Race Review – Manchester Marathon 2021

Much like most of my cobbled together race calendar of 2021, a mishmash of postponements and deferrals from 2020 and last minute impulse sign-ups, Manchester Marathon was not in the running at the start of the year.  But with Chicago and New York being removed a second time due to COVID travel restrictions, Erdogan not bothering to vaccinate the Turks and me wanting to right a few wrongs, I took a charity place a week after Loch Ness and a fortnight after Tring Ultra.

I was raising a relatively small amount (£300) for the ABF the Army Benevolent Fund or the Soldier’s Charity as it is known and I ran on behalf of my late grandfather William of the East Kent regiment, the Buffs. Here he is in the middle looking great.

Like I said, I had some demons to put to bed. Loch Ness, despite being downhill for a chunk and my first road marathon for 2 years, so at least on a good surface, was now officially my slowest road marathon EVER! Sure, it was my fastest time of the year, but all the other races were trail, and ultras. I was determined that Manchester would be different. It would be flat (tick), it wouldn’t be cold, rainy or windy (tick), I would be staying 900m from the start (tick) and my scheduled start time was 11-11.30 (double tick) so I would be rested and fuelled. Surely I would be smashing the Loch Ness time and at the back of my head was looking at the best time for 30 months, better than the road races at Madrid or Hannover. How little did I know.

The race starts and finishes by Old Trafford, the cricket stadium not the football stadium, although they are next to each other. The half was going on beforehand and there were separate bag drops in the race village. When I ran this in 2016, for what fast became and stills remains my PB, the race village was a clusterfuck of wives, kids, grandparents and dogs on string getting in the way. It was now for the runners only and it was easy to drop the bag and chill out listening to a musician belting out Johnny Cash, the Killers and, of course, Oasis.

We relaxed, sunning ourselves, waiting for the call to the start line that eventually came, prompting me to get up, dump my throwaway hoodie and head over. And this bit, the waiting around, dragged on. There were coloured waves and, within in each wave, a lettered wave. White, red, pink, blue, A, B, C. As I was a charity runner I was in the pink wave, band C. I prepped. I wore the charity vest but, with years of experience of charity vests, I knew it would chafe. So I wore a short sleeved Under Armour t-shirt under it. My race belt from Loch Ness was reused but without the gels. They scratched at the skin and, as the race was partnered with SIS anyway, there would be gels throughout the course. Just Tropical flavours. Bleugh. I popped in my earphones to test them and ahhhhhhhhhhh! “Battery 10%” 10%! What the Hell happened? They were plugged in all night. Damned prison cell!

Ah yes, top of my shit list, well second to the cheats who cut the course, was the IBIS Budget Hotel in Salford Quays. As the race was a late entry into the calendar I had originally booked a decent(ish) hotel a cab ride from the race. But with a local transport strike scheduled for the day, and not knowing Manchester, I needed to find something within walking distance. Last time I stayed at the Copthorne hotel, literally opposite the IBIS. But it was fully booked, so I chose the IBIS and it was a mistake. The IBIS is ordinarily £34 a night. But they were profiteering and charging £207 for the night, for a prison cell, with no kettle, the sink in the room, and a bunk bed. Shameful. It did mean I could leave the hotel at nearer to 10am rather than 6.45 at Loch Ness, but still. £207! Suffice to say my Booking.com review isn’t great reading for them.

The Race

The start was delayed. Although we didn’t know this. It was on social media and I was gifted the information second hand via a Whatsapp group. The tracking app didn’t work at all, which was highly annoying as I ballsed up my timing again. I tend to do this a lot. I start with my intervals loaded in, for this one it was what I thought was 42KM of run/walk. However, as I had switched from 800m run/200m walk to 7 min run/1 min walk the whole thing was off, especially when on a toilet break, or at a water table. So I stopped my watch some point into the race and started again, at the next mile marker. That was a problem, as my watch is in KMs. It just wasn’t working for me as I tried and tried but found my body had had enough over the last fortnight. 3 marathons and above in 15 days was not ideal for a 48 year old. And now I felt 98.

Old man, coming by

I knew Rachel Vernon was at half way with Josh, Garry and his brood so I pushed on. The Adidas Ultraboost were ok, not brilliant but if I had worn the Alphafly I would have ended up in intensive care. Oh yeah, the medical support. It may just be me but on races at first aid tents I had seen, in many countries at many races, Vaseline, Deep Heat, Biofreeze, you know, running related first aid. It was swelteringly hot and the Under Armour was too much so I stopped in a portaloo and binned it and my hat and felt instantly cooler. Unfortunately within a mile the charity vest started to sandpaper off my nipples. It was not good, so I went up to a medic and marshal and asked if they had Vaseline. The medic looked at me like I’d just landed on the planet, and the marshal laughed out loud. Out loud. He could see I was not amused and told me to check with the next first aid tent a mile or two down the road. At this tent, now one nipple down and the other hanging on by skin and hair, I asked the same question of the medics therein. No response. Then one EMT got out her personal lip balm, squeezed a mass of it over two of my fingers and from then on my nipples felt comfortable, and smelled of coconut.

Hmm coconutty

I hit halfway ahead of my Loch Ness time (tick) but was flagging when I saw Garry and Rachel. Smiled, moaned, and posed for a selfie.

I then kept going, feeling a bit ropey if I am honest, nauseous and dizzy at times. I started taking gels at the water tables. Tropical. Bleugh! And then came the cheating. There was this long there and back, I know I know, most of the course is a there and back, it was Altringham or something like that. You are on a dual carriageway on the right, there are people coming back the other way on the left. The route I was about to embark on would take me into a high street, up, through encroaching crowds, right, and a climb, right again and more of a climb, then a left descent back to the crowds and then finally back up the dual carriageway. At the start of the dual carriageway was a set of toilet in the middle, the island between us going one way and them going the other. The toilets were shared by both sides. I saw people sneak into the loos, and some not even bother with the loos, and just cut over onto the other side, missing out what was probably 4-5KM of the course. Given how sick I was now feeling, and totally deflated with my performance and fitness levels, I was not impressed.

But then I saw Matt and Mini-me and was glad to stop and chat with them, inquire about Matt’s wife Jenni who was running her first marathon, posed for another selfie, and then headed out yet again. This was not going to be pretty.

There was  this guy, six 3 maybe, thin, orange t-shirt, Vaporfly. They looked brand new and he was having a tough time. Every so often I would see him on the side of the road, shoes off, relacing them or loosening them. He’d put them back on and then limp back onto the course. I couldn’t help but think if I had done the same with my Alphafly I would be crippled. The Adidas were therefore a better choice, but now I had dropped to a march because of the nausea, and my knees were starting to feel crunchy.

I knew I was on for a bad time. And it started to bring me down. I have had a slow year timewise, and needed to pull this one out of the bag. Alas no. Without knowing the time we set off, as the start was delayed by an unspecified amount of time, and with me having turned my watch off now, after attempting intervals based on time and then distance, I had no clue. It brought me down even more.

All I could do was keep plodding. I knew plenty out there would be getting PBs. I knew plenty who would DNF as the ambulances were getting busy, and the medics were all over the place seeing to people flat out on the side of the road.  It made me question Portsmouth Coastal (which I have now cancelled), Beachy and Portland. Basically, if I can’t run Beachy in the time I need to run Portland, then I should reconsider running it. It saddens me but that is the stark reality when Portland has a tight cut off.

Manchester had a cut off too, officially, but there wasn’t much of a doubt that I would come in under it, especially when a mile or so out when I just raised my chin and went for it…

Much like Loch Ness I hammered the final mile, overtaking loads of people, getting a decent set of photos that, for all intents and purposes, look like I ran the whole thing. I recall being upset when I ran Athens the second time and running it slower, same with Serpent Trail, same with Tring. But here, I was never going to beat my 2016 time. It is still my PB. What I wasn’t expecting was to finish with the slowest road marathon time I have run, even slower (albeit by 20 seconds) than Loch Ness. Shame on me.

Glad I finished.

Just not very proud of myself.

In Summary

It was what it was. A shambles. People will say that they loved it. Their experience would have been different to mine. Not that I hated it, if I had come in an hour faster, not even, 23 minutes faster, then I would have been happy. Fuck! Faster than Loch Ness and I would have been happy. But I am suffering from cumulative fatigue. 3 races in 15 days when not trained, when overweight and under prepared is not a good idea. I don’t want to feel like this going forward and need to be smarter about race calendar congestion, and better at training. It wasn’t a wake up call per se, as I have been gas lighting myself for years about my ability to get through races, but it had humbled me and I shall take it all a lot more seriously going forward.

Would I recommend the Manchester marathon ? They did keep going on about how it was the UKs second biggest marathon. So why not?

Would I run the Manchester marathon again? Already signed up for with Jen, and Matt too, who is threatening to pace me around.

Scores on the Doors

Some people loved it. I was not a fan.

Next Up: Beachy Head

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