Danny Fletcher reports from the Asics Greater Manchester Marathon (19th April 2015) and finally admits what most men get up to during a race.
16 weeks of training had brought me to this weekend, Sunday after Sunday of long runs in wind, rain and even snow. With Manchester, Brighton and London being so close together we had a nice little posse using these runs as an excuse to eat massive pieces of cake from The Cycle Hub.
Training had gone well so I was confident that I was going to beat my previous personal best of 4hrs 35mins set at my first and only marathon in Liverpool last year. People constantly asked what time I was hoping for at Manchester, I kept my cards close to my chest for fear of not achieving my goal. I thought it was achievable if I stayed positive, the hard work was done and all I had to do was get my head down and go for a nice run around Manchester, treat it like a normal Sunday morning run and I’d be fine.
Three weeks prior to Manchester I came down with an awful cold virus that had been going around the office for a good while. I thought I had managed to keep it at bay, but unfortunately it hit me with an almighty sucker punch. I couldn’t walk to the bathroom without feeling out of breath, every muscle seeming to ache. No matter how much medication I shoved down my neck it didn’t seem to shift, thankfully the taper had started and I had no more long runs. After trawling every running forum I could find and listening to words of encouragement from my training friends I decided to do nothing, I would gain no additional fitness from going out and would only increase the risk of the bug hanging on for longer. The aches eventually disappeared, but the headaches continued, right up until the day before the race. Maybe it was tension, the fear of the marathon, or maybe it was divine intervention? Whatever it was I made it to the starting line free of any aches and pains. I was still confident that I would beat my Liverpool time, but I wasn’t so confident about the 4hrs 15mins that I was secretly hoping for.
I stood with Ian Walton and Nicola Brady in the start area; we had run with each other in training, so we decided to keep it together on race day. All we had to do was watch the pace, don’t go off too fast and we would be ok. The start gun sounded and with little fanfare we were off.
It was a downhill start, so the pace quickly went out of the window. From the start the support from the crowd was amazing with banners and flags being waved, bells ringing and whistles being blown. I had a little panic when I came to the first mile marker, according to the Garmin I had run it in under 6 mins, thankfully the marker had been turned the wrong way on the lamppost. The few miles were out and back, so we distracted ourselves looking for fellow TBH runners. Throughout the run there were a few sections like this and it was great to hear and shout “Come on Tyne Bridge” as we passed each other. The support from the crowd continued throughout the run, only the short run through Carrington feeling slightly remote. This was likely due to the strong smell of horse manure that was thick in the air. It didn’t sit too well on the stomach after so many miles. People talk about the Great North Run being friendly and well supported, but in my opinion this blew it out of the water. The icing on the cake had to be the family and friends who had made the trip down, waving the Tyne Bridge Harriers flag high and proud. The support from the other north east running clubs was also great to hear, especially when on most other weekends we are competing against each other.
The marathon really felt like a team effort, the three of us taking turns to pace each other, sharing bottles at water stations to avoid collisions with those runners that seem to stop dead, oblivious to the other people around them and sharing words of encouragement when cramp was teasing. The miles quickly went down, although I suspect some cheeky scamps had moved the markers overnight as some were missing or were in the wrong place .The 26 mile marker was just over 1.5 miles from the 25 mile marker, not the best thing when the miles already feel longer in those aching legs. It was around this point when I had to let Ian and Nicola go ahead of me. I didn’t feel like stopping, but I knew I wouldn’t be able to keep that pace up. The syrupy gels I had taken were bubbling in my belly and I didn’t want them to make an appearance down the front of my black and white vest. I didn’t want to slow the other guys down, and having a look at the Garmin I knew that even with a decrease in pace I was going to smash my previous personal best. As Ian and Nicola trotted off round the bend somebody shouted “Come on Danny, the other Tyne Bridge lot are just ahead”. This gave me a much needed boost and I did get them back in sight, but alas I lost them again. I had to dig in deep over the last two miles, the pace slowing down, with added bursts of speed as the crowds grew towards the end and cheered me on.
I picked targets to run towards, be it a traffic light or the girl a few meters ahead with the nice bum. Old Trafford got closer and closer and I knew the end was near. I had stopped looking at my Garmin, concentrating on just keeping my legs moving rather than how fast or slow I was going. Passing an increasing number of people nursing cramped legs on the side of the road I felt strong in comparison. After climbing a what felt like a steep hill (it wasn’t) there was a sharp left turn, and I was greeted by a breathtaking sight, a downhill stretch to the finishing line, banked by literally hundreds of people and a wall of sound that brought a lump to the throat. I could see the clock ticking at the end and it finally hit me, I was going to get a sub 4 hour finish. I gave it everything I had. I focused on the finish line, only just noticing the Tyne Bridge support team holding out their hands for a high five as they screamed my name. I have no idea what my finish line photo will look like. I spent some time thinking about what I would do, a kiss of the badge, the Mo-bot or a thumbs up, I’m guessing mine will be a huge (well deserved) sweaty grin! 3 hrs 57mins and 21secs, a personal best of over 30mins!
Crossing the line and picking up my medal and free beer I walked back to the finish area, meeting up with Adrian Brooks to cheer on the remaining Tyne Bridge Harriers yet to finish. It’s during this time when you appreciate what a great sport running is and the true challenge that a marathon brings. People crossing the finish line with bleeding nipples, limping and wincing. One chap was even carried over the line following a fall on the final stretch. There were plenty of tears, both of pain and joy.
There were great performances all round from Tyne Bridge, both those running and those who made the trip to down to cheer everybody on. Manchester Marathon was a great event, and despite it being on the wrong side of The Pennies I am sure I will run it again.