Hmmm … who thought it was a good idea to spend four days running in sunny, warm, vibrant Valencia enveloped in the sweet fragrance of orange blossom, then jump on a plane to race in Manchester?
We arrived on a cold damp evening and woke up to a grey wet day. Our usual practice when spending a weekend away to take part in a marathon is to find somewhere the day before the event – often an organised breakfast run or a parkrun – to run a gentle, loosening 5k. We were staying in Media City, on Salford Quays, and there was a parkrun 2.5 miles away – perfect – but outside was so miserable that we decided to do our run in the local gym on a treadmill! (Spoilt by sunshine!)
After our run we spent the day in central Manchester and, as is our tradition, the day before a marathon we walked about far too much (distances of over 13 miles (Chicago) have been recorded) before returning to Salford Quays to meet with running friends for a meal and relaxing glass of wine. It never ceases to amaze me just how much run chat there is to be had. It had been a damp day but good food and good company brightened things up.
Race day started even greyer; when we looked out of our 12th floor window we couldn’t see anything for fog. As we ate breakfast, we had the usual what-to-wear conversation – you would think after over 300 marathons between us we would have this sorted but on colder race days (i.e. anything below 18C ) one of us at some point will ask “Do I need a long sleeve top?” – always knowing that after the first few hundred metres we are going to be too warm. To be fair we had been caught out on our last marathon – the Bordeaux Night Marathon – when on our way to the start there was an unexpected (by us) stormy downpour. The race was delayed so we stood in the start area for hour in wind and rain in unsuitable attire. Unfortunately Storm Hugo stayed with us throughout the race. It didn’t seem to bother the local runners quite so much but then they were dressed as though they were going on a ski trip.
Manchester was to be our first UK marathon in our new club vests so we talked ourselves into shorts and vests with a throw away top for the start of the race. Surprising how hard it is to throw these tops away – on the walk to the start we often become very fond of them and as on this occasion they get tied round the waist and brought home to survive another day. (It gets worse than that. There have been times, for example at the start of the New York marathon, when we’ve been looking enviously at other people’s discarded items, wondering if we could possibly justify picking them up to take home.)
Fortunately the fog didn’t last and although it was a bit of a chilly start it turned out to be perfect conditions for running – cool, no wind and of course the Manchester marathon is renowned for being a super flat, fast course. So here I am, in possibly the best conditions and fastest course I will run on this year but what can I hope for? What would be a successful run?
Until the end of last year my goal / our goal was to run our 100 marathons together. We ran them too often to think too much about times and many of them were trail events so time was not the focus. Also I was recovering from a year out with a broken leg, which almost ended my running career, so I didn’t have high expectations regarding times. Goal of 100 together achieved in November. What now?
Cam’s next aim is clear – a Boston Qualifier so she can complete the six majors. This means also running a PB – realistic at 31 but not for me at 65. PB days are surely past. However since the start of the year my knee has been a bit stronger which has meant more training miles. Last year I ran my first post-injury sub 4 here in Manchester. 3:54 got me 4th in age group and place in England marathon masters team. I had already beaten that time this year (just) in Castellon in February.
In my thoughts was the fact that I ran a fast 10 miler the weekend before – my best race in two years since my come back. Could I dare to hope for better than last year here in the marathon? But then I am a year older. Maybe a good age-graded time should be my focus.
For those who might not be familiar with this term, age grading is a means of putting all runners regardless of age and gender onto a level playing field so their results can, in theory, be compared. It uses the world record time for your age and gender to calculate a percentage score for your time. 100% would be world record level, above 90% International standard and above 80% is considered to be national class level. There are a number of different calculations that give slightly different results. The World Masters Association (WMA) has one such calculation. A somewhat less reliable feature (in my opinion) of their methodology also translates the age grading into an equivalent time for an “open” entry, ie. someone at peak race age. In Castellon I finished in 3:53.28, which made an age grading of 81%, and translates to an open time of 2:46.50. If only …!
With these questions not answered, I set off at a sensible pace – experience has taught me to run more intelligently (most of the time). One regret I have in running is not to have learnt the wisdom of even pacing when I was running at my best. I don’t think it was until Comrades last year when I ran a small negative split because I was terrified of going off too fast and not finishing, that I truly accepted it produced a better result and a much more comfortable race.
Support was sparse in places but when present was genuine and enthusiastic and it was good to get some extra encouragement from friends who were out on the course. The route was not riveting but allowed you to concentrate on running without distraction. There was no sudden realisation that you have come across La Sagrada Familia (Barcelona), or that you were running over the Ponte Vecchio (Florence) or into the magnificence of St Mark’s Square (Venice), causing a moment’s pause in awe. No thrills or frills but a runner’s race for sure. And I almost got it right.
The result was a ‘comeback’ PB of 3:49, (4 min positive split), 3rd in my age group, 82.5% age grading and a place in the England Masters marathon team. This was almost certainly going to be my most successful race of the year. It still leaves the question of what am I aiming for? But maybe writing this blog will help me think through some of these issues.
The only remaining dark cloud, so to speak, was that I had seen Cam on a switch back on the course – she shook her head. I knew she was hoping to hold onto the 3:30 pacer but was some way behind. In the last few races we had both run well and been able to celebrate together at the end. This wasn’t going to be a time of celebrations. I suspected that she would be disappointed and I might need to be ready to listen, comfort and support. But she would do the same for me.
One advantage of running together is, more often than not, that there is something to celebrate and if someone needs to be consoled, we’ve got that covered too.
We stayed at : Holiday Inn, Salford Quays
We ate at : Café Rouge, Salford Quays