Race Report: Greater Manchester Marathon

At 8:56 on Sunday morning, I was sprinting up a duel carriageway with my friend Liz to get to the start of the Greater Manchester Marathon. We joked that in a few hours we’d have technically run an ultra by the time we added on this ‘warm-up’ mile.

We got into the start pen, wished each other good luck then I pushed myself forwards through the crowd. Suddenly a gun sounded and the crowd surged forward, we were underway already.

We crossed a timing mat and I asked the guy next to me: “Is this the start?” there being none of the usual giveaways like a massive banner saying ‘Start’. I was running a marathon before I’d even realised it. The nerves that I’d been feeling for the previous two days had gone, all that was left to do was run.

On the Friday night news had broken on twitter that the London Marathon would be changing the qualification times for Good For Age entry. But there was no indication which categories would change and what the new times might be.

I’ve been chasing a GFA time for London for the best part of a year. It didn’t happen in Venice where I was aiming for last year’s standard of 3:50, Manchester was to be my next shot. But with the times up in the air, I didn’t know what I should be aiming for.

When training started back in January the target I had in my mind was 3:45. But as the training sessions were ticked off I started to dream even bigger. Injury in the shape of plantar fasciitisΒ and other setbacks made me rethink my goal again. Until the morning of the marathon my race plan was up in the air. But on Sunday morning I taped a 3:40 pace band on my wrist and hoped that I could hold it together for 26.2 miles.

In the first few miles people were rushing past me with ‘3:45 pace group’ on their back. The temptation to go with them while my legs felt good was strong but the plan was to run two relaxed miles then try and hold 3:40 pace. Β It takes an iron will and confidence in your plan to hold your pace for 26 miles. Stubbornness works too and luckily I have buckets of that.

During the first 15 miles there were 3-4 out and back sections. I used to hate an out and back but I’ve come to love them. They help give you a sense of the whole race, not just the few meters in front of you. I was able to see the lead runners hammering it in the opposite direction and look out for friends who were running too for high fives and waves. One of the highlights of the race was seeing Katie headed in the opposite direction and her shouting out “Laura, you’re going to win”.

Mile 11 arrived before I even realised. I looked down at my pace surprised at how far we’d already come. I was feeling pretty good. By mile 13 I thought I might throw-up or worse. If my A goal had been 3:40 and my B goal was sub 3:50, goal C was very much ‘Don’t shit your pants’. Now all three goals looked doubtful.

As we passed half way a Marshall shouted: “You’re on your way home now”. It made me smile long enough to forget what was going on in my stomach and the miles ticked by without any emergency toilet stops.

Around mile 18-19 I started to tire and just wanted to see the 20 mile mark and know that I just had a 10k left. As we’d run over the chip timing mat at the first 10k marker I had looked down at my watch and realised it had taken me less time to cover than it had taken to do my first three 10k races five years ago. Running hasn’t come easy to me but I’ve persevered. What was once my 10k pace was now marathon pace.

We hit mile 20 and the race began to get harder. Legs were tired, mind was weary and the miles were long. But the crowd support throughout the whole race had been great and as we headed through the final miles it got even better. For much of the race I was surrounded by male runners which would draw cheers of ‘Go on lady, do it for the girls’ and such likes from women in the crowd. Each time this would spur me on.

Grinning post-race

Grinning post-race

As the final miles took their toll on my legs I told myself that this was exactly where I wanted to be at this point of the race – tired but not exhausted. My foot was feeling good, I was still holding pace, we could do this.

Old Trafford stadium marking the finish line came into view with about two miles left to go. I’d stopped looking at my watch around mile 22 and was running on feel. As we turned the last corner and saw the finish line ahead of us the crowd were deafening. The clock said 3:39. I hurled myself down the last 60m as my dad shouted out from the crowd, I put my hand over my heart for those in Boston and crossed the line.

I stopped my watch on 3:38:12. I was ecstatic. I didn’t care what London Marathon would say, I was happy with my performance. It turns out they agree though: my category was lowered to 3:45 meaning I secured my GFA status. It seems the promise I made my legs at mile 21 that they wouldn’t have to do this again was a lie.