Race Report: Greater Manchester Marathon

So race weekend had finally arrived. 18 weeks of training had been completed successfully and all that left was the 26.2 painful miles that lay ahead of me and the 9000 other competitors, all of whom had followed similar journeys.

Here is my Race Report – its a bit of a beast, so apologies for the mammoth essay but I didn’t want to do multiple posts!

The Night Before

I’d arrived in Manchester on Saturday, having flown in from Dubai at 7.30am (Not an ideal preparation I must admit) and checked myself into the Travelodge, a short walk from the start. I’d arranged an early check in, and after a short jog around the beautiful Salford Quays (the stunning sunny weather helped) went to the hotel lobby to hydrate and eat whilst I waited for Simon to join me. My hydration strategy pre race mainly consisted of drinking 15 free cups of tea in that lobby!

The hotel already had a bit of a marathon buzz about it, and one of the staff estimated 75% of the residents were here for the race.

Once Simon arrived we went to get some food. My night before meal was a pasta arrabiata and dough balls from Pizza Express, which was very nice. That and of course a bottle of Peroni! Can’t have a race without a beer the night before…

On the way back to the hotel we went via the race village. It was empty and locked up, but was good to take some of it in before all the hustle and bustle that lay ahead in the morning.WP_20150418_004 There was an ENORMOUS poster near the start that we’d end up running past in the race, and it was great to see the local area had gotten behind the event. We of course took the opportunity to strike a pose!

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Then we headed back to the hotel for some more carb loading…

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… and an early night. I was in bed by 8.30, my night flight from Dubai had left me good and tired. It was actually a blessing in disguise, as it meant I fell fast asleep and snoozed right through to morning. I was still able to do perhaps the 2 most important things in my pre-race ritual. Number one, the obligatory kit prep photo…

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And number 2… a number 2! This was quite a relief, what with the majority of my long runs being plagued by runners tum.

Race Morning

I managed to wake up naturally without the alarm, which to me indicated that  I had slept enough, and most importantly, I hadn’t OVERslept! I boiled the kettle and had my pre race breakfast. 2 x Oat So Simple porridge pots and a glass of Orange Juice. All good, reliable carbs I knew my stomach could handle. Last thing I wanted to do was try anything new.

We left for the start at about 7.45 am and joined the streams of runners heading toward Old Trafford.

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Speaking of Old Trafford, despite being an Arsenal fan and a Liverpool fan, we were both hugely impressed with the venue. Its a magnificent stadium and a great place to host a race.

The village was seemingly well organised, not that we did much here. All we did pre-race was make use of the baggage drops, which were seamlessly handled by a troop of army cadets. And with that, we were ready!

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After a quick number 1, we headed to the start pens. Not quite as strictly regimented as other races I’ve been to, largely due to there not being a great need for it. There were “only” 9000 or so runners. We had fast access to the pen, despite only getting there 10 minutes before the start! We shook hands, wished each other luck, then we waited patiently for the gun.

The Race

The race was started by British marathon legend, Ron Hill – not that I got to see him (until after the race) and the gun caught me a bit by surprise as everyone cautiously surged (If that’s even possible…) toward the start line. Very quickly – less than a minute later – I pressed the start button on my Garmin as I crossed the mat and registered my start of the race with the live tracking service…

… which didn’t actually work for me. It didn’t register any of my splits, or even give me a finishing result. Turns out there was a glitch in the system. As I was running with a replacement number, I don’t think it was hooked into the system probably. I knew I’d get a result in the end, but all my family and friends were frantically trying to track me, and were worried that I hadn’t even started! Less than ideal, but not much I could do about it!

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My strategy was to run consistent 7:30 miling, expecting to fade over the last few miles. 7:30s would have been about 3:17 and my target was 3:20, so I figured that was plenty of slack. not to mention, this was the marathon pace I was training with. I very quickly settled into my pace and cadence of around 176, and found it to be quite comfortable.

The first section was a short out and back away from Old Trafford. I was a bit shocked to see the 1 mile marker when my Garmin had only registered 0.7m! I know GPS isn’t accurate, but surely this was a bit extreme? As we turned and came back, it was obvious that the mile marker was around the wrong way as my watch beeped almost exactly as I passed it again.

I found myself a bit crowded, and I realised it was because I was quite near the 3:15 pacer. This was too fast for me, so I held back a bit to give a bit of a cushion and found some clearer space. We soon reached the start again and took a right, passed the huge poster we’d seen earlier and headed out for another out and back, this time taking us right past the Coronation Street studios! There was another misplaced mile marker here (Maybe mile 4?) that was the wrong way round, and as I was contemplating this, a guy not far in front of me ran into a cone and hit the deck, hard. He was knocked out cold. Some people attended to him and called for a marshal. I felt bad as I thought maybe I should have helped, but he received plenty of attention and in reality I probably wouldn’t have been of much benefit. I just remember thinking to myself “Steer clear of any cones you see”!

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After about 4-5 miles we came back around Old Trafford before heading the long road out to Altrincham along a main road. In total we passed Old Trafford 4 times, and each time the crowd support was magnificent! This section I just remember focussing on my pace, clocking through the miles and staying focussed. There was a few inclines as we crossed bridges, but it was largely flat as described. There were messages of support scrawled on the floor, and there was some amazing support on the way out, much of it for Ealing Eagles!

The next few miles were progressing nicely, with pockets of great support, and then we reached Altrincham which was AMAZING! A great woman shouted “Welcome to Altrincham, we have great entertainment for you!” and the crowds were great! We looped around the town center with tremendous applause and cheering before veering down a slope and through the halfway mark. I was bang on track at this point, and I still had the 3.15 pacer in my sights, which i couldn’t tell if it was a good or a bad thing. As we reached 14 miles I found myself accidentally right in the 3.15 pace group and saw Zoe from Maiden Newton Runners who i said hello too. Then I realised it was definitely a bad thing, and my pace was a bit too quick, so I eased off. We ran back along the way we came toward Sale before turning left toward Carrington.

manmarStill feeling reasonably strong, I maintained my target pace. it started getting a little quieter support wise here, especially as we progressed through miles 18-20. Having taken my gel on at mile 20, things started to get a bit tougher. Nothing to do with the gels, which worked well, but my legs just started tiring. Mile markers seemed to be a bit all over the place and I couldn’t really work out what was more inaccurate, my Garmin or the mile markers. probably a bit of both. As we turned right through Urmston it was getting tougher and tougher. I passed a guy with a sign”If your Garmin says 26.1, will you do another lap?” and I actually said to him “No!” because mine was measuring short!

The drag back towards Old Trafford was hard and at around mile 22 I had to have a walk break. The wheels had fallen off. From 22 – 26 my mile splits got worse and worse as more breaks were needed. This is graphically demonstrated by Strava below.

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I know with the pace I went out at, I had some slack to make my sub 3:20 goal, but I didn’t anticipate just how battered my legs would be. It wasn’t a total obliteration, but it was bad enough to need to walk for 10 meter sections at regular intervals. I was disappointed. My brain had gone to mush. Still the distances on my Garmin and the mile markers weren’t reconciling and I thought the opportunity to make target had gone. It turns out my Garmin was quite a long way short (0.2 miles) and I eventually saw the turn for the finish, and somehow I managed to pick up some speed. Conscious I’d still be able to finish in 3:20.xx, I turned the corner and I had a minute to cross the line. I mustered all I could. The look on my face tells the story.

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If I had realised I had less distance to run, I might have been able to kick on earlier and still make goal.

If I had adjusted my pace by 5s per mile, I may have had enough energy to finish strong.

If I hadn’t had a late flight in Dubai…

If I had lost a bit more weight…

If, then, but… None of it really mattered. As I crossed the line, I started crying. I couldn’t really work out why. I was grateful to be finished. I was disappointed to have blown a 3 minute cushion on my goal time, but I was delighted to be a 3:20 marathoner. Not to mention, it was a 40 minute PB, whats not to be pleased about?!

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And looking pragmatically back in the cold light of day, that was the most important thing of all.

I am a 3:20 marathoner. And I am VERY proud of it.

I immediately went to get my back so I could call Jodie. I had a text from her that she wanted me to call her urgently… I was worried.

Turns out that they were even more worried because of the chip issue. Jodie had been fielding messages from all over the place, people not able to see my progress. It was lovely to know that people were so interested, and I’m sorry they couldn’t track me. The organizers eventually sorted out my final result.

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I have learned some lessons for the next marathon(Yep, no “Never again” here this time) and will utilise the ones I have learned at Brighton next year. I certainly won’t fade like that again, and I won’t go out as aggressively either. I’ll also have another stone in weight off and a years worth of further training – so the only way is up.

Post Race

After getting off the phone with Jodie, and being very emotional, I saw Simon. he had had a blinding race, coming in 7 minutes ahead of schedule in 3:23! We congratulated each other and he built on Jodie’s work of trying to lift the little disappointment I had. We got the obligatory selfie with our medals, which were mighty impressive!

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The goody bag was pretty decent too! Chocolate oat milk shake (Which I thought was going to be minging but was actually very nice), Dairy Milk chocolate, sports drink, water, cereal bar, jointace, pain relief gel and an absolutely lovely finishers tee shirt. A good haul really!

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My legs were stiff as boards, and even now, 2 days later, my quads are suffering with a major case of DOMS. But we took in some of the surroundings, including this great photo opportunity board…

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… Watching the presentation of prizes, awarded by the legend that is Ron Hill…

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… and then pretending we’d made it to the podium.

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We then retired to the hotel for some beers.

It was nice to remain in the hotel afterwards too. Despite leaving to get some food, there were still many other finishers also staying for the extra night to recover, and it was a lovely experience chatting to runners of all speeds and abilities as to how their races went. it puts my mild disappointment into a lot of perspective.

Summary

Its easy to summarise the Greater Manchester Marathon. Brilliant, if a little flawed. If the mile markers were right and i could have trusted them I may have been able to make target. it was also disappointing for my results to have been bodged and not have my family track me.

But on the whole, the race village was excellent, the crowd were superb, the course was flat, the medal was stunning and the goody bag was full of actual goodies. I would recommend this race to anyone as an alternative to London and once I’ve finished my bucket list of marathons, its certainly on my “to return to” list.

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