It’s the first cross country race of the season.
The Great Run Manchester 10K is a race that has been on my ‘to do’ list for a while. I think that I’ve previously avoided it as it’s a huge event which uses a number of different waves to ensure that all 40,000+ runners are able to participate safely. In many ways it’s a series of separate events that are run one after the other. Perhaps it’s the eye-watering £38 entry fee, which for a 10K race is bordering on the obscene.
Whatever the reason for not running previously, this year I became part of a team of colleagues that was attempting to raise money for the Christie Hospital in Manchester. With a cause as worthwhile as this, and with the added bonus of being able to encourage colleagues that had never participated in a race before, it would have been churlish not to run. And I’m really glad that I did.
My usual race day earliness meant that I could park my car on the free on-street parking and make my way up to Costa on Albert Square for a customary pre-race caffeine fix. The sun was out, the air still and warm, and to watch the city slowly wake up to a perfect Sunday morning while I looked out onto the majestic town hall was an added bonus. I’m always advocating that people arrive early to important events as I believe that it removes unnecessary stress. The Costa slowly filled with runners, supporters, and loads of Great Run marshals who had all volunteered to ensure that the event ran smoothly.
I was running in the first wave which meant an 11:37 start. I jogged back down to my car, left my kit there, and ran back up to the start line. By this time I felt quite warmed up and would have been happy to start racing. However, as is the way with these mass participation events, you find yourself on the start line waiting for a long time: in this case 30 minutes. With the sun and the crowds of people it because quite warm and it felt like waiting for a giant carnival to commence. At the start of a marathon this is not really an issue as a slow start works to your benefit much later on in the day. However, in a 10K it can be a distinct annoyance. But perhaps more annoying still were the people who insisted on inching ever further towards the very front of the pen. The rule of thumb is to try and start in a position that represents where you think you’ll finish. That way runners spread out appropriately. As it was, many runners started very quickly, only to tire and slow during mile two. Given that many of these were running as groups and teams it made for a very difficult mile or so as I, and others, manoeuvred round them. It was very warm on the carriageway that the course takes out towards Old Trafford and it would have been much better for all if more thought was given to appropriate starting positions by those taking part. Many of those that did set off too quickly would probably have enjoyed it more too. By mile three lots of people were shuffling along with another half of the race to go.
Mentally, it was an odd run; I never really hit my stride. Perhaps the stop/start nature of the opening accounts for this, or the heat, or simply the fact that in the midst of ultra training, 10K races are tough. I did enjoy it though. I enjoyed the sun, the crowds, the support. Most of all, I enjoyed the fact that runs like this do a great job of encouraging those who wouldn’t consider themselves to be runners to…well..run. Although, my usual caveat here: parkrun does this much more effectively. However, it is a brilliantly organised event with a great goody bag too.
But the best thing of all was to be part of a team that raised over £7500 for The Christie. That fact alone is worth £38.
My objective for this race: run as hard as I could.
With an opening mile of 5:41 it could be an easy mistake to think that I was running well. I wasn’t, I was running downhill.
The first mile or so of this 3.7 mile race is a sharp downhill on paths that lead from the newly refurbished playground at Haigh Hall down to Bottling Wood. From there the course loops round before heading back uphill towards the finish. I could feel the burn of lactic acid everywhere. My shoulders were complaining as much as my calves. The uphill section of the run was an exercise in willing my legs to keep moving forwards. I’m always trying to see the bigger picture and I wanted to run this race as hard as I could as an exercise in pushing myself forward. This race achieved exactly this objective. I had to concentrate and run hard downhill; I had to concentrate and run hard uphill.
In the end I fnished in 24:52 for 34th place from 229 runners.
As I jogged back to my car I felt the familiar glow of achievement that comes with knowing that you have met the objective that you’ve set for yourself. I couldn’t have put anymore in to this race and I couldn’t have got anymore out of myself.
It is always pleasing to feel that you have made progress; more so when the data tells you so. That was just one of the things that I thought about after the last in the series of Curley’s Fishery Trail Races.
I went into the race with a clear plan: to run as hard as I could. This always presents a physical challenge, but on this course with its downhill, wet and uneven mixture of cobbles and potholes it’s a matter of concentrating hard too.
At the top of the first climb I felt like I couldn’t have worked any harder. I had settled into twelfth place and could already feel the lactic build up in my shoulders. From the top it’s an undulating section of road and I promised myself that I’d get to the gate which marks the entrance to the woods without anyone passing. I managed to keep this promise and felt like I couldn’t have pushed any harder.
The downhill sections through the woods are the places where, in previous races, I’ve been caught as I ponderously take my time over the rocks and tree roots. I knew that I had a number of good descenders on my heels but the drier and more secure conditions underfoot meant that I felt more confident on such tricky paths. I was caught by Paul and Marcus, two Burnden teammates. There’s no shame in this as they are both superb runners, particularly off road. But that was it. In previous races I’d have been overtaken eight or nine times; but here I made a conscious effort to run as hard as I could wherever I could. And it paid off.
The last section of the race sees the runners back on the uneven road section towards the start. This time it’s back uphill. With a huge effort I managed to catch and pass the runner in front to take fourteenth place overall and second V40. My time of 21:14 was my fastest of the three race series and a pleasing way to end this brilliant series of demanding spring trail races.
I very nearly didn’t bother. With the second in this series of three races just a few days away from the Manchester Marathon, and with the course dusted with some freshly fallen hail, I did think twice before making the short journey over to Horwich. I’m glad I did go though. Despite being blasted by the hailstorm in the much needed warm up and despite being completely wet through before the start, it still made for an enjoyable evening race.
At first I thought that I might be one of only be a handful of people for race two. As I warmed up I passed a small fraction of the people that were jogging and stretching during the previous week. I knew it was cold. It was obviously slippy underfoot, but surely that wouldn’t put off so many runners. Would it?
I needn’t have worried. With a couple of minutes to go a large crowd made its way towards the start line: presumably they’d been seeking shelter in the dining rooms at Curley’s. And with that we were off.
I had chosen to take it steady. That last thing that I wanted was to pick up some sort of niggle just a few days out from the marathon. I did run fairly hard up hill, but I cautiously jogged the downhill sections. They were muddy, icy, and obviously slippy. With a bit of a push on the home straight I came in at 25th from 120 runners in a time of 22:40.
Again, a thoroughly enjoyable race. Well organised, supportively marshalled, and nicely competitive.
It’s hard to describe the pain that I felt on Sunday from just mile three of the Manchester Marathon. I know I suffered more than I had ever suffered before. But now, several days later, I’m finding the words to describe it eluding me. If there is a memory of pain, perhaps it is an ill formed shadow that language just cannot pin down. I hurt.
After leaving the car at Salford Quays I walked over to Old Trafford Cricket Ground. Despite a perfect Sunday morning of cool temperatures and bright sunshine it was hard to block out the negative thoughts that crept into my mind.
Perhaps it had all started the week before. I’d found it difficult to sleep with the same soundness and depth that I would ordinarily. It’s the easing off of the training that did it. I’m happiest, and I sleep the soundest, when I am exhausted before getting into bed. A reduction of training, and the fact that I was on holiday, meant that I didn’t feel particuarly tired when I went to bed; I found myself reading in the small hours having been awoken by nothing other than my own thoughts. But disrupted sleep was to be the least of my problems; by Friday my stomach was starting to complain too.
My stomach is always the first thing to suffer if things become out of kilter. On Friday I felt very bloated and on Saturday I didn’t feel hungry at all. The food that I did eat tasted slightly metallic. By Sunday morning this meant that I struggled to eat a solitary bagel and I could feel it sitting in my stomach. As I walked away from the car I could hear the fluid that I drank sloshing around: an unwelcome sound and an uncomfortable feeling.
By mile three of twenty six I knew I was in deep trouble.
My target time was 3:30. This would respresent an improvement of 10 minutes over last year’s time when I ran the marathon as an Ironman training run. My plan was to run 2 equal halves as I truly believe that success in the marathon is about pace judgement, best demonstrated through an even (or negative) split. Amongst other things, my recent 1:40 Darwen Half on a very hilly course gave me confidence in being able to run 1:45 for the first half on the flat in Manchester.
But it wasn’t to be.
I felt very uncomfortable from the outset. I’m not a marathon talker. If anyone makes small talk in the early stages of a marathon I’ll reply, but I’ll never instigate a conversation. I prefer getting into the metronomic rythm that I like to adopt and I need to concentrate to be able to do this. On Sunday the conversations that several people started with me jarred and annoyed. I was concentrating on trying to settle my stomach and simply, calmly, make progress without throwing up. It just wasn’t to be. I could feel the little food that I’d managed to eat and the liquid I’d had sloshing around. The annoyng thing was that my legs felt great, my breathing fine, and other than the increasing discomfort in my stomach it would appear that I’d arrived on the line in shape and ready to run.
The early miles passed without too much trouble. Although I felt very unwell I could manage it. I can, however, barely remember anything about the first half. Last year I really enjoyed the sections of the race that ran through Altringham and Sale; I enjoyed hearing the crowd and seeing the efforts that people had gone to to become a part of the event. I’d enjoyed being part of the celebration that is a marathon. This year all I could do is concentrate on not throwing up.
My first bout of sickness came just after the half way point which I passed in 1:45 – exactly on target. The relief that it bought lasted for a couple of minutes, by which time my head was pounding with the onset of dehydration. The fluids that I sipped from that point on simply sat in my stomach too. It was as if I couldn’t absorb anything and whatever was in my system wanted out. Thank goodness for the understanding public, pub bar staff and for a particularly dense bush on a roadside path.
From half way I was in real trouble. Every step jarred my head and irritated my guts even further. To feel like this when your legs feel OK is frustrating. I had to really dig deep to keep moving towards. I ran this marathon last year and finished strongly with an even split having had just 2 small bottles of water on the whole course. I felt stronger on the Ironman marathon than I did on Sunday. To say that my stomach cramp had me doubled over in parts of the course is the truth. I contemplated lying down in the foetal position just to try and alleviate the distress that it was causing me. I’ve had cramp in my calves and feet after long open water swims, but stomach cramp was an entirely new experience. The pain was so intense that I couldn’t focus my vision properly. At drinks stations I fumbled for much needed water and my general form was so poor that I finished the race with four separate areas of my body that were bleeding through my kit. Again, an entirely new experience for me.
It was then, with some stubbornness, that I managed to get myself to the finish line in 3:59:52. I expected to feel relief. Instead I just felt broken and empty. For the rest of the day I felt hollowed out, I knew I’d stopped running and yet my stomach felt no easier. As I write these words some six days later I’m still struggling to get comfortable in my chair.
It’s my belief that there’s a certain magic in misery. So much of life is designed to provide levels of comfort which insulate us from finding out what we are capable of. I went to the marathon believing that I could run a marathon in 3:30. Instead those 26.2 miles taught me a lesson about the value of suffering, moving forward, and having faith that things will work out in the end. And for that I’m truly grateful.
The Darwen Heritage Half Marathon, organised by the running club Darwen Dashers, is a new fixture on the spring racing calendar in the North West of England.
From the outset it’s worth noting that the course is tough. 1200 ft of climbing is always going to make for an interesting half marathon and interest is exactly what this race delivered. It starts from the Darwen Aldridge Community Academy in the centre of town and from here it moves out to the A666 before beginning the climb south to Green Arms Road. A few undulating miles further on through the picturesque Turton and Edgeworth villages the course then heads back towards Darwen via Roman Road. After a very chilly start the spring sunshine made an appearance and parts of the course were surprisingly warm.
I wanted to run this half in 1:40, which would represent a decent run out on a hilly course without straining too much just seven days out from the Manchester Marathon. This is an average of 7:40 minute miles. The two minutes difference in pace between the fastest mile of 6:48 and a slowest of 8:46 shows just how hilly this course was. I have a lot of running targets, but pace judgement isn’t ordinarily one of them.
Pace difficultly aside, I really enjoyed this event. Running past many of the places that two years ago were part of my daily commute allowed me to reflect on the progress that I have made in that time. Two years ago 1:40 would have broken me, and I’d not only have suffered on that course, but I’d have needed a long time to recover from it too. On Sunday though, with the sun on my face, and the welcoming cheers of a number of people on the course, I really enjoyed running back to Darwen, and was rewarded with a medal and a very friendly ‘well done’ by more representatives of the great Darwen Dashers. I’d highly recommend this to anyone that is thinking of running a half at this time of year. It’s not an easy course, but nothing that’s worthwhile in life ever is.
Curley’s Fishery lies to the north of Bolton on the B6226 between Bolton and Horwich. It was to here last Wednesday that I drove last Wednesday, on a bright spring evening, to take part in the first of three 5K trail races.
After collecting my number I had plenty of time to jog around the course. This was easy enough to do thanks to the marshals who had used a combination of signs and tape to indicate where the route was. And what I great route too. After a slightly downhill sprint towards the redeveloped Arcon Village, the trail rises up towards Matchmoor Lane before heading down to the brilliantly named Wilderswood. Here the paths becomes a touch more technical with lots of uneven tree roots to help to keep things interesting. A loop of the woods and the course subsequently takes a mixture of paths, roads and trails to head back to the start. In short, not a course for a PB, but a great spring workout. Brilliantly organised too!
What did I learn?
As always, on courses like this I really need to relax on the downhill sections. I left a number of people on the uphills (where I always feel strong) only to have some of them skip past me on the downhills. It is difficult for me to naturally disengage my brain when running quickly downhill. So a focus of my training this summer will be to complete some downhill speedwork sessions with this specific aim in mind.
22:28 (22nd from 149)