Last Sunday I ran the 7th edition of the Greater Manchester Marathon, so named (I assume) as the route doesn’t take you anywhere near the city centre.
In the lead up to race day I spoke to a couple of people who had run it previously and I re-read Cathy’s report. This did nothing to alleviate my nerves, though it did make me happy that we were staying a 10 minute walk away from the start and I hopefully wouldn’t have to find a trusty bush to guard my bag.
The start area was well organised, and being in a stadium it had plenty of toilets. I headed to my start ‘pen’ which was more just an area of tarmac marked by a flag, and started to wonder how I’d been assigned one so far back. As there was nothing to stop us, Ollie and I wandered forward two pens where I found the 3:30 pacer. He assured me their tactics were for even splits so I settled into a spot a few metres ahead and sent Ollie off to his first spectating spot.
The race was soon underway, conditions were cool and we all had plenty of space to run in, a positive start. Support was fairly limited in the early stages but Ollie managed to appear every few miles to cheer me on. Despite being behind the 3:29 pacer for the first 6 miles, I was trying hard to stick to my planned 7:45-7:50 per mile. Soon enough the crowds of supporters started to grow and there were some pockets of really good support – mostly near the tram stations. We started the out and back section to Altrincham just after the 8 mile point and the sun started to break the clouds. This section was quiet (Altrincham aside) but after two years of London I quite enjoyed being able to hear myself think. It was also nice to see the front runners coming back the other way.
I saw Ollie again at the end of the out and back (16 miles) but I knew that the support was about to get annoyingly sparse for some time. Luckily the clouds had put pay to the sunshine and I cooled down. We headed out into the countryside where we barely saw any cheerleaders, and many of the runners started to struggle. I finished the bottle of water I had been carrying for a while and was quite desperate for some more by the time we reached the next water station some two miles later. At around 22 miles I started to flag a little, but was buoyed on by a random voice shouting “Hayley!! Amy and Graham are at mile 23!”. I knew that my friend Amy was due to be at mile 23, but having her friend (I assumed!) confirm it for me was quite uplifting. I trudged on to mile 23, trying to sort my form out and put on a brave face for my friends. They gave me a quick high five as I passed and I was feeling better again, well, for 800m. At this point I knew I was flagging a little, but as the support got better and Old Trafford came into view on the horizon, I knew there wasn’t that far to go and my target time wasn’t far off. I saw Ollie one last time, fought feelings of dizziness and nausea and dreamt of the finish line. Lunch was booked for 1:30, I didn’t have time to waste! We turned the final corner and I could just about make out the finish gantry in the distance. The crowds were fantastic in the last half mile and really spurred everyone on – made a pleasant change from Birdcage Walk! I gave it everything I had, crossing the line in 3:25:15. Not quite the arbitrary 3:25 goal I’d set, but a 2 minute PB nonetheless, and I finished in the top 100 ladies which made it easy to get a t-shirt that fits for once! And a whole bathroom to myself to get changed in. Ollie met me outside the stadium with a much needed cup of tea and we caught the tram into the centre for lunch (on time!).
The race was won by Kenyan Shadrack Tanui in a course record time of 2:21:17, while Great Britain Danni Nimmock was the first female finisher with a time of 2:38:24 with a huge PB. There was a relay going on simultaneously – which made it quite hard to tell who was really struggling and who was just doing a 10k leg!
All in all a successful trip. I probably won’t do it again, but only because there are so many other marathons to do.
Good luck to everyone running a marathon in the next few weeks!