THE RACE IS RUN

Yesterday saw the 2014 Asics Manchester Marathon take place in the city, and running in support of Imagine was Annabeth, who tells her story of the race here…

“After weeks of squeezing the miles into increasingly tight time-schedules, experimenting with various fuelling strategies, trialling a range of kit additions and gadgets and far too much time spent trawling articles on Runner’s World over lunch, the big day was predictably here and gone quicker than a sweaty jelly baby snatched from a well-wisher at mile nineteen.

Pre-race prep; leaving nothing to chance

Pre-race prep; leaving nothing to chance

Having started the taper with what I understand to be fairly common levels of angst (but won’t I lose fitness if I don’t run fifty miles this week, what am I going to do with myself?) and a delightful pick ’n’ mix of phantom injuries (I stubbed my toe! I’ll never compete! Oh, wait, no, I’m fine) I actually got to the start line feeling remarkably calm. I knew I had trained hard, fuelled well, tapered correctly and had set myself an achievable goal of completing my first marathon in 3:45 or below in order to qualify as ‘Good for Age’ for the London 2015 ballot.

The mood on the start line was generally calm, focused and friendly and I started talking to a lady who had driven three hours from Oxford to participate. She was also at the start of her first marathon and had a similar half time to me. As she was also aiming at a London GFA and we were both clearly ‘chatty’ runners we set off together! It was lovely when her husband and children spotted her (somewhere along the Chester Road if memory serves me correctly) and we both got a boost from their cheers.

A bit of doubt set in at mile three when the mild achilles sprain that I had managed to give myself a fortnight ago at the Wilmslow Half (but hadn’t heard from for over a week) decided to stop by and see how things were going. ‘Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional’ I reminded myself of one of my favourite quotes from the Haruki Murakami book ‘What I Talk about When I Talk about Running’ as I got all Zen and ‘acknowledged the pain and let it go’. Sorry leg, I’m just going to deal with you tomorrow.

This did however remind me of my race strategy, which was to run a steady pace of 8.5 minute miles, no matter how good or bad I felt, until mile twenty and then hammer it with all I had left for the remaining 10k. As I had found myself settling into a slightly above pace rhythm this little niggle was a good reminder to chill it out a touch. I was determined not to mention it to my new friend – ‘If I verbalise it’ I thought, ‘it’ll become harder to ignore.’, but I bet she wondered why I suddenly went a bit quiet! Despite this, I was surprised how quickly the first 10k went; ‘that’s the extra bit done!’ we told ourselves, ‘only 20 left and we know we can run that far!’ It’s funny the little mental tricks we play on ourselves to make the miles feel more manageable!

Shortly after mile eleven, as the faster runners were looping back past us, I started keeping an eye out for a friend who I knew would be in that pack. While I thought it was unlikely that I’d pick out one face in a crowd, I was very hopeful that I’d spot him running strong as he’d had some knee injury issues during training. Well, they say running improves your eyesight and they must be right as I wasn’t disappointed! This seemed like a good omen of sorts and gave me a bit of mental energy to keep up the focus on the approach to the half way mark. Funnily enough, one of our training run stalwarts spotted me coming back past her at a similar point a bit later on!

Unfortunately, I soon became aware that my running buddy was dropping pace a bit. As we were running a tickle ahead of plan I hung back for a while and picked her up again but by the time we got to the loop at Altrincham, I just couldn’t see her anymore and I didn’t know how far back she was or if I’d even find her. I checked my time as I crossed the mat at the half marathon – 1 hour 51 minutes and 26 seconds… was this good? Was I on plan? My mid-run mental arithmetic isn’t the sharpest and I ended up I reasoning thus; that’s nearly two hours and I’m half way in. That must mean I’m somehow behind schedule as I want to do it quicker than four hours so I think I had better pick it up a notch. In retrospect I can see the flaws in this logic but at the time it was a little rush of mild panic that spurred me on a bit quicker for the next seven miles! Well, that and my slow, steady sips on a delicious apply gel. Yum.

I was still feeling pretty good at mile eighteen when I was over taken by a lady who felt it necessary to tell me not to worry that she was going past me because she was taking part in a relay! While I hadn’t thought anything of it as I fully expect people to be faster and overtake me, I did think it was a genuinely touching gesture that she recognised the potential psychological impact of seeing someone looking so fresh that far into the race when you might be struggling so I appreciated the thought! I wished her well as she went on her way!

Suddenly we were turning back onto the Chester Road and I recognised where we were. With less than two miles to go I decided to stoke the fire, pull out the stops, get the pistons pumping and engage in any other appropriate metaphors!  I don’t know how many of these were aimed at me specifically and how much they were generic calls of support but there were lots of cries of ‘great running!’ and ‘good form!’ as I came in on the home stretch. ‘Laser beam focus!’ was my mantra at this point and I locked eyes on the stadium as I drove on, just a little bit behind what I judged to be flat out (I wanted to leave enough in the tank to enjoy the afterglow!). Suddenly I heard a shout of ‘Wow, look at you, go girl!’ and I turned to express appreciation for the support, recognising then the relay runner who had overtaken me back in Sale! She seemed so genuinely delighted to see me running strong and I am very grateful to her as I definitely got a little speed boost after that! What a wonderful example of the supportive nature of a majority of the running community!

I checked the clock and my (borrowed) Garmin as I crossed the finish line. Disaster! The Garmin had only clocked 26.1 and I knew that unless I hit .2 it wouldn’t register on my account as a marathon! Time for a loop of the race village then! Thankfully by the time I had trotted past the medal and T-shirt distribution, hopped round the portaloos and jogged to the bag drop I’d clocked that last 0.1. Whew. Done it.

Annabeth crosses the finish line

Annabeth crosses the finish line

Compression socks on, protein shake necked and a quick photo with a mate courtesy of bag drop staff and it was time for a check in back at the Up & Running stall to let them know I’d not dropped dead and thank them for the support! The rest of the afternoon (after a 2 mile cool down walk back to town; does that mean I can say I’ve done an ultra?) was spent loafing about in the jacuzzi while indulging in a flurry of post-race texts and discussions.

I really couldn’t have hoped for it to have gone any better. An amazing day; and yes, in case you were wondering, with a chip time of 3:31:14, I can also say I have got my London GFA qualifying time! See you there?

Race Medal

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