Manchester 2019: Chasing adequacy…
GFA – three little letters which, by proxy, suggest that anything less than this is a bit pants. When it comes to the marathon of course, nothing is ever really ‘a bit pants’ – regular runners can bluff their way through 10k’s and even half marathons, but there’s no blagging a marathon. Finishing one is a monumental effort of mind and body. Some follow training plans, some just whack up the mileage, but either way, the journey to the start line has always started months in advance, and has required dedication and sacrifice, whether that’s beers the night before a long run, a lay in on a weekend, or time with the family – no-one rocks up to a marathon and performs to their potential if they haven’t prepared themselves.
That said, sub 3 (and those three letters) had been niggling at me since London went all tropical in April 2018. After months of training through the ‘Beast from the East’, with nipples resembling something Madonna would’ve been proud of for 3 months solid, Mother Nature told it’s best practical joke by ramping up temperatures on race day, making it officially ‘the hottest London Marathon on record’. Of course, the weather wasn’t entirely to blame. I’d talked myself out of a good race well before I stood in the start pen, and subsequently ran like a turd for the first quarter. I then convinced myself that there was no way I could pull it back, and virtually gave up. Harrumph.
So, the Greater Manchester Marathon 2019 was a chance to redeem myself. Weather wouldn’t be an issue – if there’s one thing you can count on Manchester for, it’s dreary weather. It’s rumoured that Mancunian children can get to the age of 7 before they realise they can take a kagool off, and scientists have confirmed there’s evidence of webbing in between the digits of the most evolved families in the region, such is the propensity for constant drizzly, grey and freezing conditions. Rubbish if you have to live over the wrong side of the Pennines; perfect if you’re a runner still bearing the scars of an unseasonably hot London, 12 months previously.
True to form, the forecast was drab. Lovely lovely drab. Overcast, chilly, with next to no wind. Training had been nigh on perfect; no injuries, the Pete Dearing school of lots of 20 mile runs, lots of different terrain, consistent mileage every week, and some confidence boosting races at target pace. I’d had my pre-race tea of a massive Domino’s pizza, a decent night’s sleep, and, having stayed in the same hotel as the Captain, I had Bongo taxis arranged to safely get us to the start line a few short miles down the road.
Of course, this being Lancashire, things weren’t that straight-forward. Thanks to lairy Mancs in hi-vis vests, complete with the typical ‘weasel peering through thickets’ hairstyles, we found ourselves getting shepherded into completely the wrong car parks after paying up front for somewhere different. The ensuing double back, and impeccably timed roadworks, caused a mild panic in the car – we decided to bail out mid-traffic jam, and found ourselves with more than enough time to get warmed up, bump in to a few familiar faces, and get in to our pens.
The gun went off, (a noise not unfamiliar around those parts), and once we realised it was to indicate the start of the race and not an errant teen angry about something/someone, we were on our way. I’d started a few yards ahead of the 3 hour pacer, with the intention of keeping to around 6:45/6:50 for the duration. Keen not to make the mistake of trusting my watch, I wore a pace band, and the first few miles went exactly to plan. Had a chat with a chirpy Scouser at mile 5, and after getting over my nervousness for the safety of my personal belongings, we discussed our targets. Just as we were congratulating one another at our splendid pacing thus far, along came Andy Deyes, bouncing past us like a slightly more ginger Tigger on his way to sub 2:50. As it transpired, he’d missed the start. Although I was moderately wounded that I couldn’t possibly match the pace at which he whizzed by, it was nice to get a brief boost from a Harrier. It also gave me a great excuse to stop talking to the Scouser.
The rest of the miles were a blur – after a brief run alongside Snaithy, I’ve never concentrated so hard in a race, counting down the miles, checking I was on pace, making sure I wasn’t going too fast. The course isn’t the most inspiring, which made it all the more welcome when our awesome Harriers support groups cropped up at various points around the route. You can swallow all the caffeinated gels you want – you don’t get a boost like the one you get from a massive cheer from the red army. It makes the hairs on you neck stand up, and your legs feel that little bit lighter, even if only for moment. I managed to give Rob and Mike a cheer as they passed by on the way out of Altrincham – but after that, it was all about getting in under that magic number.
It started getting hard at mile 22. Checking my pace band, I was confident that I had 90 seconds to play with. I had a decision to make – keep pushing at the pace I was at, and hope it carried me through without causing me significant trouble, or ease off early. I chose the latter, an uncharacteristic moment of pragmatism I thought! That said, that decision came from some harsh lessons learned in previous races. Thankfully, it paid off. I started to feel pangs of cramp from mile 24, and if I’d been pushing any harder any earlier I think it would’ve been curtains.
The finish line was in sight. My legs were still working, I had time to play with, and the culmination of 3 month’s graft was about to pay off. Weirdly, it was almost an anti-climax! I crossed the line in 2:59:08 – a 20 minute improvement on my personal best in London the previous year. After 26.2 miles, I’d beaten the target by a mere 52 seconds, although I didn’t feel as if it was ever in danger.
So, I’d made GFA – Yay! (although it’s debatable as to whether this will still be the case at the end of the year). On reflection, this wasn’t a result of three months training. It was a result of all of the marathons I’d run previously, as well as listening to those who know. This year, I took the advice of Shaun Fores and used a pace band; I’d ditched training plans and stuck to Pete Dearing’s mantra of ‘more miles’, as well as running no less than 20 miles on my long runs, right from the off. I’d taken all the bits of advice from conversations with the skipper, the Suicide Squad, and many others, I’d learned that you don’t have to smash your long runs at race pace, and I’d learned to trust my training when it began to get difficult at mile 22.
Although running is different for everyone, and many are pure natural talents, for me, I’ve learned that success in endurance events is experience – both my own and listening to others. If you’re looking to run your first marathon, that would be my first bit of advice… Listen to those who know!
There were some absolutely class performances in Manchester that day – amongst many others, Weekesy, Mike, Andy, Matty, Richie, Lethal Bizzle, Shaun Alcock and Rob Snaith all smashed it – it genuinely makes you proud to be a Harrier when you have talent around you like that. Although I’m now pretty chuffed with the time, I’m finding myself eyeing up the next benchmark…
So, to LONDON, in 2020 (assuming my GFA still counts 😉 )