Manchester Marathon race report 8/4/18
By Paul McGough
- The Unfinished Business and the Goal
As a few of you know I’ve done a few marathons and over the last few years I’ve targeted the sub 3 hour.
It all started in 2006 but with just the goal to get round without walking any of it. I achieved that goal and finished in 3:40.
Since then my running had improved and I always thought a sub 3 hour marathon was achievable for me. In 2010 I was probably in the best marathon shape I’ve ever been in but I suffered with cramp at 19 miles. That was very disappointing as I was going really well at 18 miles, had plenty of energy and was on a 2:56 schedule. I walked a lot of last 7 miles and finished with 3:35. A pb but it didn’t matter to me.
2011 was another write off not worth going into. Walked some of it and finished with 3:31 (another pb)
2013 was with no training and very painful. Walked some of it and finished with 3:51
Then I had a real good crack at it 2014 with the right training and agonisingly suffered with cramp again at about 23 mile finishing in 3:01:45. If it wasn’t the cramp that cost me the sub 3 hour goal then it would have been the course marker as it was measured short by about 400 metres and is now classed as a short marathon! A short marathon? I did learn from it though and put my finger on the cramp issues.
I then forgot about marathons and if I never did another one I’d be happy with my revised time of 3:03 at the 2013 Manchester marathon.
Each year I’d always go in for the London marathon ballot but never got in. So it was late last year when new member of the club Darren Carroll said he was going to do his home town marathon and it planted a seed for me. I withdrew my name from the London club ballot and set my sights on Manchester with the re-ignited goal of a sub 3 hour marathon.
- The Training Plan
I straight away got onto a training plan for Darren and I as we were similar speed and ability and would be ideal training with each other.
The training plan started early December and consisted of 4 training blocks of which each was 3 weeks of tough training building up the mileage and long runs and a recovery week. After the last and toughest week which peaked at 70 miles it then went into a 3 week taper.
By the time we were to start training Paul Thwaites had signed up for London along with Paul McLean, Richard Fawcett had signed up to the training and later Manchester, Jonathan Skidmore signed up for Manchester, Jack Hustwitt who I think just liked the long runs but later signed up for Windermere marathon. There was also Dave Robinson, Peter Keen and Catherine McShane who all entered Manchester and followed similar training plans so we had quite a big group of marathon runners to train amongst at the club sessions and on a Sunday.
- The Training
The training went very well for me and I had my usual week of illness as most of us do and my dip at Christmas but I always factor this in to a marathon plan. The long Sunday runs with Darren, Richard, Paul, Jon and Paul I’d have to say were quite enjoyable despite being tough and something I didn’t dread them on a Saturday night anymore like I had in previous years. I actually looked forward to them as I was training with a great group of lads. We had some good routes through the countryside and I think the 5-4-3-2-1 marathon paced runs at Tees Barrage when joined by Dave, Peter and Catherine worked very well for all of us. There was great camaraderie and support for each other.
The hardest session for me was the 10 mile Wednesday lunchtime run with 6 miles at marathon pace. This was very tough after a Tuesday night club session but I did just about all of them.
During the training I continued with the cross country races and did 2 road races – the Brass Monkey half and Snake lane 10. The Brass Monkey went well as expected with a 1hr24 and the Snakelane went better with a 62:20 finish only being 18 seconds slower than 4 years ago. I also planned to do the Locke Park 20 as my test race to determine my marathon pace but the Beast from the East II cancelled the race but didn’t stop a few of us still going to Locke Park that Sunday morning and doing 20 laps in the snow.
- The Taper
With the training all done I was ready to start the 3 week taper with an intention of dropping to 45 miles, 30 miles and 15 miles per week. I quickly settled for 30 miles for the 1st week but kept the intensity up at the club sessions. The 2nd week I raced the Mermaid 10K and was quite pleased at the time but later disappointed with my 37:59. The final taper week I had an easy Tuesday night session and a Thursday night 4 mile run which felt awful and tough. That didn’t fill me full of confidence.
Unfortunately at this stage Richard had to pull out of the marathon with an achilles injury. He was running very well at the time and in p.b. shape for all race distances so would have no doubt had a great marathon.
- The Race Plan
Leading up to the marathon in the last week I assessed the races I’d done and wasn’t confident enough about achieving a sub 3 hour marathon. The race times equated to a 3:04 finish based on my endurance and marathon history. Disappointing but it was what it was so I had to think beyond a sub 3 hour marathon.
I discussed with Darren Carroll about race paces and plans and I’d said mine was to run about 100 yards behind the 3 hour pacer and if all went ok then the dream scenario would be to pass him with a mile to go to scrape under 3 hours. My back up plan was if it felt too fast for me at 3 miles I would have let him go and drop down to 7’05 to 7’10 pace. With that pace I could still go under 3:10 and get a good for age place for London 2019.
Darren was quite happy with that approach too as he’d had a couple of weeks out with a thigh injury so we agreed to meet at the start near the sub 3 hour pacer.
- The Race
On the morning I had parking close to the start so it was only a short walk over. It was good to see Phil Hughes-Narborough and Ian Higgins two of our other members who were and also Dave and Catherine too. I wished them all well and set off for my starter pen.
As planned I got to my pen with a couple of minutes to spare, made my way over to the pacer and fortunately spotted Darren. We went over our plan once again and the gun went. We were positioned just before the pacer and so set off with the intention of letting him catch us and then we’d settle in behind him and the sub 3 hour posse.
Approaching the 1st mile marker the pacer pulled up alongside me so I had a quick chat with him (to see if he knew what he was doing) and then I must have pulled away from him when we approached another group or rounded a corner. I thought that if I take it easy on every incline then he would catch me up again and I’d go back to the original plan. With 1 mile down I was feeling comfortable and continued on still waiting for the pacer to pass me. I took my time on any incline and still waited for the pacer. This is where I also lost touch with Darren and wouldn’t see him until the end of the race despite being a within 100 metres of him most the race. At about 3 miles was still feeling comfortable and through both plan A and plan B out the window and thought I’d just run on feel. I continued to every incline easy and go with the flow. The miles ticked away nicely and went through 10K in 42:01. I did some sums and was happy the way it was going. At approximately 11 miles I saw the front runners coming back from Altrincham which to be honest knocked me back a little. Soon after I got a tap on my shoulder and it was Jonathan. We asked each other on how we both were and discussed that no matter how good you felt at this stage this meant absolutely nothing in a marathon. He also told me that he’d been slowly catching me for about 5 miles and Darren wasn’t far behind but he’d had to stop for a pee. (Darren later told us he could see us up the road but ran it sensibly by not trying to catch us)
We went through half way in 1:28:50, some more sums in my head and if we continued at this pace we would have a couple of minutes to play with at the end. It was good running with Jonathan as he made it feel more like a training run than a race.
At 15 miles we got to see everyone running out to Altrincham and got a nice shout out from Tony Holland and Peter Keen going the other way. We also kept reassuring each other about keeping it easy as we knew at any time the wheels could come off big time. We’d both had the wheels come off in marathons numerous times but we were both running well and had started to pass other runners which was a good feeling. At 16 miles we had our first sighting of what a marathon can do to you with a few people walking at the side of the road. Nothing could help them now and they had to tortuously get themselves to the finish.
Continuing on at a good pace I kept ticked off each and every mile getting closer and closer doing more and more sums in my head. I even thought about it being my day, this could be the one, this could be it. Wait a minute stop those thoughts I had nearly an hour of running still to do.
I also had those thoughts in 2010 and 2014 and I knew how those both ended.
In the 2nd half of the race returning from Altrincham and seems to go downhill quite a lot and we were making the most of it and I knew we were without looking at my watch as Jonathan was doing for me. He wasn’t saying anything but was sensibly checking to make sure we weren’t running too fast. As I had done throughout the race I was running on feel and it felt as good as it ever could do 18 miles into a marathon. Probably the most pleasing mile to go through was mile 20 as we we’re still passing other runners and I said to Jonathan the race starts now. He replied with don’t get carried away and I wasn’t going to but it gave us the last10K to go and all being well we had just over 45 minutes to get to the finish line.
21 was good and 22 was good despite the thighs starting to ache. Jonathan dropped off a little here. I heard his jelly Babies come out again and thought that the effort of getting to them and eating one slowed him slightly so I continued on expecting him to catch back up. I’d had a similar experience at 18 miles after having a salt capsule and a big drink of water. It knocks your breathing out and slows your pace temporarily.
I continued on through 23 miles on my own and was still going well when unexpectedly a blister on the bottom of my right foot burst! Id first felt it at about 11 miles but it hadn’t caused me any bother up until now. For a short while my gait altered to suit but I knew I had to get back into a normally stride pattern or I’d be putting more pressure on my left hamstring and it’d eventually cramp. I gritted my teeth and fortunately it stopped hurting after a minute or so and didn’t trouble me again.
At 24 it was starting to really hurt my quads. I was continuing to do my sums and at each and every mile marker passed the sums were getting better and better. All being well. Even at 25 I thought I can slow to 9 to 10 minute mile pace if I had to but also in my mind was I’ve slowed to 15 minute/mile walk pace before and that can still happen now.
I turned on to the home straight and despite it being quite long I could start to think about what I was about to achieve. I could see the finish line albeit only small from where I was and in a lot of pain but it was a pain I was going to enjoy knowing I was finally going to do it. I crossed the line with my arms aloft. There was no heroes sprint, there never is as I don’t have one but I crossed the line with my arms aloft. I thought there might have been some tears knowing the amount of miles I’d already done in serious pain trying to achieve this goal and failing each time. After getting my breath back and a quick chat to someone I looked out for Jonathan and Darren and it wasn’t long before they both crossed the line and both getting under 3 hours too.
For all 3 of us to get under 3 hours was amazing. Jonathan had a month or so out with illness but has bags of talent and when he puts his mind to it you eat his dust. Darren had a week or two out with a thigh injury and it was his first marathon too. Ffs, his first one, didn’t he fancy it the hard way like me? Well done to them. It was great training and running with them
- The Race Nutrition and Considerations
My nutrition was:
A gel and a Succeed salt capsule 3 minutes before the start.
Half a course gel at 4 miles
A Succeed salt capsule at 7 miles.
My own gel at 9 miles
My own gel at 15 miles
Half a Succeed salt capsule at 18 miles (it partially opened in my shorts pocket so I could taste the salt in my mouth. Not nice)
A course gel at 20 miles.
Approximately 2 mouthfuls of water at every other water station.
I was quite thirsty from about 16 to 22 miles so took a good drink at 22 and then nothing from then on.
In 2014 I did all my Sunday long runs in compression tights – one because it was cold and two because they were comfortable. I raced the marathon that year in only compression shorts and cramped in my calf muscles. I learnt from that and this time I did it the other way round. I made sure I didn’t train in any compression clothing only wearing it after a tough long run. Then I wore both compression shorts and the calf guards for the race. It worked as I didn’t cramp and I didn’t even feel a twinge of cramp throughout the race. I practised and experimented with gels on the Sunday long runs and found my best performances were when I took gels at about 8, 12 & 16 miles rather than leave them until when I felt like I was flagging. They’re no use towards the end of a run or race but it took me years to work that out.
- The After Race Thoughts and Future Plans.
Looking back at the race now I can say I loved it all but while doing it I only enjoyed the bit at the end when I crossed the line. To everyone that’s ran one like I have in the past you’ll know why as it can all turn pear shaped at any moment.
My splits for the marathon couldn’t have been any better with none slower than 6:53 pace so maybe running off feel is the way to go now. Other plusses were a negative split for the 2nd half which only a small percentage achieve in marathons and my first 10K and last 10k of the race had only 8 seconds difference.
So why was this the one where everything clicked into place despite me not being confident about it and my prep races not being as quick as previous years? No doubt the training and taper were the main factors. I didn’t religiously stick to the plan but I did the majority of it and you get out what you put in. I knew in the back of my mind that on the later long runs in the training plan I was able to keep going as I’d trained my legs to do that. The 20 mile run at Locke Park in the snow I set off fairly quickly but I just kept the pace up until the end. After that the taper and recovery are very important despite it not feeling great, you’ve done all the hard work so let the legs recover.
I’ve finally done it and I can retire from marathon races now but I’m not going to and plan to do York in October and London next year. Why stop now. You know where I am if you want to sign up and train with me.
Well done to all nymac members who did the marathon, 9 of us in total.
I hope you enjoyed it and informative if thinking of doing a marathon.
Footnote: Sorry for waffling on but this is for my own benefit too so I can read it in years to come and remind myself of how I did it.