After a few days to rest and recover, Dave has been able to put together a full report on his heroics in Manchester at the weekend:
The Greater Manchester marathon will certainly live long in my memory!
We had been keeping a close eye on the weather forecast all week, with strong winds and heavy rain forecast for Sunday, and rather pleasant conditions for the days either side. Given the forecasters track record, and inspired by a comment on the BBC to “watch this space”, I remained optimistic that the weather front would come through early, be delayed, or just deviate around Manchester. My worst suspicions were confirmed, however, when we pulled up at Sally’s house at 7.00 to be greeted by the first drops of rain; exactly on cue!
Sally’s friends from Trafford soon arrived and there was some discussion about what we should be wearing. Having been coached in the Eccles and Waddington cross country school over the winter months, there was no decision to be made – vest and shorts were the order of the day, with the concession of a pair of “Magic” gloves. Sally was similarly adopting a minimalistic approach and so there was no way I was being shown up by a girl. Jayne meanwhile was kitting up for her duty on the bike as my mobile feeding station.
We left in plenty of time to walk the mile and a half to the “Race Village” and arrived to a scene which had a tinge of Glastonbury about it; mud, rain, people in wellies! Everyone was loathe to get changed until the last minute which resulted in the now well reported chaos of the baggage drop; literally in this case! I abandoned Jayne with my bag and trudged to the start line in my Wigan MBC bin bag. A quick “relief” in direct contravention to the instruction not to use a “handy bush or tree” (only a non-runner could come up with that rule!), and I was climbing over the barriers to line-up with the sub-3 hour crowd. Another ominous sign was that Sean McMyler (who runs all year round in shorts) was wearing a tee-shirt over his vest and thought that he might keep it on for the first few miles. Everywhere I looked people were shivering and their teeth chattering. This really was worse than the cross country in Barrow!
Now everyone has a pre-race strategy and I’m no different. I’d spent weeks saying that I was going to aim for 7 min miling. Then a few days earlier I noticed that there was going to be a 3 hour pacer, and I thought it might be an idea to hang on to him for as long as I could. This was seeming an even better bet now that the wind was gusting, since I could tuck in with the crowd. The 3 hour man was identifiable with a huge sail on his back – how on earth was he going to run with that in these winds? A few words from Ron and Darren and we’re off. I cross the line, set my Garmin going, check my pace for a few hundred yards and look up to see the man with the sail disappearing into the distance. Well there goes that plan! Undaunted, I settled into a nice steady 6.50 pace with a small group of runners.
Old Trafford soon came and went, then we had a strange “about turn” around a cone and headed out of the industrial area and into the waiting crowds. I must say straightaway that the support around the course on that day was the best I have ever seen. People stood in the wind, rain and cold for hours on end and cheered the runners on. It was in these first few miles when I heard a father remark to his children that “These are the fast runners coming by”. And yes, he meant us – talk about a confidence builder!
I had taken a couple of gels with me in one of those annoying gel belts, and was now looking for Jayne so that I could get rid of the thing and get my next gel. One blessing of the cold weather was that those “Tropical” gels which generally taste like wallpaper paste when warm, were actually quite palatable; or had I lost it already? A couple of false sightings (one an old man on a road bike who I had vigorously waved to from a hundred yards away), and then Jayne appeared on her faithful Trek with another tropical delight. “How’s it going?”. “Fine, just taking it easy”, I answer for the benefit of any runners who might be listening for signs of weakness.
The first half of the course breezed by. Water stations, crowds, rain, a nasty little hill or two and then I’m over the timing mat in a highly satisfactory split of 1:29:45. This is where the fun really started. Fortunately, my study of the anticipated weather conditions had prepared me for turning into the rather strong winds, and I wasn’t disappointed.
A deviation into Dunham Massey saw the race take on a multi-terrain feel as we initially picked our way round puddles, only to abandon this strategy and run straight through them, cross country style. Being in the first couple of hundred runners this part of the course hadn’t yet degenerated into the quagmire that it was to later become. Out on the road again, another gel form Jayne and head down up to Partington.
By now the field had thinned out and the few of us who were together were trying to shelter behind the others. What would have been a lovely stretch of countryside running in warm spring sunshine became a fairly lonesome battle, and by now I had totally lost all feeling in my hands. One of the advantages of having your name printed on your race number is that you get lots of encouragement from the crowds. Unfortunately, you get used to people shouting your name and miss seeing people who you actually know. This almost happened as I was approaching the Rope and Anchor feed station. A couple looking remarkably like Dave Waddington and Jacqui Jones, and someone unmistakably sounding like Julie Platt were handing out gels! Despite shouting my name, I didn’t realise who it was until I was nearly upon them. What a welcome boost their encouragement gave me though. Up the road and more familiar faces in Mark Rogers and Kev Edwards who frightened the living daylights out of me as he leapt from under a tree at the side of the road.
With 18 miles done and the worst of the weather still to come, you could see the race start to take its toll. I wasn’t going great but I passed runner after runner. Some had already resorted to walking, others were going at little more than a jog. I brought to mind a pre-race text that I had received from that greatly experienced marathon runner Barry Abram, to keep going when it gets tough, and I just got on with it.
The 20 mile mat nailed, on through Carrington and a left turn along the most exposed part of the course. At this point, it decided to hail and my legs seemed to go as cold as my hands. Whatever was “magic” about my gloves had long since been forgotten, as they seemed to be doing nothing but act as a sponge to the cold rain. I had declined another gel from Jayne, but said that I would have one of the Jelly Babies that Phil Derbyshire had sent for me. You cannot imagine how my spirits dropped when she told me that she had lost them. It was worse than knocking your pint over and there being a six deep queue at the bar. Absolutely gutted!
But the Marathon God who had abandoned Graham looked down on me, as Jayne realised that she hadn’t lost them afterall. The bag had burst and they had ended up in the lining of her water proof trousers! She managed to rescue six of the little blighters and offered one to me now. Unfortunately my hands were totally numb so I asked her to put it into my mouth for me. What a performance that was!
One of the less good ideas of this race (and possibly others) was that if you signed up for a pacing group, you wore your pace time on your back. With 4 miles to go, there was now a number of runners appearing with 3:00 on their shirts. As any runner knows, your strength feeds off others (unfortunate) weakness, and these 3:00ers now became targets to keep me going. Into the last mile, even more encouragement from the brilliant crowds and a dawning sense of what an achievement it was to complete this race. Me and two other lads got together at this point, had an “It’s a Knockout” moment as we were directed through the underpass, but then we resurfaced and could hear the announcer and knew that the end was near. A last “sprint” to the line as I heard my name and that of Wigan Harriers over the tannoy, and my watch was stopped in a little under 3:07. I decided that I would settle for that!
Foil blanket on to save me from hypothermia ( and I am serious about that!), medal round neck, banana pushed in to hand and off to find Jayne and my bag. I could write another chapter about what was to follow – as could many other people – but just two final words of thanks. First to Maria Lowe, who peeled my banana for me, when my fingers wouldn’t work, and hers were only in marginally better order. And finally, to Jayne who supported me on her bike all day in absolutely atrocious conditions and got soaked to the skin herself. Her pièce de résistance involved untying my trainer laces with her teeth because neither of us had any feeling in our fingers!!!
You may do the Manchester marathon in the future, but I am sure (hope) that you will never have to do it in those conditions. A race I will never forget.