For those that don’t know me, I started running in April 2020 during the first lockdown, mainly to lose weight to reduce the health risk should covid strike (it hasn’t yet). At first, I couldn’t run 3km without having to stop half-way and walk a bit. As the running got easier, further and faster, I found I was really enjoying it. Just over a year later, and 3 stone lighter, I joined Corsham Running Club. I entered the Manchester marathon in April 2022 (my first, and so far, my only marathon) having been told a few people from the club were planning to run it. At that point I only had a vague notion of what I was signing up for, particularly the amount of training required.
I started training in mid-November last year, broadly following a plan spat out by a spreadsheet Chris Hunt gave me based on the “Advanced Marathoning” book written by Pete Pfitzinger and Scott Douglas (I couldn’t find the “Rank Amateur Marathoning” edition).
I stayed as close to the plan as a full-time job and life allowed, using club sessions as a proxy for some of the planned, faster runs. The plan called for one to two long runs most weeks and I was fortunate to have Yuka (who also ran Manchester) and Chris (who was running Boston two weeks later) to run with on some of those longer runs. As race day got nearer, we used two local 20-mile races as long run/tester runs. These confirmed to me that I could hit around the 3:40 mark that I was chasing in Manchester. The training was hard and needed real commitment, although teaming up with my friends made it a fun and rewarding experience. From mid-November to the day of the race I ran over 850 miles in training (my wife said I was getting obsessive, so I told her this was a “one-off”). I went into the marathon with a 1:39 HM PB achieved at the end of February and 2:48 for 20 miles, feeling that I had put the requisite effort in and with a reasonable level of confidence. I was however, wondering how I would cope with the unknown of the last 6 miles, never having run further than 20 miles.
The race in Manchester is well organised and the course flatish (although not as flat as I was expecting), through built-up areas on wide, closed roads. As this was my first marathon, it’s difficult to judge its relative merits. Suffice to say it seemed well organised, the pre-race information was great, the organization on the day ok for an event of this size and the toilet and bag drop queues fine. The support on the course was excellent and you never were running without somebody cheering and clapping from the pavement. My only gripe is that the pacers were few and far between (at 15-minute intervals) and didn’t seem to logically align with the wave you were running in. We paced ourselves, and did ok with this, although had to wrestle with “watch issues”; at one point I fell back onto a pre-prepared piece of paper.
I had been told, but didn’t fully believe, that the race only begins at twenty miles and at twenty miles I was still feeling ok. Then with about four to five miles to go, I was suddenly hit by a tsunami of fatigue and voices in my head telling me to slow down and jog in (“you’d still be under 4:00” ….). From that point on the race was more a mental than a physical thing for me – my breathing was fine, my muscles and joints felt ok except for a pain in the lower back (which I figured wasn’t going to stop me running) yet the urge to stop/slow-down was incredibly strong. I managed to win the mind over matter battle (“don’t throw away 4 month’s work for 40 minutes of pain” ….), though it does take a lot of mental strength. I got into a state of mind of just focusing on putting one foot in front of the other and keeping previous pace. I was also conscious that alongside me, Yuka still was running strongly, and I thought if I stopped or slowed, she would too, if only to see what was going on, and I didn’t want to let her down or compromise her race. That provided an additional impetus.
Having trained, focused, and anticipated this race for so long it’s perhaps odd to say that the finish line can’t come a moment too soon, but it can’t. The time of 3:40:45 was under my 3:45 minimum target and I’m told you can say you’re a 3:40 marathon runner with a 3:40:45 so I will take that. We more-or-less even split, two 1:50 half marathons, and despite the physical and mental struggle I was going through in the latter stages, were reeling people in during the second half of the race. The relative pace chart (below) tells a nice story. Could I have gone faster? Maybe yes, although only if I had been faster at mile 20; after mile 20 I completely emptied the tank. There was nothing left by the finish, and I was wobbling like Bambi.
I now know that a marathon does start at twenty miles, and I also now know what to expect in those last few miles. I’ve been told you can’t train for those last few miles. However, I am trying to find specific training for this aspect of the marathon, so any advice is most welcome. I will also be working on nutrition in the days immediately before the next race as well as during it, as I think this could have been better. Given the watch issue, I’ve already invested in a more fit-for-purpose watch.
You may already have inferred from this write-up that the race venue seems irrelevant. I’ve hardly mentioned Manchester or the course. At least, that was my takeaway. The overall experience, including the training, is about so much more. Having said that about the venue though, I’ve allowed myself to be talked into targeting Valencia in December as it sounds great. All I need to do now is to find a way to tell my wife.
Clive and Yuka sprinting to the finish of the Manchester Marathon.
Clive at around halfway.