Everything that could have gone wrong in training went wrong this time around. So I went into Manchester Marathon with a mixture of trepidation but also with an idea of what could be possible.
After a successful outing at Trimpell I knew that I could get to 20 miles in and around 2 hours 53 minutes. So that was enough of a target to work on.
It was those last six miles that would determine if I could PB or not…
We set off on Saturday afternoon on a train that was meant to consist of eight carriages which was now down to four. As many people stood I was fortunate enough to get a seat. Unfortunately for me within ten minutes of sitting down the guy next to me spilt hot coffee all over my brand spanking new jeans. Awesome.
Once at Manchester it was a taxi ride over to Hotel Football to get checked in and chill for a couple of hours…well, if by chilling you mean wash the stains out of the jeans as best as I could and work out why the heater in the bathroom wasn’t coming on.
The weekend didn’t seem to get any better during our evening meal either. We were booked into a well-known pizza restaurant which seemed unable to cater for a full house. You’d have thought that, given it was marathon weekend, they might have stocked up but apparently not. Not only did it take them well over three hours to get us in and out but they seemed to be out of quite a lot of their ingredients. Not great.
At least the hotel was ok. It was a good night’s sleep and a better breakfast than the previous pitiful effort of last year.
Thankfully, when me and my roomie for the weekend (Tony) checked out, the hotel allowed us to leave our bags there (More on the baggage later).
With ten minutes before start it was time to do some stretches and find our start pen. I caught up with my running buddy Andy and we both seemed confident of a good days running.
My plan was to keep in and around 8:30 minute miles for as long as possible. I had targets written on my hand for six mile, ten mile, sixteen mile and twenty mile. Providing I was at 20 mile around 2 hours 53 minutes I had a chance of beating my previous marathon PB.
We were soon off just after 9am. There was a bit of congestion as we made our way to the start but once everyone got running it didn’t take long to get over the start mat and begin the marathon journey.
This was my fifth marathon and my second time at Manchester. I’m getting a bit more confident with marathon distance and I’m slowly starting to work out how to pace it better. Sadly, a Spring marathon probably will never be a great affair for me training wise as Winter really affects my asthma. Training in late December and then January and February is always problematic. It’s not until I hit March that I really start to feel comfortable again.
Not much to mention in the first few miles. There was a lot of running…and then some more running. I missed the first water station around 2 ½ miles. I was in the middle of a pack and it suddenly appeared and disappeared before I’d even realised it had arrived.
I was soon at my first target, six miles, and I was slightly ahead of schedule by a minute. I was keeping a comfortable pace and not smashing myself like I did last year so I was happy enough.
It was wonderful seeing all the people lining the streets and cheering on everyone.
Ben Smith of The 401 Challenge was quite rightly attracting a lot of attention. There were people around me constantly asking running companions who is was and why he was doing what he was doing. It’s definitely great publicity for Ben’s campaign to do big marathons like this and get his challenge out there. Hopefully it’ll drive people to his website to find out more…and as if by magic you can find out more about Ben’s challenge and why he’s doing it here.
Thirteen mile and the halfway point soon appeared. I’d managed to keep myself in check and not smash through it like last year and achieve a half marathon PB in the process. I was hitting the targets I had in mind so I was happy to keep plodding along at the pace I was.
I was in a pack of mostly men at this point when I started hearing supporters shout out names:
“Well done Matthew”
“Keep going Luke”
“You’re smashing it Mark”
“Go on John”
I started thinking to myself… ‘Am I Jesus?’
I was soon at my next target point, Sixteen mile, and I was still very much keeping to my target times. I was just over a minute ahead at this point but as I started to approach the mile marker my hip started to twinge and my knee suddenly locked up. I’d had a lot of problems with my TFL (Tensor Fascia Latae) leading up to marathon and I was hoping that I’d manage to get through the marathon with no issues but sadly it now seemed like the next ten miles might be a struggle.
My running buddy Andy passed me at this point and seemed very comfortable with his pace. Considering it was his first marathon he was doing awesome and seemed to be pacing it very well. We also passed Nicola who was just approaching the half marathon point for her swap over on the relay. Morale wise it was really nice that we all converged at the same point to give each other a push and a wave.
I was struggling to keep pace at this point but I was only four mile off my next target, 20 mile, and I was still confident that I could get there in the time I wanted.
I hit 20 mile at 2 hours 51 minutes which was two minutes ahead of target. If I wanted to beat my PB I had to hit the next 6.2 miles in 58 minutes. It was definitely a tough ask considering how I felt physically.
This was where the supporters and other runners came into their own. The support from the crowd and the marshals just keeps pushing you on to the next mile marker. Other runners giving you a gee up certainly helped as well.
Of course there are always exceptions. Around 21 miles a guy came storming past and elbowed me in the shoulder with some force. I then proceeded to watch him weave up the course hitting other people as he went. Either he was so in the zone that he didn’t realise what he was doing or he was just an utter dickhead.
Speaking of dickheads…at the water station around 22 miles I veered in for a drink and put my hand out to grab one only to find my arm pushed away by a guy who had already gotten his drink and then proceeded in a straight line alongside the water tables pushing other people’s hands out of the way because they were in his way.
Water table etiquette: Get your drink and then move away around other runners so they can get their drink too. Running etiquette: Don’t be a dick.
At 23 miles a guy went past me and put his hand on my shoulder. I wondered what was going on at first but he leaned towards me and said “You’re doing your nana proud mate.”
I’d totally forgotten that I’d worn my special DH Runners top that I’d had commissioned as a tribute to my grandma who passed last year. The road got a bit misty for the next mile or so. I must’ve gotten some water in my eyes.
As I approached 24 miles I knew the game was up. There was no way I was going to hit my PB now. It was all about digging in and getting a sub four now. But my right leg was not happy with me.
Soon the end was in sight. My watch ticked over to 3:55.00 and there was a 400 metre stretch to go. I wanted to sprint finish but my leg didn’t. I zipped up the man suit, grabbed my leg and went for it as best as I could. I couldn’t see my face but I knew that pain was etched all over it.
I crossed the line in 3:56.49. The pain will be temporary but the pride will last forever.
This was my fourth successive sub four hour finish. My PB remains but I’m confident that I can beat it one day. I feel like I’m always making excuses as to why I didn’t do it this time around but no excuses this time. I hit my targets all the way to 20 miles. If my legs had held up I’d have beaten it. It’s as simple as that. I’ll train again over the Summer and have another bash at Chester and see what happens.
But for now a monster Yorkshire pudding was calling me (Five sausages, a shitload of mash and a massive Yorkshire pudding) as well as my first soft drink for four months.
It was another great weekend for DH Runners. So many people came down to support those taking part as well as some surprise appearances along the courses. Andy completely smashed his marathon which was well deserved. He’s put in the hard miles and pulled me along to decent outings at both Blackpool and Trimpell when I was unsure how I was going to fare in either of them. I couldn’t think of a more deserving bloke to reap the rewards of finishing a marathon in his target time.
Negatives of the day:
At least three of the mile markers were out by about half a mile. Luckily I didn’t pay them any attention as I had my watch and knew for a fact where I was mile wise.
The course itself was definitely over length. I’m assuming that was so they could get the finish stretch exactly where they wanted it to finish. It’s understandable but not ideal.
The baggage drop was up several flights of stairs and it took some runners three hours to retrieve their bags.
Positives of the day:
Seeing team-mates absolutely smash past their PB’s and/or set some amazing debut marathon times.
The support throughout was yet again encouraging and amazing.
Not quite getting what I wanted time wise but setting another sub four marathon time.
I had a small sulk at the end. I didn’t want to talk to anyone.
I took myself back to the hotel to get my bags and managed to bag a shower. While in the shower I had a word with myself and pulled myself around. When I ran my first marathon all I wanted to do was finish. When I ran my second I wanted to achieve sub four. I did so well in my second marathon that I’ve been chasing that time ever since. I think I need to relax more and enjoy the experience.
Doing a marathon, whether it’s your first or hundredth, is a massive achievement.
As I said afterwards a lot can go wrong in 26.2 miles but sometimes a lot can go right.
I’ll get it right again one day.
Big shout out to those who got me there in one piece:
My personal trainer Ian Harkness (who himself achieved a smashing time of 3:00.02)
Andy Baker for ferrying me to races (even when he was racing them himself, a well deserved 3:44.50)
My wife, Claire, for being there and letting me grumble and moan at her. And for letting me stretch and foam roll in front of the TV even when you were trying to watch something.
And the kids. For just being themselves and jumping all over my legs after a long run (cost me ten minutes in the long run that did I reckon).
Last but not least a thanks and goodbye to two faithful friends who served me well over three marathons and various races:
Rest in Peace – Sarah and Michelle.