Written by Danny Mann
“Down, down you bring me down I hear you knocking down my door and I can’t sleep at night”
How I hoped the snarling Mancunian tones of Ian Brown wern’t to be a portent of things to come as I listened to my pre race playlist and made my way through the increasing crowds now milling around Old Trafford Cricket Ground, home of Lancashire County Cricket Club and tried to steel myself for the challenge of running the same amount of miles as the number of all time Cricket County Championship wins Lancashire trail Yorkshire by!!
In all honesty the words of The Stone Roses on my “Best of Manc Bands Ipod Playlist”(Yep I hate their football teams but love their music) did carry an unfortunate truth; This race had loomed large on the horizon, gathering like the rain clouds synonomous with the Manchester skyline, I was ill prepared for it, unmotivated to run it and wanted to get over it with in as little time as possible and prefarably without getting run over, collasping or somehow ending up in the back of an ambulance.
After coming off second best in a fight with a Royal Mail Truck and my 1st overseas Marathon abruptbly ending on a sun blasted Maltese flyover 3 miles from the finish, I had logged more training miles on personal injury forms than I had on Strava, this coupled a few ongoing issues in work and home life meant my weight had skyrocketed and my enthusiasm nosedived. Not the best prep for an assault on the demanding 26.2 mile distance.
With my kit dropped off, cursory stretching done (I figured I may as well look like I should be there) I made my way gingerly towards the start area. This was when my luck changed; the start area was adjacent to the home ground of a certain football team who play in red for whom I hold little affection, however all the pre race lucozade and water was causing me some trepidation and a pre race “comfort break” was definately in order, I searched frantically around for a quiet spot and the only space I could see was an isolated part of the stadium and so it was that I had my most satisfying pre race wee on the Alex Ferguson Stand at Old Trafford, I could have collasped at mile 1 and I’d have died a happy man after that!!
The starting corrals were already bubbling over nicely as I got there. My number indicated I should be in pen C for sub 3:30….yeah maybe 18 months ago and 10lbs lighter that may have been the case!! Instead I headed for the section that felt reflected my actual potential in this race and so settled in nicely between the women dressed as a pantomine horse and the bloke carrying the fridge on his back and prayed that having started so far back I didn’t hit the wall before I got to the start
The Early Miles
“Now You’re at the wheel tell me how, how does it feel?”
Well the gun must have gone off as we all broke into that familar step/shuffle/stop/run which I feel resembles the final scene of “The Usual Suspects” when Kevin Spacey puts on his fake limp to fool the police then once he’s round the corner from them..Bang he’s away in full flight!! and I was no different I crossed the line and the strangest thing happened; my legs worked!! feet of flames caressing the tarmac with a gentle kiss, 8:15 pace, legs still flowing, gliding onwards, 8:00 pace, lungs billowing like a steam engine powering me onwards effortlessly!! 7.40 pace and still climbing!! I was Haile, I was Wilson, I was Eliud!! 7.25 pace, I was…..christ is that a stitch?? I glanced at my watch 0.23 miles gone surely we should’ve had a water station by now!!?? So with my “push the pace and see how it goes” complete after about quarter of a mile I settled in to a nice 8:30 minute mile pace,
The 1st mile took us along the A56 towards the city centre and in a pattern that was repeated across the majority of the remaining miles the support was enthusiatic, loud and numerous. With every step I took I could feel the smile creeping back onto my face, miles 2 and 3 took us through the housing estates of Trafford and by now I was into my stride and a pace of around 8:10 felt easy and gentle, I was cruising along nicely and took the opportunity to make the most of feeling good to thank the spectators, clap the bands and high five the kids (even the ones in Man Utd shirts!!) Just after the 5K mark we returned back to the A56 and began heading out towards the suburbs, by now the atmosphere was increasing, the sun was shining and even Old Trafford homing back into view couldn’t put a dampner on things!!
Remembering my Malta unpleasantness I took on water at all the aid stations handed out with great efficiency by the awesome volunteers, a couple of strawberry flavoured “Cliffe Shot Bloks” were taken on at 10k and provided a great and welcome energy boost, their thick fruity flavour provided a welcome change from the sickly sweet gels I had used previously and I would recommend highly (If this report makes it out into the ether and Cliffe fancies throwing a couple of samples my way for the plug then please do!!……..On a similar note we also passed a Aston Martin Dealership….I feel the sleek curves of the DBS would complement any driveway!! I highly recommend) by now we were well into the “meat” of the race and I’ll be honest, I was having the most fun I’d had on a run for a long time.
The Middle Miles
“In my mind my dreams are real, now you’re concerned about the way I feel toniiiiiiggght I’m a rock and roll star”
If you’d have said to me as I came to on the scorching Maltese tarmac awaiting the ambulance and expecting a supportive collar and not a race medal to be placed around my neck that a month later i’d be running and enjoying another marathon and have had to grab another bottle of Cisk beer and laugh, but as the this great throng of humanity, people of all ages, colours and backgrounds snaked its way through Sale, I couldn’t help but get caught up in the drama and emotion of it. By now we were on route to Altrincham, the front runners glided past effortlessly on the other side of the road buoyed on by the cheers of us mortals plodding along 6 miles back!!
My pace still felt good and I was hovering around the 8:10 mark as we rounded halfway in Altrincham Town Centre which true to form maintained its reputation as a supporter hotspot; 10-12 deep in places and a cacophany of noise it really helped to galvanise everyone for the 2nd half of the race and dissapate any tiredness which maybe starting to amass in the legs. Seemingly catapulted back towards the City Centre I registered my quickest mile of the race at mile 15 which in turn allowed the confidence to flow negating any lactic acid which may have been creeping in at that point. Further lift came from the welcome sight of fellow Harriers, Craig Worley and Helen Cowley offering sensational support at mile 16 well and truely banishing any tiredness for the time been at least. Spurred on by their support my smile was as a broad as the Manchester Ship canal as I chatted and conversed with fellow runners swapping stories and congratulating them on their achivements and asking which charity they were running for? It was very humbling to hear the causes and reasons for which this mass of strangers came together on this crisp April morning to flog themselves over the seemingly arbitary distance of 26 miles and 385 yards and when one fellow runner asked me “What are you running for?” I simply smiled wryly and said ” Me? I’m doing this because I enjoy it”
Into Single Figures
“There’s no sure fire set solution, no short cut through the trees, no breach in the wall that they put there to keep you from me”
My plan for this race, other than try not to die or get run over,had been to hold back until mile 16 and then go from there (Yeah its probably not going to feature in any coaching manuals!!) By now we had left suburban Manchester behind and headed out into the country side; support had naturally thined out away from the residential areas and as we approached “Wall” territory around 18 miles the race was starting to hand out its first bouts of punishment The grass verges of Carrington Road provided a perfect make shift physio beds for several runners to stretch out hamstrings, ease tight calves and some just generally have a quiet 5 minutes to compose themselves for the final push. However, still with 10k to go and suport thin on the ground this is where the camaraderie of marathon running really comes into its own. I will be forever endebted to the fellow runners who stopped in the sunshine of Malta, possibly risking their own PB’s to assist me and then to Emma Longfellow of STAC who made sure I got to the finish (Small world eh??) So it felt only right to return that favour when I was able. Unfortunately I felt like shit and just wanted to finish so I didn’t bother!! No I jest, from experience I know that the smallest pat on the back, word of encouragement or offer of a gel or some water can make all the difference when you’re feeling that low so to see everyone unite and assist each other offered a boost to both the legs and heart. My own bit of encouragement came has Richard Whitehouse of Cross Gates Harriers breezed past me as though he was on a Parkrun “Come on Danny you’re looking good and strong” (He was no doubt lying but thanks anyway mate!!) NB Richard went on to run an awesome and well deserved PB.
Myself, I knew my own PB would have required world record pace and a quick weight loss of around a stone and a half!! However despite a longest run of only 15 miles in the previous 3 months (Malta doesn’t really count as I had a long lie down!!) I was pleased to have somehow blagged it to 20 miles at a fairly consistent pace of around 8:10-8:15. I had just over an hour to come in under 4 hours which I would’ve taken had it been offered before the start.
The Final Miles
“You’re not nineteen forever, I know it seems strange but things they change”
Mile 20 on any marathon is a massive milestone, physically and mentally; with 10k to go you’re out of the teens and on to the home straight (Ok that straight may still be 6 mile f**king long but you get the idea!!) I think this is more relevant in Manchester than in others as after 20 miles you’re back in the residential areas, the support lines both sides the streets and slowly the flood lights of Old Trafford Cricket Ground breach the Urmston and Eccles sky and you know the finish lies beneath them.
By now my lack of training and general poor condition had caught up with me as I suspected it might, the wall had been and gone and I now had no choice but to acquiese to what my legs were saying and slow down to a very sore and achy 9:30 pace, which felt like 5k race pace!! The chatter may have stopped between the runners as we all retreated into ourselves to simply grind out the “Just a Parkrun” that remained however the support and consideration that manifested itself through a simple, silent pat on the back or gentle nod of the head probably meant more at this stage than the more garrish and obvious “Come You’re looking strong, you can do this” of miles long gone.
My legs were still functioning but pain radiated from either hip, my ankles felt heavy and swollen and tightness in my shoulders was preventing me from swinging my arms through fully. If I moved my head, I could feel vomit rise in my stomach a feeling which could only be relieved by fixing my gaze on one point, be it the the floodlights which promised the finish, the next lamppost in the road or a nice bum on a fellow runner, female preferablly!!
I mentally checked off the points I knew would occur on the final run in; the M60 flyover, great I was now back into “Manchester”, the Robin Hood Pub with the loudspeakers outside and Oasis blaring loudly, what I wouldn’t have give to sit in the beer garden with a cold pint and sing along to some Oasis tunes (Even off Be Here Now) Stretford Library came and went and the pain in my legs flared up even more, The bridge over the canal, christ why does a bridge now feel like the Butt Hill Climb on the kippax hills Route??
The crowds started to thicken up again and the noise level grew, One last effort I mentally ticked off the penultimate checkpoint in my mind as I crossed Chester Road onto Gorse Hill Road, in the distance the the finishing arch loomed into view I checked my watch 25.4 miles, this was going to hurt.
The Home Straight
“It may go right, it may go wrong but this is the one, this is the one I’ve waited for”
I always like a sprint finish and I was determined that today was to be no different, at last the 26 mile marker came and went, the signal went to my legs to kick at first they naturally screamed in protest but eventually they kicked to life, as oppossed to a graceful final kick it was more like a oversize freight plane taxing into position before slowly rolling down the runway, I could see the race clock ticking, 3:48:40, I suprisingly had the presence of mind to know I had taken around 5 mins to cross the line, a respectable 3:45 was still on, I checked my own watch and went to the well, 3:44:20….one last effort and my legs finally relented their protest and roared to life….3:44:45, come on, one last push………I staggered over the line and fell in a crumpled heap and stopped my watch: 3:45.22, I’m not going to lie a small tear started to form, ok it was a good 21 mins slower than my PB set when I finished 23rd in The Boston Marathon* two years ago but the race had been about so much more, I had laughed, I had smiled, joked and teased all the way round, the experience had reminded me why I run, some days its for competition, some days its for social, for too long it had perhaps been about therapy which had in fact bordered on self harm, today though it was enjoyment. The lyrics of the Stone Roses to which I was listening as I made my way through the Old Trafford gates had in fact proved to be an omen about my running but it was a good omen….”I am the resurection and I am the light” proved to be the rebirth of remembering why I run, simply because I love it!!
*Ok Boston in Lincolnshire but it still sounds good!!