Two weeks to the day since I completed Manchester Marathon, and whilst I sit watching the London Marathon coverage on BBC iPlayer, it feels like the ideal time to write my final post. My legs are still tired, this week I’ve actually developed a couple of completely new niggles, (cue sports massage number 2) but my toes, though still bruised are feeling fine and I’ve just finished a week of fairly ‘normal’ running.
One of the ways I distracted myself in Manchester was by mulling over what this blog post would encompass – at that point I hadn’t realised that I would have enough to say to fill three posts. I arrived in Manchester on Saturday afternoon, and checked into the very nice hotel I had booked, at some cost, right at Old Trafford Cricket Ground. I couldn’t help but think if I were there for a different reason I would have felt more relaxed, but I was definitely starting to feel nervous about what lay ahead.
After unpacking we headed out towards race village, and saw they were already setting up the finish which was right outside the hotel. I could see loads of signage towards the different areas; bag drop, toilets, different start zones. We walked to Media City in search of somewhere to eat. I already had a ‘meal plan’ – no fish, nothing spicy, just plain, carb heavy, etc. Pizza Express seemed like a safe option, and the thought of a huge pizza was definitely appealing, but when I told the waiter I was running the next morning he confessed they had run out of pasta the previous year, because that’s all people want to eat before a marathon, isn’t it? At this late stage I didn’t want to risk a silly mistake, so I plumped for the canneloni, swiftly followed by a pudding (because did I mention I would be running 26 miles tomorrow?).
I was keen to get back to the room and settle down for the night nice and early. I didn’t expect to sleep too well, so turned out my light around 10pm. By some miracle I did manage to push most thoughts of the marathon out of my mind, and when my alarm went off at 6.30am I felt relatively well rested. I got dressed, ate the breakfast I had eaten prior to all of my early training runs, (oats, milk and golden syrup) and posed for a photo. I had been fitted for a bin bag to keep me warm at the start, but I also wore my hoodie which was warm and cosy.
I’d arranged to meet Charlotte, my training partner, at 8.15am, 45 minutes ahead of the race start. Conditions were perfect – it was cool, grey and not a lot of breeze. We paused for a photo then I nipped off to the toilet and Charlotte headed off to her start area, which was in front of mine. She had decided to run with the 4 hour pacer, or possibly the 3.59, whereas I had my sights on the 4.15. The night before the marathon I scoured social media for words of encouragement. I stumbled across a quote from Martin Luther King, and kept it in mind throughout the race. I knew from successfully completing the Lyke Wake Walk (twice) I could walk 26 miles (42 to be exact) so it was just the small matter of running it that I needed to tackle.
In the start zones there was music and the atmosphere was great – I coudn’t decide how I was feeling. I could have cried, screamed or burst out laughing – it was so surreal, me standing at the start of a marathon, amongst thousands of people all raring to go. Ron Hill was on the loudspeaker, sharing his tips on how to succeed in a marathon. Don’t go out too fast kept whirling through my mind.
At 9am we began moving forward. Not a run but a fairly quick walk, for 10 minutes or so until we approached the start. So many people were running in groups and pairs, and I wondered how I would fare running alone. As I crossed the start line, I started my watch and took it easy. This was my warm up. I know by now it takes me a couple of miles to ease into my race pace, so I kept myself entertained by looking at the people around me, the charity vests, costumes and the support from the crowds. I enjoyed the signs of encouragement, although I confess I do sometimes find it hard to stomach the people who shout well done as you are just setting off.
My first mile was 9.39. I knew I could run faster than that but I didn’t know if I could run 26 miles, so I didn’t panic and carried on. At the start the 4.15 pacer was ahead of me, but I could see him so I resolved that I would try to catch him up once we got moving. I had worked out finishing in 4 hours 15 was about 9.40 pace, which I thought I might be able to do based on Hull. My 5k time wasn’t much under 30 minutes, I knew I wasn’t going full throttle and I still hadn’t caught up the pacer even though I knew I was averaging under 9.40 – miles 2 and 3 were 9.13 and then 9.04.
My fastest mile was mile 5, 8.58 pace, which enabled me to catch up with the pacer. There was a group running around him so I settled into a pace, believing this would be my place for the next 21 miles. Either side of the roads were crowds cheering, and I was surprised by how many churches were out on the street supporting runners; singing, handing out drinks and sweets.
Whilst I didn’t look at my pace during a mile, curiosity meant I checked my time each time my watch beeped a mile. I was perplexed to find mile 6 was 9.47 – my slowest mile so far, even though I hadn’t felt I was going any slower. As I continued running I realised I had a choice: to play it safe and trot along with the pacer, trusting him to lead me to the finish, or I could run a little faster, but only at a pace I was comfortable with, then hope to be swept along by the pacer as and when I slowed. I picked up my pace, passed the pacer and didn’t look back.
The miles ticked by, with the vast majority of stretches flanked by people cheering, shouting words of encouragement and handing out drinks, sweets and jaffa cakes. Running down roads for so long was bizarre, past traffic lights mid-way through their sequence, past chip timers for 10k, 13.12 miles, 20k and so on. I knew one or two people were tracking my progress so each time I passed a tracker I thought of them. My times weren’t my fastest, but they were steady. Charlotte and I passed each other on an out and back stretch. She was smiling and looked strong, around 15 minutes ahead of me I guessed. We waved and shouted well done.
There were plenty of water stops and at all but two I stopped and took on as much water as I could stomach. A couple of times I carried the bottle for a while until becoming fed up. As time went on I wasn’t overheating but knew I needed to stay hydrated. I had a gel at around 9 miles, and another at about 18 miles I think. Gels were available from the water stations but as I hadn’t trained with that brand I didn’t want to risk it. Eighteen miles in I noted that none of my miles had been over 10 minutes, so I set myself a little target. I decided if I ran the remaining 8 miles at 10 minute pace, I should still be sub 4.15. I kept reviewing this target as the miles passed, saying to myself “With x miles to go, worst case scenario, I’ll finish in X time”.
When you’re about to run a marathon everyone tells you about hitting the wall. Having run no further than 20 miles, 2 weeks earlier, I wasn’t sure when this would happen. It never did. Probably around 24 miles, my stomach hurt a little – discomfort would be the best description. Yes I was tired, yes I was thirsty, but I had had it in my head that miles 18-23/24 would be the hardest. I knew I would be flagging, with a long way still to go, but when I got to 23 or 24 I knew I would make it. Somehow I gritted my teeth and kept going.
Over the last few miles a couple of people watching commented on my lipstick! I had used one that stains your lips, and which evidently lasted well throughout the race. These comments made me smile and spurred me on, especially one lady shouting, apparently genuinely, “She looks fantastic!”. A few miles before the end someone had shouted, not particularly at me; “That’s it, nice and relaxed” which made me reflect – I had been relaxed, throughout, I had done my best to take it as it came, without any real expectations. I think that paid off.
The final mile was tough. The finish was in sight but did not seem to get any nearer. I knew I was going to make it, I knew I could run 26 miles – which I didn’t a few hours ago, but the last stretch along a straight road dragged. I approached the finish with no ability to pick up the pace or sprint, but I kept going until I past the chip timer. The clock showed 4.19 (gun time) but my watch showed 4 hours, 7 minutes and 49 seconds. I had come in well ahead of the 4.15 pacer, and hadn’t needed to be scooped up or run in by the race angels I had watched during the final few miles of the race.
Crossing the finish line I had fully expected to cry. I had been overwhelmed by a wide range of emotions in the build up to this, my first marathon. I stopped my watch, kept on walking and followed the one way signs towards race village. I collected my drawstring bag, containing my t-shirt and medal, picked up my free pint of alcohol-free Erdinger, and headed for the exit. I did not cry. I kept walking, wanting only to get to the car and head home. I’d done it. I had pushed myself well beyond my comfort zone, and I had run my own race. I was amazed at how consistent my pace was, so the 9.24 average was a very fair reflection – my fastest mile was 8.58 and my slowest 9.47. No sprints, no walks. I had not walked one step. I had run a marathon.
I was 5001st out of 9342 runners, 978/2977 women and 178/527 in my category. I had done better than I ever expected. My training hadn’t been textbook, but it had come together in a time I was incredibly pleased with. Manchester, thank you. It was truly a pleasure.