Manchester Marathon

The Manchester Marathon is a fairly popular marathon, with around 20,000 people signing up.

It’s revered as flat and fast and has been on my list for a while. Being from down South though it’s a fair trek to get to. But as my grandad lives in Stoke, a good friend lives in Liverpool and the fact that Kyle and I had free tickets to Alton Towers it seemed like a good reason to do a long weekend up there.

My goals, as ever, were a bit hazy having run the Barcelona Marathon a few weeks ago. I wasn’t in PB shape (that would require actual speedwork) but I felt like it might be a bit of a waste of an opportunity not to see what I could do.

The morning of the marathon I was up 6.45am in our Airbnb. I made my porridge, had a cup of questionable tea (the Airbnb only had oatmilk, something I’d never tried before) and then got myself together. Kyle and I walked the 2.8ish miles to the start. I didn’t mind the walk at all (we could have taken the metro). It was nice to get some fresh air, sooth my nerves and get the legs freshened up.

Kyle was going to be supporting me, not running around the course this time like in Barcelona,. He’d walk from the start to mile three to then get to mile 17/18 to see me again, and then meet me at the finish.

We arrived the start area at about 8.30ish (the race starts at 9am). I’d gotten my place at the marathon through Wiggle as I was going to do some content for them (horrendous videos of before and after the race – god I hate how awkward I am), so I had a pass to go into the VIP area inside the Trafford Town Hall (very posh).

Happily this meant I could use an ACTUAL toilet – with no queues! Such a luxury. I could also have some extra breakfast from the buffet (I didn’t) and even got offered champagne (I declined, probably best not to). I felt VERY fancy – and also hugely out of place!

Then Kyle and I headed to the start, bumping into the lovely Mark, one of the Brighton parkrun event directors.

Literally as I spotted Mark

Lovely to see another friendly face. But then I quickly dashed off to my pen with minutes to spare.

It was actually a very chilled start to the race for me – no hanging about unnecessarily or stress. After a blast of Oasis and Human League we were off!

The first mile was slightly downhill so I tried not to get ahead of myself. My plan was if 8min/miles came easy to me I’d stick with those but if they felt tough or tiring I’d drop down to 8.30s. As it was, I felt OK (I mean, let’s be honest, the first mile always does buuut you know what I mean). During the second mile I saw a man wearing a bib at the side of the road speaking with marshals. He was holding his leg and the marshals were directing him how to get back. Wow, a casualty of the race so soon.

On mile three I spotted Kyle. It was lovely to see him and I happily ran on, buzzed by his cheering. And then I realised I wouldn’t be seeing him for over two hours until mile 17. Jeeeze. But I was peppered along by the cheering crowds who were out in force in this area. I also spotted a few of my lovely Hedge End Running Club friends who I didn’t know would be there. I did the standard Anna Squeal and overly excited frantic waving and then went on my merry way.

I amused myself by looking at the other runners around me. There were a lot of Northern sounding running clubs, of course, a few superhero costumes and everything in between. I spotted one girl, I kid you not, holding her phone and in EACH hand three gels. SIX gels AND a phone?! That’s a lot to be carrying in your hands for a marathon. It baffled me. I like to wear my Flipbelt to carry my phone and maybe a gel but that’s it. Funny how different we all are.

Now we started heading away from central Manchester and into Stretford. Each area of Manchester that we ran through had a sign that said “Welcome to…” and then the name.

It was a nice touch. There were sprinkles of crowds at different points and, as it went through a lot of residential areas, a lot of people were outside their house cheering. I’ve also never seen so many Jelly Babies being handed out in my life. It seemed like everyone had them!

My friend, John who was also running, tapped me on the shoulder and we exchanged brief grunts and status checks. I wondered if he wanted to run together but he told me I was passing him and to go on. I didn’t feel too bad as I very much got the vibe that he wanted a solo run – John is subtly good at conveying this πŸ˜‰

I was feeling good and generally running faster than I thought. In the back of my mind I wondered if I was going to blow up later. The pace was a sustained effort – not terribly difficult, I could probably hold a conversation, but I knew this would tire me later. It wasn’t feeling easy.

I needed a wee, as is always standard for me during a marathon. As usual I decided around mile 10 would be an ideal point. As I got to mile 9 I saw about five portable toilets in a row and decided to chance it. I opened two different ones that weren’t locked and found men having a pee! I apologised (why though when they didn’t lock the door…) and stood waiting for a free one, which is always horrible during a marathon, standing stationary watching everyone run past you.

Finally one became available and I jumped in. The seat was COVERED in wee. I mean it was grim. I hovered over the seat using that inborn skill that all females have and pretended I was elsewhere while trying not to breathe. Job done, back on the road!

As I continued I began to notice that the course wasn’t as flat as I’d been led to believe, especially as I got to around 13 miles. OK we’re not taking hills or true undulations but definite inclines requiring sustained effort. Actually throughout the course I counted more than four of these. It actually makes me question who thought to call Manchester “pancake flat”. I highly disagree!

I’m going to be honest. I found the course quite dull and trying to remember anything of significance is quite tricky. It was mostly running through residential streets. Yes the people who were out to support were lovely and it was great to be cheered you along…one woman looked me right in the eye and screamed “Anna, you look INCREDIBLE”. Possibly the nicest thing any stranger has (and probably will ever) yell at me. But it was just dull.

Kyle popped up (literally popped up next to me, like he’d jumped out of a bush) at mile 17 and that made me smile. It also meant the next mile flew by because I knew he’d then be at 18 because of how the course was. It was a lot trickier to get to different spots because the course was such a big loop – whereas in Barcelona there were lots of out and backs and the course ran quite close to itself, if that makes sense.

Kyle had my gel to give me but I’d decided I didn’t need it. I wanted to see how I’d be without taking anything other than water on. I felt fine (I mean, let’s be honest, the pizza the night before certainly helped!). I do all my long runs fasted so I feel like gels aren’t necessary for me as long as I’ve had a solid breakfast (I had).

I reached 20 miles and usually this is the time I’m like “let’s go” and I can increase my pace. However I knew this wouldn’t be happening. I was pretty much just going to be able to maintain my current pace. This is the difference between my 3:16 marathon and a fast but not as fast (for me) marathon. During the 3:16 marathon I had the ability to kick it up a gear at mile 20. I had the fitness in the bag to dig deeper. I don’t currently have that fitness and so there was really no discernible “kick”.

But I was OK with this. I can’t expect to magic fitness out of nowhere. I’ve done no real speedwork. However I was happy to maintain my pace and not fade. It was feeling tough now and I was gurning to the end.

I got to mile 23 and had the happy thought of “pretty much just a parkrun to go”. I switched my music to something a bit more high powered – making the guy next to me laugh as I fiddled with my iPhone as I ran and almost went arse over tits as I tripped over a drain. CAREFUL ANNA YOU IDIOT.

I started to’ing and fro’ing with a girl next to me. I managed to get a bit ahead and thought “ah ha! I’ve won [the fake battle that only I’m aware of]!” until she later sped gracefully past me into a blip in the horizon. Wow, she was amazing!

When we turned round the final corner for the last stretch to the finish instead of great relief – look there’s the finish! It was like a punch in the face. IT WAS SO FAR AWAY AND JUST ONE GIANT LONG STRETCH OF ROAD. I decided to look down and not focus on the seemingly never-ending road with the teeny tiny finish line in the distance.

Now the crowds were thick and loud. I smiled as much as I could (honestly, this is such a good trick – it spurs on the crowds and can help trick you into thinking it’s OK you’re not actually dying – results do vary tho).

Kyle was suddenly next to me on the pavement and jogged a little to keep up while cheering. I had fears that he’d try and run with me to the end – something I’d have hated… Not for any reason other than he was wearing jeans and I just find that sort of thing unbelievably cringe. Thankfully he didn’t (he agrees with me on this front I later found).

And finally I crossed the line. Whew. 3:23:04 – not too shabby at all! My 3rd fastest marathon. What a grind though! I saw the girl who’d overtaken me and I said well done and how amazing she was, but I couldn’t hold on (I checked the results later – she got 3:19!). She was lovely.

Bless my dad, he rung me literally SECONDS of me crossing the line. I was still getting air in my lungs and recovering from the final sprint. He is good though – on the ball with the tracker and, as always, a lovely supporter whether physically there or far away. I know he’s always thinking of me.

I bumped into a few people I knew, collected my medal and goodies and then proceeded to play the fun game of “how can I get to Kyle?”. It seemed like a maze to get out of the race finish area and in the end I climbed over a fence (I don’t recommend post marathon). Eventually we found each other and began the slow shuffle back to the AirBnb swapping stories of day’s adventures.

To cut the rest fairly short, we ended up in a KFC on the way back to Stoke and I ordered a 10-piece bucket… I ate eight pieces (just chicken, no chips – I’m not a complete animal ;-)).

I regret nothing… actually my tummy very much regretted this later and on arriving back at my grandad’s and him saying “right, let’s get you some dinner!” I perhaps I should have eaten a few pieces less. In the end dinner was a couple of apples and a corn on the cob!

Have you ever run Manchester Marathon?

What is the flattest marathon/race you’ve done?

Do you like KFC?

My travels up North

I mean I guess it’s probably more accurate to say to the midlands, but for me anywhere north of Bristol feels “Up North” as I live so south πŸ˜‰

But accurate geography aside, Kyle and I drove up to Stoke-On-Trent on Friday to stay with my grandad ahead of the Manchester Marathon on the Sunday.

Before that though we had a nice walk down to Lee-On-Solent to have some filling breakfast to fuel us for the 3.5 hour car journey. I like to have a bit of a walk or some sort of movement before a long journey as otherwise your body just feels so meh. So we walked about 45 minutes to the Penguin Cafe in Lee for some brunch.

We went for the rather greedy Emperor Breakfast, which was pretty much everything I love about a fry-up. GIANT.

I swapped my hasbrowns for more black pudding

Kyle even got extra toast. When we get breakfast we mean business. The Penguin Cafe is a lovely place – though it is very much your cheap and cheerful greasy spoon. Everything tasted delicious – so I’ll let them off for their bean contamination πŸ˜‰

After a lonnnnng drive to Stoke we got to spend a nice evening with my grandad and enjoy a home cooked meal of steak, vegetables and potatoes. It’s always lovely to see him and hear about his adventures in Scotland in the Cairngorms Reindeer Centre where he volunteers twice a year as their handyman and general all-round fixer-upper (“Handy Paul” as they call him). At nearly 80 I’m very proud of him.

Beautiful spring weather

The next morning Kyle and I ran the 1.5(ish) miles to Hanley park for the Hanley parkrun.

Happily it was a lovely downhill to get our legs moving. Hanley park itself was a beautiful park with a lovely pond.

Now I remember running Hanley parkrun a few years ago when I stayed at my grandad’s with my dad before the Liverpool Marathon. However I DO NOT remember it being that hilly (actually after going back to the old post I have clearly stated it was “challenging”. Obviously I wiped it from my memory…).

I told Kyle I thought it was flat but actually it really wasn’t. It’s number 406 on the elevation line-up of all the UK parkruns. My home parkrun Netley with it’s three inclines is 212!

We lined up, all happy and innocent of what was ahead, and got ready to start. Kyle and I agreed if one of us felt good to run ahead and as we got going I decided I felt like I bit of a push.

As we turned the corner we hit the first hill. OK I sort of remembered this now… but it was only one hill. Then we had a lovely stretch of downhill, where I lost Kyle (he’s a very cautious downhill runner whereas I’m pretty much a free-faller). And then we looped back round to the same hill. Hmmm.

The course, in the end, included this hill another time AND a nastier longer hill twice. So actually it wasn’t flat at all and was actually very undulating. At 1.5 miles I felt that draining feeling of tiredness where I wasn’t sure I could maintain my speed anymore. But the downhills helped me catch my breath and give me back some energy.

I managed to overtake a few females on the final mile and powered to the finish as second female. I finished in 21:42 and Kyle, not too far behind, finished 22:21.

The first female was already done and I overheard her talking to someone and saying she was from Portsmouth. I jumped over to say so was I. Turns out her local is Southsea and she was visiting family. What a small world!

Then we made our way slowly back to my grandad’s. Annoyingly having to climb up the giant hill we sailed breezily down before. Ooof it was a grind!

We got washed up, had breakfast then headed to Liverpool to see my lovely friend Charlotte, her husband and her little boy, Arthur. She used to live in Brighton (a far more accessible visiting distance) but now she’s so far away it seemed silly not to make the most of being nearby and dropping in.

As I knew I wanted a larger dinner I decided to be sensible and have a lighter lunch (yes, this is still Anna… mental I know). I went for a vegan salad but added chicken (I know, I know). It had falafels and chickpeas and was very tasty but…well, very light.

It was lovely seeing Charlotte but then we had to head off to our next destination – Manchester! Kyle and I were staying in an AirBnb about three miles from the race start and about a ten minute drive from the city centre, which was perfect.

We met up with my other friend, John from many MarathonTalk adventures, and found a perfect, albeit hidden away, pizza restaurant to carb load adequately before the race called Dogs ‘n’ Dough. John was going to be running the marathon too (Kyle wasn’t, he’d be supporting).

The pizza place was very cool and quirky, and helpfully very quiet! I went for BBQ chicken pieces to start. And a cheeky Bud Light.

And then followed it up with a giant 12 inch deep pan pulled pork pizza (The Pig Lebowski). Normally I’m more of a crispy thin fan but this was very tasty. And very filling.

I was definitely going to be well fueled for the next day! I was pretty much sent into a carb coma.

Centre of Manchester

It was nice to catch up with John, although we both admitted that it didn’t really feel like we’d be running a marathon the next day. He was going to be taking it a bit easier (he’s a 3:12 marathoner usually but is training for a much longer event). I wasn’t sure of my plans yet (am I ever??). I was pretty much going to see how it felt on the day. But I kind of wanted to give it a bit of a blast as it seemed like the weather was going to be cool and the course was flat. So an ideal opportunity.

The classic flat lay

John headed back to his hotel and Kyle and I headed back to our AirBnb. The couple who lived there (we were in a room, rather than an entire flat) were lovely and friendly. One of them had run the marathon before so I got to ask her a bit about it. It was quite amusing when they were advising me to have a good carbohydrate rich breakfast and get a good night sleep and giving me tips on running a marathon in general… they then asked if it was my first. I told them it was my 19th and they looked stunned. They then said “oh well I guess you know what you’re doing then!” hehe.

Have you ever been to Manchester before?

Do you prefer thick crusted or thin base pizzas?

What’s the hilliest parkrun you’ve done?