Reflections on Manchester

As discussed in my race report for the Greater Manchester Marathon, I wanted to put together a separate post looking back at my race, my achievement and what life has been like after running my first marathon, physically and mentally. There was too much of this to put in one post and for all the stuff I’ve read about how a marathon can change your life, wow, they were all correct there.

The race

First of all, I want to look back on the race as there were a number of things I found out about myself from that race I’d like to discuss.

I had no time in mind really when getting ready for this race but I expected to finish in around 3 hours, 15 minutes. That’s what I put on the form and even when I ran Liversedge in 1:22:41 I refused to be swayed on the equation that your best marathon time is your half marathon best doubled, plus 10 minutes. That would have put me around 2:55 and that for me would have seemed far too quick to run 26.2 miles in my first marathon. But on the day when I reached the start line there was a sense that I might get carried with the race and so after the first mile, which according to watch time went for 7m08s, I made a conscious decision to go after the 3-hour pacemaker in the distance which by mile 7 I was a few seconds behind him and decided to stick with the pace.

Someone on Marathon Talk mentioned the pacemaker was actually two minutes quicker and my watch supports this. I’ve fair few miles between mile 7 and mile 20 where my pace was between 6:41 and 6:48 per mile – though I checked my watch on the bleep a fair few times up til about 20 miles, I never thought I was going overly fast and that I went through halfway in just under 1:30:00 I never thought the pacemaker was going slightly too quickly and I’m not going to say he was the reason I tanked at mile 24. And in any event I refuse to be hard on myself because this was my first crack at a marathon and it was bound to happen, right? The first one was always going to be a learning curve and I feel if there’s any reason for the wall hitting, it’s either that I didn’t fuel up enough during the race – I only took two gels during the race – and more importantly, I believe that had I not lost out on around three crucial weeks of training which included a 21 mile long run, I might well have lasted those final 2.2 miles with a little left in the tank.

The blisters I mentioned were again a new experience for me and I did think they might derail my race, but naively I forgot about what adrenaline can do for you and so they didn’t end up bothering me until afterwards. They’ve healed now and so I’m back in the swing of light training.

There’s plenty to learn from this experience about fuelling strategies, pacing strategies, and indeed, I can always improve my core and strength conditioning in my joints and everywhere else. But as far as a race plan went, it was almost perfect and all in all, I achieved my aim – to finish. I’ve never felt so exhausted, yet so happy.

Recovery

The good news is that my pre-race injury in my left foot didn’t flare up and so seems to have cleared. I had some blisters which were initially painful but have now healed. The only thing concerning me on that side is my left arch which I pulled slightly tending to one of my kids in a stairwell. I overstretched it – about a week before the marathon, but it didn’t turn out to be a problem and right now it’s the focus of preventative treatment, because I wouldn’t want that to get any worse.

I immediately began reading up on strategies for post-marathon recovery when I got home from my father’s house, and I ascertained that hot salty baths, foam rolling and a healthy diet of carbs, protein and vitamin C were required. I certainly foam rolled and had a hot bath that night, but I was out of salts and good food was in low supply. Thank goodness I had the next two days off – it meant I could restock on good food and bath salts. Surprisingly I didn’t seem to ache too bad on day one, but after falling asleep (really) while stretching late that night, I woke the next morning feeling stiff as a board, particularly in my calves and hamstrings. I continued to follow up on my nutritional plan (although I let myself go with one too many biscuits that night), and the evening brought another bout of foam rolling and stretching.

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Wellholme Park, Brighouse

Mentally I was all over the shop – I didn’t feel myself at times and returning to work on Wednesday was seemingly hard work in itself – I wasn’t organised at all and ended up in a bit of a rush to get ready for my late start. All I wanted to do was stretch, foam roll and relax. But thankfully the transition back into work was seamless and on Saturday I went on my first post-race run – a 2 mile jog of two laps around my local park. I felt a bit tight afterwards but it was good to stretch it out and I feel ready to gradually pick it up again.

And on my state of mind – well, they say running a marathon is one of the best things you can do. And without question it is one of the best things I have ever done. For a few days afterwards I couldn’t help but smile – despite the aches and pains from it all, I’d just completed the biggest achivement of my running life. I never dreamed of running a marathon when I stepped out on a rainy September morning in 2012, doing three miles back and forth on the main road below my house. But running has pushed me to challenge myself and I won that challenge. It’s made me as happy with running as I can remember. Without question it’s the greatest achievement of my running career so far, and that’s in the face of some great shifts I’ve put in at other races over the last year. Running a marathon is a different beast altogether and just to finish Manchester makes me feel very proud.

What next?

As it turns out, 3:02:05 for a 30 year old me is actually a Good For Age time for the London Marathon. Knowing I can potentially get straight in with this time is amazing and I’m 99% certain I’ll be signing up for London 2016. I also read I’m within selection criteria for the Boston Marathon, but I can’t afford to travel out there and I’ve not got the strongest time (yet) to put myself in with a shot of being selected. But maybe that’s something else to work towards. Whatever the case, despite uttering the words ‘never again’ after crossing the finish line, I’ve got the bug! And I’d be pretty daft to turn down the opportunity to run London.

But more immediately, I’ve got a summer of racing to plan and most strikingly I just signed up for Go Tri’s Yorkshire Aquathlon on Sunday May 17th. I’m still not very good at swimming – progress there has been very stop start – but for a fiver I can sample multisport and not have to spend loads on the gear to find out if I like it. The premise of these events is to offer entrants a taster of triathlon, through creating shorter distance events to get a flavour of the real thing. And even for someone of poor ability in the pool like me, I believe I can manage 100 metres in the pool, and then hammer out two 600 metre laps. So it’s time to bust out the swimming trunks again!

Other than that, I have my eye on a few 10Ks, a half marathon, and maybe even another marathon before the year is out! I’ll certainly keep you posted. But right now I know that I’m in a really happy place as a runner, and completing this marathon has helped me to rediscover my appetite for a challenge and that the new goals I will look to pursue will keep me motivated for years to come.

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Thank you everyone for reading my Marathon Training series and my subsequent two-part race feature on the Greater Manchester Marathon. Throughout the last four months there have been a great many of you who’ve encouraged me, given me advice, supported me, given me lifts to the tops of big hills, and one or two of you may have heard me rabbit on about nothing but running. But whoever you are, cheers for tuning in to this runner and for enjoying what I have to say whether I know you or if you’re in another far flung corner of the globe. Until next time!

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