Race Review: Manchester Marathon 2016

My training for the Manchester Marathon had been what I’d call mixed at best. Illness and injury had stolen the best part of four weeks training including two of my longest runs. I’d managed a single 20 miler which hadn’t gone amazingly well, but I think it was essential to have this experience and the knowledge that I could cover the distance.

Saturday

Travelling from Kent up to Manchester can be a bit of a marathon in itself, but luckily I had the traffic on my side and the journey was fairly uneventful. Once checked into the hotel my first job was double checking I had all my kit with me. This ritual involves laying each item out in order and double checking everything is as it should be. Once complete it was off out to a local Italian for a pre-race pizza dinner before setting the alarm and settling down for an early night. That would have been the ideal scenario anyway. As it turned out I couldn’t sleep and so I ended up watching a couple of hours of the golf highlights before finally getting off to sleep.

Early Start

Beep. Beep. Beep. It had been a bit of a restless night, but now wasn’t the time to worry about that. First things first, I needed to get breakfast sorted. The morning before a marathon isn’t the time to try anything new so I stuck with my tried and tested routine of two slices of toast covered with lots of Nutella. After this I had half an hour to myself get ready before putting everything I needed into my race bag (I have a list for this) and heading out the door.

Frosty Manchester Morning

Parking & Race Village

Having pre booked parking at Old Trafford Cricket Ground I’d worked out how long it would take to drive there, and then tripled it to account for traffic. I seemed to be reaping the benefits of an early start as the main roads were clear, that was until I reached the B5217 at which point everything stopped. From here it was slow going and after an hour in the queue I started getting a little nervous about time. I could see other runners ahead of me abandoning their cars on side roads and jumping out of taxis to carry on by foot. The map was showing I was close so I stuck it out and finally reached a single marshall checking tickets and directing the traffic. Once I’d passed this point I had a completely clear run to the half empty car park. It was now 08:50. The race was scheduled for 09:00 and I still had a five minute walk from the car park so there was no time to check out the race village. I quickly grabbed what I needed and left my bag in the car. Arriving at the starting area at 08:58 it had been a close call but I’d just made it! The HUGE issue with the parking here as far as I could see was the single marshal checking and directing cars. This should have been arranged with multiple marshals and in such a way that anyone without a ticket could be moved onto other roads quickly. I had just made it to the start, but many more runners had been in the queue behind me and no-doubt didn’t.

Old Trafford Cricket Ground

The Start

The start area was surprisingly informal, which I actually liked, with flags identifying the colour/letter zones. These zones were displayed on each bib and were based on your estimated finished time. I’d been as realistic with my estimated time as I could be for my first marathon and ended up in Green C for a 03:30 – 03:45 finish time. The area wasn’t packed overly tightly (maybe all the runners were still in their cars!) and I had a couple of minutes to get my Garmin set and make some last minute checks. With no time to get nervous the front runners were quickly under way and I was slowly moving forward towards the start line. The general chatter amongst the other runners was ‘where is the official start’, ‘under the arch I think’. The arch made sense to me so I went with this and started my Garmin. We were off! Or not. It seemed everyone thought we had started but we ground to a halt. A few more yards on we finally passed the chip detectors so this had to be the start.

The Race

The first mile or so was congested with little opportunity to pass other runners and this suited me fine. I wanted to keep my pace steady throughout and most of the other runners in my wave were keeping a reasonable time. I was surprised to see the mile 1 marker appear so soon and a quick glance down at my watch made me panic briefly as the screen displayed 0.6 miles. After a moment of confusion it became clear that the sign was facing the wrong way and was actually intended for the runners on the other side of carriageway. The chorus of Garmin beeps had come from the other side of the road it seems. The initial excitement of running in a marathon, along with seeing such sights as Media City, Old Trafford and the LCCC stadium meant that miles 2 – 5 flew by without much of a thought. My pace was nice and constant and I wasn’t yet feeling any of the niggles or pains that I’d been concerned about. Having read up on the water stations in advance I knew we’d be receiving small bottles along the way. This was great for me, as unlike the plastic cups where the water goes everywhere you can actually run with the bottle for a short while. The downside here is obviously the enormous waste from runners who take a sip and then discard the bottle and 90% of the contents. As we made our way closer and closer to Altrincham and the half way mark we passed through both Sale and Timperley. The Manchester marathon had been billed as the UK’s friendliest marathon and this stretch of the course showed me exactly why. The streets were lined with lots of people, young and old, some supporting a particular runner with cardboard signs displaying ‘Go Dad’, and others with no allegiance who had just come out to support anyone and everyone, most holding trays of Jelly Babies, Jaffa Cakes, orange segments or some type of baked goodies. This support and excitement really does carry you along, and although I had a playlist of motivational songs all setup and ready I didn’t even think of it.

Manchester Marathon 2016 – Elevation
As recorded on race day
Distance

Arriving in Altrincham the support was just as good and the supporters were joined by local choirs and bands creating music for us to run to. An out and back route is always a little less interesting as you’ve seen everything once already, but the main downside of this was the reduced space where the road was cordoned down the middle. With the number of runners it was fairly busy half way around, and every now and then a less considerate runner would pile though, elbows out, trying to make their way through. This is a minor point now, but if the numbers attending grow year on year this could be a bigger issue. Back to my race, pace was still where I wanted it to be, the sun was still shining and I was feeling good. We headed back along the same route for miles 15 and 16 before turning off for miles 18, 19 and 20. And it was at this point that things started getting a little bit tricky. Although I’d been fuelling the whole way my legs were fatigued and running was becoming painful so I switched to a run/walk strategy, although I wasn’t sure if walking hurt just as much as the running! Unfortunately, just at this point the course leaves the more built up areas and moves out into green fields. This inevitably means the crowds dwindle and although there was an Asics station with a couple of speakers pumping out music and some flags it really didn’t help to keep the motivation going. This was tough, but then it was never supposed to be easy.

Manchester Marathon 2016 – Route
As recorded on race day


Entering mile 23 and it was just a parkrun to go. Just. Who was I kidding!? Slowly the crowds returned and I started doing calculations in my head. My pace had been slightly ahead of my ideal finish time so I was adding up all those extra banked seconds from the previous 23 miles. I could afford for my run/walk pace to continue where it was and I’d probably just scrape in under my target time. A tough mile 24 and 25, and it was onto the final mile. I was running again now and determined not to stop. Half a mile later we turned onto the home straight. But what a long home straight it was! You could just about see the blue finish arch in the distance, just. The timing clock slowly came into focus and the crowds were giving a fantastic cheer. Somehow managed to get back to my original pace and it wasn’t long till I crossed the line. I’d made it.

Goody Bag

This was my first big city race and so I’m used to a goody bag containing a chocolate bar and a bunch of leaflets for upcoming races. Not this time! Along with the Medal, the technical t-shirt and the ErdingerAF lager (alcohol free isotonic lager) the bag contained:

  • Drumstick Squashies Sweets
  • SIS Whey 20 Recovery Gels
  • Beef Jerky
  • Ten Acre Sweet and Salty Popcorn
  • Dolmio Pasta & Sauce
  • Nutrigrain Bar
  • A Few Leaflets

Granted, some of these aren’t exactly to my taste (beef jerky), but the Squashies were amazing, hence the empty packet by the time I took the picture, and the t-shirt is a nice quality Acsis technical top so I’ll definitely get some good use out of that.

Plus, what a fantastic supersize medal – love it!

Manchester Marathon Goody Bag
Manchester-5
Manchester Marathon Medal

Summary

Lets get the not so good out of the way…

I was a little disappointed by the small race village and there was a lot less going on than I expected. The parking queues were a major issue which others have also commented on so hopefully the organisers have learned from this. Another major issue which has come to light was with the baggage store and collection. I had no issue here as I didn’t need to use the facility, but many others did and ended up queuing for up to THREE hours after the race. The organisers have apologised and offered a discount on future events, but for lots of runners this really spoiled the day. A number of the distance markers were quite inaccurate and if it hadn’t been for my Garmin I would have been very confused. I believe there was even a repeated marker around 400m after the first one late in the race – I assumed I’d made a mistake when I saw this on the day but others have also confirmed it

Now for the good…

This was my first marathon so just getting to the finish line made it awesome! The crowd support was amazing and the contact from the organisers during the booking and lead up to the event was good. The drinks stations positioned at around 2 mile intervals was ideal, especially with the hot weather we experienced on the day. The goody bag was good and I love the medal and the t-shirt. So. Would I run the Manchester Marathon again? Yes. I can only hope the organisers take the problems this year seriously and ensure it doesn’t happen again.

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