I want to preface this post by saying that despite the many, many issues that people have had with this race, I a) thankfully didn’t use the baggage drop and b) wasn’t racing competitively. I was just happy to get it over and done with!!
It’s been nearly 2 weeks now since I joined 10,000 other certifiably insane people in running 26.2 miles through the streets of Trafford, Altrincham and Sale. I’ve started writing this post at least three times and think the best way to go is just hit post on one of my drafts, before I forget it altogether. So here you go…
I did it! My first marathon is done and dusted and I can hang my medal up with pride. Months of training, planning, travelling and worrying all came to an end on Sunday, when I joined 10,000 others in pounding the streets of Trafford, Sale and Altrincham. It was my first marathon, and almost definitely my last. Almost.
We stayed the night before at the Malmaison in the city centre, and after a quick breakfast of instant porridge and peanut butter, hopped on the tram down to Emirates Old Trafford (not to be confused with Old Trafford itself- why on earth do they have the same name?!) at 8am. Thank goodness we got on there, as the tram quickly filled up and hundreds were left waiting on the platforms for the next and I don’t think I could have dealt with that additional stress! There was a 2-4-1 offer for runners and spectators too which meant that for £5 both of us could travel all day. Arriving at the race village things were pretty chaotic and busy as per usual at a race this size, and we milled around for 15 minutes or so while I ate a banana and contemplated queuing for the toilets. Thankfully, a steward shouted that there were more toilets near the start, so as it was already only 20 minutes to go and the start line was supposedly 10 minutes away, we started heading up there.
There was a line of portaloos along the side of the road with again, more queues, so I got in-line while P joined a different queue (for a bacon bap, how rude). I know they are unavoidable, but when you’re desperate and nervous about missing the start, seeing spectators using the few toilets is very annoying!
Eventually I got in and out and carried on a little further up Chester Road to where everyone with a pink race number (the back corral) was gathered. I positioned myself close to the 5 hour pacer but there were no pens or fences or anything to divide the corrals, and unless I missed it, no start gun! We just started moving forwards, then slowly jogging, and then we were over the timing mat and away.
The first 5 miles was a series of long out and backs, which I like at the early stages of a race because seeing the much (much!) faster runners on the other side of the road is quite distracting, if not motivating. This was also the part of the route I was most familiar with, and jogging down Trafford Wharf Road alongside the canal made me quite emotional with flashbacks of quite literally dragging myself around that same route in 2012, when running ¼ mile non-stop was an achievement and I was carrying an extra 20lbs around my middle. At around mile 3 I caught up with a friend and it was really great to run together for a while. The crowd support here was fantastic and really busy; even less than 10km in it was a real boost to see my fiance and friends at the side of the road!
At mile 6 I stopped to use the portaloos and lost my running buddy, so from then on I was on my own. This first half we went through Sale to the halfway point in Altrincham, where my parents were waiting (thankfully with a whistle, otherwise there was no chance of me seeing them)
I hit ~the wall~ big time after this and miles 14-17 were a real drag. This was another out and back section where we made our way back out of Altrincham and out to Urmston. My pace had been pretty decent and I completed the first half in a solidly average time, which boded well for my 5 hour goal.
However I was feeling it in my legs and struggling to focus, so while I kept moving, I slowed down. Right down. The streets were still full of spectators though who were great; highlights included a rock choir, endless kids giving out jelly babies and high-5s and the residents of a nursing home who had been wheeled out in their chairs and were cheering us on while wrapped in big blankets!
Miles 22-25 were another real struggle point. Even though I knew that I had, at worst, only another 40 minutes to go, everything started to stop working. I even had a sit down on the kerb for a minute (pretending to stretch, obv) and felt sorry for myself before realising that actually, if the man running with a terminal cancer diagnosis could carry on (I was behind him for a good long time), then I jolly well could too.
Around about mile 25 my garmin beeped with low battery – arg! To avoid losing the entire run, I stopped it at 25.75 miles, when the finish line was in site and I knew I could have a strong finish. It’s amazing how adrenaline (or sheer desperation) kicks in and I finished that last mile with a pace almost equal to the first. Paul was in the crowd just before the finish line, and I could hear my parents shouting as I crossed over. I managed a pathetic arm raise that the photographer thankfully (?) captured, before once again entering the race village, this time as an official marathoner.
A few sobs slipped out as the weighty medal was placed around my neck and I grabbed my free pint of Erdinger, isotonic and good for recovery apparently, and who am I to argue with facts?
My goal time went completely out the window but my actual finish time was not so far off what the pace calculators projected. I see now why people run this distance time after time; surely I can do better next time…!
The crowd support and atmosphere
Water and gel stations – lots of them (too many?) and gels are disgusting but good to have there
Nice weighty medal and a technical t shirt that actually fits
A pint of Erdinger (alcohol free, but that’s probably for the best)
Metro stop right outside Emirates Old Trafford – public transport can be dodgy at best but all credit to the Metrolink, I have no complaints!
Unclear start – maybe I missed it but I like a definite countdown and 3,2,1 GO!
Race village – way too small for the amount of people and not much there. I was desperate for a massage but dread to think how long I could have been queuing for
Route – lots of residential streets which is good for crowd support but a bit monotonous
Relays – there was a 4 leg and a 2 leg which meant I was constantly being overtaken
Toilets – after the 10km point I didn’t see any on the route, but did see plenty of men taking advantage of trees, bushes, fences…