletes of all ages and all abilities."
Like Robinson, Miles has moved away from her Lakeland roots to pursue a medical career. She works as a physiotherapist at the Royal Orthopaedic Hospital in Birmingham, which makes today's race a home-from-home affair for her. "A lot of the course goes around the university area, where I lived as a student, and part of it backs on to where I do my morning run," she said. "I know the whole route, which is lovely."
At 28, Miles graduated through the age-group ranks at Kendal two years ahead of Robinson. "Keith Calvert and Ronnie Bell were the coaches who brought me through as a junior at the club, although Bob Ashwood is my coach now," she said. "Since I've been based in Birmingham, people have said to me, 'Are you going to move clubs?' But I've always thought it's a link to home, a link to my roots."
Miles hails from Coniston, the village on the lake in which Donald Campbell perished in pursuit of a new water-speed world record in 1967. "It's a beautiful place," she said. "I love it. I think you appreciate it more when you move away. It's great to go back."
Having run for Britain at the World and European Cross-Country Championships and on the track in the European Cup 10km, Miles, like Robinson, is starting to gravitate towards the marathon. Last month's trial race in Bristol was her first serious attempt at the 13.1-mile half-marathon distance. She clocked 73min 13sec, finishing two seconds behind her club-mate.
With 15 sub-70-minute performers in the field today, the two Cumbrians will not be among the favourites. Paula Radcliffe would have lined up as the woman to beat had she not fallen victim to tonsillitis at the start of the week. It is a pity that the marathon world record-holder will not be in Birmingham to run with the Kendal girls. Given her ill fortune over the past five years, a doctor and a physio would have been ideal team-mates for her.