Monday, 2 June 2014

Race Report - Manchester Marathon

I did it!

I bloody well did it!

I completed my first marathon!

Despite the odds being against me I managed to haul my injured body over that finish line in what was a battle between my heart, head and body. I finished in a time of 4 hours 21 mins. However that is not the whole story - this was a race of two contrasting halves, when injury was a huge factor in the second half.  My target was sub-4 hours and, although I did not achieve that, I'm still proud of my efforts. It just makes me want to go back out and do another one. Manchester 2015 is definitely on the cards now!

Below is a detailed breakdown of the race. As you will see - there are a lot of ups and downs.

Days Leading Up To The Marathon
I'd been a good boy in the days leading up to the big event. I ran 3 very slow 5km taper runs. However on the final run (the Friday before the race) I twinged my right knee. This was painful and had me worried. That night, whilst in bed, I could feel the pain and my chance of running dwindling away.

On the Saturday I packed my bags and started the long journey up north. I popped in to see my parents in Wigan before then heading back to Manchester. My hotel, the Ibis, was only a 10 minute walk from the start area (outside Old Trafford stadium). This meant I didn't have the hassle or panic of trying to get to the event on the same morning.

Night Before The Big Race
The night before the race I chilled out and at around 6pm headed across the road to a Frankie & Bennies restaurant. I avoided the pasta because I wasn't sure whether my stomach would hack a pasta source that I hadn't tested before. So I ended up with steak and chips....and a nice steak and chips it was!

I chilled out that night and watched a film on my iPad. However I had the worst night sleep ever. Not sure why. It wasn't nerves. Whatever it was I just couldn't switch off...and that was frustrating.

The Morning Of The Race
Having woken up very tired due to lack of sleep I headed downstairs for breakfast. I have to say the breakfast was terrible. There was very little choice, and in the end I had 4 slices of toast with some cheese on followed by a black coffee. I was hoping to eat more, but it wasn't the case. I got back to my room and munched on some Alpen Bars I'd brought with me, which made me feel better.

After packing and checking out I then started the 10 minute walk to the main event. It was very cloudy and looked like it might rain. The event was held outside Old Trafford, and I'd come armed with 6 SiS gels and a bottle of Lucozade. I tried looking out for the other Newbury Runners (Matt and Debbie Studart, Vicki Grozin, Paul Hendry, Matt Brown) but could not find them.

Within 20 mins we were called to the start line. I passed the finish straight, which seemed to go downhill, and told myself that I'd be running down that straight shortly. I was starting to get excited, and everyone was really friendly and chatty as we walked to the start line.

I found it quite easy to find where I should be standing. I was aiming for a sub-4 hour time, and within minutes I'd found the 4 hour pacers (there were two of them). Running a 4 hour marathon is a popular goal and there were lots of people around the pacers. My initial strategy was to stick to the pacers for at least the first half of the race, and then see what happens.

After about 5 minutes of standing around the race began - it took me around 3 minutes to cross the actual start. My first marathon had now started!

The Race - 1st Half
As originally planned I stuck with the 4hr pacer for the first couple of km, but I soon started tripping over people because there were so wanting to be paced at the 4hr mark. I therefore decided that I'd run in front of the pacer with the aim of not being overtaken by the pacer. Now this strategy would have worked had I kept to a similar pace to the pacer...but I didn't!

We were around 4km in and already on our second loop back when I saw the 4hr pacer coming the opposite direction - eeek, I was more than just "slightly" ahead of him; I was quite far in front. Nonetheless I felt strong and had no pain from the knee nor the tendon in my right foot. I felt on top of the world. HR was good and pace was good, averaging around 5:15 min/km. Deep down I knew this was too fast, but I was "in the moment" and really enjoying it.

Before I knew it the 10km mark appeared and when I looked at my watch I'd clocked it at 53:17 - a new 10k PB by a couple of seconds. I wasn't expecting that. In my head I figuring that if I'd got a new 10k PB then I must be running too fast; but then there was another part of me thinking that my old PB I got around 10 months ago, and so with all the training I should be going faster with less effort. I therefore made the mistake of carrying on. I felt good and at the next water station I walked through it then continued. The crowds were amazing!

The next milestone on my hit-list was the 10 mile (or 16km) mark. I flew through that in 1hr 26 mins and was averaging around 5:30 min/km. I started to deliberately slow down and tried to stick to the 5:30 min/km mark (which I'd done in training leading up to the race). 

I'm not a huge fan of loop-backs and I found it rather disconcerting to see the leaders coming back in the opposite direction. Although I (like others) started clapping them as they passed), I think I prefer a route you run along once and not have to repeat it in the opposite direction.

Anyway, loop backs aside, I headed into the Altringham and the half way point I went through the half marathon mark in 1 hr 54 mins and achieving a new half marathon PB

The first half of my marathon was playing out more than I could have wished. I had no pain in either the knee or the tendon; my pace was good; and more importantly I felt good. I just needed to slow the pace down a little....

The Race - 2nd Half
So there I was quite content with my first half performance and, although I still felt good I knew I had to slow the pace down or risk blowing out at the end. In my head I'd already built up a substantial lead over the 4hr pacer so decided to knock the pace down to recover, then increase back up the 4hr pace. I ran a 5:46 (22nd km), 6:27 (23rd km), 6:16 (24th km) and 6:14 (25th km). I'd gotten some of my breath back, had taken some very slow water stops and some gels, and felt a little more refreshed. It was then, just as I was about to increase the pace back up to around the 4hr mark (5:40 min/km) that I started to feel a twinge in my right foot. It was the bloody tendon!

I stopped a few times to stretch it and then continued. It started to become painful and before I knew it the top right-hand side of my foot became sore. I became really angry with myself and all the runners I'd passed were now starting to overtake me. I continued for another couple of km but it was no good, I was having to stop every so often just to take the pressure off my foot. My pace had come tumbling down and I was averaging around 7:00 min/km. At the 29km mark I had to make a decision. 

My body was telling me to stop and pull out; my head was telling me this was dangerous I could risk further damage; however my head was saying "look, it is possible to run through the pain, but It's not worth the risk. I've come too far, trained too hard, and ran an excellent first half, not to continue to the finish! I am going to drag my body over that line even if it kills me!"

So with my mind made up to continue I had to change my strategy. I had no
option but to adopt a run/walk strategy to get me to finish line. It was frustrating because I could not run more than a km without having to stop and walk a little. Not surprising it wasn't long before the 4hr pacer passed me. My heart just sank!

For me now it wasn't about a time it was about being mentally strong and making sure I finished! Of course with the strategy I was running on it seemed like each km was taking me a lifetime. It was sole destroying and my average pace was falling to around the 7:20 min/km mark. This was also impacting on my performance when I could run. Because I had no rhythm to my running, and I was constantly starting and stopping, it was draining all the energy from my legs. 

I dragged my arse around the course and eventually I hit the 37km mark. In my head I calculated that I was only a Parkrun away. I could start to see Old Trafford in the distance. That was my target - it as the finish line! As I ran along I just kept on see people on stretchers and paramedics helping them. I felt so sorry for them. I didn't want to be one of those people. By this stage I was sick of taking gels. I continued my walk/run strategy and eventually hit the final stretch - a 150m downhill section to the finish line.

It was an amazing feeling to run down that stretch with people shouting your name. I tried to go fast but couldn't. I crossed the line with my hands in the air. I'd done it! By god I'd done it! I crossed the line in 4 hrs 21 mins.

As soon as I stopped the pain my right foot became bad and I could hardly walk. I tried to find an energy drink but the organisers hadn't arranged any. A female steward congratulated me and put the medal around my neck. It was a great feeling. The finishing area was very busy, so I picked up a bottle of water, a banana and my goodie bag then went to find somewhere so I could collapse on the floor and chill. In the goodie bag was a Cliff Bar. I'd never had one before, but it tasted nice (mental note for training!). I sat there, on the floor, and reflected on what I'd just achieved. 

My Race - Conclusion
After the initial disappointment of not achieving my sub-4 hour time, I then spent a lot of time pondering the race and my achievement (the 4 hour drive home helped in that sense).

I'm really proud of what I did and, more especially, how I managed to overcome an injury to ensure I finished the race. It would have been all too easy to have pulled out at the 29km mark. But I didn't; I pushed on even when it hurt. Given my lack of training since the turn of the year, and the ongoing injury I have, I am impressed that not only did I finish but I finished only 21 minutes behind my goal time.

If I hadn't got the injury would I have blown up before the end of the race? Almost defiantly! The pace I ran the first half would have certainly meant I'd have died a sudden death. What I don't know is when that would have happened and what my eventual time would have been. That's why I need to do another one - just to prove to myself I can keep to a sensible pace. The next marathon I run I intend to stick to the 4hr pacer and see what happens (something I started in this race but naively ignored!). I may not be able to achieve the 4hr time, but at least running at that pace will give me a good chance.

This was a great first marathon though. It was very flat - the flattest in the country. My pace at the beginning was fairly quick which meant my heart rate was also high...around the 180 bpm as an average. Andy Tucker will say that's too high, and I totally agree with him. That is really too high to sustain for 26.2 miles. During the latter part of the race my heart rate dropped but only because my pace dropped significantly.

If there is one thing I have taken from this race is that I love the marathon distance. Unlike the half marathon (which you can get through with little training), a marathon is a completely different beast. So many people I know blow up in a marathon towards the end. It's a fine line between wanting a good time and actually surviving the race. It's one that takes years' of training and experience. I've only just begun my journey and I'm still learning. But if there is one thing I am, and that is a fast learner.

As I write this blog I still have pain in my right foot. Ironically it's not the tendon but the upper right hand side of the right foot. That is what is making me hobble around. I've decided to pull out of the Marlborough Downs Challenge - a 33 mile off road ultra in May. I'm not sure my right foot is up for 33 miles at the moment; and although the pace will be a lot slower than Manchester, there will be lots of hills and very little support should the tendon flare up again. I am tempted with the Milton Keynes Marathon next month on Bank Holiday Monday. I figure the Milton Keynes Marathon will be like Manchester - should I have an issue with the foot then at least I can run/walk to the finish, pull out or get medical assistance. The same cannot be said for Marlborough (where you are on your own in the middle of sodden nowhere). It's a shame as I was really looking forward to it, but I have to be sensible and, to honest, I now have this marathon bug after Manchester!

I'm seeing the MRI consultant next Thursday. I will listen to what he has to say and then make my decision about Milton Keynes....In the meantime I am still bathing in the glory that was my first marathon, and how proud I am.

A Big Thank You!
There are a few people I would like to thank for helping me get to this point. First and foremost is Andy Tucker. He's always been there to support me and tell me to stop running fast in training. He's a real trooper, and I hope he continues to bollock me as I move forward. To Gobi Lord for helping me put together my training plan. I did follow it at the beginning, but ultimately illness and injury prevented me from following it fully in 2014. However it's a plan that would have worked and one that I will continue to use going forward. To Stouty (Paul Stout) for making me believe, even though he doesn't know it, that it's worth going for something and failing than not going for it at all. He's the man behind my crazy notion of attempting an ultra. I have to say mate - I'm not sure when it will happen now. I still have Endure24 lined up as a solo runner - maybe then I'll break the ultra virginity!

There are many others to thank for their support - too many to name. My ramblings on Facebook probably bored people, but for me it was an outlet (mainly of frustration!). 

Finally to my wonderful wife Mary. For allowing me to train and having to listen to all my ramblings. I suspect she'll not read this blog, but I love her to bits and without her support I would never have been able to complete this marathon.

Oh, one final thing...

I did it son...daddy ran a marathon! I hope one day you will be proud of me.....

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