A couple of weekends ago I made the journey up to Manchester to visit my brother and for the two of us to compete in the Manchester marathon. For both of us it was our first road marathon.
The idea started around the beginning of the year where during a conversation with my brother he dropped into it that he thought we should do a marathon and more to the point the Manchester one. We checked it out and entered that evening. A few months later and no specific training other than my usual training of a bit of everything and his rugby training as a hooker, in the forwards, and we were standing in the queue waiting to pick our race numbers up. This in itself turned out a bit of a challenge as we joked about forgetting our running numbers having only just looking at them before realising that neither of us could remember them. Back to the start of registration all over again. We managed to make it out of there with all our documents and freebies which included everything from a liquid iron supplement, a razor and the all important finishers t-shirt (despite the fact that we hadn’t actually done it yet).
The following morning saw us being woken to the alarm, far too early for a Sunday morning. A quick check out the window confirmed to both of us that as usual when the two of us do an event together the weather is guaranteed to be awful. Raining and windy. Trudging out the house the rain changed to hail forcing us to pull our hoodies tight over our heads. After a quick tram ride packed with other runners we arrived at the finisher area to drop kit off, supposedly join in with a warm up before heading to the start line. This plan quickly changed to huddling in one of the tents with a number of other competitors trying to stay warm. The start time loomed and it was time for the dreaded strip off into running kit time. It was certainly a day for hats, gloves, waterproofs and any other apparel you wished to have to stay warm. And certainly not the sort of weather for the shorts and t-shirt that my brother and I were kitted out in. Trundling to the start line was a cold and bitter experience. Reaching the start area we were surrounded by the other 8000 participants, minus those who on the day thought better of it, waiting for the gun to go. It was an amazing experience being surrounded by so many people certainly creates an atmosphere. Very different to the races that I have mainly done with maybe 100 to 150 people in them. There was a real sense of anticipation and as the gun went gloves, jumpers and space blankets were thrown off in all directions as the race got under way.
The route consisted of 2 loops a small one that went right by where my brother is living before heading almost back to where we started before heading out of Manchester on a much larger loop.
We got into a good easy rhyme right from the off and had a good chat while we were jogging whilst taking in the sights of Manchester that neither of us had seen before, mainly the industrial estate near old trafford and smells which neither of us had smelt before such as outside the Kelloggs factory. I’m still not sure whether it was a good or bad one. The crowds were still out in their masses even though the conditions had begun to deteriorate; clapping, drumming, passing on messages and shouting out words of support. It was a fantastic atmosphere that continued to surprise my brother and I on our way round.
After passing so close to the start it was time for the larger loop, the first 10 miles had gone well and we were doing well time wise too. But conditions had really start to deteriorate the wind had picked up and the rain set in. We looked like drenched rats.
The course is one of the flattest I have done but with a couple of lumps thrown in there just to keep your legs and mind guessing. However the route was to take us out towards Dunham Park where we had learnt to roller blade years ago and out into the sticks. It was at this stage that the weather felt like it was really deteriorating and conversation slowed as we shut down everything with the only aim of moving to stay warm. It felt like gale force winds, fine with it behind you but incredibly unhelpful if it is blowing in your face, coupled that with the driving rain and our teeth were soon chattering. I’m sure in the sunshine the course would have been very beautiful and the country paths a joy to run down with miles of traffic less asphalt. But instead they were a mine field of mud and puddles to keep you on your toes.
We continued on and at the checkpoints, which they had every few miles, we began to stop for the goodies they had. I have to say though the chocolate energy gel was pretty horrible but some stuff that looked and tasted just like jelly from the packet was a real pick me up. Think they are called shot bloks.
The route started making its way back into town and with this came more cars, clearly irritated by the congestion caused by the runners, which were driving all over the course. It was also here that the mile markers really didn’t help motivate you to the end. I can understand why there is “The wall” in marathons because you can see exactly how far you have left and you end up mile counting. I’m more used to the finish coming as a welcome surprise round the corner where you just have to continue till you cross it but instead you start thinking only 8 miles left, 7, 6 …. It just makes it seem to go on forever.
The last few miles began to feel like they were going quicker, and each large gathering of people brought on a momentary burst in pace. The weather had finally turned and it was dry. We began to dry out in the brisk breeze and certainly felt warmer already.
All that was left was the final “sprint” to the finish, with crowds, photographers, cameramen and runners wrapped in space blankets it was a great atmosphere to finish in and certainly help spur us on. We crossed the finish line together with smiles all round, before getting the all important finishers medal.
Overall despite the weather it was a great experience and one which I am sure my brother will always remember too. If you are not sure which marathon to do next or fancy a challenge I would definitely recommend it.