When I ran my second marathon at Chester in 2014 I crossed the line in 3:49.22.
Naturally I was looking for an improvement when I signed up to my first Spring marathon at Manchester in 2015. Sadly it wasn’t meant to be… I crossed the line in 3:54.07.
Another attempt at Manchester a year later saw me cross the line in 3:56.49.
I sat in the hotel room in 2016 and cried wondering where I was going wrong. I’d invested four months of training for little reward. Manchester was a bit of a cursed course as far as I was concerned.
So here I was another year later ready to put the demons at rest in what would be my ninth marathon overall and my third at Manchester. The training this time around couldn’t have gone better, even in sometimes testing conditions.
However, the week before I suddenly got pain in my groin/quad. As it turned out my Sartorius muscle wasn’t especially pleased. For those unaware, and as defined by Wikipedia, the Sartorius muscle is the longest muscle in the human body. It is a long, thin, superficial muscle that runs down the length of the thigh in the anterior compartment.
Long story short, from out of nowhere it suddenly started hurting. My physio/PT Coach gave it a soft massage/manipulation but a few days later it was still on the sore side. In fact, right up to the day before race day I was still feeling a twinge. My hope was that it was one of those injuries that went away the longer you ran. As I was saying…Manchester marathon is cursed.
Having headed down to Manchester by rail I arrived mid-afternoon and went to get checked in at the hotel. The hotel was only a ten minute walk to the start line and was relatively cheap so it was ideal.
The afternoon was set to be an easy affair when my running/pacing buddy Tony and I met up with Lindsay for a coffee and we all discussed strategy for the next day. Lindsay was aiming for a marathon finish of 2:55 and his training pointed to that being easily achievable.
After that it was back to the hotel before myself and Tony parted ways for the night. Tony was catching up with the rest of the DH Runners at Pizza Express while I went in search of the ‘best fish and chip shop in Salford’.
Fish and chips before a marathon may be unconventional but so far, since I started doing it, it’s not done me wrong yet.
I’d decided on Neil’s Fryery which was a 15 minute walk away from the hotel and had the best reviews from what I could see. The reviews were right. The chips were perfect and the fishcakes were amazing. If I find myself back at Manchester marathon next year I’ll definitely be heading there again.
Fully fed it wasn’t long until I was back at the hotel and following my pre-race stretching routine. During the stretching I also managed to locate where it hurt the most in regards to the Sartorius muscle. I put a little bit of pressure on and something clicked, immediately my quad released. Inadvertently I had fixed my issue which was a relief.
Yoga, especially hip specific yoga stretches, has done wonders for my running. I’ve freed up my hips which once were so tight that my movement was restrictive. I especially like following David Procyshyn yoga and stretches. Check him out on YouTube at this link.
Tony arrived back at the hotel and it wasn’t long until the lights were out and I was dreaming about an amazing run the next day. I was awoken a couple of times by some loud talking outside but luckily I was straight back to sleep so all in all I woke up fairly refreshed and raring to go.
Tony and I grabbed breakfast (him – porridge, me – sausage, egg and beans followed by cornflakes…me being fully unconventional again) before meeting up with Lindsay again to head over to pick up Matt from his hotel. We then all headed up to the start line which was literally a couple of minutes away.
The plan for the day was to stick with Tony. He’d dragged me through a few races lately and his pacing is spot on. Sticking with him meant that I’d be less likely to smash away too hard in the first half and regret it later. We had three goal times to look out for:
Six miles in 45:48
Thirteen miles in 1:39.14
Twenty miles in 2:32.40.
This was taking into account that we would be running at a pace of 7:38 consistently for 26.2 miles.
We were soon off and I was surprised at how comfortable I felt in the first 10k. Usually I’ve gone off too hard too early and I’m working too hard in the early part of the run. This time I was able to hold a conversation and I wasn’t out of breath.
We crossed 10k in 45:54 which was pretty much bang on target. The next seven miles were mostly downhill which saw us cross the halfway timing mats in 1:38.27. Again, give or take a minute, we were pretty much on target. We arrived at twenty miles around 2:34 and calculated that we could still get under 3:20 if we ran eight minute miles. However, just as we passed the twenty mile marker, as the area became less built up and more open, the sun started beating down.
We both immediately hit the wall at the same time. A combination of heat and tiredness meant that the pace went from sub eight minute miles to anywhere between 30-45 seconds slower.
I’d done the rough calculations in my head and worked out that, carrying on that pace meant that the 3:20 was gone, sub 3:25 was possible. I surged ahead, as much as one can surge ahead after running for twenty miles, and tried to keep my pace below 8:30 minute miles.
The next mile was 8:01 and this was followed by an 8:22. The next three were 8:30, 8:45 and 8:30. I had one more mile and a bit to do and I was finished. All I had to do was get to the finish line in the next 11 minutes and I was easily under 3:25.
The will to get to the finish dragged me over the next mile. Well, that and the crowds, it seemed the quicker you were running at that point the louder their cheers were for you. Just on the tip of the last hill a small band of DH Runners shouted that the finish was around the corner and a I suddenly started to well up.
I turned the corner and saw the finish line ahead and the crowd amassed cheering people in. I knew that somewhere the rest of my DH brethren were waiting. I started powering and then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw them to my right. I stopped for a second and, clenching my fists, let out an emotional “COME ON!!!”
And then, I started sprinting for the finish. Where the power came from for the sprint I have no idea but I was taking full advantage of it.
I crossed the line and pumped my fists in the air in celebration.
I had come so close to a sub 3:30 at Chester but here I was at Manchester, my cursed marathon, and I’d just crossed the finish line in 3:24.45 which was a marathon PB of over 7 minutes. I was utterly astonished that I’d managed that time and that the body had held up throughout. I’d been adopting a strategy of changing my running style throughout every now and then so that I wasn’t using the same muscles over and over again and it seemed to have worked.
I hung around waiting for Tony and we had a bit of a hug at the end. He’d genuinely made the PB possible for me and I couldn’t have done it without him. I couldn’t find the words at the time to tell him how grateful I was but I managed to find them later and let him know.
We were planning on heading back to the finish to see some of our teammates finish but, once we’d left the finish area, it was an absolute ball-ache to get to the finish line so we ended up just heading back to the hotel and then to the pub to get something to eat. The rest of our teammates soon turned up and we heard some great stories of personal bests and first time marathon finishers. There were a group from our original beginners running group trying their hand at the marathon and every single one of them did the team proud.
And so it was that I came out of Manchester with so many better memories than I have ever done previously. Four months of solid training, getting up at 4am for a long run or leaving the house at midnight for a long run, a supportive wife, an amazing PT/physio, a great osteopath and amazing, supportive friends and teammates led me to do the previously unthinkable and for all of them I’m grateful. I’m also very grateful to be part of such a positive and supportive group of runners in DH Runners.
Looking at the results later on I found that I had finished in the top 1,500 runners in position 1,459 out of 8,689 finishers. I was the 1,358th male to cross the line and the 321st finisher in my category (V35).
I have no idea if I can get faster than that or not. I suppose we’ll have to wait and see. Marathon number 10 is next up.
I’ll leave you with this quote that was passed on to me by a friend. It’s been stuck with me for the last twelve months and I’ve used it as positive motivation throughout my training:
“Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t–you’re right” – Henry Ford.
Until next time.
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