The final instalment of this blog series. It’s a day which I’ve been building up to for a long time, through all the previous attempts at going under three hours, since I sat down and wrote up my training plan back in November, through the cold, dark, wet winter hours as I knuckled down to training at the start of December last year. So how did it go?
The race weekend got off to an inauspicious start. We were staying in Manchester the night before, and when on arriving at Manchester Piccadilly, my other half and I found that the Altrincham line was suspended due to an overhead line issue. This was a problem as we were staying in Altrincham. An excrutiatingly slow bus meant that it took longer to get from Piccadilly to Altrincham than it took to get from Leeds to Manchester, and a very stressful evening checking for updates on the tram and trying to work out alternatives.
However, a check of my phone at 2:00am told me the line was back up and running, so my morning was relatively chilled out. After going for dinner the evening before at a family friend’s of the other half I prepared all of my race day kit and then got a good nights sleep. In the morning all there was to do was to eat some porridge, sip on some sports drink, and then head off to the tram station.
The weather forecast was for an overcast day, but not cold and not wet – perfect marathon running weather, and fortunately the weather report was correct. I wasn’t too cold waiting for the start at 9:00am in just shorts and vest, and was eager to get going. My race strategy was conservative – people had told me I could aim higher, but only wanting to guarantee a sub three hour race, my plan was to go at just under 6:50 a mile pace, making sure not to go faster than 6:40 for the first twenty three miles. 6:50 should have given me a minute in hand over three hours.
As with any marathon, the first few miles of the race were very congested. At three miles I decided to overtake the three hour pacer, as the large crowd of runners following the pacer was causing a lot of congestion. I wanted to just start running at a consistent pace without having to worry about tripping up over the feet ahead of me.
Once I was running in relatively open space, the pace felt very comfortable. The training had obviously paid off, as I was ocassionally reining the pace back. I knew that going at a slower pace here would give me a lot in the tank to be able to go hard at the end.
My fuelling strategy was fairly simple – taking on board an energy gel at 5, 10, 15 and 20 miles, and trying to take on board some water around those points as well. I did take on board a little bit too much fluid before the start and was, to be honest, a little bit overhydrated, and had to take some ‘natural breaks’ during the race.
The race ran down through Stretford towards Sale, and then on to Timperley. The route from Sale to Timperley is the start of a lollipop that loops around Altrincham, so I started to see runners coming back the other way. At the end of the loop I went through the half marathon mark. I was roughly a minute up on 6:50 pace here – I remember thinking that the pace was very easy, very relaxed.
Mentally my next checkpoint was meeting my supporters at mile 19 as the race went through the outskirts of the other side of Sale, before looping out to Carrington, then through Urmston before heading back to Stretford. My ‘support team’ were standing on the island of a mini roundabout that the race went around – I was told that I was around 5 minutes ahead of when they expected me, perhaps a combination of being ahead of schedule and my poor estimate of when to expect me. The other half then rushed off to the tram to try and catch me again at the finish.
At this point I was thinking that I was going to go under three hours unless something went seriously wrong – something beyond hitting the wall, I would have to suffer a serious muscle injury not to do it. This was the thought that kept me holding the pace back from 19 miles through to 23. The legs were starting to feel a bit rough, general heaviness in the quads, but I was still able to keep the pace fairly consistent.
At 23 miles, I was still on pace, still feeling relatively good, so I went for it. I put the effort in not knowing what really to expect. It very easily could have been the case that I tried to push and then found that actually there was nothing left in reserve. However when I started to push I started to run at 6:00 miles, and was able to keep it up. At this pace a time in the low two hour fifties was on the cards. It felt great to be struggling at the end of the marathon not because my body was giving up but because I was hammering the pace. Mile 24 – 6:25, passing and passing runners in front of me, mile 25 – 6:04, whizzing past marshals exclaiming ‘he’s going at some lick!’, mile 26 – 6:04, grimacing and pushing and pushing and pushing.
Coming towards Old Trafford I could just about see the point where the runners were turning off left to the final straight. I was going to finish in the low 2:50s, and although it is very clichéd, I felt tears in my eyes – maybe from the effort I was putting in to go for the fast finish, but also as I’d been aiming for this acheivement for so long, and it meant so much. I turned on to the finish straight, continuing to pass runners – finishing in under three hours, an official time of 2:53:23.
I was ecstatic – very emotional at the finish of the race, and before heading through to pick up my race bag, medal and t-shirt, I stopped to have a quiet moment to myself, dry my eyes and think about the acheivement. I’m not really sure exactly how to explain that – I may have to write about it at a later date.
I met a couple of my fellow Hyde Park Harriers at the end of the race – both of who had gone under three hours as well. There were lots of hugs all round, and some non alcoholic recovery drink.
I met up with the other half – I’d actually managed to get to the finish sooner than she had, meaning that she thought I had failed to go under three hours. We made a move back to Leeds straight away, and I was back to relax post marathon just after lunchtime.
So what comes next? Who knows.