I travelled up to Manchester by car on the Saturday, my nervousness getting a boost along the way from the roadside boards warning of road closures and delays, and arrived at my reasonably priced hotel in the late afternoon. After checking in and getting settled, I set about consuming my final carbs in the form of jacket potatoes, before unpacking my kit for the following day.
Everything prepared I had plenty of time to obsess over the following day for a while, before a final check that my two alarms were set and then off to bed.
After waking in the night and checking the time only to see it was 01:30, I settled back down to get some more sleep. Only I didn’t. I wasn’t feeling nervous, and I’d already planned everything out in my head so there wasn’t anything which should’ve been keeping me up, but I just couldn’t get back to sleep. 02:00 rolled around, and then 03:00 and 04:00, I just wasn’t feeling tired in the slightest. After finally nodding off sometime after 05:00 it wasn’t long until the 06:00 alarm went off. Not the best of starts to the day unfortunately but I wasn’t about to let that put a downer on things.
Time for a light breakfast of toast and jam with a side of banana, before getting ready to go. After all the problems with parking last year I decided to catch the Metrolink which stops at Old Trafford, right outside the cricket ground, where the athlete village was located. It was a squeeze to get on with all the other commuters (runners), but after a few minutes we arrived at our destination just after 08:00 – plenty of time to meet up with a few runners from my club and discuss our plans for the race.
After making our way to the start line, a short 10 minute walk from the athletes village, we all went our separate ways to our allocated start zones and got ready for the off. Ron Hill, the king of running everyday, started us off after a short round of applause acknowledging his recently retired run-streak of 52 years and 39 days.
I knew from training that a PB was pretty much guaranteed, but because I’d made such improvements from last year it had been difficult to decide on a pace to go for. I had however decided that I would try to maintain a consistent pace from start to finish, rather than running positive/negative splits. My thinking behind this was that if the pace was right then all would be well, but if the pace was too quick I’d be able to rein it in when required. After much back and forth I settled on an ambitious 07:13/mi pace to bring me home around the 03:09 mark, over 45 minutes quicker than my previous marathon time. It was definitely a bold decision, but knowing how far my running had improved I’d rather go all out than feel I hadn’t run my best race.
The first 3 miles of the course were different from last year, now with a loop around Old Trafford before joining the previous route towards Sale and then on to Altrincham. The new first section removes the congested out and back around the Quays from last year and is a good change in my eyes.
Other than a bit of the usual heal clipping from other runners getting too close, the first 5 miles were smooth and felt comfortable, each clocking in at around the 07:10/mi mark. This was a great confidence boost as the pace felt relaxed and I’d also found a couple of runners who were running at a very similar pace to stick with. I was keeping an eye on my heart rate, and other than the (very) slight undulations which required a little push, it was exactly where I expected it to be.
Through Sale and onto Brooklands, we made our way to the 9 mile point and I reached for the first of my Jelly Babies just before the water station. Other than a feeling of a slight stitch in my right hand side everything was good and my pace was still exactly where I wanted it to be as we hit the long stretch through Timperley and towards the half marathon mark. I went through halfway at 01:33 and we were now heading towards home. Perfect. At this point my legs were feeling a little tired, but nothing to really worry about.
I was still in and around the same group of runners from the first few miles and although the pace wasn’t feeling so easy anymore it wasn’t uncomfortable at this point. Back up the long straight to mile 16 and this is where I started getting a little concerned. My legs were now fairly tired, and although it was a tiredness that I’d experienced before in my longest training runs, I was used to it happening at around mile 19 with only 3 miles to go, unlike here where I had another 10 to get through. On top of this, the stitch was still there and it seemed to be getting worse. I dropped my pace down to around 07:30/mi but it was the side pain that finally reduced me to a walk as I hit 21 miles.
Although it was the stitch that slowed me down (I’ll call it a stitch but it was more intense than that, I don’t really know what it was), I’m fairly sure that my legs wouldn’t have lasted too much longer at that pace anyway. I don’t have an explanation for the pain, but my suspicions are that it might have been related to over doing the carbs for the previous three days, something I didn’t do for my first marathon or any of my long training runs.
So from mile 21 I had a very similar experience to my first marathon, a combination of running and walking, ticking the miles off very slowly, and calculating in my head how this would impact my finishing time. 5 miles to go, losing two to three minutes per mile, could I still get in under 03:30? 03:20 was definitely long gone. In desperation I grabbed a SIS Energy and electrolyte gel at the 22 mile gel station, and on hitting 25 miles decided to do everything I could to get to line as quickly as possible. This seemed to be one of the longest miles I’ve ever run, especially after turning onto the last straight with about half a mile to go and having to squint to see the finish line in the distance.
A last push and finally across the finish line for a time of 03:22.
In hindsight I think that if I’d gone out at a slightly slower pace I may have been able to keep it going and finished strong resulting in a faster time. I’m still l happy with the performance on the day and I’ve learnt more about how to relate training performance to race day pace. It is often said that a marathon begins at 20 miles, and that is now very clear. I need to be hitting that point in the race with legs that aren’t feeling exhausted and that can push on from there.
I’m feel that I’m very much still on course for my sub 03:00 marathon in the next few years, but there’s also no time to sit back on my new PB. The hard work starts again this week working towards hitting the next milestone.