Martin MacDonald took on this years Manchester Marathon, this is how he got on:
Last year I followed a few friends in their training for the London and Manchester marathons. It’s been a long time since I ran over 15 miles. I’ve never claimed to be anything other than mediocre in the running world. I did wonder though; I could I still do it?
I’ve always been a believer that entering a race is the best form of motivation. You’ll never do anything if you subscribe to the mantra of, “I’ll see how far I can get, then I’ll enter”. Entering an event when you are so unready, focuses the mind on what you need to do.
Once the entry confirmation to the Manchester Marathon 2016 had hit my inbox in December, it was time to knuckle down. I’d kept myself half marathon ready for the 2nd half of 2015, so I wasn’t starting a fresh. This wasn’t going to be my first marathon; I knew what was expected.
From January until March the distances increased to 18 miles. I competed in the Parbold Hill Duathlon to keep my discipline. I also used various virtual events (more on these another time) as motivational stepping-stones. Having something to focus on, even through training, certainly helps on those cold dark morning. There’s nothing worse than a little voice at the back of the mind that says “Do we really need to go out today? We could always just skip this session”. All was going well, until a massive sinus infection tried to remove my face. So bad, at one point I abandoned a run 20 meters into it. It was right at the apex of my training plan. The 20-24-mile-long runs. 3 weeks of training lost. I went from sub 4 hour times to “let’s just complete it”. My running maths dictates, if you can run a half marathon, you can run 15 miles. If you can run 15 miles, you can run 18 miles. If you can run 18 miles, you can complete a marathon. I’d done 18 twice in the training plan, so I knew that was at minimum requirement.
Race day came. I’d spent a week eating everything I could get my hands on. I was under trained and over-anxious. At this stage, what could I do? Drop out? Not start? Not while there was breath in my lungs! I figured I’d keep to the game plan and run comfortably, keep a reserve in the tank for the last 6 and I should come in around the 4:30 mark. I had bags of jelly babies strapped about my person and gels hanging off me. Through trial and a lot of error, I’ve found that zinc oxide tape is the best protection for the more sensitive areas of the chest. Fully strapped, there was no going back.
The first 10 miles passed without incident (an emergency wee at mile 3 was the highlight). Fuelling was going to plan and pace was fine. Halfway passed at 2:10, slow for my half, but still on pace for a 4:30 finish. Now, if you’ve never run a marathon before you’d be forgiven for thinking “it’s just 2 half marathons”. It’s not. It’s more like a 6 mile run with a 20 mile warm up. As a rough rule of thumb, your body can hold enough fuel to run for approximately 3.5 hours or 20 miles. Well before this time you fuel in the form of gels, sports drinks, or as I prefer, as many jelly babies’ as you can eat. Drink before you’re thirsty and eat before you’re hungry. This helps the body switch from aerobic respiration to anaerobic respiration. This is when your body changes how it gets its energy. Moving from converting food sources and oxygen to energy, to breaking down cells in the body to obtain energy. Its easier for girls as they need to do this quickly for child birth. For the boys, it’s this point that you run the risk of hitting “the wall” if your body can’t make the switch efficiently. So the rule is, keep fuelling your body. That’s GCSE biology/PE lesson over, back to the race. If you’ve ever had energy gels, you will know there are an acquired taste. I find after the 5th or 6th one the novelty wears off. Accepting sweets from strangers is never going to be a novelty, but as I’d demolished/lost all of mine, things were desperate.
15 miles in, I started to ask myself why I hadn’t started training sooner. 18 miles in, things were getting serious. No injuries, but a serious lack of energy. Every step was a struggle. It felt like running through quicksand. I’d slowed down a bit, but didn’t want to push things too much, as the main goal was to complete. I hit the 20-mile point at 3:15 ish. Still within the threshold of a 4:30 finish time. Now psychologically, you might be thinking at this point, “its 20 miles, you’ve nearly finished!!” well, the reality was that I still had another 10k to go. That’s approximately an hour at the pace I was going. That, in my book, was not nearly finished at all. It became apparent at this point, just how important training over 20 miles is for me. I’m no longer a spritely lad of 19. From 22 to 24 miles was the most pain I’ve ever been in running. The burning on the bottom of the feet, the pain in the rib cage from deep breathing for hours on end, the shoulders from the constant pounding, even the eyes… My legs were fine; they just wouldn’t work. The magic 25-mile marker passed.
The last mile of an event, is the best mile. Be it a 10k, duathlon, a half marathon or in this case the full. The crowd support was truly electrifying. I forgot everything and just legged it to the line. The last 200 meters of the route was several deep in people lining the side. I couldn’t hear a thing. People screaming your name (it’s on the bottom of the number) and you float over the line on their willpower alone. It was the best finish experience I’d ever had.
Over the line in 4:37 for 26.2 miles. Yes it was measured correctly this year. Not what I had set out to do when I’d entered back in December. Being a runner, there are certain unspoken milestones. The 2-hour half marathon, the hour 10k etc. The big one is the 4-hour marathon. I have times well below these markers in the shorter distances, but the full marathon will have to wait until another day. The medal is quite a piece of tin and it is my proudest one so far. It’s showed me that I’m probably not going to get that call up to Team GB for the 400m in Rio, but there’s no retirement in sight yet.
The support round the entire route was phenomenal. The route runs through various towns and villages, all the local people poured onto the streets. It was like the Pyrenees in the Tour De France at some stages, with runners getting squashed into single file by the crowd! It seemed at times that the whole area was watching and cheering.
I found my support crew in the melee after the finish. I was so pleased to see them, as I knew I defiantly had actually finished. I managed to hang onto the most of the contents of the goody bag from the smaller members of the crew (pictured: ever supporting wife, niece and my son and heir).
I heard a perfect line from an interview with Eddie Izzard while he was doing his 27 marathons. He said “I do like running, but I like stopping more”. That sums up how I feel. Over the years, I’ve clocked thousands of miles. For me, the best part of a race isn’t the start, it’s not the middle or the last quarter. It’s certainly not the training beforehand. It’s that little line on the ground, right at the end that says “you can stop now”.