That's the response I expected to get when my Fell running club find out I entered a road race...
I entered the Manchester marathon hoping for closure to the sub 3 hour dream. I say I, it was actually Corrin, my wife who entered me with a text stating "we get a discount if we both enter the Manchester marathon, so I've entered us both!"
I'd heard quite a few runners talk about Manchester, saying how good it was, how it was a flat course and how quick the route was, so I wasn't too against having a second go at the marathon distance.
I've run a couple of marathons before, but only once on the road. My fell running club will be pleased to know that the other times have all been on the fells, in a time around 6-8 hours.
The one time on the road was at Liverpool marathon in October of 2021. My aim for Liverpool was 3 hours, and I was on track until kilometre 26, when my IT band decided it had done enough work for the day and kicked up a huge fuss. I'd decided to stop at that point, and made my way to a marshal on route and asked "how do I get back to the finish? I need to stop because I can't run anymore", to which he replied in a thick scouse accent "I've no idea mate, I'm not from round ere!"
Great! I didn't have my phone, or any money, so decided to continue hobbling down the route for a while until someone else would tell me how to get back. "You can wait a couple hours until a sweeper bus comes past." Also not helpful as I was just in shorts and a t-shirt.
I decided I'd just walk, slowly jog, and hobble my way to the finish instead. I intermittently tried running again and found progress in a shuffle motion with as straight a leg as possible. After what felt like an eternity I entered the finishing straight of Liverpool, managed to pull off as much of a jog as possible and crossed the line in 3:19:16.
Manchester would be different I hoped! I'm quite lazy at doing S&C, but placing a resistance band in a convenient location meant I occasionally did a few crab walks and glute exercises. I was hoping that this, with an increase in mileage would help with my IT band and hopefully I'd survive this one unscathed.
When we booked the marathon in October I'd looked at a few training plans and put some thought into my training. We had just moved to Levens, and I had an amazing array of trail runs from my front door. The road sessions weren't as appealing and soon got put on the back burner. I did manage to do the odd road session, but nothing close to the correct mileage I should have been doing. Add in the fact that I was racing almost every weekend from January to April, getting a good structure of training was becoming difficult. This was fine as I was having a great time and didn't mind too much about my marathon time, so long as it was under 3 hours.
Once the marathon started coming up in conversations, the inevitable "what time are you aiming for?" question would come up. Originally I responded with "Sub 3", but as the conversations progressed and other people told me their times, I wanted to push myself a bit more. I started saying "as close to 2:45 as possible", this really was my goal. If I was having a good day I would push to 2:45 pace and se how I went, if it was bad, my secondary aim of 3 hours would be a good consolation.
And here it was, marathon morning. The weather was looking perfect, 12 degrees, overcast with a low chance of rain and very little wind. The preferred method of getting to Manchester would have been to take the train, however arriving at 11:45am as the earliest option meant that wasn't possible. Instead we drove, and managed to navigate the closed roads to find parking close to the Brooklands tram stop. Getting on the tram was another matter, the thing was packed with runners all nervously talking about their target times, their training plans and how confident they were feeling about the race. Corrin and I squeezed into the last available places, just in front of the doorway.
Arriving at Old Trafford was a relief! To exit the tram into the fresh air, but also into the buzz of music and instructions being blasted over tannoys. We followed the crowd and formed a queue to enter the grounds. We then joined more queues to store our bags, and then an even longer queue for the toilets. The toilet situation was a bit of a mystery. There were various queues, roughly lined up to 3 portaloos, however sometimes a line would have 2 toilets, some 3 and some 4, varying on the boldness of the person at the front of their queue. Luckily when I reached the front of my queue a door flung open in front of me, the gentleman made eye contact and held the door open, either as a gesture of kindness for me or to allow his deed to air out before I entered. Needless to say those toilets were working hard that morning and no amount of door opening would help.
Bowels emptied it was time to head to the start line. A kilometre walk with a short jog and a couple of dynamic stretches, I reached the back of my start wave. The atmosphere was buzzing with people chatting, jogging on the spot and psyching themselves up for what was in store. The MC was trying to excite the crowd and build the atmosphere even more as he was waiting for the confirmation of start time. We didn't have to wait long before the elites were started, followed by the first wave. We started to shuffle towards the start banner, the sound of GPS watches starting growing ever closer.
Beep! We were off! The crowd was still very dense at the start, so I slotted into position and followed the mass of people. I knew the start wouldn't be lightening fast, but there were so many people that it seemed impossible to make headway at my desired pace. This kept going on for the first kilometre, and I just managed to start finding some space and speeding up before the first watch beep at 1km. The second kilometre was slightly better but still crowded. I managed to weave a bit and find the gaps to speed up.
By kilometre 3 there was finally enough space to not worry about dodging people and I was able to settle into a rhythm. Glancing at my watch the average pace was creeping down towards 3:50/km and I felt comfortable and fresh. So fresh that I felt I would rather increase the pace slightly and feel natural rather than controlling myself and taking it easier. This pace was around 3:45/km, which I knew would give me a good buffer on a 2:45 marathon.
A huge benefit of running Manchester was that the course was relatively flat. This works out great for running fast and consistently, however doesn't allow many changes of pace. The route was interesting and passed some landmarks, with a couple of bands playing and lots of supporters. Even as we moved out of the main city centre there were supporters lining the streets and cheering. A personal favourite was the children carrying power up signs. Tapping these really did give a mood boost for both myself and the children holding the signs.
By 5km it was time for the first water station. A row of volunteers, donned in rain jackets (wisely) holding out bottles at arms length. Those with prior experience handed the bottles closed to avoid getting soaked in a fountain of water as the hasty runners make a grab as they run past, squeezing half the contents of the bottle over the poor volunteers. A few quick slurps and it's time to see how good your aim is. Large recycling bins with targets behind them to deflect incoming bottles into their bellies. My first throw went well, hitting the target and dropping straight into the bin.
After 30 minutes it was time for my first gel. I'd planned to take 60-90 grams of carbohydrate per hour, and knew that the first aid station with energy gels wasn't until 15km. Already an SIS user I was happy to see that they were sponsoring the marathon and providing gels, so I could stick with what I know. Gel 1 down the hatch and my plan was to grab 2 more at the 15km aid station, take one and hold the other for the next half hour slot. This worked until I reached the next aid station with gels at kilometre 19, just 20 minutes after the first energy aid station.
Again I took 2 gels and a bottle of water. I quickly ate the first gel, cherry flavour! Beggars can't be choosers and I am grateful for the energy, but I hadn't tried cherry before and I wasn't a huge fan of the sickly sweet flavour this early on in the race. I took a big gulp of water, scored throwing it in the bin, and inspected the second gel I'd picked up. Another cherry!
I waited until the next water station to tackle this cherry gel, quickly taking it and then another slurp of water. It's easy to drink too much so I rationed myself to a couple of small sips before washing the stickiness off my hands and throwing it into the bin.
The next checkpoint was the half marathon mark. My time was 1:19:34, a new personal best. With that under my belt I felt confident to allow myself to push a little harder. I set my sights on a small group which looked to be running well up ahead. Ever so slowly I closed the gap, and finally joined a group of 4. The pace felt good, but as I had been moving slightly faster than them I felt I could continue past. A runner in green came with me, and we formed a good duo. A lap of a more pedestrianised area came next, and this runner was getting cheers from everyone. Was he a celebrity or someone I should know? Was it just that he had a lot of supporters?
We took turns at the front for a couple of kilometres, and I took the opportunity to ask if he really did know everyone? He assured me that he was just waving at everyone, but I'm sure they all knew him! After a couple more kilometres he was joined by a friend who was waiting for him at a water station and he dropped the pace slightly. We were closing on on 10km to go and I was feeling motivated to keep pushing the pace.
The countdown from 10km to 5km passed quite quickly. The only notable thing that happened was a perfect Kipchoge bottle handover, just without the cheering from the bottle guy. He was confident enough to provide a cap off bottle, and held it raised, palm flat ready for my taking. Lucky for him I didn't make a mess of the grab and managed to avoid a soaking. I did however miss the target with the throw, hitting the edge of the bin and bouncing off. Clearly fatigued by this point!
The final 5km is just a Parkrun right? That's what people said. A Parkrun itself isn't something to be scoffed at. I certainly wasn't planning on running a PB 5k at the end of the marathon, but my legs felt like they were nearing protest. I felt like I was starting to loose the bounce to my stride and my hips were tightening up. Luckily I wasn't loosing too much time off the pace, but it certainly started to feel harder.
The GPS on my watch had been slightly generous, and by this point I was starting to do some last minute calculations of my finish time. If I held my pace I'd be under 2:40, possibly 2:37/2:38. The final mile marker came and I was in for a slight shock... It was going to be close if I carried on this pace to finish under 2:40. On the last couple of corners there were signs for the finishing straight. Great I thought, until I had rounded the corner and couldn't see the finish anywhere in sight. How long is this finish straight going to be?! Worried I was going to land outside the 2:40 mark I gave everything to push for the final stretch, arms pumping and legs fighting with all they had left.
Crossing the finish line and stopping was the worst part. My legs felt like they were vibrating, and protested to take another step. I took a second to gather myself (as you can see, literally a second) and started walking towards the stewards and awaiting medal, protein bar and water bottle. I checked my watch, 2:39:22, I had beaten my expectations and had a marathon performance I was proud of.
After grabbing my layers I made my way back to the finish line with the other spectators. This was by far my favourite part of the day, seeing all the emotions of the other finishers. Some cheered and yelled as they crossed the line, some cried, some gave hugs to their families on the side lines. There were runners who were struggling or suffered cramp, and they were quickly helped by other runners around them. There were some unfortunate runners who fell over, only to be picked up and supported across the finish line. Standing here, sipping my alcohol free Erdinger and cheering, I felt content.
I'd like to thank all of the volunteers who made Manchester marathon possible. The supporters who came out to cheer, give high 5's and encourage all the runners; the musicians and bands who played along the route, and my friends and family for their encouragement.
I hope my fell running club will forgive me, although I do plan on a couple more road races this year!
Thanks for reading, see you on the fells, or roads!