With the training completed, myself, sister-in-law Lauren (Taking part in her FIRST marathon) and 9,000 others were anxiously preparing for the Greater Manchester Marathon on Saturday evening, many of us already in the area wondering if the pouring rain would let up in time for the race. Meanwhile I double checked I remembered everything – which I did except for the hole punch I needed for my race number! I had to improvise with a biro.
We tried carb loading in Frankie and Bennies on Salford Quays, but it seems like most of the runners had the same idea, so after waiting 45 minutes for a table we gave up, and retired to the hotel and used Just Eat… Not for a Chicken Madras (Cue a mini fist pump…), but for a nice pasta takeaway we found which was just the job. I actually managed to be in bed by 10 and asleep by 10.30. Perfect!
Having miraculously slept through the whole night (That hasn’t happened for the last 2 marathons) I set the alarm for 6.30, and when I woke up I immediately wished I set it for 6.00! Pre race breakfast was 2 Oat So Simple porridge pots, and as the morning went on before the race I also had 2 Whitworth seed shots and a banana, which seemed to work perfectly for me. I was ready to go!
We walked from the hotel towards race village at the Emirates Old Trafford Cricket Ground. This is a change from last year at the football club and it was a bit of a further walk from the hotel. We had to walk past the start area which was absolutely deserted at 7.50 but the closer we got to the village the busier it became. The race buzz started kicking in as we passed the now-standard enormous queues for the toilets.
The village itself was absolutely packed – It seemed MUCH busier than the village last year. On our way in though, father in law caught sight of olympian and now TV presenter Katharine Merry who was filming for a highlights show they are going to put on TV in the near future!
We spent some time at the ASICS stand where we entered a competition to win some trainers… I’m still waiting to hear if I won! Everything seemed so cramped in there though. I think they would have benefitted from spreading things out a bit more, around the stadium.
I headed off to check my bag in. This is where things got a bit unusual. Usually there are big tents with rows of people taking bags in in blocks of numbers of 500 or so. Here, numbers 1-13,000 had one location which, I can only describe as being a desk, with 13,000+ (Which, thankfully I was in) had a different one. People gave their bags in and someone literally walked in a building with it. I have heard that just before the race it all got VERY frantic with people literally throwing bags at the volunteers which isn’t cool, but at the same time it should have been better organised ahead of time – but more on that later. My bag drop was actually up some stairs which I thought was a bit cruel – wouldn’t be fun getting that with marathon legs!
The race start was under the big archway on the A56, almost exactly the same as last year. Now I don’t remember how they were set up last year as we got there quite late, but the assembly areas were unguarded/gated and merely indicated by flags for runners to stand near.
The advantage to this was that the assembly areas were very VERY wide, so there was actually plenty of room to warm up, hang out with friends and family and there was just loads and loads of room. It was brilliant! There weren’t too many runners trying to jump zones that I could see and thought it was a very interesting change to the norm. Then a couple of minutes before the start everyone converged together ahead of the start.
I was totally unprepared, I hadn’t got my Garmin on to get a signal, and I hadn’t taken my pre-race gel so I frantically sorted that out and before long the gun went… and we were off!
The course itself was very flat – with only some small inclines – though you certainly know about them when you get to them!
The first section of the race is 2 out and backs in Trafford. The first is pretty uneventful, but the second goes past the Imperial War Museum, Coronation Street and the Hovis factory, and of course you have the mammoth Manchester United Football Ground. I found my pace pretty early on and stuck to it and felt very comfortable, managing to see my support crew outside Old Trafford who were able to cheer me on twice in that first section.
What I liked about this section was seeing the floods of runners in the opposite direction, occasionally you’d hear club mates and friends shouting at each other. I saw Lauren once along here and we managed to shout encouragement at each other. The support around this section was amazing, even so early on I was hearing “Come on Matty” with people reading the name off my vest.
Next up was a pretty long drag towards Sale up the A56. This was a pretty dull section, though pockets of support did make it a bit more interesting, this part was good just to find a good rhythm and settle into the race after a buzzing start!
The next section was one of the best of the race. After going through Sale you start a long out and back going through Timperley and Altrincham. The support was AMAZING around here. I lost count of the people cheering for me, the bands that were playing, the bystanders with Jelly Babies… Just a phenomenal stretch of the race. The main climbs in the race are around Altrincham, one going over a bridge, then going through the Half Marathon split you rounded the back of Altrincham town center and dropped down back to town to go back and re-experience all the amazing support all over again! I saw Lauren at about 15 miles and my support crew at Brooklands at 17 miles. At this stage it had stopped being quite so easy, but I still felt pretty strong – even if I didn’t look it!
The next stage of the race was definitely the quietest. Coming out from Brooklands you headed west towards Carrington. There was some residential areas along here where the supporters were most welcome but there were also long stretches where you saw no-one. This is where I struggled the most last year but mentally I was prepared for it this year and focussed on my pace, my fuel and my hydration. This is where you got through the tough 20 mile barrier – 10k left! I still felt pretty good, and knew I was feeling much better than last year. I was passing people and it felt good. If anything I was going a bit too fast.
After the loneliest part of Carrington we turned right towards Urmston and we ran through the ASICS zone. There was a catchy name for it, but I’ve forgotten what it was now! The we turned the final right onto the long drag home. The support here was fantastic but now I started to struggle. My calves started twingeing with cramp and at this point I had to adjust my running. I had to put less emphasis on pushing off with my feet and more on driving forward with my quads, with a noticeable effect on pace. It was time to draw on all the guts I had to not walk and to keep going as fast as I could. I remember very little of this part, other than swearing a lot, squealing whenever I felt myself cramping, and frantically looking at my watch.
My pre race “A” target was a 3.12 with 3.15 being my “B” goal. With 2 miles to go, I knew I would really struggle to hit the A, so focussed on trying to secure my B and just going as fast as my weary legs would allow.
We turned left onto the A56 for a short while before turning right onto the finish straight. It was cruelly deceptive – you could see the finish, 3/4 of a mile away… It just didn’t seem to get any closer. I just dug in. From a support point of view, the final straight was magnificent, the change in course really helping more crowd see more of the finish. A 3.13 was JUST ABOUT on and I drove forward, pumping my arms trying to get the crowd going… And they responded, roaring us all he way to the finish line. It was the best finish line I’ve ever run through. I pumped my fist as I crossed in a personal best time of 3.13 (and 47 seconds).
Exhausted, random strangers were shaking hands, all of us delighted with our accomplishments of the day.
What an amazing race!
I staggered through the finish funnel and eagerly accepted my medal and headed to my goody bag. Helpfully, the volunteers giving out the goody bag had one for me to try on for size! So i took a medium, took a free SIS recovery protein gel and a free Erdinger alcohol free beer – and I have to say, it was VERY tasty! Emotional and proud I headed out through a chaotic exit. This was pretty badly mismanaged it was really tough for runners to get out as loved ones were just crowding the exit. There just wasn’t enough room.
I headed to get my bag and I was pleased I was a high number… Given i finished 850th, I reckon the queue for then main bag drop was 600 people long. Now, I was a bit peeved that I got asked to remove my number to get my bag, but this was because I had to give it to a person who had to go in and look for my bag. I was in and out in a couple of minutes.
However that single desk I mentioned earlier were clearly massively struggling. There were just not enough people retrieving bags, and the single entry point was causing chaos. Some people had to queue for over 2 hours, and from what I read on twitter it really ruined some peoples days… and rightly so. Once you’ve finished a Marathon you want to go and celebrate, not wait for two hours for your bag. Not cool!
Fair play to the organisers though who have taken full responsibility and vowed to correct it for next year. Kudos for fronting up.
I heard some complaints about the quality of the goody bags…But I thought they were great!
- Tee shirt
- Dolmio pasta and sauce (Seemingly in EVERY goody bag for every race nowadays!)
- Dried fruit
- Beef jerky (I don’t like it, but still)
- Sweet and salty popcorn
- Cereal bar
- Squashie sweets
- SIS Protein gel
- Erdinger alcohol free beer
Seriously, whats to complain about!
I also heard some complaints about people having to wait to get out of the car park. I have limited sympathy but not a lot. You are going to be parked in the busiest carpark near to a closed road course. You’ve had months to prepare and plan and now how to get in and out. Come on people!
I have a gripe about the mile markers. I had the same gripe last year – some of them were so far wrong it was ridiculous, even allowing for GPS inaccuracy. 1 came at 1k, 14 came at 14.3, 19 came at 19.5, and 22 came at 22.5. Really not cool for those not running with a GPS and relying on their pace band, and REALLY not good for psychological motivation, particularly in the last part of the race. Additionally some were completely missing. That needs to be sorted for next year!
Lauren was still completing her Marathon so I had to opportunity to stand at the finish straight and cheer the runners on. Jodie had met Lauren with 7 miles to go to run the last stretch with her. Unfortunately Lauren had become injured and the last 10k was a real struggle, but Jodie did brilliantly to help gee her along and finish. Massive respect to her for gutting it out!
I really enjoyed cheering folks on at the end of their marathon journey. I’ve not done it before but it was so inspirational watching people complete their own marathon journeys… all of them had their ow story which I’ll never know but I’m glad I could cheer them on their way.
My Race Analysis
I am very pleased with my result. I managed to keep my splits in line with where I wanted them, and as a result I still felt reasonable with 4 miles to go. If I hadn’t have cramped I’m certain I would have met my target.
My fuelling strategy worked. Breakfast was on time, the gel before the race helped as did my 4, 8, 12, 16, 20, 23 plan.
Considering the hot day my hydration worked too. I had about a litre pre race, and then took a few swigs at every water stop except the last – I had no time to spare!
Looking at my heart rate it looked under control with a steady climb in line with what I expected to see.
So how do I prevent the cramps? I’m going to invest in some calf guards to reduce muscle vibration, and I am also going to use some form of electrolyte on course to add salts. I’m not sure what, but I’ll find something.
Quite simply put, a phenomenal race. Brilliant support, great course and aside from a few small (and one large) glitch very well organised.
For me, it was right where I want to be to target sub 3.10 in the autumn and GFA next spring.
Thank you to the people of Manchester for welcoming us so warmly. We’ll be back next year, but this time with Jodie running!