Manchester Marathon 2016

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This year the Pops have gone marathon-mad! Andy Grant shares his race report from Manchester, where a total of 6 Poplar runners completed the 26.2 miles. Hopefully this will help inspire the runners in London tomorrow. Thanks for the blog Andy, and well done to Russell Clarke, Stuart Carrs, Rebecca Lovell, Helen Gavin, Phillip Elliot, and friends in Sileby Running Club.

In 2015 I’d run the Manchester marathon in a time of 3:43:46 (remember the 46 seconds, they’re important!!). I finished strong and really enjoyed the atmosphere of the whole event; therefore decided to enter again for 2016. My enthusiasm rubbed off and I managed to encourage my wife Heather and 4 other ladies of Sileby Running Club to sign up for their first marathon (they raised money for a local charity; Hope against Cancer), as well as Rebecca from Pops. During the course of the year we also discovered that Russell, Stuart, Helen and Gemma from Pops had also entered. Unfortunately Gemma got an injury just before the marathon and had to pull out; Phil Elliot decided to take up the challenge and take her place.

My training throughout the year went from strength to strength and I felt in a really good place both mentally and physically. My training totaled nearly 400 miles for the year, 100 more than at the same time the previous year. I was confident that I could break 3:40 and hoped if the day went well I could get closer to 3:30.

Russell, Stuart and Helen travelled up on the day and the rest of us stayed in Warrington about 20 minutes away from the start. After a good night’s sleep, race day arrived. Up at 5.30, I had my usual pre-race breakfast of porridge, banana, chia charge flapjack, a strong coffee and in the car at 7.

From the car park it was just a short walk to the athlete’s village, which this year was down by the cricket club rather than the football ground. The area was cramped, toilets were sparse and the baggage hold was a bit of a nightmare, luckily for me my Mum and Brother had come so took mine.

All too quickly it was nearing the start time of 9am so we made our way towards a very busy start line. Russell, Stuart, Helen and I had decided to set off together. During the first few miles around Trafford Quays, the lead runners came back past us and it was here that we crossed and ‘high fived’ Bec and Phil. We then ran to Stretford (6 mile point), all the time checking my watch ensuring that I was within my target pace (8.10’s – 8.20’s). At this point Helen and Stuart went ahead.

Next up was Sale (8 miles) and it was here that the crowds started to get really big and loud. It was great running through them and Russell seemed to be thanking them all individually!!! The organiser’s this year had promised a prize to the area that the runner’s voted the best for support on route. There was lots of banners, people with jelly babies, sweets and different musical acts to entertain both spectators and runners.

We ran through the next two villages of Brooklands and Timperley and approached the halfway point in Altrincham. Again large crowds were lined up on both sides of the road and it was here that we caught up with Stuart. Helen had gone on and Rebecca and Phil were well ahead. We crossed the half point at just over 1:47, I felt strong. Stuart, running his first marathon decided to ease off a little and we carried on.

Just after the 15 mile point my watch unusually beeped. I checked to find it had lost its satellite reception. This meant that even though I could see the race time on the watch, it was no longer telling me how far I had gone or at what pace. At 17 miles I had to go alone as Russell, in order to ensure finishing, made the correct decision to ease off slightly. I now had to work out my pace by checking the time on my watch at each mile marker.

I could feel my stress levels rising, which weren’t eased when I reached the 19 mile marker and it appeared I was starting to slow down. (I later found out from the organiser’s that the marker was half a mile out!) This was the start of my mental meltdown! I carried on running but I could feel myself starting to tighten up with all the nervous energy, my mind started to take me down a slippery slope. I passed 20 and 21 miles but was beginning to feel terrible and highly stressed. I went past the 22 mile marker only to go past another 22 mile marker, 2 minutes later!!!! That was it, mental breakdown complete!

At this point I should have just asked another runner if I could run with them but your mind can become a bit scrambled at this point in a marathon. Instead I made the mistake of stopping in order to try and get my head together but once the mind knows it can get you to stop it will keep trying to do it! You also start to really stiffen up. The next 3.5 miles were spent, running, walking, running again, and then walking again, all whilst a bit stressed. It must have been quite disturbing for the good people of Manchester to see a wide-eyed bald guy with bleeding nipples talking to himself!!

Eventually I got back on the A56 and up the hill where you could see the finish in the distance. Once I could see the finish a weight was lifted off me. I just tried to run as fast as I could with stiff legs until I crossed the line. I looked at my watch and saw the time, 3:43:42! 4 seconds quicker than what I had ran last year! If only I’d kept it together better those last few miles.

Having got through the congested finish area, I saw Helen. She’d smashed her previous time by half an hour and finished in 3:46. This meant that I must have passed her in the last 6 miles but I was that disorientated, I didn’t see her. Russell came in next in 3:52, a fantastic time for his first marathon. We also found out at this point that Rebecca and Phil had smashed it in 3:30. Rebecca had easily achieved her aim of getting a good for age time for the London marathon. Considering she was worried about an injury she showed the mental resolve that I could only dream of. Unfortunately for Bec and Phil I think they spent a similar amount of time waiting for their bags!!

Next in was Stuart. I’m sure he won’t mind me saying but his prep for this marathon was not textbook at all. Although he’d been smashing league races and park runs the furthest he’d ran was 16 miles about 3 months ago. He commented later that at one point he ‘wanted to knock on a stranger’s door and lie down on a bed until it had all gone away!’ Luckily I think he does a lot of cycling and other fitness work and it was an amazing achievement to finish in just over 4 hours (4:01).

I must mention that with the Pops we are used to having fantastic support and this race was no exception. At various stages along the course we had ladies captain Nicola and her Mum, Russell’s family and Stuart’s family. Whenever we ran past they all made a right racket!

The Manchester marathon is a great course for people looking to try a marathon for the first time or for people seeking a PB as it is officially the UK’s flattest marathon. The crowds and the marshals are brilliant. They have announced that they are already working on ensuring that the same mistakes are not made again with the athlete’s facilities and mile markers.

Since last Sunday I’ve been a bit down and had contemplated not running another marathon as when it goes wrong in a marathon it usually goes wrong big time. However I thought to myself that If you’d told me 5 years ago before I started running that I’d have run 5 marathons I would have thought you were mad and as bad as I felt last Sunday it is still the quickest time I’ve ever ran 26.2 miles. Slowly starting to get back in to my running, I’ve even printed off a training plan for a sub 3:30 marathon!!

Up the pops!

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