So the day that the last 4 months had been all about was upon us, all the dark morning/evening runs and sessions through hail, snow, wind and rain were behind us and we were moments away from the gun!
In all honesty the preparation hadn’t been what we planned it to be with mileage only averaging 50 mile a week for me and 40 for Christina. Our well organised training plan had gone out of the window sometime in January once we realised that we wouldn’t be able to commit to it. Christina had contracted a viral infection 4 weeks prior to race day and struggled to shake it off meaning a cut back in training. As for me, the reality that the Howarth Hobble had taken more effort and recovery time than planned meant having to cut back on a few quality sessions.
The morning of race day was very surreal, neither of us were nervous and both kind of accepted that what will be will be. My target time of 2:35 felt beyond arms reach and Christina had more or less wrote off her sub 3:00 target…..however we had our plans and decided to stick with them. Christina planned to sit with the 3 hour pacer and see what she had left in the closing miles, I planned to run with team mates Gary and Ian at 5:55 per mile pace to 20 mile then each man for themselves to the finish.
Bags handed in and stripped ready for action we made our way to the start line. We quickly worked out where we needed to be, said our final good lucks and headed separate ways. I went to the head of the field with the elites and other front pen athletes in expectation of finding Gaz and Ian, however they were no where to be seen??? John Lloyd (Cannonball) was stood on the front row so I slotted in alongside him, “have you seen Gaz or Ian John?” I asked, “No mate, a lot of people are missing possibly down to parking issues” he replied!! Great!! knowing the effort these lads had put in over the winter I’d be absolutely gutted if they missed the start, however nothing I could do but hope they’d made it and were somewhere behind me.
30 second warning from the starter then before I knew it we were off! I settled into a rhythm and got ready to tick the miles off. I saw the first mile marker approach and was pleasantly surprised how quick it had gone, I checked my watch but it read 3 mins 30 seconds? (ish) this brought and lot chat from the surrounding group consisting mainly of “WTF!!”, obviously a mistake or a lot of one mile pbs going on!! Anyway it added a bit of humor to the opening mile.
Cannonball had one of his famous starts and led the opening 1/4 mile but as he settled to his race pace I used him as a target and got down to trying to pull him back. I arrived on his shoulder around the 2 mile point and sat in with him for a while. As we chatted he passed a few words of wisdom my way before we doubled back on ourselves and started to pass the runners behind going in the opposite direction. This gave me the first opportunity to have a look back for my wing men who I’d hoped made the start. Good news, they had made the start and were there sitting about 90 seconds or so back from me. We acknowledged each other as we passed, exchanged a few shouts and gestures and carried on.
Cannonball John was taking great pleasure in counting the number of cheers we were getting and pointing out he was more popular than me, this helped pass the next mile and kept everything light hearted. We took turns leading each other and helping each other on as we headed back towards Old Trafford.
We were in a pack of about 5/6 runners and made our way passed Old Trafford and headed away from the city. I was feeling comfortable and relaxed with my pace which was averaging 5:50s, this was faster than I wanted but put this down to early enthusiasm!
Just before the 10k point we approached a drinks station, now my strategy for fluid and feeding on route was non existent really. I’d planned to take on water as needed and had one gel in my pocket. I try to train my body to go without fluid and gels during long runs and my personal opinion is that there is a lot of ‘over sciencing’ going on in this area. Its the same with carb loading and taper, just keep it sensible and don’t complicate things! I eased off training with a week to go and just ate as normal up to race day.
Anyway, a mouthful of water at the drinks station and on to the 10k mark. Quick check of the watch tells me I’m running slightly faster than I’d planned but not excessively. At this point I noticed the group had started to dwindle and as we headed for Sale more started to drop off the pack until we were down to two.
A lad called Grant (Johnson) had joined me and we were pulling away from the rest of the pack at a good rate but not making any inroads on those in front. Now being a marathon virgin there was no way I wanted to find myself alone and I’m sure Grant felt the same, but as the miles ticked away we kind of made a silent agreement that we’d stick together to see us through.
The crowds were great and familiar faces on route really kept my sprits up. As we left Sale and headed for Timperley I clocked a load of friendly faces who cheered and shouted. The one shout that sticks in mind and from who I don’t know was “run sensibly Chris……” it continued but I went out of ear shot so didn’t catch the end. I suppose at that point I doubted myself for just a second, thinking it might be best for me to drop to the pack behind for safety. Doubts creep in, its normal but be strong and trust in your training and ability. If you were the one who shouted that then I thank you, it was the sanity check I needed!
Doubts cast aside myself and Grant worked on, crowd cheering and clapping with Grant getting his name called on a regular basis……I remember thinking ‘this guys popular’ and it wasn’t until after the race I realised he had his name printed on his vest! The halfway point came and went and the miles were ticking down, still running around 5:50 splits and still feeling surprisingly good.
At mile 14 we doubled back past the runners behind and saw the 3 hour pacer approach, with absolute relief I heard Christina shout my name and caught a glimpse of her. She looked very comfortable and was moving well alongside team mates Dave and Kev, feeling reassured I pressed on.
16 miles in and we were starting to catch runners at a rate of knots, Grant looked comfortable and I knew he had more in him. I signaled and told him to use the runners in front as targets and not to wait for me, he sounded and looked unsure but slowly left me and headed for the guy in front.
Miles 16 to 20 and my feet are on fire, I could feel my feet slipping in my socks and the start of a few blisters becoming slightly irritating. I’d managed to catch a few runners who were feeling the pace and that gave me encouragement but the gaps between were still very large and the task of running alone and maintaining pace was difficult!
20 – 22 mile I was starting to tire and it was decision time. Try and maintain current sub 6 min pace and risk blowing up or slow it to a pace I knew I could finish? I opted for the later and dropped my pace to 6:10/15 min miles and instantly felt more comfortable. So I entered the last 4 miles at my new pace, dug deep and headed for the finish.
As I entered the last mile the crowds just grew and grew, hundreds of people cheering me on to the finish. Shouts of “last push now”, “almost there” but my favorite shout had to be “Go on Barlick, not bad for a fell runner” then turning to his wife and saying “he’s a fell runner love” haha, if he only knew! I rounded the final corner and saw the finish line, the cheers were deafening as my name was shouted out over the PA system. I crossed the line in 2:33:15 and came to a complete halt, my legs seized, my feet burned and a horrid pain grumbled through my knee but it didn’t matter as I’d finished and beat my target time!
Gaz finished just over a minute behind (great run) and Ian a couple of mins further back with Cannonball John. After a quick catch up I got my bag and headed to watch Christina finish. I saw the 3 hour pacer come round the last corner at around 2:57 and prayed she was somewhere there, by this time runners were finishing 5 deep which made it difficult to spot people but out of the corner of my eye I spotted her crossing the line in 2:58!!!
I shuffled back round to the race village and grabbed hold of her and squeezed her tight, she’d done it and I was so proud of her – I won’t go into detail but doubts had set in after a post race shut down at Wilmslow half due to the viral infection, but those demons had been rid now and we were on cloud nine!
So there you have it – No set training plan, no real taper, no carb depletion/loading and no feeding strategy = targets achieved – who would have thought it!
Know your body, train hard, have a race plan, make the right decisions at the right time and above all KEEP IT SIMPLE…….that’s all there is to it really! Happy Running
Strava stats https://www.strava.com/activities/288497696