Monday, April 11, 2016


Another spring, another marathon. Manchester this time. My entry of which was really borne out of my plan to do the 3 Peaks fell race this year. With all the training that's necessary to get round that in reasonable shape, it seemed a good idea to slip a road marathon in for no extra effort, which I could count as training/race practice. Also, this would give me two bites of the cherry in case the 3P went pear-shaped for any reason. When the date for Manchester - flattest and best marathon in the UK, no less - was announced as 3 weeks before the 3P, a plot was hatched...

Winter training went well, consisting of my usual Jack Daniels marathon stuff with an added helping of fell running. Jules and I did 3 of the Kendal Winter League events, and I did some of my long training runs on the peaks themselves - partly to learn the course (I'd not even been up either Whernside or Pen-y-Ghent before) and partly to get a bit of practice at running up (and down!) steep hills on tired legs. Well, walking up and running down. But I didn't really have much idea how this off-roading would translate into pace on a flat marathon. The Haweswater half marathon in early March was too hilly to be a great guide and that very day I came down with what I thought at first was a cold but what with hindsight I think was a persistent though fortunately mild flu-like illness. Took a full 3 weeks to get properly back up to speed (ie Easter weekend, a mere fortnight before the race) and I was really unsure what to aim for until I got wind of some people on a running forum aiming to run 2:55. So I decided the best option was tag along with them, at least to start with.

Booked a hotel in Salford Quays for the night before, and arrived early enough to have a wander round the Lowry, which was worth a visit. Jules had more recently come down with flu and was still recovering but came along anyway as supporter/tourist and, as it turned out, sag wagon. Dinner was booked in a local restaurant - a good move as when we turned up, there was a big queue of hungry runners (you can tell by the shoes) waiting for tables. I think I've got the answer to pre-race feeding sorted now - similarly to Chesterfield, I worked my way through a platter of BBQ ribs, with half a chicken on top this time, all washed down with a couple of pints of Boddies. Who needs pasta when you've got this much meat?

The last supper

As a result of this (and a quick bowl of cereal in the morning) I hardly felt like eating all the way round the race, though I did make myself force down a few of the gels that were provided, plus two whole pieces of home-made Kendal mint cake, just in case I needed them.

The hotel was undergoing substantial renovation but would have been fine, were it not for the person who came back to the room next door and started up a party at about midnight. To be fair, he wasn't actually very noisy, the problem was that our rooms had a (locked) connecting door that wasn't adequately soundproofed. After a while I asked him to quieten down and he was very apologetic, but I could still hear him/them until about 3am or so. Not the best pre-race night I've ever had.

The morning dawned sunny and chilly, just what we'd hoped for. The plan was to wander straight down to the start area just in time for the race, with jules later taking my bag to the baggage drop where I could pick it up at the end. However we were a bit early and decided to do the bag drop together first. It got more and more crowded the closer we got, until I panicked, left the bag (fortunately only a medium sized rucksac) with jules and jogged back to the start as a warm-up. She then had a closer look at the queues and gave up on them, and ended up carrying my bag along with hers all morning. Just as well, as apparently the bag collection was even more chaotic than the drop, with people having to queue for literally hours to retrieve their clothes (and in many cases wallet/phone etc). A warning for next time. The obvious alternative is to carry all valuables, only bring old/cheap/worthless clothing and be prepared to just stash that somewhere around the "race village" aka stadium. Which we've done often enough at other events. We could have left some stuff at the hotel too, it was only a mile away.

Found my internet running mate Dave along with a few others at the start, had a quick chat to confirm plans and pushed our way in front of the 3h pacer who was surrounded by a huge rolling road-block of runners. The race itself went really well, though the course was certainly a bit suburban and boring compared to the sights of Vienna. We were just a bit up on pace through the first half, which was feeling really comfortable for me.

The easy bit, about 5 miles in.

Too easy, really - if I'd been by myself I would probably have pushed a little harder. Pulse was in the low 140s to half way (which we hit just a few secs under 2:55 pace), at which point I decided to press on a little and left Dave behind. I was building up a bit of a cushion of time, cruising past loads of people and at one point thought that 2:53 might be on the cards. However, the last stretch was mostly into wind and this, together with my by now rather sore legs and foot, soon put paid to that that idea and I settled for my original target. The last straight is interminable and the finishing arch was visible for about a mile, seemingly not getting any closer for minutes on end, so it was a relief when the clock eventually came into focus and I realised that I really was going to get that sub-2:55 time. According to the official results, I was 307th at half way and 182nd at the finish. Or 16th male of a certain age, if you prefer.

Even with being relatively early home, the finish area was quite crowded with spectators, and I was lucky that jules managed to do a great job first of spotting me (earlier than she'd expected me to arrive, optimist that she is) and then meeting me just past the finish line with my clothes etc. There followed a slightly tedious and tiring afternoon waiting for trains which are a bit sparse to Settle, particularly on a Sunday, and we only finally got home arond 7pm. Perhaps that's a reason to splash out on a second hotel night, but it might seem a bit of a waste when we, or certainly I, would be too tired to enjoy Manchester properly and still have to take half of Monday getting home.


William Connolley said...

Congratulations, again.

Bag drops: Rotterdam was pretty tangled too, so I used my hotel. Sadly they weren't offering post-race showers. OTOH Brighton was always really good in regard to bags.

andrewt said...

Very nice time - although I'm amazed you can run a good race (even splits!) eating like that the night before - I go nothing but carbs for 36 hours beforehand & no fibre for 24 hours.

Getting back to 100% in 3 weeks will be a challenge!

James Annan said...

12h seems plenty of time to digest that for me. There's a lot of carbs in there too, of course. If I had no fibre for 24h I'm not sure I'd be running at all!

William Connolley said...

Looks like your time is still valid: :-)

James Annan said...

Yes I've been following the story and am quite relieved I opted for Vienna last year. Must be a big disappointment for those who achieved a particular goal, PB, etc only to now have it ruled invalid. Loads of runners said it was short but basically got brushed off by the organisers and official measurers, both of who seem equally culpable. 3 years without a proper check!

I actually thought Manchester might have been a touch on the long side this year, though that could have partly been the expectation of it being short :-)

Next year Vienna marathon coincides with the EGU again, which may prove tempting...