Manchester Marathon – not so much a secret, more a ‘prevention of people worrying about the fat lad until the very last minute’. Having failed in the club ballot for London, my intention was to concentrate on running miles early in the year and see where I was by Spring. I generally average 100 mile months, although do dip as low as 60/70 where I increase bike and swim. I thought if I could tick over the miles, throw in a long run and see how I felt as the date approached, I could always drop out and nobody would ever know. Having said that, I may be many things, but I’m not really a drop out, it’s not in my nature.
In February I entered Harewood half and ran it the day after doing 15 miles in the lakes with Danj, Joe and Mrs Joe (Hinchcliffe), that was 28 hard miles in little over 24hrs, Harewood was a trail/cross country half and very up and down, a great training run for Marathon runners. I ran a hilly Liversedge half the following week. This was on back of Yorkshire Cross Country, Tough Guy and then the Northerns and Nationals shortly after.
Because nobody knew about the Marathon, there were no questions about weekly mileage, long runs, training plans, toilet plans, lubrication plans and fuelling, which was nice in some ways. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy these discussions as much as the next runner, but not when it’s about me, they just make me question what I’m doing, if it’s enough and how I compare to others. That’s not what Marathons are. A Marathon is a solo journey of self-discovery, challenge and self-belief. It sounds a tad dramatic when writing that down and what do I know? I have run 3 marathons, I have hammered the 16 week plan and then some, I have done 60 mile weeks and 200 mile months (and at my pace that’s a lot of time). I have done 5 runs of 20 mile plus in the run up, I have done ‘speed’ work, I have done eating the right foods and strengthening core. These are all beneficial factors but I ultimately went to the start line 3 times feeling tired, regardless of a good taper, regardless of sleeping, regardless of having rest days. I have then thought I should run out a touch slower than race pace and try and sustain that, always failing. Getting to halfway feeling reasonably comfortable and then fading very quickly to the point of positively towing, shuffling and dragging myself from 19 miles. The crowd did nothing for me on any of these occasions, their well intentioned support could not replenish my fatigue and reduce the impact of the training miles on my body. I wanted them to and rejoiced as marathon runners shared tales of a great crowd and great support spurring you on over the last few miles. For me, they didn’t, they tried, but my body couldn’t respond.
I hated my three marathon experiences of 4:37 London 2012, 4:35 Edinburgh and 4:38 York 2013, hated them to the point of declaring myself unlikely to tackle another, why put myself through that. York was the first one I actually walked at, although the other two contained spells of shuffling in a running motion that was slower than a walk…….much to others amusement, both runners and supporters and even friends. They were horrendous, yet I had listened to advice, taken what I could on board and committed lots of time and effort to preparation.
This time, I have quietly got on with it, wishing not to attract any attention, other than what people saw on Strava although in terms of frequency and miles it was only my standard training. That is until March 31st, I went out on the windiest day of the year (with a little rain thrown in) and did 18 horrendous miles. I felt if I could go 18 I was somewhere in the region of taking on a marathon, even if I had to run/walk or struggle the last 10km in my usual fashion. I had nothing to lose. The 18 was horrible, a bit of a confidence knocker at a very slow pace with extremely sore shoulders afterwards (from tension). The following week, on 7th April I ran 7 miles, followed by 13 and 13 in consecutive days. 33 miles in 3 days, 26 miles in 24 hrs. These went slightly better in that I ran off road and the weather was more favourable. It was at this point a little over a week away I started to tell people I was going to Manchester. It was too late for anyone to advise me, although not too late for some to suggest it would be carnage and maybe I hadn’t done enough………
One ridiculous point to note and it hit me at the Liverpool Road Relays when Dave Pearce told me he had eaten a full English before setting off, was that I had run three marathons on little more than a bowl of cereal and a bagel. I’m 18 stone. Nowhere else would it make sense to eat less to do more exercise than I had ever attempted ! I loved it. It struck me that we wake up at 0500hrs in the morning hours before the start, have some cereal and then travel to start and run 4/5hrs later. That’s loads of time to pretty much eat what I want. Much as I do love food, I hate eating early morning, but I built in that I would have a ‘good’ breakfast. I woke at 0500hrs and made 4 x Toast, 3 x poached egg and 3 x bacon. I had really hydrated well all week and I had been eating healthy snacks of couscous and fish. Toilet was also ticked off before leaving.
I left home at 0615 to travel to Manchester, arriving just after the road closures and no natural way in to the prepaid car park, I did produce some fine expletives but opted to just park in a nearby car park and pay extra. A short walk to the start area and I felt the need to queue for another attempt at toilet duty, although my former anxieties were much less this time round, I had been obsessed at other marathons. I ate a small oat bar in the queue and had a few more sips of water. I made the start with 5 mins to spare, not my usual early arrival but it didn’t affect anything.
The perfect storm was well in motion, feeling fresh, food and toilet all handsomely ticked. The weather was the next request and it was perfect, cool and overcast, no wind, slight chance of rain, temperature was about 11/12 degrees. I much prefer running in the cold than through the warmer months. I also opted for short sleeve skin, another first, to stay cool throughout. I had my gel belt and 4 gels (SiS) as well as the Tordoff Clif Jelly he force fed me on his heroic chaperone around the Edinburgh marathon ( I wouldn’t have finished that without him). I also had a few jelly babies just in case and some electrolyte tablets I add to water when I’m out on bike. I thought these may help prevent cramp, as well as wearing compression socks.
The race started and my only plan was to run as easy and relaxed as I could to halfway, paying little attention to my watch and more attention to how I felt. My previous times averaged at 10:33 per mile, but in reality involved some quicker early miles and extremely slow later miles (up to 14 min/mile at Edinburgh). Time was not my priority, I wanted to just feel fresher and stronger than I did before. I have never given as many high fives or engaged with a crowd as much. I spoke to other runners, kept dropping my shoulders, touching hands with supporters and reading the great ‘your amazing’ and ‘is it worth all this for a free f*cking banana’ signs. I took a few sips of water at every drink station, and added half a tablet to two drinks early on, even before 10 mile, even though I was only taking a few sips. The sun cream I applied did make me sweat more and it did run into my eyes but this was a minor irritant. The crowds were amazing, I think on previous events I was too uptight and focussed solely on myself, what a mistake ! I got to 10km and felt fresh and strong. My thinking then turned to halfway, if I can get to 13 feeling relatively fresh I may be able to hold the pace or reduce the fade……maybe. I sang along with the bands, even doing a little dance on a couple of occasions. Still tapping hands and feeling the enthusiasm of the supporters and I actually did feel it.
I passed halfway and actually felt good. I remember vividly hitting Tower Bridge at London and snatching at sweets from people thinking ‘I feel hungry, I feel a bit leggy’. I took a gel at 10km and again just after halfway, as well as sips of water. More music and more dance moves. I ran my quickest mile at 14 (I know this from looking at stats after) but checked the watch at this point and thought ‘steady on lad’. The psychology was all different, I counted down instead of up. My thinking was, I know what I can do, I know as soon as single figures left it sounds less. 16 quickly became 19 (10 became 7), which quickly became my first doubts. 19 was a bad place at my other three and my first stop at York (for a wee). I took a drink and carried it, I took all but one cube of my Clif Jelly and steadied up a little. This is the lonelier part of the course as it briefly goes out into the countryside. This was the first time I noticed I was seeing people I hadn’t seen in a while, other runners, who had long since left me behind. As much as I didn’t want anyone to struggle or suffer I actually took a little heart from it and felt bad for doing so. 19 miles is a lonely place in a marathon, to struggle and toil, you against you, if it’s not happening not much can change it, it’s just a fight. I got to 20 mile and suddenly thought 10km left, and it was a positive thought, a new feeling for a marathon. I knew I was in or around 3hr20 at this point and still felt I had something to offer. My doubts passed, I was ‘two park runs from home’, somebody shouted. I haven’t managed a parkrun yet but appreciated the 3.1 mile increments. Two bite sized chunks. Two fun size mars bars.
Reaching 22 mile I was again aware that I was passing many more people than were passing me and I loved it. I have really looked at negative splits in training, try to finish stronger (even if I slightly manufacture that by starting a touch slower than I would), I knew I wouldn’t negative split the marathon but it was a nice feeling to be anywhere near level. My stomach did get a little ‘gripey’, I think it’s from the gels, so I wouldn’t take anymore but didn’t actually feel like I wanted or needed to, I was a touch over 40 minutes from home. 22 then became ‘one parkrun from home’, that was a nice feeling but then strange things happen. The next two miles felt like the longest. 23 and 24 were my least favourite miles and I really had to focus on turning my legs, I did this by checking the watch and pushing myself to keep the sub 10:20 pace. I had set off, not intentionally, before the 4:30 pacer and I was resigned from the start that he would pass me. I’m a very realistic man with running and always honest about what I think I’ll do. I wanted a sub 5, not knowing how my training would hold up, I wanted a medal, I wanted to run the whole thing. If I could keep 4:30 behind me for a while I’d be happy. It occurred to me he hadn’t passed! HE HADN’t PASSED ! I was 3 miles out……..
The water stations were great, very frequent in last few miles and I still took a bottle and had a sip. I passed 24 and I was immediately transported to Carcroft traffic lights, 2 mile out, lights to home, round top, same distance, I can do this. I became aware I had moved to the middle of the road, as I tired I did fewer high fives until they dried up, I had floated along with the crowd, I had taken their energy and used it myself, a few miles out I knew I had to work and to work on my own, distractions cost energy and I knew I couldn’t run forever, even feeling as good as I had. At 25 mile there was a short section where spectators couldn’t watch anyway due to road layout, but by this time Old Trafford was in view. And a little further down the road I had two supporters waiting, Deb and Sal. Not for the first time during the run, I could feel the tears. Marathons are funny creatures. I used to think of them as a mythical beast that didn’t really exist other than in folklore, but then I joined ADRC and realised they were real, still beasts, but very real. They are a magical thing, they inflict pain and suffering and yet people still pay good money to ride them. They make you emotional, at the most unexpected times, it can be a fellow runner gently touching your shoulder, knowing your pain, it can be a picture of a loved one, someone else’s loved one and the pride they would feel. It can be a young child who has no idea what’s happening but will stand at the roadside for 5hrs just to touch your hand. It’s the stranger who shouts your name. It’s the 26.2 miles that takes a person to their limits and beyond. It’s just everything. The moment is shared and Sal and Deb shouted my name, a touch of the hands and on I go, every step is closer to the finish. Half a mile out, the crowd gets thicker (numbers not intelligence), the noise gets louder. Wow, how could I have missed all this, not just once, but 3 times. I felt cheated. I actually increased pace. Me Ma and Da, up ahead, as always, willing me on, another hand touch, another moist eye. It means so much. I’m going to finish a marathon. A marathon I have run from start to finish, a marathon I wasn’t going to do, wasn’t sure I could do. The last .2, the .2 that breaks you, the .2 that most people think you’re being an arse by even correcting them on when the 26 miles is mentioned, the .2 that makes it a marathon, the .2 that makes me Pheidippides, was absolutely rammed. I felt stronger at that point than I had at any other time. So much so that emotion got the better of me and a fist clench and ‘come on’ came from nowhere. That was for me, that was for the other 3 finishes I can barely remember, that was for everyone who thought I couldn’t and everyone who thought I could. I did it.
4:27:34, for me this ranks as one of my proudest runs. I never thought I would do another. I never thought I could go under 4:30. The elite end of runners won’t get it, mediocrity, below average, not too bad, I don’t even resent them for that. For me it represents so much more. This is my PB, it’s 10 minutes exactly quicker than my first marathon, maybe that doesn’t even sound much over marathon distance when you look at what others have done. Just consider how I struggled on those 3 marathons, how much work I put in, only to miss my targets and fall short, feeling awful, worn out and unable to change anything. Now I have. This run has put that right for me. It’s taken the pressure of me, pressure I created to achieve something I consider a good time at the one distance I had fallen short 3 times before.
I hope this helps you understand why I haven’t talked too much about this in the build up and why I won’t shut up about it for a long time.
Manchester was my Perfect Storm and then i went to work.