I think I've found my perfect pre-race evening meal. It occurs to me that every time I've had an unexpectedly good race I've eaten a mum's home-made lasagne the night before (2x Mrs Bland and 1x Mrs Hank -friend Lukas's mum). So, if anyone's mum wants to make me a lasagne and send it over then I'll pop them all in the freezer and get booking the races into the calendar. Good? Ok.
Saturday: I spent the day before the race at home trying to relax. I was meant to be doing other things but for one reason or another I ended up with the whole morning to kill. I sat around reading 'The way of the runner' by Adharanand Finn and then drove to MK to pick Mr B up from watching Rotherham V the Dons. A good start to the weekend as Rotherham won 4-0. So, Mr B had his sporting based happiness for the weekend, now it was time to go out and get me some of the action.
Race day: I know this is probably TMI but normally my stomach really goes to town just before the race. This time not so much. This left me a little bit worried about what might happen further down the line. I've never had to stop en-route and this was not the time to begin. Still, it was close to the wire making it through the queue and up to the starting area so there was no time to worry.
After last year's 3:00:01 it was time to sort out some unfinished business with Manchester. This race was all about the chip time having a 2 at the start and not about glory hunting. The plan was to go through half way at somewhere around the 1:28 -1:29 mark and keep it super steady all the way.
Avoiding the mistake of last year when I was in the 3-and-below pen and spent the first few miles ducking and diving, I'd put myself down as sub three this year. Nothing like stating your intentions! It was still very crowded but I managed to end up next to Nic who I'd run with at the NLH and had sub three well and truly in his sights. We made sure we were ahead of the 3hr pacer as we didn't want to get stuck in a big pack. Only a matter of moments later with the briefest of team-talks over the gun went and we were off. We kept it steady, letting some people pass us in their foolhardy speed-spurts and settled in.
0.6miles in we saw a 1mile marker. Confused, we both agreed that it must be facing the wrong way. Great. I commented how lovely it was to finally get going and we chatted about what a nice day it was for the race. After Saturday's torrential rain it was sunny, cool but not cold and with only the slightest breeze. Nic, who shall forever be know as a pacing legend, kept a close eye on us and even with a slight incline we kept pace but reigned it in when we started to get a bit pitter-patter-happy. Out past Salford Quays and the BBC's northern headquarters, which I occasionally have to visit, we joked that we didn't know much about each other's jobs but perhaps now was not the time to discuss them.
Through 10k in 41:35 and time to take half a gel. I'd planned to fuel early and not too much as I don't use any food or water on my long runs. I took a few sips at almost every water station though because of the weather.
I'm not sure if there weren't any mile markers until mile 7 but I certainly didn't notice them. Time was flying by and though the sun was hotting up things felt really easy and fun. It was just a great day to be out for a run. BenFP had reminded me on Monday that it was just another Sunday long run and it really did feel like that. The AR cheer-squad caught us in the early stages and we saw various friends running on the route. I thought I heard Mr B shout something about 10th lady but wasn't certain so I tried to put it out of my mind. The was still a long way to go. I've had concerns about how much the no-music rule affects me in races so having friends around both on and off the course really helped. It's great to lift your head and stop those internal thoughts for a moment. However, it does seem that when I wave I get a little speed-spurt so it was good that Nic was there to remind me to keep it steady. Note to self: perhaps I should just wave my way around track nights?
At some point around mile 10 or 11 Adam from AR joined us, as well as a chap who decided to sing slightly sweary football chants. Mate, if you can complain about Pompey like that, you're not running hard enough. He eventually drifted off and Nic, Adam and I went through half way at around 1:28:46. It was feeling a bit on the warm side by now and there were a few gentle ups and downs that required a bit of thought but it still felt good. I said to myself a couple of times "breath easy, stay tall, smile" and that was enough for another few miles. We were all feeling good and still enjoying it. Nic and I agreed between us that we'd keep the pace consistent until 30k and then see where we were. For the first time I wondered if it might just be that this Sub3 goal was possible. Time for another gel, a whole one this time - the plan was that it would kick in just as it was starting to get tough in about 40minutes. The camaraderie on the course was great with everyone offering water around each time we passed an aid station. I love marathon runners, they are such a friendly bunch. 30k (18.6miles) in 2:06:28 and we agreed to still keep it steady. I wasn't going to believe until those last 3 miles were ticking down.
Mile 19 was the first marker that I remember being glad to see. For some reason I thought we'd already passed it (more on that in a moment) and I'd promised myself that the next fuel point was around then as it would give a little oomph for the last couple of miles. It was starting to feel like a bit of an effort now and I knew it was getting towards time to dig in. Some comments from Adharanand Finn's book I'd been reading the day before came to me - he'd talked about how you should run almost as if you are falling forward. It really helped to start thinking about my running form at this point.
At mile 20 it was time to start counting down. Last year loads of people pulled up with injury around 20-23 and I've never felt such an overwhelming desire to sit down! This year it was getting tough but I was still enjoying it. Still, in anticipation of this waste-land patch through fields which I knew had very little support I'd given myself a list of people to think about each mile for the last 6 miles. This list covered friends who'd had nightmare races the preceding weeks (revenge on their behalf), another couple of running ladies who'd got injured and were unable to run their goal races, some church friends and of course the Mr and family (ok some people had to share!). I warned Nic that I was going to start muttering about people and apologised for the idiocy of it. I think I only actually verbalised it a couple of times, so hopefully it wasn't too annoying. At mile 22 I switched to the next person, thinking it had come around surprisingly quickly, only to see mile 22 another few minutes down the road. This time I wasn't going mad - loads of other people noticed the double-up too. Some time around 23/24 it was starting to get tough and I noticed Nic was finding it harder too but we were still on pace. I think it was after getting some water and trying to get round someone that we got separated a bit. I called to him that we were still going to get it done and that we could keep going to the end but he told me to carry on. I know I can't compare myself to Shalane Flanagan or Amy Cragg but that moment gave me the tiniest insight into their amazing Olympic trial run where they supported each other so incredibly and then there was that moment where Cragg had to go. I didn't even know if I had it in me to hit the target but I knew that I could keep going a bit longer and so I carried on.
Mile 24 and 25 hurt (they always do) and the crowd didn't really kick back in until mile 25. There was no way I was stopping for water now so I just kept trying to think about my running form, people on the list, what it would feel like to finish and how lucky I was to be able to run, whilst all the while looking out desperately for people I knew in the crowd.
I saw Sarah and Lucy from the AR Collective , I think maybe at about 25.5. They shouted at me and my watch was telling me that I'd got the sub 3, but the finishing straight was so long that I still wasn't sure. I tried to pick up the pace but I didn't feel like I could. Looking back on the splits and after some comments from those who finished around the same time it seems that I was a lot stronger than I felt. I do remember that I was still enjoying it though and whilst there was nothing left in the tank for a sprint I didn't feel that utter desperation to finish and fear of falling over like I've felt at the end of every other marathon. I suppose that's where all the training and in particular track has really helped. I know more now what it's like to push even when you think you're exhausted.
Seriously though, what is it with marathon route planners and long home straights? It's a terrible idea. Bournemouth do it too. That finishing gantry didn't seem to get any closer and with the seconds seemingly flying by I was desperately waiting for my rubbish eyesight to lock on to the gantry clock. 2...yes, it was a 2, my watch agreed and I crossed the line in...2:58:40 and it turned out later that I'd placed 7th female (I was 19th last year). Friendly marathoners congratulated me as I stopped and turned to look for Nic. I could see his green hat so I shouted as loud as I could at him. He did it in 2:59:45. Yes! The heat really kicked in over those last few miles and I am lucky that it seems that electrolyte loss doesn't affect me. I got interviewed by a Tv crew from somewhere just after I crossed the line, but I can only imagine that my adrenaline fuelled witterings were not ideal for their coverage!
There's so much more I could say about this race but this is already too long. Now that the 3 is broken it doesn't seem like such a big deal. Not in a bad way, but it's clear that it's just a number. Loads of my friends ran on Sunday and they all did brilliantly, whether because of a brilliant time, a brilliant mindset or a a brilliant show of perseverance. My aim from now on is to keep running and keep enjoying it because that race was way way more enjoyable than I ever expected it to be.
Mr B was waiting for me at the exit after the finish line with his half-cocked grin that I love. Our sports weekend was a success. What's next?
Oh, I also topped the Marathon Talk podium which is a little personal goal of mine
If you're interested, full gory details are below or on Strava. This is from my Epson Runsense SF-810. I'm taking part in in the Flying Runner's marathon pacing research with Dr Dan Gordon at Anglia Ruskin, so I'm submitting all my data back to them for analysis.