Manchester Marathon 2017

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Matt Hudson, Total Motion Events, April 2017

After running the Manchester Marathon in 2016 I really felt that I had some unfinished business here. If the course was billed as amongst the flattest and fastest in the UK then why didn’t I do better? Was it my training, was it the weather, nutrition or was it just not my day – hard to say, but none of these stood out prominently enough for me to refer to them as ‘my excuse’ as to why I could barely break the 4 hour barrier on the day.

So, with Manchester still providing one of the best alternatives to the VLM I set about rewriting the record books.

I approached my training with more rigidity, more discipline, ensuring that I hit those all important long runs, but didn’t skimp on tempo runs and hill training, mixing it up with some slow mileage – lovely lazy plodding. I had a program that had stood me in good stead in Palma several years’ back, and it was this that I placed my faith in again. Getting up in the dark to go and do 800m intervals in January isn’t anybody’s idea of fun, but it was about trusting the process. Yeah, I could stay in bed, but staying in bed never really helped anybody achieve their goals did it?

As anybody will tell you having a training plan doesn’t offer any guarantees of success on the day, especially when there will be those awful runs were everything feels wrong from start to finish, you may cut the odd one short, or you may just plod on, but either way the bad runs can suck confidence out of you as much as a good one can pump you up. My two longest runs of 20 & 21 miles were both brutal, terrible for morale. My last ‘decent’ run was completely the opposite, felt strong, consistent, last mile faster than the first, a real boost, albeit it was only over 10 miles. Either way, the plan for the final week was just do the low mileage runs, and nothing else. I always take the stairs – not that week – lifts and escalators were my friends. Minimal activity.

As I headed to Manchester with Kerry, my ‘marathon friend’ (pronounced ‘friiieeeennnddd’ in a high pitched Inbetweeners voice), we exchanged stories of good runs, bad runs, injuries (mainly his), niggles – aches in places that we’d never had before – we were apprehensive, but really looking forward to the race.

We had most of Saturday in Manchester to chat about strategy, and get some last minute essentials. Our main topic of conversation was how many beers we should limit ourselves to the day before the race. As we entered the hotel and saw the Merseyside derby on the TV in the bar, we decided that we could definitely have one, which we did prior to a 3km relaxed jog in the hotel’s gym. I can hear the groans from the experienced runners. This was by no means textbook, but worked for us as we headed out in search of our last supper. Bolognaise, garlic bread and Peroni, seemed like a perfect fuelling strategy to us. Back at the hotel we decided that 3 pints was the limit as we headed to the bar, but then back to the room for final preparations, plenty of water and an early night.

It was a nervy morning on race day. I knew from experience that it was going to be the last 10km that would determine the outcome of the race for me. Kerry was a rookie, his longest training run of 16m had left him with quite a large proportion of the race in unknown territory. The plan for me was to get to ¾ distance, and then just hang in there as the inevitable pain kicked in. That would be the test – the mind and body will be screaming – I knew it, so it was a question of what effect those voices had on my pace. I’m generally comfortable at 5min/km, but I knew this could drop to 6min/km in the closing stages. The last 10km could easily be a long painful hour.

I had several goals for the race, beat my time in 2016 (3:58:17), beat my PB (3:50:52) and then the target was 3:45. First one should have been assured. If I couldn’t beat that I shouldn’t be there, the PB should be everybody’s goal in every race. 3:45 was just for the sake of the next round number.

We got to the athlete village in plenty of time and loitered, contemplating what to wear for the race (base layer, tights, sunglasses? all 3!), what to eat and drink prior to it and meticulously planning our pre race toilet strategy….important considerations – ask anybody.

As the start approaches and decisions are made you are left in the twilight zone, too late to make changes, you’re left hanging, waiting, worrying.

Early race strategy was easy. Just run the first km at whatever pace is comfortable, and then check the watch at 1km. 4:55. Solid. I knew averaging 5:20m/km would get me to 3:45, but I had to build up a cushion, this said sub 5:00 is probably a bit hasty. I continued with the flow of the stampede. 2nd km 4:47 – now I’m getting in to 10km race pace territory…whoa, slow down I kept thinking, but I felt good, and I was banking time I would surely need down the road. One issue that I had been unable to resolve in advance was my race nutrition and especially hydration. I kept it simple. I could only carry 6 gels, so I had those at regular 4 mile intervals. I’d toyed with walking through aid stations to ensure I drank sufficiently as I felt dehydration had caught me out in the past. Would the time lost through walking be made up in the later stages? Fortunately the sports capped bottles made it easy to run and drink – I ensured I got plenty down at each station.

I got to 10km about 3 ½ minutes ahead of schedule – I needed that in reserve. It all felt good, My Spotify playlist comprising 80s rock & pop, 90s house & RnB punctuated with the odd movie soundtrack powersong was doing it’s job. By the halfway point at around 1:46 and I started to think that a PB was possible, my slowest split was 5:11, I was almost 6 mins ahead of my 3:45 target pace too. I had 2 hours for the second half of the marathon to accomplish all goals.

As I approached the ¾ distance mark I was consciously assessing everything. How were my feet? (Was that a blister?), how were my calves? (hmm, fine), quads? (a bit achy) Energy levels? (good.). On top of this I was busy working out the permutations of my km splits. OK, so I’m at 32km, 10km to go, I’ve been running for 2:42. Hold tight for the pain, here it comes….erm, now? No, now? I was tired for sure, but I always felt I had more to give. The pain I’d suffered previously didn’t materialise, I was racing against the runners around me, not against my own body. They were my competition, I wasn’t just holding on to them, I was catching and passing. My overall pace was slower, but only by a fraction, but the mile markers were coming and going. As I saw the 25mile marker I knew I was within 10 mins of the finish as the crowds thickened – Silver Bullet’s ‘20 Seconds To Comply’ sent me in to overdrive. My last km was 5:05 compared to 5:49 in 2016. In Manchester you see the finish from 800m out. Some people hate this. I loved it. Fully focused on the ‘sprint’ finish – headphones off – soaking in the atmosphere, arms aloft.

3:36:34 was my official finishing time. A PB by a good 14 minutes. Never did I dare dream I could do that. Everything was perfect, the stars aligned, wouldn’t have changed a thing. I will almost certainly be back in 2018, and I hope that once again The Greater Manchester Marathon provides a backdrop for one of my most memorable achievements. A huge thank you to Kerry for being the perfect companion on this trip and congratulations on beating your targets for the day – our Peroni consumption strategy was key all weekend!