Manchester marathon 2019
I didn’t know what to expect going into this marathon. It was my third marathon and every time I’d slightly tweaked and attempted to perfect my training. The first time I did Manchester in 2017. I did pretty much all my long runs at a fairly quick pace. This meant that when I came to do the marathon the pace felt pretty comfortable. However, my club sessions during the week were always affected by tired legs and so although my stamina was good I actually felt speed wise I probably wasn’t at my peak. In London the following year I attempted much higher mileage but only doing a few of my long runs at close to race pace. I felt like this generally worked well and felt going into London I was in the best shape I’d ever been in, however the weather conditions were horrendous for me, searing heat, not good for a fair skinned redhead. This meant I was left disappointed with my time but not least because I almost crawled over the finish line.
This year I decided I would redo my training plan for London but instead of doing as high mileage I was going to add some cross training into my schedule. So to this end I did a circuits class at least once a week, did press ups and plank regularly and also some light weights on a regular basis. I tried to attend one club session and on the other day I would make myself do a speed session on the treadmill. Making myself run more reps at a quicker pace week on week. I know some people hate using the treadmill but for me it gives me a clear indication as to how well I’m running. If I can do 5 reps at a certain speed one week and can do 6 at a faster speed next week then I know I’m getting better. As long as you’re self motivated and don’t get too bored it can be a really beneficial way of getting quicker.
I have to say the most surprising thing about this training schedule was that the weight started to fall off me. I’d started my marathon training at about 12 stone and even when I’d done high mileage previously the lowest weight I’d got to was 11 and a half stone and that was after I’d been to the toilet and hadn’t drank for 8 hours!! After four or five weeks of mixing up fairly high mileage (45/50 miles a week) with cross training my weight had started to plummet. I don’t know whether it was because the cross training allowed me to train in the morning and meant I still felt fresh to run in the evening or whether it was to do with the weights increasing my resting metabolism or a combination of both but by the time I got to the marathon I was just over 11 stone, and I know from experience how much a difference that half a stone can make particularly over a long distance like a marathon.
Leading up to the marathon I’d ran Locke Park 20 and without a taper had ran 2:05 so in my head I was thinking with a proper taper and another 42 minutes added on for the final 10k I might be able to get close to 2:45. I wasn’t certain but I had thought I’d lost a lot of time at Locke Park redirecting round corners and with it being a windy day but you also tell yourself maybe you’re just telling yourself that to give yourself unrealistic expectations. So in my head I was thinking try and beat my Pb of 2:50 and see if you can get close to 2:45. That seemed realistic and distinctly possible.
I felt I had a fairly good taper leading up to Manchester. I was slightly concerned that my mileage had dropped off over the last month. I always feel with my training that I can hit it hard for a few months but then the energy and enthusiasm starts to wain and my mileage starts to drop. But I was hoping that on the flip side I should be well rested and raring to go. I did my last proper run on the Wednesday, running five miles to work and then did five km on the Saturday morning as a leg loosener. I was disciplined in what I ate in the days leading up to the marathon even turning down a kebab on the Friday night as I know the havoc it can cause if I don’t watch what I eat leading up to race day. On the Sunday I woke up early about 6:30 had a large bowl of porridge, a slice of toast and a pint of water. I then ate my last few jelly babies and a banana about half an hour before the race started.
I got to Manchester on the tram which is ideally placed on the M60 junction meaning you can get away really quickly at the end of the race. On arriving I queued half an hour for the toilets and luckily got literally the last piece of toilet paper that was left. I saw this as a lucky omen. Hundreds of people have been using this toilet for hours and I’m the lucky man who got the last piece of toilet roll the gods must have been smiling on me.
After this I made my way to pen A which is where I was starting. I could see the elite athletes in front of me some who were being interviewed by a rather glamorous woman for the live marathon coverage. I remember thinking never mind the glory of running fast that would be more of an incentive to win!
About ten minutes before we started I bumped into Andrew ackerley and had a nice chat with him. It was his first marathon and he was saying he didn’t know what to expect but I knew he had been running really well and expected him to be finishing near to me. I felt like we really bonded, especially when we shared his water bottle to prevent either of us doing a Paula Radcliffe half way through the race. At these points I am always glad I am of the male gender!
As the race started I set off quickly. I know I always set off too fast but I like to shock myself into going quick, it seems to help me get warmed up and I prefer having time in the bank so that when I ultimately do start to lose my pace later on in the race I can hang on knowing a good time is in my grasp. I ran the first 5k in about 18:20 and my first 10k in 36:50. However, I still felt strong and my confidence grew knowing that I could definitely maintain this for some time. A lot of people seemed to be going past me but I was ok with that. I knew that the marathon was very individual and that position was kind of irrelevant. The key was to be able to still be running quick near the end. In my previous two marathons I had always lost loads of time in the last 10k. It’s so easy to lose 30 secs to a minute a km when your legs are tired and that can add up to 5/10 minutes lost by the time you finish.
What I did think as I was looking at people running alongside me was am I the biggest amateur here? Some of the athletes had obviously gone ahead of the race and placed various sports drinks at different stations along the way ready for them to pick up. I on the other hand was running along with a sandwich bag from the coop filled with jelly babies. And they literally were in my hand. I’d put my car key and tram ticket in my back pocket and was worried that if I pulled the jelly babies out every 5k as was my plan something might fall out of my pocket, so I simply ran with the sandwich bag in my hand. No one else looked as amateurish as me!! I’d counted out before the race 24 jelly babies. That was three jelly babies for every 5k. It’s the maths teacher in me!
When I went through the half marathon I was amazed at my time. A low 1:18, it broke my half marathon Pb. In my head I knew I couldn’t do that again, I was feeling tired, but I started calculating what time I need to run per km to dip under 2:45. I worked out if I could keep under 4:05 then I’d do it. As I clocked up more sub 4 kms I got closer to the finish and the time I could afford to lose got greater. 4:10 a km and I’d still do it, 4:15 a km and I’d still be sub 2:45. I managed to keep going, in every marathon i had done previously my legs had gone at 20 miles but not this time. I kept putting in sub 4 kms and by the time I got to 5 minutes a km being good enough to still get sub 2:45 I started to really believe. I saw my best mate, who is now the chairman for Roundhay Runners, a running club in Leeds at mile 23 and he really cheered me on. I then ran alongside a lad who was running with his top off. I’d seen him being interviewed at the start of the race so knew he was one of the elites. I wondered if he was using Manchester as a training run for London. He asked me what time I was aiming for and I told him sub 2:45. He said well you’ve smashed that let’s go under 2:42. He stuck with me the last two and a half miles pushing me on, shouting “stick with me” and “hang on my shoulder”. He made it look easy, which is why I think he was obviously not going flat out. It wasn’t easy for me the last two miles were hard but I stuck with him, grimacing but still running splits at around 4 mins a km. when I saw the line in sight I couldn’t believe it the time was beyond my wildest dreams. The training I’d done for this marathon had been the hardest out of any of them in the sense that I was going out for my long runs at 6am on a Sunday morning to get back for my sons football matches sometimes in the freezing cold. I’d never been so lonely training in that I’d ran so much as an individual and very little as part of a group. But as I came up to that finish line with the time on the clock it had all been worth it. 2:41 (we’ll forget the seconds in this case they’re irrelevant!) When I crossed the finish line I hugged the lad who spurred me on (who incidentally was a 2:30 marathon runner) and started sobbing. I was doing everything I could to not just burst into tears. I was emotionally and physically wrecked with endorphins flooding my brain. All I kept thinking was how have I done that, I really never expected it. Nine minutes off my Pb. I didn’t hang round long I wanted to get back to my car and see my mobile phone, all my family had been tracking me including the kids.
I spoke to them and they were really excited, Joseph my six year old said “daddy we thought you’d finished at 2:40 but that was another ginger man, you finished just after!”
I just smiled and thought it was all worth it.