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Wandering the World

Stories and tips from around the world.

Greater Manchester Marathon

Training

I was always going to do another spring marathon; but after doing this race last year for the third time I'd figured that would be my last time doing it for a while. It was time to try a different spring marathon. That was until a friend said they were thinking about doing it, so I said I'd go along to support them. By the time 2018 came to a close I'd decided it was a good decision as it was a good way of measuring progress towards a BQ time if I was doing the same event again.

In December I got my first sub-89 half marathon and this helped with my confidence a lot. It'd only been a few months since my first sub-90, so perhaps a reasonable target for my next marathon would now be 3:05. This also kicked off a short runstreak that lasted up until Christmas. I'm not really sure why, perhaps I was being more sensible with it than I usually am, but it went a lot better than it has in previous years. I found I could still do some speedwork during the week and a long run at the weekend without being affected too much. This led me to the decision to try and run five or six times a week for this training cycle - I think part of this was encouraged by Gen, who typically runs 70 miles a week. I guess she's always been a positive influence, and I've admired her achievements.

What a typical week would now look like was an easy 5 mile run on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday (so 1 mile longer than previous training, and twice the number of easy runs), some speed work on the Wednesday (would usually be an 8.5 mile tempo), and then a long run at slower than marathon pace (I'd run at whatever pace felt comfortable) on the Sunday.

I'd started the longer runs sooner than I would normally have, and put in a concious effort to get more miles in. I knew that February which is usually my peak training month would be hampered by being away in New Zealand for just over two weeks. I had no idea how many runs I could fit in whilst there, or how long they'd be. Being prepared seemed like a good idea.

Upon returning to the UK, I got back into the long runs on back to back weekends and found that they were going better than any long run has done for me before. It felt pretty positive. I then did a 10K in Ashbourne one week, a half marathon at the same pace the following week, and then my longest run of training the weekend after that.

The 10K hadn't felt good during one of the windiest UK storms of the year, and that continued on for the next couple of weeks meaning that the conditions for the half marathon hadn't been that great either. However, I got a substantial PB with a sub-85 during that race that made me think that maybe, just maybe, I could get a sub-3:00. Being able to run 22 miles without any walking (13s/mi slower than sub-3 pace) just a week later helped even more. I'd now decided on my goals:

  • Gold: 2:59:59
  • Silver: 3:05:00
  • Bronze: 3:10:00

It would of course depend on how I felt on the day, but in my mind I'd set off targetting sub-3:00 and then reasses every 10K or so. Sadly training isn't just about the runs you do - it's about mental preparation too, and having a bad run the weekend before the race did not bode well. There were other things around taper time that were bothering me, and I also couldn't decide whether to aim for a faster first half, or to aim for a consistent pace across the entire race.

Pre-race Day

I didn't really have any plans for seeing much of Manchester so I decided I'd get a later train than I normally would. The 10:30 train from South Wigston got me to Manchester Piccadilly via Birmingham New Street at around 13:00. From there I'd got an hour until I could check-in, so could take a casual walk to the tram station to get me to the Victoria Warehouse hotel. These days I try to avoid the stress of figuring out how to get to a race if I'm staying overnight by making sure I'm either staying right next to it, or staying next to good public transport connections that would get me there quickly. In this case I'd only need to walk for a few minutes to the start in the morning - a shorter distance than I'd likely do for a warm-up. I like to try and control as much about my race preparation as I can - the less surprises, the better.

Hotel sign

The hotel could be described as basic. No windows, no heating, no fan or anything like that. The room was very warm and there was no way to change the temperature. The size of the room was enough for me though, even though it was only just longer than the length of the bed. I’d stayed in worse though.

The Room

So now the plan for the day was to relax as much as possible, and to stay hydrated until the #ukrunchat meet-up at Zizzi's in the evening. The TV in the room didn’t have a control so I left it on a channel and just laid down watching it. Tea was limited though as only one black tea bag was provided so I saved that for the morning and drank some green tea I’d packed just in case.

The meal was booked for a little later than I'd have liked. I like more time to digest it before the race; but as long as we got food fairly quickly it'd probably be okay. On my way there I met up with Steph who I'd known from Twitter for some time; but had never met in person. We then met the others at the restaurant - of the ones there, I knew Alison and Tom, Carmen, Brett, and Steph. I'm not always that comfortable talking in big groups; but made sure I sat with the people I knew.

You could tell we were a table of runners - everyone on soft drinks and ordering pasta and pizza. I went for my usual spaghetti bolognaise and added some salt to it to replace some of what I'd be losing in the morning. I've found from previous races it has helped avoid leg cramp.

Pre-race Carb load

By the time I got back to the hotel a party had started in the adjacent building. It was likely a continuation of the wedding reception that had been in the entrance when I’d first arrived.

Race Day

It felt like a very long night with what seemed to be no sleep at all. There was always some noise from somewhere even after the wedding reception next door had ended, and there was the occasional deep sound that was like a horn. At least I’d saved that tea bag for a morning cup of tea! A strong cup of tea might just wake me up.

I was up at 06:00 to give breakfast time to digest, and then relaxed until 07:40 when I checked out so I could meet up with other runners before the race. In my tiredness I didn’t think to ask which tram station to go to, and I found myself at the wrong one. I was absolutely sure that sub-3:00 was now off the table, and that I’d be lucky just to PB.

There was a large meet-up near the start pens, the biggest I’ve ever been part of, though this time I didn’t know many. I wished good luck to them, and had a brief chat with those I knew before making my way to the start pens. These were arranged differently to previous years as they now had 20,000 runners to accommodate. Not only was this now the second biggest race in the UK, but the fifth biggest in Europe.

The Meet-up

What I thought was the entrance to the pen I needed to be in I was told was just for wave C and that I had to go a different way. I did as I was asked but found myself alongside the pen I was meant to be in so climbed over the railings. The sub-3:00 pacer was a little in front of me but that was okay. Once the race started I’d chase them down and stick with them hopefully - for as long as I could anyway.

The elites started at 09:00 and then they held back wave B for a few minutes to create some space between the waves. They’d be doing this for as long as they needed to between each wave. When I got going I couldn’t see the pacer so figured if I held 6:30 or 6:40/mi I’d catch up in a couple of miles and I could slow back down.

In the second mile I saw Colin, one of the twins I know, and talked briefly. When I reached 5K there were still two more waves that needed to start; but I’d not yet been able to find the pacer. I figured there were two possibilities: I’d overtaken him without realising it, or was still somewhere even further ahead than the 0.3 or so miles I could see along the straight road for. Maybe the pacer had started with wave A instead of wave B as planned.

For the first 10K I’d managed to get it done in 40:41 with 438 people in front of me. I guess that wasn’t too bad at all really. I was doing better than I expected; but I was feeling awake now and had warmed up nicely. I was actually feeling good and felt like I could easily hold this pace. It was a tad too fast though.

In places the route felt unfamiliar- particularly in Sale and Altrincham. I think they’d removed some two-way sections to allow for more runners. However at around mile 8 I finally saw the pace group ahead, or rather, the horde. It was amazing to see how many had the same goal as me. I figured they were more likely to stick with the pacer until the end though. I knew I’d eventually fall behind.

Before reaching the pace group, I’d eaten my first jelly baby of the race, but found it to be incredibly dry, so had a quick sip of water at the first water station I came across. I don’t train with water and know that I can race a half marathon without fuel or water, and can train up to 22 miles without water also. So it didn’t bother me, but after so many races over the years, this being my 14th marathon, I know to only take small sips of water.

Once the pace group was around me it was near impossible to get any more. There were so many runners that they couldn’t give water out fast enough. Not to worry though, water stations are frequent in this race so eventually there’d be another chance.

In Altrincham I remembered that last year I’d come close to sub-90 for the first half and was conscious I needed to be better this time. If I could get 89:59 for the second half, then doing the same now would be enough. Based on having done a sub-85 half a few weeks previous, it didn’t seem like a big ask.

On the way back out of town, before reaching the half way point, I overtook the pace group when it felt right to: not just an opening, but also my legs naturally wanting to be a touch faster without needing to push. I then crossed the half way point in 87:01, but despite having overtaken a large group I’d somehow slipped to 710th place.

I could see for certain that this was a slightly different route to previous years: there wasn’t much of the course where runners were going in both directions. I couldn’t use this to distract me from going uphill like I normally would; but equally the hill was no longer there so it wasn’t a worry.

I remembered I should be fuelling, though the “new recipe” for the jelly babies I’d bought from Aldi on Thursday had seemed to include an excess of powder which this time made me choke, and then cough as I attempted to clear my throat. Fortunately I wasn’t too far from the next water station, and this time was able to get some. A big gulp certainly helped.

The next two miles were quicker than they needed to be, so I made a conscious effort to slow down. However I then got a stitch. I’m not sure why, though I now suspect based on the timing it may have been from having drunk too much water in one go. I still felt I could recover from it and get a PB whether it was the sub-3:00 I wanted or not.

To start with I carried on running at a slightly slower pace; but this wasn’t helping. I’d not even reached 20 miles, nor had I even been going for two hours yet; but it was time to walk just before crossing mile 17. Walking with nine miles left had not been my plan; in fact I’d hoped to not walk at all as I’d planned to slow down more in the next few miles in order to stand a better chance of holding on. It would have been nice to have completed just one marathon without walking.

A few times I tried to run again, but the stitch was still there. It was frustrating, yet I couldn’t think of anything to do about it. It wasn’t comfortable enough to run through it, or at least in my mind it wasn’t.

I saw Helen (@FatGirlCanRun) in Carrington, and stopped briefly to say “hi” but didn’t want to stop too long. I then almost immediately saw Colin again, and tried to run with him for a while; but I just couldn’t.

I tried numerous times to get running again - I couldn’t afford to lose much more time. A sub-3:00 was now unlikely, but a few minutes over seemed like it was possible if I could get some more 7:30/mi miles in. However, even though the stitch was starting to fade my legs had now cooled down, and were proving difficult to get going again. I tried to convince myself it was just like going out for a five mile recovery run the day after some speed work. It didn’t work.

With each step I was now going from sub-3:05/mi as a target to sub-3:10. Eventually though, after walking an entire mile, that too was out of my grasp no matter whether I could get running now or not. After months of harder and possibly better training than I’ve ever done before, I’d failed. It no longer mattered what I did so I kept on walking. I was tempted to get my phone from my flip belt and to tell Gen that I’d failed, and her belief in me was misplaced. I knew if I did this though then my race was practically over. I did eventually tell her; but not until after the race. I'd missed all three targets.

Mile 24 did not go well at all. I walked for the majority of it and was wondering if I was actually going to finish. By the time I reached mile 25 I started to think about the train I’d got booked for 14:05. I couldn’t finish too late as I still needed to get my bag from the hotel, get to the station, and get food. This got me to intermittently run some more; but not much.

Even for the last 0.2 miles I walked some if it and ran the last little bit despite not bothering to attempt a sprint. I’d crossed the finish line in 3:18:43 in position 1,757 out of 13,362 finishers. I was a little surprised that almost 7,000 runners either hadn’t started or hadn’t finished - if the numbers we’d been told at the start were to be believed. Fortunately I’d not seen the paramedics needing to do much, other than towards the end where they were attending to an unconscious runner.

The conditions had been perfect so an incredible number of runners had PB’d. I’d not been one of them; but the positive was that almost everyone I knew was happy with their times. However, I was not only slower than 2018, but 2017 as well. I figured as I’d not got the time I needed for London I’d be back at this race in 2020 when the course is moved into the city for the first time.

I didn’t really know what to do next though - could I find another marathon to do soon? Or should I wait until the autumn before trying again - even though traditionally I’m slower in autumn marathons. Waiting until next April seemed too long, and it felt like I was wasting all the effort that had gone into the last five months of training.

Finishers medal

At the finish they handed over a chunky medal first, then water, some Soreen, and a finishers tee. I wasn’t keen on hanging around any longer than I had to so didn’t even ask someone to take my picture as I normally would - I just had the official picture taken on my way out.

My legs didn’t feel too bad at all - walking to the hotel helped them ease off even more, and by the time I’d taken the tram from Exchange Quay to Piccadilly Gardens they eased off enough to be fully mobile. Another spring marathon was over, and I’d have a lot to think about over the next twelve months.