My secret marathon

Posted on: 10 Apr 2018

It’s confession time.  Regular running and distance work over the winter did have a purpose after all and that was to make the start line for Sunday’s 2018 Greater Manchester Marathon.

I made the decision to run – my comeback marathon, if you like – at the end of January, which was based on being able to complete just over a month of training as per my usual marathon plan.  Nail that, without any significant injury problems, and I’d be prepared to give Manchester another try.

As some of you may recall, I had unfinished business at this event from 2017.  Twelve months ago I set off with high hopes of hitting my four hour goal, only to pull a muscle after 16 miles and be forced to hobble the rest.  Birmingham was a similar affair last October, partly due to that same injury, and partly due to hitting the wall in a fairly catastrophic way.  Both runs ended up around the 5hr15 mark.

So why run again? Why not leave the marathon alone and concentrate on shorter distances?  Put simply, I needed to replace memories from 2017 with something more positive, for fear of falling out of love with running altogether.

And that was the deal I made with myself when I filled out my Manchester entry form.  No aggressive time chasing, no over-training, no pacing groups, no blob-watching, no fundraising, no blogging or social media posts and, above all, no excess pressure.  It became my little secret.  A marathon for me – and hopefully one to enjoy.

Sorry for keeping that from you all – I hope you understand why I did it.

Was it a successful day?  Overall, yes.  There were highs and lows, positives and negatives – there always will be over such a challenging distance.  But the two words that spring to mind on reflection are ‘satisfied’ and ‘proud’.  In that sense, mission accomplished.

I finished in 4hr30.  Not my best marathon (4hr11), slower even than my first at London three years ago (4hr17), but well up on last year’s two attempts.

Something faster was on the cards for a good chunk of the run.  I was through half distance in 1hr57 and felt great.  At around mile 16 I did start to tire a bit and the pace slowed notably, just like my last long training run, only this time a fresh intake of water and a few jelly babies helped and put me right back on track.

Strong and consistent through 18 and 19, and I completed 20 miles in 3hr04.  Mile 21, however, was proving difficult, so I decided to stop for a toilet break and compose myself.  Remember why you’re here and listen to your body when it’s struggling, otherwise it’s going to break down altogether.   

About half a mile later, and much to my delight, I noticed a spectator was clutching what looked like a large bag of peanuts.  I don’t know about you, but there comes a point in a marathon where I just can’t stomach anything else sweet.  It’s great that people present you with endless tubs of Haribo and jelly babies, however the savoury option was a stroke of pure genius – and I told the women with the salty snacks (turns out they were pretzels) just that.  I grabbed a couple and they tasted amazing.

The 22 mile marker passed and by now I knew it was going to be a slow finish.  My body was exhausted, legs heavy and my head starting to spin.  I’ve been here before and it’s not a nice place.  Rather than fight the inevitable, I accepted what was happening, forgot about finishing times and PBs and adopted a run-walk strategy to get me safely through it.

Come 23 miles and the obligatory shouts of ‘only a Parkrun to go’ rang out.  Only this time, there was a cheering station run by one of the event sponsors using a loudspeaker.  The guy said, and I quote: “You guys don’t just do Parkruns, you eat Parkruns for breakfast!”.  A bit cringe-worthy, but it raised a smile.

Given the choice, I’d rather have skipped ‘breakfast’ at this precise moment.  But I couldn’t because there was still 5k between me and the finish.  This stretch was a real toughie, I’ll admit.  Run-walk was fast becoming walk-walk, but fortunately the support from the Manchester crowds was terrific.   

They were shouting out people’s names and endless words of encouragement.  I lost count of the times somebody told me ‘I had this’, although I think the person who told me I was ‘looking good for a strong finish’ perhaps could do with a trip to Specsavers…

By the time I reached the final mile I was properly trudging.  I desperately wanted to run it home, but my legs were gone.  While you’d think the crowd support would help at this point, psychologically it seemed to be having the opposite effect – I almost felt guilty for not running when so many people were urging me to try. 

What little I had left I saved for the final quarter of a mile, which is a great finish by any event’s standards.  A dead straight run to the Old Trafford cricket ground with large crowds lining both sides of the road.  And run it I did.  Home at last, and right on the half hour.  Job done.

It took me a while to recover post-run, although luckily I still had the sense to check my finisher’s bag only to find the medal was missing – and Manchester offers a seriously nice piece of bling for your efforts.  Anyway, that was soon sorted by a very apologetic volunteer and I spent some time chatting to other runners before gingerly making my way back to the car.

My legs and feet were sore, not helped by a couple of pesky blisters I picked up quite late in training.  But the right thigh muscles had mercifully held together.  They were fizzing a bit around the 18 mile mark, however I think that might have just been a reaction to hours of pressure from the compression sleeve I was wearing.  Nothing else happened, and there’s been no adverse reaction since.  What a relief.

There’s lots more I could say about Manchester as an event, but this post is long enough already so I’ll save it for a later piece in case anyone is considering it for next year.  Suffice to say, I’d highly recommend it as a big city London alternative.

Now it’s time to look ahead to the next big adventure – Snowdon.  My mind-set is completely different for this marathon.  It will be all about the experience and sharing this with many members of our fabulous Realbuzz community.  Stopwatches and pacing targets can do one for a change.

But I’ll go there with increased confidence and a restored sense of pride.  I do still have it in me to run a decent marathon and I won’t be afraid to take on more in the future.  Consider the ghosts of 2017 well and truly laid to rest.

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