The Manchester Marathon 2016 - a race I had been training long and hard for, and my second marathon. I was aiming to beat my time from last year at London (4.09) and wanted to go sub 4. My training had gone well, I cannot complain at all. No major injuries, no massive disruptions etc. so I knew it was within my capabilities to do it. But without beating around the bush I didn't - things did not go to plan...
It was a beautiful day in Manchester. A crisp morning, but a rising sun and blue skies meant we were in for warm conditions. Lining up at the start I felt fairly relaxed. The start was weirdly empty (which I later discovered was due to parking fiascos meaning lots of runners being badly held up), and I found myself starting among the 3hr 30 runners rather than in the 3.45-4hr area as it was just so empty. The start was also interesting...there basically was no start! No starts signs, no start archway nothing. We didn't really know when we had actually began! The first mile marker was also hung on its post the wrong way round and came much too early, so that added to confusion. But we were underway.
Starting with faster runners, and at this point in cooler weather, I got off well. I was running a steady 8.40/8.45 min/mile pace, which was a bit quick for me, but I felt comfortable, and it would have been more uneasy to slow down. I kept this up for roughly the first ten miles. The route up to this point I found a little uninspiring, it was not horrendous, just nothing of any real note! I passed my friends supporting me at mile 9; feeling good, smiling and waving, as I headed towards an out and back loop which would see us pass halfway. This section I would like to question slightly the 'flat' branding of this marathon. I'm not complaining as you come to expect it, but there were some sharp inclines as well as some long drawn out roads which steadily increased in gradient. Passing my friends again on the way back from this section, and at roughly mile 17, I was not quite as comfy, but still in control.
The next section was a mental battle. Going into countryside, support was minimal and distractions from the tiredness hitting my legs were few and far between. My paced had slowed to around 9 min mile now, but I knew I had ten miles of good running in the bank so was happy. It was hot though and the sun was really making its presence felt by now. Unbeknown to me I was also getting badly sunburnt! Reaching the milestones of mile 18 and then mile 20 I was still feeling reasonably settled. Things were starting to hurt, as you would expect at this point in a marathon, but a 3.50 something time was still on the cards and this drove me on. Mile 22 came and I entered the unknown, untrained last 4 miles of the race. I was on track for sub 4 hours still and I knew what I needed to run in order to get it.
The first mile of this final stretch I felt as good as you can expect at this point, but by the second mile I started to slow rapidly and my steps were becoming increasingly hard; it was like my mind couldn't remember how to even move normally let alone run. I felt unnatural and a bit disillusioned. My feet were swelling, I had a pins and needles sensation in my arms and legs, my vision was becoming blurry and attempting to focus on things in the distance made my head rush. 24 miles was nearly on my watch when I remember swerving towards some spectators. A woman reached out to catch me and told me to stop. I found myself leaning on the bollard they were stood by, begging them to let me go on. I tried and nearly fell, I am not sure how I was planning on continuing, but I just didn't want to give up.
The next sequence is a bit blurry. The spectators flagged down a fellow runner who gave me a gel and offered to walk with me. We did for some minutes but I was literally shuffling and leaning on him to stay upright. Then a steward saw me and pulled me to the side. I was given more food and he took off my shoes, which at this moment in time felt like were suffocating my feet. I was still not stopping though. I walked painfully slowly, barefoot, and leaning on the steward for support, for the next mile to the St Johns ambulance tent. I rang my friend at this point and it must have been the most scary, rambling phone call! They weren't happy at St Johns as I was pale and my pulse was hard to find. They didn't advise me finishing the 1.2 miles which were left, but that was simply out of the question. I made them put my running shoes back on and I was off.
I walked. It hurt as my legs were now sore as well as extremely tired. People were enthusiastically cheering me on though, thrusting jelly babies into my face and willing me to make it, which kept my spirits up. I eventually reached where my family were stood and they walked alongside me. I was gutted they couldn't see me run, but at least I was still going. In the final 200 metres I managed a gritted teeth shuffle as I wanted to run over the line. It took me virtually an hour to complete the final two and a bit miles, but I finished, which was all I wanted to do.
I stumbled in a bit of a delirious state through the finishing section, stopping to receive much needed hugs across the railings from my friend and my family; this literally felt like the best thing ever at that point in time. Deep down I wanted to cry but I was so drained and tired emotions seemed to require too much effort. Even now reflecting on the race, I'm almost too grateful I actually made it to feel that upset. I don't really know why it happened. Obviously my body was empty, but I didn't do anything different to what I have been practicing. Possibly I may have drank too much water compared to normal, but it was so warm. The only thing I can assume is that under these conditions, and pushing myself harder than ever, meant it was still just too much for my body to handle.
The kindness of humans has also helped me dramatically deal with the day. I would like to say a huge thank you to the spectators from Shelton Striders in Derby who stopped me when they did and saved me from probably running to the point of collapse. Stewart Hart, the runner who stopped and walked with me, giving up on his own finish time. The steward, who's name I didn't catch, who walked the slowest mile with a struggling runner, and to Chris Holt; a man I know only from social media, who spotted me in trouble and alerted my family later down the course that I was ok and was on my way. Your kindness makes a clock time seem so much more irrelevant.
I'll admit one of the hardest things was having to break the news on social media, to all those following my training and encouraging me; and then again to everyone I have met since and who have asked how I got on. I have received some wonderful and touching comments though which again I am truly grateful of. My family and friends who came to watch me were also amazing, if they had not been there I am not sure how I would have coped. My family even endured the two hour queue to collect my bag from the bag drop - an absolutely absurd finish to the race for all runners.
I find it a little hard to say I completed this marathon. If I am honest deep down it feels like I haven't, even though I was so determined to do so, and even though I somehow managed to! It was a cliche case of so near yet so far - 2 miles from what could have been a totally different outcome. Included are some images of happier times in the race, and an idea of what could have been!
I'm knocked but not defeated, I have Berlin Marathon in September for which I will learn, make changes, and strive for my time.
Never give up.
Alice's Adventures In Running Land
Read about my adventures in running land...