Seeking Marathon Justice
By Andy Inchley
Last October Amy and I “ran” the Chester marathon and both had something of a disaster. Despite putting in some strong training, it simply didn’t happen on the day and we both came home fairly miserable. I was adamant that I was as fit as I’ve ever been and just couldn’t explain it, so was immediately thinking about entering another one in the spring. When Chris (AKA Rodders), one of my Tuesday MK training buddies had a very similar experience in Abingdon I suggested that Manchester might be an option, and so after a month of debate we both signed up.
Our winter training went well, with both of us generally doing around 50 miles a week and getting in plenty of long runs. In February I discovered that young Mark Haynes had also entered, as part of his training for his numerous 100 milers so the three of us agreed to go up together.
All was going fine until two days before when I suddenly just woke up and felt like my legs didn’t belong to me. I felt really lethargic and heavy and spent most of the day debating pulling out as I didn’t want another Chester experience. I did feel somewhat better on Saturday and hoped to feel back to normal on Sunday, so went with the plan and the three of us drove up on Saturday afternoon. The FA cup semi-final and a meal at a lovely Italian restaurant made up the rest of the day.
Race day couldn’t have really seen better weather, with a gentle breeze and around eight degrees on the mercury giving me a little more confidence. Personally I did feel better again but still not quite right so decided that I’d start slower than my original plan of 2:50 pace and hope that I’d get better through the race and run a negative split!
The organisation of the event seemed excellent with everything you could expect at a growing marathon (just under 8000 finishers) hosted at Old Trafford, and after bumping in to some friends from Tamar Trotters in Cornwall we headed off to the start. The course advertises itself as the flattest in the UK but is a slightly unusual shape with a couple of out-and-backs early on before heading out of the city to Altrincham and a much longer out-and-back before a loop to the north.
It was encouraging early on to see Pete Mack in the crowd after 100 yards bellowing our names and Rodders and I stuck close to each other for the first couple of miles, until the crowd of people tracking the three hour pacer got too big and we ducked around it and split up, but at least had a clearer run. I knew Rodders was just hoping for sub-three so didn’t expect to see him again – all being well.
Very early on I knew I’d made a better decision not to go for the 2:50 I had been training for and was now just hoping that I’d eased back enough to get me all the way in good time. I saw Pete at 5, 9 and 13 miles and each time it was great to have the support but I just wasn’t feeling it, and told him so. I kept hoping that suddenly I’d feel better and be able pick up the pace, but at least I wasn’t losing anything and was on course for a PB and potentially Tom’s family record!
In the past my problem is that I’ve been to stubborn and stuck with a plan even when I knew I shouldn’t so kept telling myself that it was better to lose a few seconds in each mile than blow up and lose minutes later, so I focused on keeping relaxed and counting the miles upwards. At around 20 I started to get a little confidence as whilst I had no chance of increasing pace I didn’t feel like I was struggling so focused on thinking it was two parkruns to go and that was easy!
At this stage the mile markers were consistently coming up 0.2 miles ahead of my watch which was pleasing (if unusual) and as I approached 24 (or 23.8 on my watch) my legs were really starting to tire. I just kept trying to say that as long as I keep running/jogging I’m guaranteed a PB, DO NOT WALK!
As my watch ticked over 24.5 I started to think about the 25 mile marker, and we were on a long straight so I was peering for it, willing it to approach. I went past the 24.8 and it wasn’t there, strange. I went past 25 on my watch and it still wasn’t there, my pace slowed to around 7:30 and other runners were starting to flow past. Then at 25.2 I saw it in the distance and went past at 25.35.
Now in a normal race you don’t worry about it and just keep running, but the marathon does strange things to me and the previous idea that I would finish with my watch saying 26.0 miles was now confused. Was this marker correct and actually I had another 1.2 to go or was it just half a mile out for some reason? My brain couldn’t cope with handling this thought and running at the same time. Suddenly I stopped and walked.
A few seconds – could have been 5, could have 20 – passed and I pulled myself together again and said to myself; “You can see the stadium you idiot, who walks in the last mile?”. I got myself going again and it felt incredibly slow as more runners streamed past, but eventually I saw the left turn into the final 80 yards of finishing straight and staggered down the hill to the finish with my watch saying 26.05!
There were huge mixed emotions and lots going through my head;
Damn – I walked again and for no good reason
Fantastic – I got a PB by two minutes
Oh – I missed Tom’s time by a minute. What if I hadn’t walked?
Great – I got a PB.
Damn – I’m sure I’m fit enough for 2:50. That was a lot of training!
Great – They’re giving out beer……….
What the hell was that 25 mile marker all about? How could it be so far out?
Having collected a medal, T-shirt and beer I looked around and saw Rodders walking towards me. At his ninth attempt he had finally broken three hours with 2:57 and a negative split. Never have a seen someone so happy at the end of a marathon. His finishing photo even made the Manchester Evening News website. His joy really made me feel much more positive about my run and I went off to get changed. Over the next hour or so I got the shakes so badly that I had to ask a girl standing next to me to text Rodders as I couldn’t hold my phone but he was calling the world and his wife in the finishing enclosure so couldn’t get through for what seemed like ages.
Eventually we did get together and went to wait for Mark by one of the statues. We didn’t have to wait long as Mark turned up in a state of shock. After three back-to-back marathons two weeks earlier, he smashed his PB by nearly 10 minutes to come home in 3:50 and couldn’t believe it. So I had Rodders still buzzing with joy and phoning everyone he could think of next to Mark who could barely speak with disbelief. It was pretty entertaining. Once Mark was gathered together we wandered off back to the car and made the long journey home with everyone full of chat about the run.
All in all, I would definitely recommend the race to anyone that is considering a spring marathon. The crowds were surprisingly excellent with some cracking signs one the way round that all three of us spotted and laughed at; “You’re the slowest runner I’ve seen so far”, “Motivational Sign” and “If your Garmin says 26.1 will you do another lap?”. The course was flat and they gave out medals, T-shirts, beer and lots of other stuff at the end and was generally pretty slick, just ignore any errant mile markers!!