"} Get a life, Get active! By Fit Lesley: April 1999

Thursday, 8 April 1999

Challenge 34 - Greater Manchester Marathon - April 2014

Yesterday on Sunday 6th April 2014 I took part in the ASICS Greater Manchester Marathon in Trafford. 

It is recognised as the UK’s flattest and one of the world’s fastest marathon courses with only 54m elevation gain so I had high expectations of getting a PB. 

This was my second marathon.  I ran my first marathon in October 2012 at Chester.  In October 2013 I got a DNS (did not start) at The Yorkshire Marathon due to injury, so this marathon felt like unfinished business to me!

Here is my report on the race:

The day of the Great Manchester Marathon had dawned.  

The day when I was going to get a Marathon PB or even a sub 4 if everything went to plan!  

My training had gone well and I didn't suffer any injuries, illnesses or setbacks. I even managed to avoid all the cough and cold bugs that were doing the rounds the week before so I was feeling positive and expected a good run.

My day began at 6:00 am, and I awoke with a start, from the repetitious and unrelenting sound ringing from my I-phone in my ears. I dragged myself out of bed and quickly looked out the window into the morning light. I was glad to see after the horrendous forecast that it wasn't raining.

My running clothes were neatly spread out over the banister, prepared the night before, my bumbag filled with High5 gels and Kendal mint cake to fuel me on my run and I had packed a change of clothes and a recovery drink for the journey home. 

My race number was already attached to my vest top with safety pins and was set out along with the race pace band I had printed off from the Internet, laminated and attached Velcro to fasten! 

I needed to run 9.09 minute miles for the entire race to meet my sub 4 goal, and since I am rubbish at maths at the best of times I decided this helpful little tool would come in handy especially in the latter stages when my mind as well as my legs would have turned to jelly!  

As I ate (well, forced down!) my ritual breakfast of porridge and a banana, my mind raced with nervous thoughts of failure, collapse, damaged ligaments and pulled Achilles. 

What if the weather was horrendous and I am running for 4 hours + in the rain? What if I can't finish? 

What if all my training was for nothing?

After breakfast and a few quick slurps of coffee I went back upstairs to get dressed in my running gear. Still not completely happy with what the weather was going to do I put on a vest top and then threw a few alternatives into the bag “just in case”.

We left our home in Kendal at around 6.40am for the 75 mile journey to Manchester. As we got closer to Manchester the sky appeared to get darker and darker and I was beginning to get nervous about what type of weather Manchester would bring!

As we hadn't booked a parking pass for the car park I was hoping that we would get parked OK and was feeling slightly anxious as we approached a long traffic queue waiting to enter the car park.  

Whilst sitting in this stationary line of traffic we noticed that other runners were parking in the side streets opposite and with nothing to lose we decided to attempt this ourselves.  With a swift manoeuvre to change lanes we headed around the round-about and back to where we hoped to park.  Luckily there was one space sitting waiting just for us! 

We parked at around 7:50am and headed to the race village situated at Old Trafford which was less than a 10 minute walk away.

Once there my first stop was the toilet for my usual nervous wee!  I was dismayed to see that despite this being an 7000 + entry race there was a distinct lack of portoloo’s.  I waited patiently in line and was rather irritated to notice that a high proportion of people waiting were actually spectators.  Surely they could cross their legs and let the runners relieve themselves first and then they could have a choice of toilet once we had gone!

It took well over 30 minutes to get to front of the toilet queue and I was supposed to be meeting some running friends at The Matt Busby Statue at around 8.00 to 8.30am.  

By now it was after 8.30am but I had a quick check anyway to see if they were still there, but it seemed I had missed them.

I continued on my way to the start line with thousands of other runners following the signs! This was about a 10 minute walk away. 

The start line the day before the start!
Once I had removed my outer clothes and I was left in just my vest and three quarter trousers I decided it felt a bit chilly so I quickly whipped off my vest displaying my tired looking sports bra to the world, and put on my long sleeved top before putting my vest back on! 

The start line on the day!
By now it was around 8:50am and time to get into my starting zone for the 9am start.  I easily located my zone and found the man with the  4 hour pacer flag. 

I went over to have a chat with him to see what pace he was planning on running.  He explained that he would probably start off faster to get out the crowds before settling down into a 9:05 pace.  I decided after hearing this that I would just run my own race at my own pace.  I didn't want to risk going off too fast and blowing up.

I said my good-byes to my Husband and he left me with "Good Luck" and "Do your best" ringing in my ears.

The nervous energy of the runners waiting at the start was intoxicating. I glanced around me at the other runners and I was amazed (judging by the race bib colours they were wearing) how many people were obviously in the wrong colour zone yet there was no officials enforcing entry into each area. What is the point of zones if it is ignored?

The weather was still being kind to us with just a slight cool breeze. I gently jogged on the spot trying to keep warm whilst waiting for the race to start.

The announcer gave the final countdown, fired the gun, and we are off. 

Due to the numbers in the race we initially set off at no more than a shuffle.  As we crossed the "start" timing mat I pressed my Garmin and with a shudder of excitement I realised I was on my way down a dual carriage way in Manchester in the run I had both looked forward to and dreaded for months!

Despite the excitement and enthusiasm around it was impossible to set off too fast as it was so congested and I hit the first mile at 9:09 minutes which was dead on my target pace. 

I hoped the enormous pack of runners would spread out fairly soon as it is hard to set a steady pace when you are trying not to trip over other peoples trainers or are being jostled from all angles. As well as this there was a vast number of black bin bags blowing around my feet that people had worn and then discarded, which also made it very difficult and was a severe tripping hazard.  

I was amazed when at just a mile and a half in, that there were people walking blocking the way for the way for the people who had started off in the correct zone and wanted to run.  I found this very irritating and wanted to tell them what I thought!  Its OK if you want to do a run/walk strategy but start near the back where you won’t spoil everyone else's opportunities to run the entire distance.  

At one point where we had to make a sharp left hand turn to come back up the other side of the dual carriageway it was so chaotic and crowded we were almost walking until we got round!  The spectators were lined both sides of the road yelling, clapping and cheering us on!

I completed mile 2 a little too fast in 9 minutes and I told myself to steady up a bit, but I failed to listen as mile 3 was in 9:01. 

At around this point there was the first water station. I decided to grab a drink which was a challenge in itself!  I was pushed and shoved from all angles with people fighting to get to the drinks ahead of me!  

I was handed a strange pouch of water which I have never seen before and was instructed just to squeeze it!  I put it in my mouth and squeezed. 

A jet of water shot down the back of my throat causing me to gag and cough!  I was not impressed.  After this I squeezed more gently but still didn't like the sensation, I felt like I was being filled up with a lot of air as well as water.  What's wrong with good old fashioned bottles?

By mile 4 I was feeling a little more controlled and completed it in 9:08 minutes but I still felt crowded and claustrophobic with being in the middle of such a tight pack!  I can only imagine that running with the pacer would have been unbearably crowded! 

I didn't feel happy or settled which is very unusual for me as I usually get rid of my nerves by mile 2. 

I told myself things would get better!  

They didn’t!  

I continued with mile 5 being way too fast in 8:59 minutes and I felt out of control of my pace and the race. At this point I took my first gel washed down with water as per my practised fuelling strategy.

From mile 6 I seemed to get a bit more of a handle on things and did a more steady pace managing 9:09, 9:15, 9:38, 9:18 and mile 10 at 9:33.  

At mile 10 I glanced at my Garmin time which stated 1:32:07 and compared it to my pace band which stated 1:31:31 and was relieved to see I wasn’t too far off the mark despite everything and took another gel.

By Mile 11 I had lost it totally and did a way too slow 9:43, followed by an even slower 9:54 and then 9:44. By now my spirits were down, my race was turning into a nightmare and my dream goal was slipping away.

At mile 13 there was a band playing and it really lifted my spirits temporarily. As we passed the half way point a Marshall shouted “You’re on your way home now”. It made me smile momentarily until I looked at my Garmin and saw 2:02:18 and compared it to the pace band that clearly stated 1:59:59.  I was way off my sub 4 target but could still get a PB if I could maintain the same pace for the second half!

During the first half of the race there are several out and back sections which I disliked with a passion!  I was able to see the lead runners hammering it in the opposite direction whilst I was feeling like a snail making my way round where they had already been! 

By now I just wanted it to end.  

This was not how I had imagined I would feel at the half way point!

By Mile 14 my pace had slowed again to 9:46, then as I really began to tire I was dismayed to see mile 15 tick over at 10:14. I think at this point I lost the mental strength to push on when I realised a PB was totally out the window. 

If this had been a training run I would have given up and gone home at this point.

I was stopping at every water stop to grab a pouch, which I still hadn't mastered drinking from and was taking a gel every 5 miles.

The next 3 miles went by painfully slowly as I clocked 10:34, 10:31, 10:46 – things were steadily going downhill with mile 19 hitting an all time low at 11:14.

My legs were beginning to burn and my Achilles were objecting as I felt and heard my feet slapping against the pavement, and I began to wonder if I would be able to finish this race at all. 

I no longer cared about my time. I just wanted to live through the experience. I took a deep breath and ran on.

My body continued to break down as the miles rolled by. I wanted to stop, I wanted to cry, but I did neither. I ran on. 

My thighs were burning big time by now but I got a slight boost at mile 21 when I heard someone calling my name. It was a friend from my local Tri Club who I had overtaken but hadn’t seen.  We ran alongside each other for 10 minutes or so which really helped me to stop feeling so sorry for myself but then he said he was walking and to go on without him. He said I was looking strong when in fact I felt anything but strong!  I wanted to stop and walk too but I wouldn’t let myself!  I never walked during my first marathon 18 months ago so I wasn’t going to walk now!

I told myself I had only another 30 minutes of pain to endure and then I would never have to run again! 

I also thought about my running buddy Haddie who probably endures pain in her legs every day of her life and just gets on with it, so I told myself to get a grip and run through the pain!

The crowd support throughout the entire race had been fantastic with locals handing out biscuits, jelly babies and fruit with lots of shouting, cheering and clapping too and at this late stage in the race their encouragement was much appreciated!  

By now the finish line seemed hopelessly far away, and my will to go on was diminishing as I witnessed many runners collapsing and being attended to by paramedics.  

I was fearful I would be next.  I felt that bad!

I tried to concentrate on my breathing to find the strength to carry on. I chanted “just keep moving, one foot in front of the other” and “you can do this”.  

Then Old Trafford stadium marking the finish line came into view. I started to believe I would make it!

As I rounded the corner and saw the finish line I wanted to cry!  The finish was so close yet so far!

The crowd spurred me on as I heard shouts of “you're almost there, keep going”, I tried to smile my appreciation but even this felt like it needed too much energy.

As I approached the finish line I tried to go that little bit faster but I had absolutely nothing left in the tank. 

I looked up at the finishing clock and felt dismay as I registered that not only did I not get a sub 4, I didn't even get a PB. 

When I heard the bleep as I ran over the final timing mat I wanted to cry ... from exhaustion, disappointment and pain - BUT I was grateful that I HAD crossed the finish line on Sir Matt Busby Way at Old Trafford Football Stadium despite the odds!

My final time was 4:22:05

35 seconds slower than my first marathon! 

You can view my race here!

As I staggered towards the medal bearers my breathing felt laboured and I began to feel very light headed.  

Once the friendly smiling lady had congratulated me and placed the medal over my head, she thrust a foil blanket around my shoulders. By now I felt really bad and needed to sit down. 

I could see the T Shirt and goody bag stand just ahead but didn't think I could make it that far so I opted to sit down by the wall until I had regained enough composure to continue on my way.

After a 5 minute or so rest, when I felt my breathing was more under control I got back on my feet to collect my goody bag and T shirt before heading out to be reunited with my husband. 

On the way out a photographer stopped me for a photograph which was the last thing I felt like doing, but tried to smile despite myself!

Once I had met up with my husband and he had taken the obligatory medal photos we headed towards where the car was parked. 

I drank my recovery milk in the hope that it would be a miracle cure for the aches and pains that had taken over my body!

Once out the stadium and back on the main road I realised there was no way I was going to make it back to the car.  We found a conveniently located bus shelter with seats in it where my husband left me whilst he went for the car!  

When he pulled up it took all my strength to actually stand up and get in!

I was absolutely drained and exhausted and have vowed never to run another marathon again!

I would classify this as my worst race ever! 

I didn't enjoy any of it! 

I found the out and back aspect of it boring and the fact it was set entirely in built up areas made it very dull for someone who has done the majority of her training runs in the country. 

I recognise that I made mistakes with my pacing and that maybe my expectations were unrealistic.  Perhaps if I had set out initially to just get a PB I might have achieved it, but trying to push too hard too soon ruined the race for me! 

I was lucky that the weather stayed fair for the majority of the race with only a very short rain spell!  If the predicted rain had materialised I may not have even finished!

Over 250 relay teams took part in the 2 Leg Half/Half and the 4 Leg Team Relays, which were a new addition to the 2014 race.

I personally think this made things more difficult for the marathon runners as it caused extra chaos as the relay runners went in and came out of their pit stops! 

It is also very disheartening when you are struggling after running many miles to have someone with fresh legs charging past you!

I won't be doing Manchester Marathon again or any marathon come to that!