I’m gonna say this from the start. My Manchester Marathon was one of the easiest and hardest marathons I’ve run. Yes, I know it’s a contradiction, but bear with me and I’ll try to explain it.
The week’s taper leading up to Marathon Sunday was a slight non starter. On the Monday night I had to pick up my brand spanking new Chasers running vest from the kit woman at the clubhouse. The Monday night social run was happening so there were a few people milling about when I got there. While I waited for the kit woman, a random girl came up to me and asked if I had done the social run before because she was a bit new and didn’t know the drill. I chatted to her about the dealio, and it turned out that she was running Manchester marathon as well. Her name was Lorraine and she hadn’t run for a few weeks but was going to give the marathon a go. She’d lived in Manchester for a while and had run it a few times already so knew the route. We swapped numbers so I could let her know on Sunday where all the Chasers would be after the race so we could all catch up for a post-race beer. I collected my vest and went off to do some easy paced laps of Tooting Bec.
No running on Tues and Wed nights – full on taper mode, but on Thursday I ran 4 miles around Tooting Bec at marathon pace. That was me done until I got to Manchester. Thurs eve I had my final sports massage from Lou at Aurora, and she did a light flush out of my legs, as well as my neck and shoulders, which were starting to feel pretty tense. Stress, I reckon. My calves were in knots though, which was slightly worrying as I had only run around 8 miles all week since my last massage.
Saturday morning I got the train to Manchester. All day on Friday I was out of sorts, jittery and constantly checking the weather report for Manchester. At the start of the week it had been forecast to be 17 degrees on Sunday and sunny. My worst nightmare. However as the week progressed the weather forecast changed and gradually dropped to 12 degrees and overcast. Fingers crossed it stayed like that. I slept pretty well that Friday night but was awake early so was up and out of the house pronto. The train was full of runners heading to Manchester so I was surrounded by ‘runners talk’ and it was slightly winding me up. I was full of nerves, very strange for me. I actually had the jitters.By this stage I didn’t want to hear everyone talk about what time they were going to do, or what food they were going to eat etc, I just wanted to get there and get this race over with and then go home!
I got into Manchester and headed to the hotel, which was in Salford Quays and right next to Old Trafford, Manchester United’s stadium. I chose this hotel as it was less than a mile from the start and finish lines. Perfect for me. My friend Mil was coming up to be my supporter and take photos for a project she’s doing, so while I waited for her to arrive, I got my running kit on and went out for a 2 mile yog around the stadium and to get my bearings for the next morning. I also was trying out my new gel belt which I had only purchased 3 days before. Stupid, I know, but I had it in my head that I didn’t want to wear my arm bands so this was the next best option (it was fine on my yog, by the way).
Mil arrived and we went to the local Pizza Express to carb load. I even had a beer with my dinner, which is unheard of for me, but I was feeling relaxed and felt like a beer, so what the heck. Back at the hotel room I packed for the next day, got my race kit ready and was in bed and lights out by 10pm. Rock and Roll.
Sunday. D Day had arrived. The start was at 9am so I left at 8.15 for the short walk to the village to drop my bag off and do my usual pre-race rituals – toilet, chaff cream, food, drink etc – and I timed it well. I was feeling pretty ok and chilled at this point. I got to the start line with 10 mins to spare and just slotted in the first section I came to, which happened to be the 3.30 crew. There were no corrals so it was pretty much a mixed bag. I was there for about a minute when Lorraine shuffled past me. Out of 12,000 runners we see each other! She had enough time to tell me that she had downed a bottle of prosecco the night before so was just going to ‘see how she went’ (spoiler alert, she ran 3.41 the jammy cow. ha).
The weather had stayed as predicted – cool and overcast. Perfect running weather. I couldn’t see any start banner or anything but at 9am on the dot a gun went off and everyone started shuffling forward. There was no real start marker, just the chip timer thing on the floor, so I guessed I was on my way! Slight anticlimax but I wasn’t complaining.
The Race. My race plan was pretty simple. Stick at 8.30 min miles and keep checking in every 5 miles to see how I’m doing. Take a gel every 5 miles and just tick off those miles. The first 5 miles were as expected, pretty easy and steady. I was getting into my groove and keeping pace well. 8.30min miles felt great and at the 5 mile mark I checked in with myself – ‘How are you feeling? Good. Can you keep this pace up? Yes’ – and on I went. I did start to feel the beginning of a blister on my right foot, which was giving me a bit of grief, but there was nothing I could do about it so I just ignored it.
We were running on roads and it was fairly flat so I was doing fine. I saw Mil around the 7 mile mark and on I went. Miles 6-10 were the same as the first 5, pretty steady and maintaining 8.30min miles. I was surprising myself at how comfortable I felt. At 10 miles I checked in with myself again – ‘How are you doing? Good. Can you keep this pace up? Yes’ – awesome.
It was here that the hills started to come into play. ‘Manchester’s flat’, everyone said. That’s bullcrap. There are hills, just not steep ones. Still, from miles 10-15 I was still keeping steady and on pace with 8.30min miles. I still felt pretty ok. I saw Mil just before the half way mark and I had a smile on my face. I was feeling good. This part of the course was an ‘out and back’ route, so I saw loads of Chasers coming back along the route. It was awesome for them to shout ‘Go Chaser’ at me and vice versa. It absolutely helped the motivation to keep going!
At 15 miles I did the check in ritual. I was good, but I could feel myself tiring slightly. I still held the 8.30 pace but by 17 miles I had slowed to 8.40min miles. Here we go. This is where the race actually starts. I plowed on, taking it steady. By this stage I was busting for a wee so I did a quick pit stop in someone’s front garden, hoping like hell they wouldn’t see my lily white bum hanging out. Back on the route I tried to keep the pace under 8.45 but I was beginning to struggle. I saw Chaser supporters on the sidelines, cheering me on, which helped so much.
I got to mile 20 and by now I could feel the wheels falling off. I took a gel and checked in with myself. ‘How are you feeling? Ok. Can you keep this pace up? I don’t know’. Shit. I had 6.2 miles to go and I was currently on 2.49hrs. I did the calculations in my head (woozily, I hasten to add) and figured out that even if I took an hour to run those last 6.2 miles (so 10min miles), I would still come in under 3.50hrs, which was my main overall goal (3.45 being the dream, 3.50 being the YAY, 3.55 being ok). So between miles 20 and 25 I slowed down a bit and ran 9 min miles. This was not a choice, I actually could not have gone any faster.
By mile 23 I had well and truly HIT THE WALL. I have run 4 previous marathons and I have never experienced anything like it before. I wanted so badly to go faster, but my brain couldn’t tell my legs to pick up the pace. It was useless. It was here that ‘digging deep’ actually meant so much to me. I dug deep and I soldiered on. I felt like everything was in slow motion. One foot in front of the other. Just keep going Lou, just keep going. Do not stop, just keep going. Just. Keep. Going. Those top two inches that every sports person talks about? Well I certainly used my top 2 inches then, plus another inch or so to get me over the finish line.
Mile 24 came, I was counting down those miles like my life depended on it. I reached for my final gel, only to discover that I had lost it somewhere back on the route between 20-24. Crap. With less than two miles to go I tried to pick up pace, but those last two miles were on an ascent up to Old Trafford, the finish line. Who was the sick bastard who thought it would be fun to do that? Mile 25 came and on I trundled. By now I was plodding along at 9.30min mile, however by this stage I knew I was going to come in under 3.50, I just didn’t know how much I would be under as I was ACTUALLY SLOWING DOWN. I think a walker could have passed me at this stage.
Finally, FINALLY I got to the last corner and turned into the home straight. If I could have sprinted I would have, but I had absolutely NOTHING left in the tank. I managed a sharp shuffle over the line and completed 26.2 miles.
In a PB time of 3.47.32. That’s 9 mins faster than my previous marathon time. WOOP! God that hurt!
As soon as I crossed the finish line I was already analysing the race; what I did right, what I did wrong and how I can do better next time. Nuts, hey? Yes and no. This marathon was by far the easiest one for me as I had such a clear race plan, and I felt so comfortable for 18 miles of it. The training I’d done with the Clapham Chasers was the reason I knocked 9 minutes off my time. I have the training I did with the club to thank for this. Imagine what time I could do if I just maintained a better pace average. It was obvious to me that I should be able to keep the pace of 8.30 min miles all the way around – I just need to train harder with more miles in the mid-week runs. Maybe do the longer Tempo runs instead of the shorter ones. I know I can do it. I was two minutes off. Just two minutes.
However, this was a ridiculously hard marathon as it was the first time I had to face my demons and actually pull myself out of hell. Between mile 22-26 I had moments of thinking that I may not be able to finish the race. Never have I felt like I have in those last 4 miles, and it’s a huge learning curve for me. I’ll take all of this and more into my next one. Yes, there will be a next one!
Manchester Marathon. DONE.