Sunday April 19th, 2015, 4:40am
This isn’t a dream. It’s only the second time I’ve woken up in a state of ‘holy shit’ in my life, the other being my wedding day nearly five years ago. On that day the effects of a very spicy pizza quickly distracted me and thus my nerves settled. This time, there was no escape. I rubbed my hands over my face, opened my eyes and quietly whispered to myself ‘what have you done?!‘
I got out of bed, showered off, got dressed into some of my running kit and layered up top. I took out a rubbish bag or two and then proceeded to make porridge. As the porridge span round in the pyrex jug for a third minute, I rang the taxi. I poured the porridge into a container, dolloped in a spoon of manuka honey, and packed it along with the rest of the kit in my bag that was packed the night before. I left the house at 5:40am and was whisked away to Huddersfield train station for the delayed 5:58am service to Manchester.
Normally such comforts are undertaken at home but there I was, shovelling porridge down my gullet in the waiting room, contemplating the fact that I’d left my Balega socks on the radiator at home. Unable to change that circumstance, the train eventually arrived and I was soon in Manchester and in the company of another few early rising runners on the Metrolink to Old Trafford. A ten minute walk later down the long red section of Manchester and there we all were outside the Theatre of Dreams – or in today’s case, the maker of memories.
Its the Greater Manchester Marathon. My first ever marathon. What these last nine months of thoughts, and sixteen weeks of training were all about. I was grateful for getting there early – the place was still quiet just after 7am and it gave me chance for a brew and to say hello to one or two of the Xtra Mile crew for whom I volunteered at the Leeds Xpress Triathlon last year to get into this race. None of this was dispelling the pre-race nerves – without question this was as nervous as I’d ever been although I was largely keeping myself to myself. Until I bumped into Roger, a fellow runner I met after the Great Birmingham Run, who greeted me by offering to take a photo of me that I was attempting to take of myself, knowing through his wife that I blog this stuff. So here’s a photo of me before the race:
I didn’t have a time in mind before the race, although I was asked to put one down on my race application. I gave 3:15 following my result at Liversedge when I did the half there in 1:22:41. In truth I had no idea what time I would finish in and I always knew I would be happy first and foremost to finish the race. The time is irrelevant at this point, and given I lost out on my longest training run through that injury, it would depend on what I felt comfortable with as the race unfolded.
Nonetheless, I calmed down a bit as I was now just in my race gear, including the Hilly compression socks that would have been for afters ideally, given I preferred the Balegas. I did some of the Asics warm-up and left halfway through as I seemed to be jarring my left knee more often than not, and opted to make my way towards the start line instead of potentially inducing a last minute injury, only stopping to dispense of the wrapper from a carb-loaded snack bar and to do a few stretches, along with some more dynamic exercises as I approached Zone B – the 3:00-3:29 group.
I don’t recall hearing a gun, or a horn, or anything, signalling the start of the race other than the PA, but finally the moment had come. I hit the Garmin as I crossed the first of three timing mats and set off along with the thousands of others in attendance. We proceeded down… and before long, the collective beep from everyone’s watches (a beautiful sound!) signalled mile 1. 7:08. This felt reasonably comfortable for me and so I made a decision that would indeed shape my race. In the distance, I saw the flag of the 3:00 pacemaker. I decided I was going to slowly reel him in. And then I was going to try and keep with that group. I hadn’t planned on going this quick, but at the same time I’d done similar metronomic long runs in the past and felt that to reach the average 6:52 per mile required wasn’t beyond me. And so I put in a bit of a kick and when the next mile came up at 6:41 I knew that with plenty in the tank and the feet feeling good, I made a concerted effort and slowly, mile by mile, the flag appeared closer and closer. By mile 7, I was right on the tail of the group the pacemaker had behind him, and so I sat in for the ride.
This was by and large becoming quite enjoyable, despite often being quite bunched, and the water stations were frequent, appearing roughly every couple of miles of so. I grabbed a bag of Jelly Babies from a spectator in Sale and scoffed the lot. The pace of feeling good and I think the first hour went for around 8.9 miles. I was on 3 hour pace in my first marathon. This wasn’t in the script, but I had the belief inside to stick with it and just to control my pace.
The sock issue became apparent after mile 9, however, when I started to feel discomfort building in the fore of my left foot. I decided not to stop and adjust and so I stuck with it. The chafing sensation below wasn’t going away but as the miles progressed I worried less and less about it and at halfway I was just inside the 3 hour pace. Still going well and still in control of my breathing. Excellent. By mile 15 I finally decided I was going to have one of the two gels in my shorts, having declined them for the sweets and the Myoprotein isotonic drink that had been handed out earlier. I had one there and decided to follow it up with the other between 17 and 18. Still relatively inexperienced and wary of gels, that’s all I had between myself and the feed stations and I declined to take a gel at mile 19. But I was still going strong and at one point, right behind the 3:00 pacemaker as the race went through mile 20. This was now uncharted territory. Now with effectively a 10K to go, I’d gone through at around 2:16 and with a 10K PB of 37:15, I felt if I could hang on, the sub-3 was on. I even had the idea of overtaking the pacemaker!
That wasn’t to materialise, and the last four miles signalled that the wheels were coming off. Given it hadn’t happened to me before, I didn’t know what to expect. But my mile pace had dropped above 7:00 pace for mile 23 and 24 of the race and suddenly I was now feeling the burn. I decided to slow down to a walk for 20 seconds to conserve some energy. Quickly fellow runners were urging me to keep going and I duly resumed with another first-timer alongside.
The pacemaker was now becoming more and more distant and we agreed that the time wasn’t important, and he suggested we run to the finish together. Kind as this offer was, I was struggling to keep with him and half a mile later he was gone. I was tanked. I’d been reduced to a bit of a trudge and was going backwards. Not that I cared – this wasn’t about position or time, I just wanted to get to the end. I took only a couple more sips from one of the last water stations and I was now digging deep. Calling out to my mother to carry me. Once slapping myself in the temple to try and adrenalize myself. It didn’t seem to be working, but the legs were still going and now, as the race returned towards Old Trafford, the crowds had built up and then some. Complete strangers yelling my name and urging me on from both sides and all angles. I turned left and there it was, a runway down to the finish. Suddenly a bit of life kicked in to my lower limbs and, inspired by the triathlon finishes I’ve seen on TV, went right and then left as I indulged in some Brownlee-style handslapping with the crowd! I kept going, looked up and thanked my mother. Then I raised my arms in the air and crossed the line.
I stood, hands of my knees, exhausted. I’d made it! I said to myself ‘never again‘. I had a foil blanket wrapped around me. I received a medal and then a finishers goody bag. The next stand had protein shakes. I took one and drank three quarters of it. By now I was feeling sick. Noticing a man walking round with a tray of Erdinger Alkoholfrei, I lobbed the errant shake in the bin and gratefully took a beer. That’s what I needed – completely refreshing and I smiled. I had done it. I finished. I completed my first marathon. Unbelievable!
There was a German man stood at a table at which everyone was writing their finishing time on some sort of mural. I asked for a pen and wrote mine down. ‘Peter Clegg – The watch says 3:02:11! 1st Marathon!‘ I went off to collect my bag and carried out a few stretches with some difficulty. I phoned my wife who congratulated me and told me according to my ChipRace updates, I’d finished in a time of 3:02:56 (This turned out to be my gun time. The chip time is 3:02:05). I hadn’t initially cared for my finishing time, but despite just missing out on the sub-3, I was extremely happy to have run such a time on my first attempt.
I returned to the mural to take a picture when the man in question offered to take my picture with it. I was well happy to do this – if only I dropped the plastic bag beforehand. Tsk. But alas, a memento to look back on.
I then decided the massage tent was the place to go and I finally would get a chance to see what this sort of physiotherapy felt like. I paid a £5 donation and got talking to a man who led me to a seat. He asked how my race went and when I said what happened from mile 24 he said ‘ah, you hit the wall!‘ And THAT was it. Of course. The dreaded wall. Well, it had to happen sometime, but I guess that for me was how it felt. A few minutes later I was on the table, my calves, hamstrings and thighs getting a massage that really did help – post-race those stretches didn’t seem to work and I was having real trouble getting anything out of them. By now the adrenaline had worn off and when I stepped back into my shoes, I felt the blistering. Not just on my left foot, but on my right as well. And so hobbling around the race village wasn’t to be a particularly thrilling experience, and after getting a photo with my medal and getting a German Bratwurst that wasn’t really what I wanted, I left with a cup of Yorkshire Tea and decided I needed to get blister plasters. And so I began my journey home. I had my sister’s birthday celebrations at our father’s house to attend.
I firstly went home and was greeted by one of my daughters giving me a big hug as I entered the house. I showed the medal to my wife and recalled the experience in a roundabout way to how I’ve just described it to you. We got a taxi up to my father’s house and while it was relatively quiet, given my sister had done all the partying in the day’s before, it was a nice way to celebrate our respective milestones together.
The foam rolling at the end of the night was a killer – but I could look back upon the day with content. I did it. I finished. I’m a marathoner.
I’ll be following this post with a look back at the race and discussing what it means, and where it might take me next. It deserves it’s own space as otherwise this post might just be a little too long!
I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed recalling it. Thank you so much for reading and I’m happy to be able to share this positive experience.