I’d been totally giddy with excitement before the race on Sunday. The final weeks of training had been a bit weird: a haze of a trip to Korea, leaving Sussex: my comfy commute to work and super supportive colleagues, starting to have to factor in a 4 hour round-trip to London for my new job and a whole load of new information for this new job that made my brain explode. But, I still managed to tick off every session in the plan (mostly thanks to Easter) and was feeling really, really positive about everything.
Fuelled by Pringles and jelly babies, Josie and I chatted our way to Manchester, and managed to find our hotel without getting too lost. After an afternoon hunting down glitter, nail varnish and a cowl neck jumper, we topped up our pizza, beer and gin stores, and headed to bed after suddenly becoming obsessed with who was going to win The Voice.
Sunday morning: marathon morning! The first challenge of the day was fitting two bags of kit each into one bag of kit each for the bag drop, with – surprisingly – the only casualty being some pyjamas. We followed the whole of Manchester along the road to the start, stopping at all available toilet facilities en route. After dropping our bags at the finish, we were forced to go our separate ways. After lots of hugs and high fives, I was on my own.
It was easy enough to find a good spot in the ‘C’ pen – I planted myself right in between the 3.15 and 3.29 pacers, surrounded by people who looked a lot faster than me.
My favourite pen companion, however, was the man with the tattoo “you will always be the one for me, I will always love you more than any other, I love you *name lasered out*” .
The gun went, and we were off! Far too fast, of course, and I toyed with the idea of trying to keep up with the 3.15 pacer. I KNOW.
The route was pretty quiet to start off with, and after we’d headed out of the start area, it was only the very hardy who’d come out to watch. We twisted our way through the suburbs of Manchester, and I kept being overtaken. It can be quite demoralising, but I tried my best to just stick to my own pace and ignore what was going on around me. 10K came along pretty quickly, then half; I’d had a couple of dark spots already by then and my stomach wasn’t really taking to having gels (Note: this is doubtless because I never used them in training. Not once. Opps). I’d also had some great miles too, where the pace – faster than the pace – had come so easily. I’m no fool though, I know this means nothing ‘til 20 miles, so I kept my head up, and feet clip, clipping away at the roads of Manchester.
The out and back section was probably my favourite part of the whole route – first running alongside the winners and the sub 3 hour lot, then running back past those behind where you are. I ran as near as I could to the middle of the road tried to spot Josie, grinned at anyone who caught my eye and thumbs upped fellow ‘Mind’ runners.
It just got harder from there. We ran past pockets of excellent support but into a wilderness of dual carriageway and the kind of road that you can’t see the end of. Through 20, 21, 22 miles and into ‘just a parkrun to go’ and everything was starting to hurt. I passed many of the people who’d flown along at the start, and felt a little smug, but willed my legs to just.keep.going. I could do it if I held on.
Looking down at my watch and realising that it was really down to the wire, the finish came into view and I gave it everything. I thought about the time, energy and sacrifices I’d made to achieve this time and how Suzy B wouldn’t let this slip out of her hands. I pushed and pushed: the sound of the crowd went a bit fuzzy and I could see the clock tick over 3 hours 20 minutes.
And, finally, I’d done it. Crossed the line and stopped my watch that read 3 hour 19. Exactly what I’d been aiming for.
That’s over two hours that I’ve taken from my first ever marathon time now. Granted, my first marathon involved a good amount of time in the St. John’s ambulance tent after passing out, but I genuinely never thought I could run the marathon time I’ve just run. It’s taken 10 other marathons and 7 years to get here, but I’ve done it.
If you want to shave minutes (hours!) off your marathon time, here are some tips that worked for me:
- Find a plan that works for you: I first used the Hansons Marathon Method in 2014 to run my first London marathon, and it seems to work brilliantly for my body. I’ve not been injured this whole cycle, and every marathon I’ve run from it has been great. I wrote a blog on how it works and so if you think you might want to give it a go, check that out.
- Stay at a good level of fitness all year round: lots of people will run a lot of the 16 – 20 weeks leading up to a marathon, then not much at all for the rest of the year. I love running, which helps me want to run throughout the year. Much as I do need a goal to force me onto the treadmill for intervals, I find it a treat to run 10 miles on the weekend, which I think helps my body to end when marathon training ‘proper’ begins.
- Have a realistic goal and stick to it: work out what you could *actually* run if you did the work, and have that as your goal. Don’t copy what she’s doing on Instagram, or what that nice woman at parkrun has planned. I knew that from my half marathons, and how I was running in training that dipping under 3.20 was realistic, if I worked for it. It may take a bit a reassessment throughout the training cycle (I started out in November thinking I’d go for sub 3.25) if you stick to your guns, you’ll get there.
- Don’t compare yourself: there are a bazillion runners on Instagram, on twitter, in the park. They are all different. I’m not on Strava, I try not to post my times online too much and try not to look at the paces other people are running too much either during the marathon cycle. There’s no point – I can only do what I can do, and run what I can run.
- Don’t give up: I failed at Edinburgh last year. But it was worth it. It was worth trying to see what I could do, and a reminder that not everything goes to plan when you want it to. After that, I missed out on a place at Boston by 5 seconds, and so I knew I was going to have to run my heart out to make sure that wouldn’t happen for my 2019 entry. I wasn’t planning on blagging my way in!
- Lift weights: I’ve been lifting weight alongside my running for about 6 years now, and I’m pretty sure that they have played a major role in keeping me in one piece and made me a stronger, faster runner. Keep strength and conditioning a priority throughout your training and it will serve you well.
- Do an ironman! As marathon training will seem like nothing in comparison 😉
I’m running for Mind this year, in memory of my friend Suzy, who took her own life in October. If you’d like to sponsor me, you can here.