Manchester Marathon - Writing a Wrong (by Rebecca Johnson)

I signed up to Manchester marathon days after my first marathon in London 2018 - the hottest London marathon ever. My training for London last year went really well. I managed to get several PBs at different distances during training. I was hoping for 4:15 to 4:30 and everything was looking good, until I saw the weather forecast. Warm weather is usually bad news for me and running, so this was a disaster! I did a lot of walking in London and can’t really say that I enjoyed most of it.

Signing up to Manchester was about proving to myself that I can run a marathon and that my expectations for London weren’t overly optimistic. The good thing about London being so bad is that I was quite relaxed about my finishing time in Manchester. My main focus was on feeling like I’d successfully run a marathon and hopefully that I would also enjoy it.

My training for Manchester went pretty well. I had a bumpy start due to being a bit ill in December and January and I didn’t get any PBs during my training. However, I felt like I was improving over the 16 weeks.

I was a bit unsure about what to aim for as my marathon pace. Some people suggested that I should be trying for sub 4, but my aim was to have an enjoyable race. So I didn’t want to focus on a specific finishing time and then end up feeling like I’d failed (again) if I didn’t manage it. So I focused on pace. I did the Vitality Big Half 4 weeks before Manchester and tried running at a pace of 9:30 minute miles, as I thought that could be my marathon pace. I wanted to see if I got to the end feeling like I could have done it twice. Good news - I did.

So, I had a plan for the day: run at 9:30s until 20 miles and then think about increasing my speed. My usual race tactic is to start too optimistically, to go too fast and end up struggling towards the end and having to slow down. This starting slow tactic was a new idea for me.

I even planned my music playlist to help me. I started off with songs that are nice to listen to, but not particularly up tempo. After around 3 hours of music, I added the songs that usually make me run faster.

So, how did it go?

It was great! The atmosphere in Manchester was great. I loved how they put up signs to welcome you into each town. The crowds were very supportive and I was happy to be surrounded by familiar Northern accents. My own spectators were very nicely spread out. My mum and dad at mile 6, ready to take my gloves off me. Then a mixture of my parents, Simon and the kids at miles 8, 15, 17, 25. Thank you tram!

I managed to start at a pace of 9:33 for the first mile. I did end up going a bit quicker than that for subsequent miles, but tried to hold myself back enough to reserve some energy for the end. At mile 8 I suddenly had a worrying thought: I’ve gone quite a long way, but there is so much further still to go. However, as I passed the half way point, psychologically, it all started to feel better. At 15 miles in particular I felt great and speeded up a bit more. I kept having to remind myself to slow down as there was still a long way to go.

I enjoyed getting to Altrincham and being able to see people going in the opposite direction for a while. I also enjoyed seeing a random absolutely massive tortoise casually ambling along next to the course. Pretty sure I wasn’t hallucinating at that point!

The sun did dare to come out quite a bit in the middle of the race. It was occasionally a bit too warm, but I did my best to ignore it. Luckily it went cloudy again and cooled down after mile 20.

At the 20 mile point, I remembered that I had been planning to speed up, but also reminded myself that I shouldn’t get carried away. Some of my music choices were particularly appropriate at this point. Kylie Minogue’s Get Out of My Way, was, luckily for me, very well timed. I had to do a lot of weaving in and out of people who were walking (probably the reason that I ended up running nearly 26.4 miles!).

After seeing my mum and dad at 25 miles, I turned a corner and could see the finishing line ahead of me. The crowd support at this point was amazing. The finishing stretch did slightly go on forever, to the point where I had to stop looking at the finish sign because it was a bit off putting seeing it ahead of me for so long.

The end?

I was so pleased to cross that finish line. I’d run non-stop for the whole race. My final race time was 4:05 and I’d enjoyed it. My slowest mile was my first one and my fastest mile was the last one. My second half was 3 minutes faster than the first and I’d got a PB of over 50 minutes!

My watch was buzzing constantly as I was walking towards my medal. I was really happy to see the messages from my running buddies who had been tracking me during the race.

So, am I now finished with marathons? Even though I hated the maranoia during the taper and thought it would be good not to have to do it again, I have enjoyed marathon training both times I’ve done it. It definitely helps to have a lovely group of running friends to do those long training runs with. Also, I can’t help but notice that I’m not that far away from managing a sub 4 marathon and also, because I’m so old, my Good For Age time isn’t too far out of reach (3:53 I think).

Whatever happens next, I feel very satisfied to have completed this marathon and moved on from disappointment in London.