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Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Manchester Marathon 2014

16 weeks since the last post and 16 weeks since the last marathon.

It was intended to be 17 weeks but a recent brainwave from Hannah that it might be a good idea to have a crack at Manchester a week before London meant that last Sunday morning, 6th April, we were headed towards Old Trafford at Manchester.

But not before a superb two hours of marathon motivation and entertainment at Marathon Mania the previous afternoon presented by Tony Audenshaw, Tom Williams and Martin Yelling. As seen from the lens of Helen Williams:

And it was the first outing to a marathon for Hannah's recent acquisition. What more appropriate number plate could there be for a Manchester 26.2 run than:

The Preparation

It was quite odd back in January/February reading about all the big miles/long runs that were getting done in preparation for the Spring marathons because having run two sessions of 26.2 miles @6:40/mile in December (ie Lancaster and Pisa marathons) the last thing that the legs were wanting was lots of long miles.

So patience was the key. Surely the strength from those two runs in December would feed through over the next few weeks anyway thus reducing the need for long runs? Maybe? Maybe not?

During that entire 16 weeks between Pisa and Manchester the only longish training runs over 10 miles have been one 16 miler, one 12.5 miler and one 12 miler.

The summary stats for the 16 weeks are:

Rest Days - 0
Total Mileage - 767 miles
Av Weekly Mileage - 47.95 miles
Races/parkruns - 40

So not what would be called a textbook marathon build up but I really felt ready to get stuck into a marathon to see if the legs were as strong as they felt.

I figured that with both Manchester and London being flat courses the chances were that one of them would fall favourably in terms of conditions.

The Race

Having completed the Locke Park 20 in Redcar in just over 2:09 four weeks ago I was just looking to lock into that same kind of effort level and then see what could be produced over the last 10K.

Even though the four weeks in between had included two half marathons, a 10 miler, two 10ks and four parkruns it was still relatively easy to remember how the 20 miler felt at the different stages.

Miles 0-10

So as the race got under way the first 2 miles were just about keeping out of trouble, there are two many feet and limbs in close proximity to think about anything else!

As things started to settle down there was a switchback point at about 3 miles. At this point there were a few familiar faces in front, eg Steve Middleton, Martin Hall and Kelvin Dickinson, all of whom I was quite happy to judge pace against as they have all proved to be masters of the pacing art in previous races.

I also knew that Tom Williams and Marting Yelling would have been somewhere in the vicinity with a declared target of 2:54. If they came up alongside that would present a good opportunity to switch off for a few miles and join what was bound to be a well paced train.

The first 10 miles went by without incident in 1:06:04, so an average of 6:36/mile.

This was feeling comfortable and with the comeback PB of 2:54:09 being 6:40/mile there was no need to get carried away too early. What would have been useful now was to lock into the pace of a group or at least another runner to get some more miles out of the way at this same sort of pace. But that was proving much harder than it sounds.

Miles 10 - Halfway

Halfway in 1:26:11 (6:35/mile). This was a minute faster than Pisa so still no need to do anything in terms of upping the effort level too much and risking sending the heart rate soaring.

Miles 13-18

I don't remember much of the next 5 miles except a couple of Ogdens (kev and Ian getting some motivation for London next week) and a couple of St Bernards with barrels around their necks.

18 miles was the next time check and at 1:57:33 I really did feel a boost of adrenaline. This meant that the last 5 miles had taken 31:40 or an average of 6:20/mile.

Just as I did that calculation there were loudspeakers at the side of the road blasting out 'And don't you feel good?'. I thought, "you know what, I actually do ..... and this is 18 miles into a marathon".

Experience was telling me to forget about any feeling good vibes though because I would sure enough be suffering pretty soon.

Miles 18-20

The next two miles took 12:41, again 6:20/mile. It felt more like hard graft now but clearly not too much amiss according to the pace. 20 miles in 2:10:14.

So something like a 44 min 10K would land a comeback PB. You can never assume anything in the last 10K but at least that was a doable sort of number allowing for a reasonable level of suffering.

Miles 20 to the Finish

Miles 21 and 22 were actually ok as well although I wasn't checking the pace at this stage. At 20 miles I just concentrate on getting through the next 3 miles on the basis that if I get to 23 I'll finish, it might not be pretty but I'll finish.

At mile 23 I was still passing the odd person but it was very strung out now and I was sensing some serious slowing. Even with just 3 miles to go the pace can fall off a cliff and add 5 or 6 minutes to the finishing time quite easily. So when I saw that mile 23 had been a 6:40 that provided a nice mini boost that it wasn't quite as bad as it felt.

A quick calculation at this stage suggested that 7:05s would get a 2:51:xx time, 6:45s a 2:50:xx or 7:25s for a 2:52:xx. Any of those would have been a great result when I started the race.

At 24.5 miles I saw the Old Trafford stadium and despite it not looking too far away it wasn't getting any closer. It didn't help now that there were a few fast finishers making me feel like a wobbling drunk hippo as they sauntered past. Ah well, resorting to the old techniques of breaking down whatever is left into manageable chunks, even if it is 10 metres at a time, the finishing corner finally arrived and the legs lifted themselves enough to cross the line with the clock still displaying a 2:51.

Happy days, a comeback PB by over 2 minutes and the first 2:51 clocking since Brussels in 1987, a mere 26 years ago.

Off no particular 'marathon specific' training that was a very pleasing outcome. I'm starting to come to the conclusion that the best indicator of whether you're ready to run a marathon is simply whether you feel up for it, regardless of what sessions have or haven't been done.

Having said that, official stats can make you look a lot more controlled than you actually felt. Half splits of 1:26:11 and 1:25:41 give the impression of expert execution but that second half split disguises a lot of varying degrees of pain and suffering:

In the overall battle against the aging process things are surprisingly still going in the right direction :)

2009 April - Blackpool Marathon 3:24:17 (Age 42)
2009 September - Fleetwood Marathon DNF (Age 43)
2010 October - Amsterdam Marathon 3:04:27 (Age 44)
2010 November - Milton Keynes Track Marathon DNF (Age 44)
2011 April - London Marathon 3:18:30 (Age 44)
2012 April - London Marathon 2:57:04 (Age 45)
2012 October - Chester 2:55:36 (Age 46)
2013 April - London Marathon 3:11:29 (Age 46)
2013 June - Cork Marathon 3:06:19 (Age 47)
2013 October - Budapest Marathon 2:58:53 (Age 47)
2013 December - Lancaster Marathon 2:54:17 (Age 47)
2013 December - Pisa Marathon 2:54:09 (Age 47)
2014 April - Manchester Marathon 2:51:52 (Age 47)

Greater Manchester Marathon Organisation

The whole event seemed pretty slick and well organised. Crowds were larger than expected along the route and the course itself flowed very nicely, ie just one turnback point at about 3 miles.
The baggage area was manned by the army and had no problems that were apparent, an area which I believe was a major issue in the first year. Highly recommended event.

What about London next week?

I think it would be beyond foolish to try to predict what will happen in a marathon just 7 days after the previous one but what I can say is that I'm really looking forward to it.

It maybe a case of struggling early on and getting a tube back to Westminster or it may turn out a bit more favourable. But whatever the story of the day becomes, the pint at the end will taste gorgeous :)