THE ASICS MANCHESTER MARATHON 2016
When I ran the Berlin Marathon back in September I had already booked the Copenhagen Marathon in the coming May. It was a ploy on my part, and one I fell for, that basically meant I was as calm as Hindu cows when it came to the race, because I had backup. This wasn’t the end. All pressure removed.
But the gap between September and May is a long one and, with all the fervour of the London Marathon ballot, I decided on an earlier race. There are four back-to-back, Paris, Manchester, Brighton and London. I had tried to get into Brighton but they jacked up the prices after “releasing” some more numbers after the London ballot had closed. Basically fleecing the poor suckers who didn’t get in. I decided against it and instead picked Manchester. I had never been. Plenty of #UKRUNCHAT people would be there. It would be fun.
Now I do not advocate this. In fact this is truly one of those do what I say, not what I do, kinda things. But I really barely trained. I want to work out what is best for me training-wise. I trained well and hard for Berlin, putting in long hours 4 times a week until the race day came and I did fine. This time I wanted to do the bare minimum, work out how far the low end of a regime gets me, and then find a happy medium. This would then become my training bar that I must set and stick to. That was the plan and, like I say, do not copy me.
This was not just a race. In London I get up, amble down to wherever the race is, maybe see people there, race and then head home. This was a train and a hotel booking. This was packing and planning different race outfits to cover all weather eventualities.
This was one of those great times when there is a Twitter DM group that has been going for weeks leading up to the event, where people can voice concerns, chat, and indulge in banter. Meetups were organised and thanks to Sherie and Jenna for the Frankie and Benny’s pasta night and then the cupcake-a-thon at the Toll Gate pub. People I knew where jetting in from as far away as Stockport, Marty Ewers was driving up from Exeter at 4am (crazy fool). There would be a big group. Some of which met up at the start. Remind me to tell you about the start later.
Oh yeah, the weather…
Manchester la-la-la. I had never really wanted to go. Much like Liverpool, where I finally visited to run the Rock and Roll last year, I had no need to go. I do not care about United or City. The music is good. But really I needed a race to get me there. But from the start, I kinda wished I hadn’t.
When I arrived it was hailing so hard that everyone was looking up at the roof of Manchester Piccadilly station. This soon subsided and was replaced with torrential rain. Yay! On the day of the race it started so coldly that cars were frosted over and wouldn’t start. And by the end of the race it was so sunny that we were all sunburnt, red faced frazzles.
Remember that Extreme Weather machine Ming has in Flash Gordon? I wonder if the merciless one was working his mischievous magic on the North West.
The route map is here. From what I remember of the route it was mostly residential. There were a few out and backs. At times I had deja-vu for other races. But maybe I have just run so many now they all blend into one. There is always a long stretch near farmland that then turns right down a hill and under a road bridge on the outskirts. It wasn’t massively pretty and it was very suburban. That is all I remember.
Okay, before we light the bitching lamp, let’s get to the good.
- The meetups were wonderful. We had a Frankine and Benny’s pasta meetup the day before in town. And then a cake and beer meetup afterwards at a local pub. Both were great and it was so wonderful to meet so many of the crowd for the first time.
- When they, being the organisers, realised it was actually sunny on the day they were giving sunglasses out. Nice touch.
- Support was great from the locals. Even though at times they were a little enthusiastic and actually narrowed the run route, bottle necking somewhere where we didn’t need bottlenecks. Although this was down to poor marshaling.
- The ice cold Erdinger Alkoholfrei at the end. Oh my god! After 4 hours of water and Jelly Babies I needed to taste something else. The beer was superb!
- The bling. It is massive and it feels and looks like a proper marathon medal.
- The goodie bag. Nice t-shirt, pasta, jerky, popcorn, cereal bar, fruit thingies, and sweets. Not bad, given some of the crap, if anything, I have seen handed out lately.
- Race tee. The t-shirt is great. I love it.
The Bag… I mean, the Bad
There was some bad. For me it came down to the basics. As a runner I want to finish a race, go over line, get medal, water, banana, go get bag, get on a dry t-shirt and then go meet family. And these fundamental things went wrong.
- The start. We had waves A thru F I think and, being good little runners we stood at the start in our waves. There was some noise in the distance at the start line but we couldn’t hear it and there were no marshals around. It was odd as normally waves and pens are so regimented that you are cattle. This time we were more “free range”. In the end there were such gaps in the waves that we all walked forward to C from F to join what was the start of the race.
- If there was a warm up we missed it.
- Support from the locals, as I said earlier in the good bit, was great. But they did kind of encroach. There were parts of they race they had moved onto the road and even created gauntlets to run. This created bottle necks when there shouldn’t have been.
- About encroaching. In my opinion the race village should be for runners and only runners. At the start when dropping bags off there were thousands of family members dragging children about and pushing strollers, when all the runners want to do is drop of the bags, have a wee and head to the start. I do get you want to see your loved ones etc, but maybe outside of the race village made more sense?
- This was more of a problem at the end when the aforementioned bottle necking meant that as we finished we were faced with thousands, perhaps the same thousands from before, in your way looking for their family member. You had to spend 10 mins navigating the crowd before you could get down to the business of queuing for over 2 hours for your bag. Yes, once the herd had been survived, your next task was to join the end of a queue so long it started pretty much at the finish line.
- What had happened was simple. Not enough people, not enough thought and for some reason putting bags for runners 1 to 10999 in one big room, and then the remaining 2000 outside. I was lucky enough to be one of those who just strolled outside and got my bag, but only when a kindly Irish guy (I will send some potatoes later) pointed out I could just go and get it. If I had been waiting over 2 hours after the marathon this would have been a far FAR FAR worse rant. I heard they offered to post people’s bags back to them “sometime in the next week.” But what if you had car keys, wallets, purses, phones etc in the bag? The bag drop, sadly, will be the lasting memory for a lot of people about the race. It happened before too. They did issue an apology and we should all move on. It even made the news.
- If I ever see another fucking Jelly Baby I will scream. Honestly I feel like I just crapped out a human sized Jelly Baby. And my point here is that we need variation. The reason the Erdinger Alkoholfrei tasted so good was it was something new to taste. A lot of the big races mix it up. You would get water on some tables and Lucozade on others. In Berlin you had some weird hot tea nearer the end. I think it was apple. You also just had SIS gels. So SIS gels and water. You needed oranges, bananas and apples cut up. Anything to break up the constant water, gel, JB, water, gel, JB that really played with my guts. I feel like I gave birth to a 2 pound jelly baby today.
It is not like these things cannot get fixed. They just need to get fixed, esp start, the bag drop and the race village. I would recommend something as simple as that. Close off the race village, change bag drop format, and mix up the water tables and voila. Everyone’s happy.
How I did?
Without training for this I chalked up a couple of halves, and fast tens leading into Manchester and it became quite obvious that a nice comfy half is my normal level of fitness. The first 10K was only a couple of minutes short of my PB, the half I had stopped for water a couple of time as my Camelbak water tasted like sucking on a bilge rat but still it was a pretty normal time for the distance for me. Then came the issue with not training.
I was fueled alright but at half way I started to feel a little weaker. I dropped to a 5:1 run/walk strategy using music to queue the changes. But this only lasted to about 35K when I needed to slow down more and moved to a 3:1 run/walk strategy, meaning I was spending more time walking in the baking sun.
This was not something I am proud of, let me tell you, but it opened my eyes to options and possibilities. And I think the fast walking 16 bridges training is helping with the walking section. As I was fast walking not just ambling along.
So how did I really do?
Berlin with a lot of training 4:38:54
Manchester and minimal training 4:34:16
And happy to have finished…
I love it. It is really a great medal. Huge and weighty. I race a lot and get a lot of bling. THIS feels like a marathon medal.
I will take so many positives from this weekend. I met some amazing community members. I got a PB. I worked out what does work and what doesn’t in my training. I worked out fueling. I was fortunate enough to stay in a comfy hotel that had a great friendly restaurant onsite for my FEB (Full English Breakfast) the next day and I am absolutely glad I went.
Would I recommend the Manchester Marathon? You know, there is a lot to be said about your gut reaction. If I was asked would I recommend it? You know, bad things aside as they could get fixed, I would say maybe.
Would I run it again? No. But not because of the bad things that went wrong, but because there simply are so many races out there that are run better.
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