Up until this point I’d done three marathons as races. My first was almost a year to the day after I started running and I wasn’t overly pleased with it, even though it was a sub-4 hour one. Despite training to 21 miles I found that when I got to 18 miles, I struggled to continue running after having stopped for water.
My second was the London Marathon, and everything seemed to go well. To start with the training felt like it had gone well, the expo and the #ukrunchat meetup the day before was enjoyable and a new experience. On top of this the race felt good and the atmosphere was unbelievable. To make things better I even managed to get a time I was more than happy with.
My third marathon was the Robin Hood one and that was a disaster for me. My training was tough – throughout the summer I’d had issues keeping myself motivated during long runs, and the heat hadn’t helped either (especially during my time in the blistering heat of Texas). On the day I just couldn’t keep running in the second half of the race as numbers thinned out, and found myself slower than ever (though somehow still beating my first marathon time). By this point is was feeling like I’d lost the speed I’d had during the spring time, and wondered if what I’d managed with London had been a fluke.
For the Greater Manchester Marathon I’d heard it was a course of PB potential, and I figured it was a good chance to redeem myself. For this I considered the Canalathon 50K as training, and my training runs leading up to that continued to have tempo runs, and even during my long runs at the weekend I’d calculated how much of that run would need to be at or faster than marathon pace in order to push me hard enough to make sure I’d be ready. For example, the week I did a 22 mile training run the first 5.5 miles were slightly slower than half marathon pace, and then a further 8.5 miles were at marathon pace. The rest of the run was treated as ultra training and included some brief walking during every mile. By dividing the run into three it gave me three different targets to meet, and missing one of them wouldn’t be a big deal – so it helped mentally.
As the weeks of training ticked by I managed to set a new 10K PB and also two 10 mile PBs in consecutive weeks. With the knowledge I could cover 16.5 miles in just under two hours I was confident that as the training led into Canalathon that I was on target to attempt meeting my goal. As with London, I set myself three different goals with my intention being to aim for the middle one, if I fell short on the day then I’d still have a goal to aim for.
- Gold: 3h15
- Silver: 3h20
- Bronze: 3h25
With only 10 minutes between my seemingly unachievable goal, and my worst-case scenario I wasn’t leaving myself much room for error. I didn’t refer to them as “best case” or “worst case” scenarios in my head though – I felt Gold, Silver, Bronze were better as they were less negative. In sport it’s all about having a positive mental attitude – if I could go into the race feeling good about it then perhaps I could achieve at least one of these goals.
Even when I did 13 miles of run/walking during a 26.2 mile training run I’d managed 3h40 so it felt like this wasn’t unreasonable, and in my 26.6 mile training run I had been on target to beat my London Marathon time. I was feeling quite positive at this point and although I hadn’t run for as much as I’d have liked to, I think Canalathon went better than I could have hoped too. For the 13 days after this though it was a struggle to find the energy to carry on training so I was left unsure how Manchester would go. I’d just need to see how I felt on the day.
Usually I drive to races, but I decided that with Manchester I’d be putting in a lot of effort, and it would likely be a hassle to find parking on the day when the hotel I’d be staying at was right by the start line. With this in mind I had instead chosen to take the train to Manchester. Unlike the travel for my last race, I didn’t have to be up early and as long as I was at the train station in Leicester by 10:00 everything would be okay; so was able to take it easy in the morning having packed for the race the night before.
Once in Manchester I still had some way to travel to get to where I’d be staying. Fortunately though it only cost me £5.80 for a weekend metrolink ticket that would get me around the city. It was fortunate I got this instead of an individual trip ticket as in my rush to get on a tram I got on the wrong one, and it wasn’t until after about 40 minutes that I realised a journey that was supposed to take 28 minutes had not got me to Old Trafford. I headed back to Cornfield and took the correct tram, and eventually I got to my hotel for the weekend an hour later than expected.
Once again there was a chance for a #ukrunchat meet-up, and there were a few people I were hoping meet for the first time as well. Just as it started raining I headed out back to the city centre to meet up with @Roddis22 – a good friend who I get on well with on Twitter. She was doing the marathon too and was hanging out with one of her local friends. I eventually did meet up with them, but not before more tram drama. A tram had broken down on a single piece of track that meant no trams could pass until they’d got it moved. After 20-30 minutes they finally did this and I was in the city centre ready for the first meet-up of the weekend.
It was great fun and time passed far too quickly, as before I knew it I had to leave for Frankie & Bennies where there’d be a larger #ukrunchat meet-up. About 9 of us turned up and it was a great meal and really good to catch up with those I’d met before, and meet those I’d not met before. In a traditional carb-loading manor I went for a spaghetti bolognese there.
Afterwards I headed back to the hotel, but thanks to directions from Sherie (again, was great to catch up!) took an alternative way there (which was actually more efficient), with a diversion to get milk for breakfast along the way!
I set my alarm for 06:30 but in all honesty I didn’t need it. The room was overly warm and there was no way to turn the heating off. At 02:45 the occupants of the room at the side of me went crashing into their room, obviously having been on a night out. What’s amazing though is that at 06:00 they were up with screaming kids running down the corridor and from the sounds of it, getting ready for the race also.
I took my time getting ready and left the hotel at around 08:20. Whilst sitting around the hotel I’d been thinking about the likelihood of freezing to death whilst waiting for the race to start, and trying my best not to think of how hard I needed to push myself today.
I’d left my bag at the hotel as I figured it’d be safer than whatever they’d have as a bagdrop at the race. Fortunately with my hotel so close to the start I could see the meeting point as soon as I left the hotel – as I walked there I noticed they were still unloading the portaloos for people to use before the race start. It seemed a bit late to me considering the race was starting in 40 minutes and there were already massive queues forming.
A few #ukrunchat-ers met-up here, outside The Trafford pub, before the race; again some familiar faces and some new. This is one of the best things about the running community – how friendly everyone is, and I’m sure I’ve made some good friends over the past year as a result.
The temperature was warmer than I’d expected, and I actually felt comfortable in the layers I had. After a group photo I decided I’d have to leave the others behind and make my way to starting group B as I had quite a walk from this zone.
As the time drew closer to 09:00 we all shuffled forward into a starting position – leaving me just behind the archway over the road that I’d photographed from a distance not long before. When the gun went everyone continued shuffling forward until there was enough space to break into a very gentle run. I had a rough idea where the start was, but there was no gantry over the road to really say where it was, but I had enough chance to spot the start mat to get my watch going as I crossed it.
I’d worn a base layer and a tee as the weather app on my phone suggested it was going to be around 3C at the start and around 8C by the end so figured it might get a bit toasty in a base layer in the last few miles, but I’d be able to cope. In the first mile though I soon started to question the weather report and thought it felt like it was getting closer to it’s later prediction already.
To start with the course headed towards the city but looped back round on itself very quickly and headed up towards Media City, an area of Manchester filled with sound stages for TV production. Although it’s not a program I watch, one of the buildings was labelled with “Coronation Street”, one of the “soaps” in the UK, and the ITV channel logo. I thought that was a little interesting to see, and before we knew it we were looping back on ourselves again so we could see runners behind us – a good thing as it means you get to give a friendly wave to them.
At around mile 6 the route then took us straight passed the hotel I’d been staying in – a point at which I wondered if I should take off my base layer and throw it at the hotel as I passed. A silly thought, and one I could do nothing about as by the time I thought of this I was passed it. Although the Greater Manchester Marathon is the flattest marathon in the UK, there are still hills and we’d encountered a few gentle inclines already by this point. From this point onwards we were headed away from the city.
In my head I’d split the race into sections – mile 8 for the start of eating jelly babies, mile 8.5 for when I wanted to be at the 1 hour mark, mile 16 for when I wanted to be at the 2 hour mark, and then mile 21 from which point I decided it would be okay to walk from if I needed to. Might sound crazy, but I knew I could still meet my target if I didn’t drop below 10min/mile.
After a while it came to another point where the road was split in two, and around this time the first of wheelchair racers zipped passed, with the next one a good few minutes behind. By mile 10 I started to think of where I’d be in my run if I’d been doing a 26.2 mile run from home, and started to visualise the route. It took my mind off where I was running for a few moments, but before I knew it a water bottle came flying at me from a runner who hadn’t looked where he was throwing it. It soon shook me back to reality, but before I got to mile 11 it felt like I was going to vomit. It made me think that I’d underestimated how warm I was, so I swallowed and kept on running as the route.
This next bit was probably the steepest hill in the entire route, and wasn’t anywhere near as bad as some hills I’ve done – and didn’t last long either. This led us into the town centre of Timperley where the streets were lined with people cheering us on. Up until here we’d had mostly great support with only a few stretches where there weren’t really any supporters (possibly due to the location). At this point I started to find my rhythm again and was starting to enjoy it as I crossed the mat marking the half way point. It was in this town it then looped back and started to head back towards where we’d come from – along the path we’d seen oncoming wheelchair athletes and elites quite a few minutes before. This was my chance to get some more water and take a gulp to try and rehydrate.
On my way down the hill, as I was doing my 15th mile, I spotted @Mazzie1111 but didn’t get to wave or say “hi” as by the time it’d registered in my head who it was we’d passed each other. It did remind me at this point though to start looking out for other #ukrunchat runners as I’d likely be passing some again soon. Sure enough I saw @SarahDevall, but she was on the far side of the oncoming runners so was difficult to say “hi” to. I was starting to really struggle with the heat at this point, but soon saw @Sherieamore1 coming the other way and actually got to wave and high five as we passed! It turned out that getting to interact with another runner, and a friendly face was all I needed to keep on pushing forwards.
As I started to falter the amount of people supporting the runners kept me going a while after this, and at mile 18 I was still running and getting the splits I needed to get the PB I wanted. Not just the “silver” time, but possibly better than the “gold” one too (see above for how I named the different time goals), but I hadn’t realised that at this point. Once I passed mile 19 I decided enough was enough – I needed to cool down, and water wasn’t helping. I slowed to a walk and stripped off my t-shirt and base layer (sorry everyone, hope it didn’t make you feel sick), put the base layer around the waist and got my technical tee back on so I could continue running.
I then continued running for some time, and at mile 20 although I’d done the last mile split in 09:00, I was back running and managed to get the next mile back to the splits I was looking for. This bit though, along Carrington Lane was really nice. There was a field on the right-hand side with a number of horses in and after looking quizzically at us then started to run along side, churning up the mud. It was a great sight, and I really wish I’d had my phone out to record some video – again something I didn’t think of at the time.
Before getting to those horses though, something unexpected happened – I was at most 2 centimetres way from being hit from behind by a cyclist that was one of three that were cycling like their lives depended on it, and started weaving through the runners. Okay maybe they were training for a cycling event, but some common sense from them wouldn’t have gone amiss.
Just before I hit mile 22 I then changed my strategy to taking 1 minute walking breaks for every mile so walked along some of the straight that was line with speakers before continuing running. This time though I started to feel a twinge in both calves, but carried on running, albeit at a slightly slower pace with a short walk. After about half a mile after passing the mile 22 sign, I then passed another 22 mile sign and the runner at the side of me commented that they must be playing mind games with us. The mile 23 sign though was then around the right place! Once passing it I then slowed to a walk again having had my calves cramp up quite a few times during that last stretch which was really affecting the pace, when I was actually running. Not long after this the 3:15 pacer ran straight passed me – I’d not realised I’d been in front of him, and considering how much pace I’d lost over the past few miles I must have been on target for a comfortable sub-3:15 race until I lost it. I knew though that it was down to loss of salt – my forehead was coated with it.
For the miles that followed it was a struggle – I was managing shorter and shorter distances before my calves were giving me trouble and my running had turned into a sort of half-limp in between walking breaks. Eventually though the end was in sight, but I couldn’t keep running. I had to walk about half of the long stretch to the finish and then tried to run the last bit, each step causing absolute pain.
I looked at my watch as I crossed the finish line and noticed it was sub-3:20 – hoping it was accurate as not only was it a PB, but it also beat my intended goal. A goal which I thought I couldn’t meet after having run Canalathon.
Moments later I was handed the medal – one I felt I’d actually earned after those hellish 5 miles at the end, and was then handed a bottle of water and a goodie bag. I handed the bag back though when I realised the sign above the stand said “Medium” – obviously referring to a t-shirt size, which resulted in a snarky comment from the lady saying “well it did say it was medium”. I didn’t care though, I just kept on walking and collected a small t-shirt. Just before leaving the finishers funnel there was also beer and SiS gels being given out for those that wanted them.
The goodie bag consisted of:
- the usual assortment of leaflets,
- a finishers tee celebrating the 40th anniversary,
- drumstick “squashies” sweets,
- Aunty Winifred’s Sweet and Salty popcorn,
- Jack Links Beef Jerky,
- Urban Fruit strawberries,
- and a Kellogs Nutrigrain breakfast bar.
A good assortment, and although I didn’t eat any of them on the day, it was the best goodie bag I’d had after a race this year.
The car park for the Old Trafford cricket ground was mayhem though. I battled my way out and then hobbled back to Chester Road to pick up my backpack from the hotel. It felt like a longer walk than the day before, but my legs were really aching.
From there I walked over to the Toll Gate Inn for another #ukrunchat meet-up that involved cake! I then heard about the baggage situation and how people were having to queue for two or more hours in many cases due to the level of disorganisation there. I did feel bad for them – to have such an amazing race with a brilliant atmosphere just for it to be spoilt by that. I did hope though that it wouldn’t spoil anyone’s day. I spent a few hours here and took the opportunity to have a drink, and to have some food with plenty of salt.
On the way back to Manchester Piccadilly I even bumped into @designrach on the tram – yet another person on #ukrunchat I’d not met before so was good to meet!
At last the second of my “big” races for the month was over and I could start focusing on active recovery in time for the Brighton Marathon the following weekend. My official time for this race was 3:19:31 in position 1124 out of 9368 finishers (first 12%). I do at least know that with enough salt I could do better and so my next target needs to be to go sub-3:15. It confirmed though that the training plan I’d come up with to get me around Canalathon and to PB here had worked – I was shocked!
For me, the whole experience was great and I enjoyed getting to meet up with people before the race. I can’t thank @Sherieamore1 enough for having organised the meet-ups and the meal.