An ever present. This has been in calendar since entries opened last year, ever since they announced that if you had run so many Manchester Marathons you qualify yourself for a discounted entry. I jumped at the chance, being a Yorkshireman and a lad from the wonderful Barnsley. I’d do owt for a bit of a discount! It’s only taken me 5 years and 131 miles; but a couple of those years there was a course measurement error so it might be 130.8 or something like that!
As soon as it’s in my calendar you could say training for it begins. I don’t really follow a particular plan or type of training regime. The only plan I aim to follow is the plan for consistency. Striving and achieving day after day, to be as consistent as the last. Looking for that extra step or quarter mile I can go to be more consistent and better than the week before. Sure I have knowledge of recovery runs, tempo runs, hill sessions, speed sessions, heart rate training, strength training, marathon efforts and all the other runners jargon that come with it all. But all of those don’t matter if you don’t practice consistency. All that matters is day after day, you’re out, you’re out practicing, practicing all that counts and that is the simple act of running. So with this training block leading up to Manchester that’s all I’ve gone for. I’ll delve more into it when Awesome April is over and do a bit of ‘analysis’ behind it all anyway.
I’ve had a few target races during the process for Manchester, they’ve all gone pretty well in their own isolated world. Then when they all fit together in the larger jigsaw, they’ve fit; they’ve dropped nicely flowing on from one to the next. When 2018 drew to a close and 2019 opened its doors, I’d be lying if I was to tell you the time I was to achieve at Manchester would bother me. Of course the time I get matters, it’s the reason I go out day to day and try to improve. But with time in mind, realism had to be the focus. Asking myself the question, can I realistically get there? Is it realistically achievable? In my mind, yes. I believe at the minute, anything is. If I put my mind, body and soul into the cause anyway. Offering full commitment, motivation and passion. Hopefully then I will achieve my ambitions!
The training has gone well, I’ve averaged a high 120+ miles per week in the build up. Consistently paced and recovered at a much higher pace as well. Something I knew I had to change if I was to improve any further. The races like I say have fallen and flowed from one to the other. I’ve loved the running the last few months and enjoyed being out clocking the miles. I’ve even tried a bit of a taper off the back of my accidental taper for Hull and York Marathon last year. Discovering, that the rumour that a taper might actually work, is true? Still doubting it though. Apparently that is also a side effect of the taper, or so I’ve heard. I’ve cut miles in the taper since the Hull 20. 10% in the first week, worked out at 120 miles for the week and I aimed to dock 15-20% for the second week. It’ll work out at around 110 once the marathon has been ran. The second week also included the Spencer’s Dash! So let’s talk about that for a bit!
The Spencer’s Dash.
The race with a bit of everything, road, trail, fast downhill, flat sections (surely there is somewhere), an uphill finish before rolling out to a downhill finish. All of that in 6k of racing. I ran to the race with David Hanks, as per usual. He requested 7:30’s, ended up being 6:30’s ish. Sorry Dave, but he did manage to PB! So same pace next time, yea? The plan as ever at the Spencer’s Dash for me was so tempting to run fast and hold on, with the taper in my legs, they felt fresh. However with one eye on the marathon on Sunday, I knew that it wouldn’t be my brightest idea. From speaking to people before the dash and conversations with the speed team, I knew plenty of the lads and lasses were going to be turning up and having a shot at a PB. With it being a local race, you know everybody and everybody knows each other. It’s a great atmosphere. Arriving at the working men’s club, seeing everyone that we train with was great! Made our way to the start, Binney fired his gun and we were off.
Quickly out the blocks and racing our way down the hill to Bence Lane. Flying. Scott and Birdy straight away jumping onboard with me and pushing the pace. The Dash has the potential to be the quickest start known to man, a full mile or just short of. All down hill and pretty much a straight shot. 4:53 for the first mile. I knew it was quick. Legs felt fine, but again with Manchester in mind. I backed off the stupid pace and let the climb slow me down. Pretty much a mile long climb up Bence Lane, to Cawthorne Lane, I watched Scott pull away for a bit as I slowed and then began to maintain a more comfortable pace. Apparently though, according to Strava the 2nd quickest time, I’ve ever run up there! Getting to the top and again hitting another fast downhill on Cawthorne Lane. Those who might know the Cannon Hall 10k, used to run on here. Flying again and just letting gravity take over and do most of the work. Nothing too difficult or out of the comfort zone! Finding myself at the bottom of the trail working back against gravity going uphill on the trail again. Bone dry really, we’ve had minimal rain lately. Completely different to the year before.
A lot can change in a year, not just the weather we’ve had. Racing up the trail felt great this year, bouncing and hitting each stone with a lot more confidence due to it being dry! Apparently my fastest time on the trail, ever?!?!? Finding myself at the top again and ready for the fast downhill, again! On the road, the road I’ve run many, many times before. In training and in the race. But again the 2nd quickest time on this section, according to Strava! Hitting the underside of the motorway bridge and climbing up to the finish line. Taking a glance at my watch and thinking to myself, never? I was ever so close to a PB. Holding on to the top and seeing the tape for the line in sight.
Managing to cross in 20:27. 1 second shy of a PB. Scott in 1st, Me 2nd and Andy Heppenstall in 3rd. A Penistone top 3. And 7 runners from Penistone into the top 10. Hopefully showing some good things to come for the club. But looking up and down the results, PB’s a plenty. For the majority of runners, which again can only be good for the area! Wasn’t a bad outing at the Spencer’s Dash anyway, I ran home with some left in the tank and legs weren’t too shabby on Thursday. Thankfully!
Parkun was also on the cards this week, back to normality, running the normal way around again! My plan was to go out and enjoy it, Ellie had also planned to run it with Hannah. Her second ever parkrun, mainly due to her working as well on a Saturday morning and being a little more committed to the cause of arriving to work on time. I myself managed a hopefully conservative 17:02, although it’s always tough around Barnsley. Proud of her as ever as she managed a 24:43 around the course with Hannah. Shaun and Jack also completed Jacks first ever full Barnsley parkrun, he’s only 6!
Manchester. Oh, Manchester. We’ve had some tiny pieces of history. The event where I first broke the glorified 3 hour marker, in 2014. 2:55:02. The event that I first broke the 2:50 marker, in 2016. 2:45:49. The event where year on year, I’ve set myself a new personal best. Building and aiming for the next. It’s Manchester. It’s not my ‘favourite,’ York and Snowdonia are always preferred, but it definitely does its best when it comes to pitching the post. It’s local enough, it’s up north. It’s familiar. It’s Manchester.
After the York marathon and managing somehow to break the elusive 2:30 barrier, I found out that I also qualified for ‘elite’ and also FREE entry in the Manchester Marathon. So again, being a Yorkshireman. I jumped at the chance and got a refund on my previous entry. Still being allocated a ‘gold’ number for my marathon ‘legend’ status. I suppose that’s a bonus! Although that 2:29:35 PB, inscribed in the bottom of my trainers. Now set the marker and the bar even higher, it set the bar much higher than I had ever even dreamed. After the Hull 20, I received countless number of messages of support and goodwill. Acknowledging my time at Hull and acknowledging where I had come from. One stuck out. From Steve Melber, a runner who I’ve met on my travels up, down and around.
‘You’re living all our dreams.’
Leaving me thinking. Am I? Until I was on the cusp of it, I never even dreamt about it. But now, I almost definitely am. Sometimes it’s all I think about. Daydreaming away thinking how can I get better, how can I do more, how can I reach the next step. Then looking back, reflecting at things that have been achieved so far, things that have happened. Feels all too surreal. Makes me question was it me that really did that? Can I do that again? What next? Almost an out of body experience, placed in that single moment of running. So tomorrow. When I toe the line in Manchester. I haven’t a clue what will happen, I haven’t a clue at how it will all go. All I know, is that I will try my absolute most. To achieve exactly what I want to achieve and if I don’t. I will work much much harder to get there.
All of the above was wrote the night before, now time for the actual event!
With Manchester being a big enough event, we had planned to stay over the night before in a travelodge near the Dane Road Tram Stop. Had some well deserved chill time with Ellie the night before, having a bit of food and just relaxing in the room and even finding the time for an afternoon nap!
Hannah, Shaun and Jack had also planned to travel through on the day and come to support. So we had arranged to meet them at the tram stop to catch the tram through with them. Went to bed relatively early on the Saturday night, don’t like change of beds though! A bit uncomfortable. Ellie didn’t sleep much either. Alarm set for 6.30, sprung out of bed feeling relatively fresh. Jumped in the tiny shower with the curtain wrapped around my legs, Ellie made the mistake last night of flooding the bathroom floor. So I didn’t do that, at least! Got my granola down me and we left the travelodge around 7.25ish. Half a mile walk to the tram, met Jack, Hannah and Shaun there. Bright and early! Weather feeling a little crisp, not freezing, not red hot! Just right, at the minute. Hopefully it can stick like that. Made it to the starting area in plenty of time. You know you’re at a marathon, when every bin is full of bananas. Then a bin bag becomes the must have fashion accessory! Made our way straight away to the other side of the area, beyond the line, so them lot could get into place. Had a bit of a dance with Jack, copy you, copy me for my warm up. If anyone could see us!
Stripped off for some paparazzi photos taken by my Dad, and made my way to the starting pen. Straight away seeing Simon Lambert, Charlie Skipper, Gary Briscoe, Jonathan Walton for some pre race chat. Then stumbling across Mike Hargreaves, Robert Weekes and Josh Sambrook for some more chat before we was called forward to the line. Courteeners, Not Nineteen Forever over the tannoy, definitely a Manchester theme going on! Made a bit of a deal with Josh, he owed me one after York last year, to take it in turns taking point and leading the pace. A few pats on the back with the people around me as we toe the line, watch set and off we went. Kicking straight away and sitting straight into pace. Finding myself in 2nd or 3rd straight out in front. Feeling easy, legs needing to be rained back. Don’t wanna do a Damien and set off too quick! Still managed a 5:26 the first mile, if I could run the whole run like this, I’ll be chuffed! Looping away from the starting line on the small residential streets, eventually caught and joined by Josh Sambrook, closely followed by another local runner, Dan Kestrel. Josh quickly followed up on his deal and said he’ll take point at the next mile marker for a mile. Ideally if we can keep this up, that means really I’m only running 13.1 miles today, not 26.2? Doesn’t it? Spotted the cheer squad around 2 mile before they made their way to the tram stop.
Eventually we looped enough to spot all the other runners still in their starting pen and not actually set off yet. Around mile 2.5 for me already. On the long road to Sale now, eventually we’ll run past the travelodge and my car. Ever so tempting. Took over from Josh at the 3 mile marker and took my turn on the point, chatting, feeling pretty comfortable and breathing completely normal. The weather began to pick up and was ever so gradually getting hotter and hotter. Still not too hot for me though, I prefer it between 10-20 degrees! Made the 10k split and our small little group of 3 that had formed was doing alright. Managing to split the 10k mat in 34:06. Having me down as 3rd in the race. Still feeling good, taking on water and the jakemans doing its job in the roof of my mouth. Spotted the cheer squad around 6 mile, in Sale. Dad had planned if they had enough time to get to Sale on the way Altrincham. Looks like they had time, I was surprised that they were there. So they must’ve been on point and Captain Gary was sailing nicely! Mile 7 came around, still feeling good. Josh was tucked in behind me at this point, I took a glance to check he was ok. Asking him sharply, he replied saying not so much, it’s a bit warm for me. I called him Southern, he’s from Cambridge, as he dropped the pace off the back of us. Leaving me now with Dan.
Working myself off the back of him for a little bit. Making use of his experience of going quick over the distance. Before I took point again just before 8 mile. Knowing my bearings of roughly where I am on the route and knowing the next major point on the route was the Brooklands stop, something that may be different this year due to the small change in the route and loosing the large out and back section- Brooklands to Altrincham. Find it tough pacing on sections like that though, too tempting and get carried away and find myself speeding up! Managed to speed up though in Dan’s company and didn’t want to go too quick so early on. Splitting the 8th mile in 5:22. So I let him leave me to go ahead and run his own race. Thinking I’ll either reel him in later again, once I know where my body is or he’ll go on to run at that pace like clockwork. I dropped off for a bit as we approached Brooklands. Running conservative, within myself and steadily. Probably didn’t look like that though. But now I was in a position and running at a pace I was more than comfortable at, for now. Next major destination was Timperley and then Altrincham where the cheer squad were waiting. Knowing within myself that a nicely placed out and back was around the half way marker. So I would get to see all the other punching forwards and on their journey, seeing if they were on target. Only to spur me on to run my target, when the time comes! Decided at Brooklands that the water stations weren’t doing me many favours. Busting for a pee, so little sips from now on. Hoping it can just get into my system somehow. Reluctant to stop, because I wouldn’t settle back into pace again. But water is so important for those later stages in the race. Mile 12 came and nothing new really happened, we had been caught by 3 other runners and I got the water as we entered Altrincham. Straight away because we was in a pack of 5 the pace got pushed and pushed a little bit too much, way too much for me. One of the runners in that pack dropped out before the end of the run, which isn’t surprising! I was content holding back, but then had to enforce my holding back even more so, due to a developing stitch! Didn’t want it to get any worse and put an end to the pursuit; so I took a recovery mile for the Altrincham loop. Hoping it would get better by the end! Jonathan Walton caught me through Altrincham on my shoulder, I knew he was easily capable of a sub 2:30, just a question of how far! Split the half in 1:12:25, as we left Altrincham. Stitch had dissipated, so back into where I wanted to be and the job was on now. Started chasing the lads in front and wanting to catch them by at least the 20 miler marker. Joined eventually by a ‘Sale Trail,’ a local club, keen to stamp their mark on this event! Jumped on the back, knowing that this was my calling and a key to getting to where I wanted to be, adamant that I didn’t want to run alone. Pace began to settle around 5:30 and was in the mood now. Body was feeling right where I wanted it to be and right where I needed to be, Jakemans was surviving and so was I.
The race always begins at the 20 mile marker and I found myself in a great position. Actually PB’ing in 1:50 ish for the 20 mile distance. Comfortably placed in a pack of 7 and holding mid pack, not dropping off and not pushing too much. Not just yet. Dan was still in this pack and was looking as strong as ever. Mike Hargreaves, from East Hull, also in the pack with me, he’s capable of sub 2:25 on his day! I knew by the time 20 came though, that the pace might be pushed and he would no longer become conservative. We slowly began to drop runners out of the pack. With Dan not managing to hold the pace and letting us go, I’m sure he’ll be stronger than ever in the next one. The miles became longer and longer, metaphorically speaking and I was determined myself not to fade too much, I hung with Mike as the Sale lads pushed on and let us fall off behind. They were making a pursuit on Tom Charles, a previous winner of the Yorkshire Marathon. They got him in the end. A small delirious calculation error in my head, as it begin to spin all over meant that I was thinking I only had 5k to go, in actual fact it turned out the next marker was 22. Not good.
Really on my own now, with Mike around me somewhere. Keeping my body and my head just in front of him. Knowing it will get me a good time, because he is class. Knowing really that keeping going anyway, will get me a great time, because everyone behind me, are equally as class! Trying my best to tick each mile off, I knew my pace of 5:30 had gone. But my head and heart, had not. I had it all to do and the dream of a PB was mine to lose.
I don’t want to leave anything out here. I want it all to be left in Manchester, all left on the course and hoping that I’ve done enough. Putting all that consistency and all that training put down since York Marathon last year, has definitely been worthwhile!
The finish here is long, another mirage, glancing ahead and never ever getting closer. I turned away from the main road that we was previously on at mile 4. Turning down the finishing straight, doing everything I have left. Seeing the gantry and seeing the crowds getting larger and larger. Holding on as long as I can.
Crossing the line in: 2:26:48
Over the moon, overjoyed, overwhelmed.
Straight away reunited with the cheer squad and Ellie, finding myself in the finish area and waiting around for all the other runners to come and intrigued to find out how they have gone on in the race.
Seeing Gary and Michael dip the 3 hour mark in 2:50 and 2:58 respectively. Hearing later that my pain partner David Hanks, also managed to dip 3 hours in 2:56:59 and his partner Tracy also PB’ed in 3:57:58. With Simon Haywood getting his Good for Age target. Julie Briscoe still claiming the fastest Briscoe talisman in 2:42 and 4th lady.
Hung around a bit longer and made our way eventually back to the travelodge, picked up my phone to about a 1000 notifications from everyone at home, well wishing, supporting and following our progress out there today. Tracking us, complaining about the tracker not working. Statuses, photos, shout outs from those back up; really leaving you knowing that you aren’t out there alone in those 26.2 miles. In those training miles, you’ve got everyone behind you, wishing and hoping you do well. Hoping you find your own success in whatever you do, beautiful sport isn’t it, this running lark?
Now we go, onto the next, resetting my targets, resetting my bar. Hoping to god that I’ll reach it and move it even higher and higher. Enjoying every single step along the way, sharing every single step.
Got plenty more photos and videos to share, and will make something for them lot in the next few days. Dad spent the full day recording on the gopro, so hopefully there is some decent footage on there as well! Thank you everyone for everything today. Whatever my result, it’s definitely a shared result with everyone behind me, whoever and wherever you are. So Thank YOU!
Just Keep Running!