WHEEEEEEE what a fun race! I had an absolute blast running the Manchester Marathon and kicking off my 4in4sub4 challenge. The crowd support was incredible, I met lots of interesting people along the way, and ran comfortably the whole way to finish in under 4:00.
Ahead of being an official 4:00 pacer at Brighton Marathon on 15/4/18, I wanted to test out my strategy at Manchester. The aim was to run splits of 5:35-5:40/km the whole way, which would leave some time in the final kilometres to slow down if necessary. I wore two pace-bands on my wrist, one for 3:55 and the other for 4:00 with the idea that I should stay within the times shown to hit my target. In reality, I got a little too caught up in the atmosphere and the pace I settled into was a touch faster than my target. However, I ran incredibly even splits and am still pleased with the results of my test.
I was staying at an AirBnB near Old Trafford, which meant that it was only a 5min walk to the bag drop area. I arrived far too early and had to stand around waiting for a while because I didn’t want to take off my extra layers too early. At 8:15 I jumped in a queue to drop my bag and saw my friend Ben Rajan in another queue. After giving in my bag I went over to say hi and we walked partway to the start together. It was a very long walk to the start pens, some 15-20min from the bag drop which is worth knowing. The weather was a little cool and I should have brought a throwaway layer or space-blanket to keep warm during the walk and wait for the start. However, it was perfect conditions for running.
Already during the walk to the pens I had been chatting with someone who asked about my 26.2 marathon challenge as written on the back of my shirt. Once we were running and had settled into a rhythm, this trend continued. Every few kilometres I found myself chatting with someone else about how many marathons I’d run (can you believe this was #17?!) and what they were aiming for in the marathon. I’d started in the 3:45 pen because that’s what I’d predicted when signing up almost a year ago, but quickly fell in with the people who were all trying to run sub-4.
One of the first people I met was Mandy, a small Irish lady who was trying to run sub-4 for the first time. We ran together for 10-15min during the first 10km, and I really enjoyed chatting with her. Eventually I felt that she wanted to set off whereas I should be slowing down to hit my 4:00 target, but in the later stages of the race I did find her again.
Next came Jessie, a first-timer from Brighton now living in Manchester. We started chatting during a section of the course which doubles back on itself, and I had just seen the leaders, and later Ben, heading back in the other direction. I had my eyes out for another friend Gemma, who was gunning for a sub-3 hour PB. When I saw Gemma I yelled out as loud as I can to which Jessie afterwards said “so that was your friend!”.
Jessie and I ran together for at least 45min from ~15km. We shared my favourite section of course through Altrincham, where the course loops around to send runners heading back past each other. It was a beautiful little town with gorgeous old houses and felt very friendly. We also ran over and back on the worst bridge incline together, but after which I left Jessie behind.
I love running back opposite other runners, because it makes for a great chance to cheer people and hopefully spot your friends. I was lucky enough to happen to see the two other people I knew running the race, Jess and Cat, after passing the halfway point. Both of them saw me rather than the other way around, but I was able to quickly respond and yell incoherently in their direction, which is what matters.
I nearly lost my voice from this race thanks to all the yelling I was doing. Not only from seeing friends along the course, but also from responding to the amazing supporters along the way. From start to finish it felt like there were people out cheering for the race, and it made the race feel very similar to Dublin where I experienced a similar level of support. I had people cheering my name and after a while my arms began to ache from waving at people at the side of the road. One of my favourite things though was being comfortable enough and having enough breath to calmly respond to people when they said something specifically for me, or to thank the supporters for coming out for us.
Into the second half of the race I caught up again with a guy called Pete who I follow on Instagram. Pete and I had been leapfrogging throughout the race, due to the fact that he was dressed as Luigi, carrying a pizza and every 4miles would stop to eat a slice! It was pretty hilarious, but he claimed that it is his newfound race fuelling strategy. Not sure spicy pepperoni would have been my choice - but whatever works!
For once, I found that I didn’t need to walk at all during this race. There were water stations placed every ~5km along the course with bottles of water to grab, and every 2nd-3rd station was also giving out gels. I ended up relying on these rather than my own ones which I’d carried with me, mostly because I hadn’t brought any extras for the next races and wanted to save them where I could. Annoyingly I did drop a GU from my pocket when pulling out my phone at one point though The Optimum Nutrition gels were tasty and came frequently enough that I didn’t need anything extra. I tried not to drink too much, skipping a few of the water stations particularly later in the race, as I felt that I had already taken on enough liquid. In addition to the gels there were also supporters handing out gummy bears and jelly beans ever kilometre or so, plus a lady at Mile 21 who had some huge, delicious strawberries. I grabbed two and they were so incredibly yummy mmmmmm
At Mile 17 I met a guy from a local running club who warned me of some blander kilometres coming up between Mile 19-21, and that I should expect to hit a low point there. The funny thing is, as he was saying this I knew it wasn’t going to happen and that I would just breeze through - which is exactly how it went. I was running so comfortably and had completely locked into my ~5:30 pace that I had no doubts that I could maintain it all the way to the end. I knew by now that I was quite a few minutes ahead of my 3:59:XX goal but it didn’t really matter. If I needed to slow in the last few kilometres (as my coach had advised I do from 30km onwards) I could, but I wasn’t going to purposely walk just to hit the time goal.
I swear I did try to slow down in the last section, but I physically found I couldn’t. Even if by staring at my watch and controlling my pace I could change the numbers I saw, as soon as I looked away I locked back into my original pace. I still felt good and was getting more and more excited by the increasing crowds towards the end. With ~1.2km to go I pulled out my phone and started Instagram Live because I wanted to try and show people how amazing the atmosphere was. For the final 400m I had the biggest grin plastered on my face which would not budge - I had just had a truly amazing run and loved every second of the 3:53:13 I had spent on course.
Looking at my splits in the end I’m incredibly pleased by how consistent they are. I ran the first half in 1:57:11 and the second in 1:56:02, which is not a big difference over 21.1km. I never hit a low and regulated my speed the whole way - even if it wasn’t exactly the pace I had expected to run. It was a massive confidence boost, showing that all my training has turned my body into an endurance machine capable of cranking out a good marathon time, and that my experience of running marathons has now brought me to a place where I can comfortably run consistently and in control. I count this as a major win.
One of my favourite things about the race though was deciding afterwards not to just grab my kit bag and leave to have a shower, but rather wrap up in the space-blanket we’d been given and wait for everyone I knew and had met to cross the finish line. I positioned myself prominently so that I couldn’t miss anyone, and was able to congratulate so many people who I knew and who knew me. I have missed the UK running community since being in Paris, and it was a lovely way to feel a part of it again. Seeing the faces of all those wonderful people, some who had just achieved big PBs, was the best way to finish the race.