Blogging about Manchester marathon isn’t going to be easy, but it needs to be done. I’ve well documented the training in the lead up to this big PB attempt, and this is the final chapter, even though it’s far from the chapter I wanted to be writing.
I’ll pick up from where the last blog left off, when I had completed my final training run on the Thursday. I had a sports massage in the evening, where it was determined that my hamstrings were extra tight and half the length they needed to be, so I really did need to keep working on my stretching in the next couple of days! Friday was a super relaxed day, spent with my feet up and loading up on carbs (some pasta, some percy pig!). I was feeling nervous but excited; I tried to harness a positive mental attitude and imagine how good it would feel when all the hard work was worth it.
We flew to Manchester late morning on the Saturday, and the journey was uneventful. The airport lounge and plane were half full of fellow runners, and we all chatted excitedly about the task ahead of us. Most people have had great training blocks and were certainly feeling the pressure. After a ridiculously long wait for baggage at the other end (nearly as long as we were on the plane!) we headed to our hotel and were able to check in straightaway. We immediately headed out for the last little leg loosener- plan had 2 miles but I was aiming for 15-20 minutes. We headed over to the start, a useful recce, then back to the hotel. My knee twinged, I felt a stitch, it felt super hot- standard pre-marathon run then! Apart from the imaginary taper niggles, my legs felt reasonable. Through no planning the pace actually came out bang on marathon pace- just do that 16 times over and I would have a 4:15 marathon- easy!
We then had a lazy afternoon watching the Commonwealth games and eating some lunch, before heading to meet my parents at the nearby Bella Italia. They had brought down a cake for me that was left over from Easter (when I was still on the diet wagon!) but he didn’t quite survive the journey- they send me a picture of the cake saying, “we’re hoping you’re not going to look like this tomorrow” (spoiler- I pretty much did!). Plenty of carbs later I headed to bed hoping for a decent night’s sleep. I didn’t sleep particularly well, but I knew that I had had plenty of rest in the couple of days before so wasn’t too worried.
I woke feeling rested and nervous. I had a relaxed start to the day, having my breakfast in bed and chatting to Stu. It was nice being so close to the race start and not having to worry about bag drop, so being able to leave it quite late before we left. I said to Stu, “what I fail?” and he said, “then we try again”. I just responded, “I can’t put myself through this again”.
We left the hotel just after 8 and headed towards the start. We stopped to visit the first portaloos we came across, which I then realised were actually in my start area. Manchester is unlike any other marathon I’ve done before, where the start is very non-descript and the “pens” don’t really exist, there’s just flags every so often saying “start area E”- handy if you want to move further a pen! After one last nervous pee, we caught up with a few friends who were running, and then I spied the 4:15 pacer. I headed over to him, intending to stick to him like glue. Another guy who was planning to start with him then started chatting to me, and unfortunately did not stop. Stu eventually had to butt in and say goodbye as he needed to head to the start, but it was a shame I didn’t get a few minutes to get myself together and a last pep talk from him!
There was suddenly a lot of noise and to my surprise I realised it was 9am and the race had started. We started to slowly meander as a huge group towards the start line. At this point you had to be quite aggressive and elbows out to keep with the pacer, and we hadn’t even started yet. I made the decision not to try, but to let him get slightly ahead and then just keep him in my sights and hopefully catch him towards the end. I managed to catch Stu’s eye and gave him a big grin and thumbs up. I was excited now, legs felt ready to go, it was time for all the hard work and sacrifice to come to fruition.
And that was it, we were off! The crowds thinned out quite quickly once we got going. The conditions were perfect, cool and dry with no wind. The pacer was a wee bit ahead and I just tried to settle into my pace. I had made the decision to wear my Ultimate Direction race vest. I needed to carry my shot blocks and phone anyway, and I find my vest more comfortable than anything round my waist or in my pockets, plus it meant I could carry water and Lucozade. Unfortunately, despite having worn it for hundreds of miles without any bother, for some reason it was bouncing around a lot. It was annoying and quite painful where it was bouncing off my collarbone. I tried to think if there was anything I could do- I didn’t want to ditch it, as I needed everything I was carrying in it, but if it was annoying me now, how bad would it be after 26 miles?!
Apart from that the first few miles passed fairly uneventfully. At around 2 miles we passed the pub where we had plans to meet later- it was so nearly time for bubbles! Stu had said we might be around 3 miles but I couldn’t see him, but it was a distraction at least to look for him! The crowds were awesome and I gave a huge grin every time somebody cheered my name.
Mile 6 was the first point my parents had planned to see me, and sure enough, there they were, with Stu alongside. It was a great boost to see them, but as Stu broke away from them to run along side me, and asked how I was doing, I found myself shaking my head and voicing what I had been trying not to admit to myself for the last hour “It’s not as easy as it should be”. I was- just- hitting pace, but instead of it feeling easy and like I was holding myself back as it should so early on, it was a lot more effort than it should have been. Nothing was particularly hurting or bothering me, I just didn’t have it in my legs.
Stu ran with me for half a mile or so, then headed back to find my parents. “It’s just a tough patch” he said. I really hoped so, but it was a desperate hope. The atmosphere was great, the conditions were perfect, the route was flat if a bit windy in some places, but I was not having fun.
It wasn’t until mile 10 that I had my first mile where I was really off pace at just over a 10 minute mile, but I knew it had been too difficult to sustain pace until then and felt I could only slow further. It was good fun to see the faster runners coming the other way, and a nice distraction to look out for familiar faces, but my pace dropped significantly as soon as I stopped thinking about it, and I had to really force myself to try to keep the legs ticking over.
I was by now looking forward to seeing my family again; they were planning to be around mile 12. And there they were, my mum screaming “you’ve got this special girl”. I gave them a grin and thumbs up, but as soon as I was past I choked up, because I knew I didn’t have this, and I felt like I was letting everybody down. We looped through Altricham here and I remembered that it was around here in 2016 where Ben 401 had passed me, I was approaching halfway on PB pace, and feeling so great. Not so this year.
I saw mum, dad and Stu again less than a mile later on the other side of the road, and again although it was great to see them it was also hard. That was the last I would see of mum and dad until the end, but at least by now I was nearly halfway.
I passed halfway just over 2:10- not only was I already off-pace, but I would have to pretty much maintain the same pace to even get a PB, never mind the 4:15 I had hoped for. Thankfully my vest had by now stopped bouncing, and there wasn’t anything specific bothering me, but I just couldn’t maintain any sort of pace. I hadn’t walked yet though, and I had no intentions to start. Maybe if I could maintain a run I could at least come in under 4:30.
I was by now the “faster runner” on the other side of the road, although there were not so many people coming the other way- I tried to encourage those that were, as they still had such a long way in front of them. The crowds all along the way were awesome, it was obvious that I looked pretty bad as I was getting more support than most! I was taking a shot block every 2-3 miles and sipping regularly on Lucozade and water- it was really great being able to avoid the water stations and just drink to feel.
At mile 16 there was a tunnel of supporters and it was just great, I tried to smile and enjoy the atmosphere though I still felt like my heart was breaking. A guy was standing at the side with “10 miles until beer”- he reappeared a couple of miles later and had stuck an “8” over the 10, which made us all smile!
It was now counting down until 20 miles, where it would be just a 10k to go. Miles 18-23 are probably the worst in terms of less crowd support, but there were still pockets of people, and a few people out with hoses- I remarked with incredulity to the woman next to that a week ago it was snowing, and now it was warm enough that people were out with hoses! There were so many people with jelly beans, sweets, cookies, and even one guy taunting people with beer! Sometime around here there was a young lad crying and saying to his running partner he was letting people down. I chatted briefly to them, telling him this was the tough bit and it would all be worth it at the end, and that by even standing on the start line he was letting nobody down. That snapped me out of my self-pity but only for half a mile or so!
Although slow, I was still running. I haven’t managed to run the whole way in many of my marathons, so at least that was something. 4:30 was slipping away, but not by much. Stu had said he would get to the end then come back to meet me, so from around mile 22 I was looking out for him. My feet, especially my left foot, were really starting to hurt now, and my legs were heavy and tired, but actually it wasn’t really getting significantly worse.
And then at mile 23 there he was, my own personal race angel. We didn’t talk much, but he ran just ahead of me and I just focused on his legs and keeping my legs moving forwards. My feet were killing me and I said so to Stu- he said he would carry me everywhere later! People were cheering my name, and there was less than a parkrun to go. I was now targeting under 4:40, and just to keep running without a walk break.
Just after mile 25 there was a slope, as Stu said “last hill!” I said “who the fuck put this here?!” and then we were turning into the long finish straight and I could see the finish. Unfortunately, it was still nearly a kilometre away and by god it took forever to come- it really did seem like a mirage that would never appear. Eventually I hit mile 26, Stu peeled off to the side, my parents were screaming for me, and finally, finally, I crossed the finish line, just ducking under 4:35.
I wobbled along, my legs seizing a little, trying to work out where to go. It was a long walk until we finally received water, and then our goody bag with t-shirt and medal (no small t-shirts left). I saw a few friends and just shook my head. It took forever to get through the “athlete’s village”, and when I finally reached the exit it was difficult to squeeze out as everybody crowded round- it was the same in 2016 and I wish they would sort that out!
Finally though I was through and free and making my way through the crowds to mum and dad. I fell into mum’s arms and sobbed- “I’ve let everybody down”. Of course she told me to wise up! We found our way over to a pavement where I sat down and she handed me my prosecco, but after looking forward to it for so long, I didn’t even want it- it didn’t feel like I had earned it. Stu then found us and I hugged him and cried some more, then did eventually force myself to drink some prosecco!
I then decided to take my sock off to see why my foot was so sore, and promptly wished I hadn’t. My entire toe-nail was vivid purple, with a huge blood blister underneath. I have never experienced anything like it before! I also had really bad chaffing on my chest where my vest had been bouncing. While neither of these things ultimately affected my time, they didn’t help make the experience any more enjoyable.
Two days later and the toe is still agony (the right one is also sore though not as bad), and I have a lovely giant blister on my chest. I am still gutted, and just can’t believe that I missed my goal by so much after working so hard. It’s not like I was unwell or injured, or the conditions on the day weren’t favourable- everything was in place for a great race. I just didn’t have it on the day.
I’m not sure what comes next. I will be having a few enforced days of rest anyway, as walking is currently still very painful. Then I need to try to find the love for running again. I really feel like I am just not a natural runner- I was quicker five years ago than I am now, I only seem to get worse with time. I tried something different, attempting to train smarter, and it still didn’t work. Perhaps it’s time to find a new challenge, but I don’t know what. But it’s hard to see a way forward to keep doing something that I am patently not good at; how enjoyable can it ever be to fail so consistently?