Well finally I went and did one! After entering the London Marathon far too many times to remember in the ‘80s and ‘90s but never getting a place, it’s always been a bit of a sore point with me that as a runner I’d never done the infamous 26.2 miles.
So after being knocked back yet again for London and not meeting the criteria for a club place, (maybe this year?) I decided while I was in the right frame of mind to just go ahead and book one! After dithering for a while as to whether I’d prefer to train through winter or summer, I finally plumped for training in the cold, dark and wet and duly booked an early one…Manchester at the very start of April.
Once I'd got the Xmas period out of the way my training plan commenced and went pretty well considering it was a major step up for me. I settled for solo runs rather than group so I could go out when I wanted and at my own pace, and this all worked pretty well as I got in a couple of good long ones including a 21.5 miler which was a major undertaking at the time.
However after my final long run (20.5 miles) my right foot suddenly decided it didn’t want to play anymore! I persisted and some runs were better than others but as I was now only three weeks out from race day I really didn’t have much choice. I simply didn’t have the luxury of resting it so I continued to run, some were okay but others not so. Plenty of stretching, ice packs, rolling, etc, eased it but it quite clearly wasn’t going to go away.
My final training week was possibly the most odd as during an 8 miler seven days before it was absolutely fine but my final 5-ish miler three days later was a nightmare and every footstep was agony! What to do? Bit late to defer so I thought I might as well go for it and if I’ve to drop out then so be it!
I must admit I found the couple of days of carb loading an interesting experience. Being a greedy fat lad I honestly thought this would be fantastic and was quite looking forward to being able to stuff my face! However it just left me feeling sick most of the time. I had a better time of it on the Friday as being at work I could be more regimented in my intake.
However the Saturday preparation was a bit of a disaster as I was given a last minute ticket to see the mighty Spurs on the Turf and I don’t think pies and a beer are ideal sources of carbohydrate! Being stuck at the sister-in-law’s after the game didn’t help either and as such I probably got nowhere near the amount I really needed pre-race.
Finally the big day arrived and started with an early 6.15am pickup by the fantastic Simon Lister who was doing his 24th marathon and I was looking to use his vast knowledge to help me round. An uneventful drive saw us arrive on a relatively quiet Old Trafford car park at 7am. Simon duly settled into his standard pre-race procedure but my itchy feet meant I simply couldn’t settle. I think my stomach was also feeling the jitters and a ‘visit’ was required before I could calm down and start to relax!
At about eight we made our way up through the steadily increasing crowds of runners and supporters to the bag drop. Again the nerves must have got the better of me and I had to retrieve my bag to get half the stuff I needed which I’d forgotten and left in there. Der!
The atmosphere was starting to build and I tried to take it all in, in-between more ‘visits’ and plenty of stretching, particularly of the foot which thankfully appeared to be behaving. I managed a final intake of fluids as we meandered up to the start line to join the throng, on the way abandoning the T-shirt (litter lout) I’d been using to keep some heat in on the chilly morning.
We finally made our way to section E (I was actually in D but decided I was better off sticking with Simon) and the time seemed to tick by interminably before we finally heard the gun go at 9am prompt. A dead man’s shuffle towards the start ensued and eventually we were off! Watch started but I forgot to check the overhead clock…oh well.
Into the first mile and the pace seemed ridiculously slow but thankfully Simon’s experience held me back from going off like a nutter. I am after all new to this distance malarkey! Steady away and into a good rhythm and the miles start to tick especially around 1-2 where we are received with a cacophony of noise from the fabulous TAC Army. Cowbells et al, high-fives and lots of cheers but I wonder if I’m going to need this more at about mile 20 and not 30 minutes in! Thank you guys!
Once past the TAC party section we again settle into a steady rhythm until suddenly, around five miles in, Simon says “I’ll catch you up” and disappears. I assume it’s another ‘visit’ so I duly plod along trying to keep my pace steady until, about a mile later, all the fluids I have taken on board also get the better of me and whilst there’s a nice hedge available I take the opportunity too! I really don’t want to stop but I know I’ll never get all the way without going and this seems a better option than queuing later on.
I re-join the stream of runners just as Simon catches me up but he now has the Marks in tow (Pemberton and Lord). Our little TAC posse wends its way through the crowds, everyone dutifully taking on fluids and gels and now I’m settled into my stride I feel really comfortable, the foot’s going pretty well and I feel good.
However around mile 10, Simon and the two Marks start to leave me. I check my watch but I don’t seem to have slowed any so assume they have simply speeded up! I decide to run my own pace and let them go and they slowly but surely drift into the distance leaving me to my thoughts.
It’s just about here that the fast runners start to pass us on the way back. I see Matt Lalor absolutely flying and I give him a shout of encouragement, and then Nicola and David charge past quickly followed by a couple of other Trawden runners who I don’t know until Dale also zooms past.
Pleasantries are exchanged with everyone and I’m astounded at the speed they are moving! Once this flurry of activity is over I’m again left to my own devices and continue to plod along nicely. Still feeling good, my breathing is even and all is going well when everyone starts to loop back onto the return section.
The crowds are still out in force. Banners saying ‘press for energy’ are waved (yes I did try it and no it doesn’t work) lots shouts of encouragement, lots of high-fives with the little ones, and gallons of jelly babies all help the miles to tick by.
Before setting off I had the idea of getting under 4 hours. Maybe I was being a bit ambitious for my first ever marathon but that was the plan I’d had and Simon was aiming for the same, hence my slight panic when he and the Marks left me! Despite regularly checking my watch (well as best as you can when you are running without your specs and you’re blind as a bat) and my times still seeming good, I was rather disappointed to be suddenly caught by the 4 hour pacer!
Okay, I needed a quick rethink on the plan. Seeing as I’d lost the original unofficial pacer, if I still harbour any 4 hour ambitions then I need to stick with this guy. Picking up the pace slightly I dutifully slotted into the gaggle of runners trailing along in the pacer’s wake.
By now the morning was wearing on and the heat was starting to build. ‘Keep taking on fluids and try to stay in the shade’ became the mantra as I tried desperately to cling on to my new posse but gradually somewhere between miles 17 and 19 they slowly but surely dropped me. However I did catch Mark Lord during this phase and despite my encouragement to ‘keep with me’ he decided to run his own race.
Again left to my own devices the miles continued to tick by but by now we had left the streets of Altringham and Sale behind and were out into the countryside around Carrington. Beautiful scenery but absolutely zero escape from the sun!
Curiously, it was around this point that I started to catch Mark and Simon. I kept checking my watch but I still appeared to be plodding along at the same rate as ever and not speeding up and yet they were definitely getting nearer. Perhaps they were paying the price for their early injection of pace?
Anyway, slowly and surely I reined them in. As I came up on them with a cheery "fancy seeing you here!" They appeared surprised but pleased to see me again and I certainly started to wonder what had gone on when Simon was adamant they had both stuck religiously to the 9.09 minute miles. That just left the awful thought that due to my crap eyesight my pace must have been fluctuating and would I now start paying for it?
All three of us toddled along again and I still felt good but I was now getting up to the 21 mile point beyond which was an unknown having never gone that far before. I was mentally preparing myself to hit the fabled ‘wall’ but I can honestly say it never came. Well maybe not as I expected! At no point did I my legs give out or did I ever think I would not get to the finish line.
As we started to enter Urmston the crowds were again out in force and gave me a bit of an additional pep-up now the excitement of chasing down my Trawden cohorts was starting to wear off! Mile 22 went by and I was noticeably slowing. Not far now. Keep going. Not much more than a parkrun left.
On a normal Saturday morning this would take me approximately 23 minutes but not today as mile 23 became the killer point. Simon and Mark again started leaving me and try as I might I simply didn’t have enough left to stay with them. My 9.09s which had dropped to 9.20s suddenly became 9.45s, then 10.00s! Is this the dreaded ‘wall’ I wondered?
Plod, plod, plod and the miles and the time tick by. Simon and Mark have now disappeared into the distance so once more it’s just me. I again start to think about my finishing time. Even though I knew I had to say goodbye to 4 hours, I still felt okay and unless something drastic occurred I would definitely get to the end. 4.15 to 4.30 came into my head but by now I didn’t really care and just wanted the finish line.
Whilst my legs, and more importantly my foot were fine I’d developed really bad stomach cramp, no doubt due to a marked lack of core strengthening, something I’ve never really bothered with. So I just ignore the ache and just keep going until finally the finish line comes into sight.
Now thankfully having done the Manchester Half last year I was aware of just how long the finishing straight is. People were already getting giddy and starting to sprint past me but I plodded along preparing to give as big a finish as I had left.
Once I passed the 26 mile marker I tried to open up the legs as best as possible though there wasn’t much left in the tank. Gradually increasing the pace and passing quite a few of those who had clearly ‘gone too early’ I eventually and euphorically crossed the finish line with my best effort at a sprint!
Wandering through the ‘end zone’ I shuffled my way to collect my goody bag and a well-deserved pint of Erdinger (alcohol free of course). Looking around at all the other finishers who were dutifully doing their warm downs and stretches I did feel slightly embarrassed that I really couldn’t be bothered with all that and just wanted the beer!
I quickly found Simon and Mark and we proceeded to discuss how we felt it had gone. Sadly I still had no idea what time I had as until I retrieved my bag with my specs in it I simply couldn’t read the detail on my watch.
Mark, who like me was running his first marathon in preparation for London, had only missed his sub-4 hour by a measly 1.49 minutes. Simon had come in at a very respectable 4:03:16 and, once I had collected my bag and put my eyes back on, I was astounded to find I’d done 4:04:37! Absolutely made up considering the 4:15 or 4:30 I’d been expecting!
Gradually the finishing enclosure started filling up and other Trawden runners joined us. Jogger Joe Edmondson had come in just behind me and Mark Lord was ecstatic to have pulled out a PB! Cue the obligatory photos holding the hard earned ‘bling’ and then our little group started to make its way tentatively back to the cars.
Bumping into some of the speedsters on the way back I was astonished at the times they had put in with Nicola and David leading the way as the first TAC home in just over 3 hours...stunning! I’m still amazed when I think about the speed they were travelling at as they had passed me and I take my hat off to you all!
Thankfully, despite not stretching or warming down I didn’t start to seize up and felt remarkably fresh on the way back home considering what I’d just done. However on the way nature got the better of me yet again and Simon duly stopped at McDonald’s so I could do the necessary. Oh dearie, dearie me!
When I tried to get out of the car nothing wanted to work. Ouch! I shuffled across the car park and the people inside must have wondered what the hell was wrong with me, and I could see the smirks on their faces as I made my way in and out again like some decrepit octogenarian!
So there you have it folks. A bit of a ramble and in fact I’m not sure which took longer, finally getting round to completing a marathon or writing this report! I had hoped that finally ticking that box would get the proverbial bee out of my bonnet about marathons and that once I done one I’d finally be satisfied. But I can’t deny that measly four and a bit minutes is already starting to bug me!