Greater Manchester Marathon (Race recap)

I love that I’m sitting down to write my Manchester marathon recap on Marathon Monday in Boston. It was actually one year ago, when I watched the race while taking care of my mother after her eye surgery that I started to feel that desire to try running a marathon again.

My favourite race partner. <3

After the STWM half last year, Mike and I met with Rejean to talk about our goals for 2015. Based on my first two marathon attempts, Rejean said that the next marathon I ran should be focused on finishing strong, rather than achieving an aggressive time goal: “you’ll still be challenged, but it won’t be an all-out effort”.

Not long after, I found out that I got into the Berlin marathon through the lottery. On one hand, I knew I could use Berlin as my “finish strong” effort, but on the other hand, I wanted to try racing it with my team and seeing how well I could do. In order to do that, I felt like I needed a “practice” marathon to overcome my fear of running that distance.

Since Mike had recently registered for Rotterdam, I decided to use the fact that he’d be training for a marathon while we were in Europe as an opportunity to do the same. When I found out that the Greater Manchester marathon was held one week later, I registered with the knowledge that I could back out at any minute if I got injured or changed my mind about going through with it. I told myself that I could treat the entire race like an extended long run with water stops if I wanted to. I still worked and trained really hard over the last few months. I stuck to my plan as best I could, but I also tried not obsess about the actual race too much. It wasn’t until after Rotterdam was over, that I shifted my focus to Manchester. It was happening.

The race “expo” – one tent for general inquiries. Another for out of town bib pickup.

Manchester was the perfect practice race. It was very low key; they didn’t even have a pre-race expo. They mailed out bibs to local runners and the rest of us had to pick up our bib from a tent in the parking lot of the old Manchester Stadium. You could tell the organizers focused on the details that mattered, though. They sent out a marathon handbook to participants and had a spectator handbook available as well.  They also handed out bottles with caps rather than cups for water. I thought this would be annoying, but I ended up keeping the bottles with me in between stations so that I could take my gels on my own schedule (I had timed them to align with the water stations, but they never seemed to be where I was expecting them to be). I couldn’t have done that with paper cups! The only thing I want to remember if I run a race with water bottles again is to keep the plastic cover lid on! It was a little hard to pull off at times, but it broke off one of the bottles I was carrying which resulted in water spilling out all over my hands and legs while I ran. Not fun when it was still a little cold.

The water tables weren’t consistently spaced out, so I had to do a little extra thinking to figure out when to take them. There were 13 water stations in total at 3.2km, 7.4km, 15km, 18.5km, 22.6km, 25.8km, 30.6km, 34.5km, 36.3km, 38.4km, 40km, 41.6km. I sent my tentative fueling strategy to Rejean and he made a few tweaks, recommending the stations bolded and underlined above.

I’d take these bottles over paper cups any day. Except for the waste. I really only took two sips for every gel, and the occasional “mouth splash” if I was feeling dry. I didn’t dare drink any more because I was afraid of overdoing it.

The crowd support was really great, too. While the race was smaller in size compared to Toronto’s Waterfront marathon, I’d say it had slightly better crowd support. I think there were about 12,000 runners in total (there was a full marathon and a relay).

The Race

Rejean’s plan for me was was to start the first 2-3kms at a 5:25/km pace and then drop to 5:20 until I hit a slight hill at around 20km. After that, I could drop to a few 5:15’s but “nothing too crazy” until 34km. From there, I was supposed to take it 1km at a time until the end and drop it even more if I was feeling good, but he warned me that it was a slight incline all the way to the finish.

Eating a few PowerBar Shot chews 15-20 minutes before the race started – and trying to wrap my head around running a whole marathon.

I knew that just finishing feeling strong was going to be a huge challenge. My last two experiences were so traumatizing, that I still wasn’t even sure I’d make it through the entire 42.2kms without a massive bonk at the end. So even though the paces Rejean gave me sounded manageable, I went into the race expecting a finish time of anything between 3:45 and 4:30 (if I hit the wall and had to walk the last portion).

First Half 

KM Splits:
(1) 5:40 (2) 5:25 (3) 5:22 (4) 5:19 (5) 5:22
(6) 5:22 (7) 5:24* (8) 5:18 (9) 5:18 (10) 5:21
(11) 5:21 (12) 5:27* (13) 5:18 (14) 5:17 (15) 5:23
(16) 5:21 (17) 5:19 (18) 5:19* (19) 5:15 (20) 5:20 (21) 5:12

*Planned water stops (according to water table locations): 7.4km, 12.1km, 18.5km.

I asked Mike to write my planned water breaks as small as possible on my wrist. I emphasized “as small as possible”. He tried…

Notes:

  • We lucked out with great temperature. It was around 10C when we started, cloudy and most of the wind held off until the 25-30km mark (and even then, it wasn’t that bad). I couldn’t have asked for better weather. I wore my Pace & Mind singlet, Nike shorts, and my Brooks PureCadence shoes.
  • I was terrified of starting out too fast, so I lined up around the 4:00 corral and still started off slower than everyone around me. Rather than try to hit 5:25 for three kms right off the bat, I let myself start off even more conservatively and slowly built up to my targeted pace. I didn’t even bother trying to weave around people in the first km.
  • The first 5kms or so were not as flat as I was expecting. We kept going up these mini rises and it burnt my calves. I’m surprised I didn’t panic at this considering how early in the race it was. I guess I just figured I could always slow down if I needed to.
  • My Equal Bones headband fell off somewhere around 4kms and I stupidly tried to turn around and pick it up. Bad idea with a hoard of runners coming up directly behind me. A girl ended up crashing into me (she didn’t fall) and rightfully yelled at me and angrily asked me what I was doing. I felt terrible. I hope I didn’t ruin her race. I wrapped the headband around my wrist, but when I pulled my gloves off to take my first gel, the headband flew off as well and this time, I decided to leave it. :(
  • I was surrounded by people from start to finish so it never really thinned out enough for me to have lots of space. This meant grabbing water was a challenge and the first time I did it, the volunteers hadn’t replenished the tables in time so I had to reach over the table and in the process cut off a runner who was right behind me. Eventually, I learned to stick my arm out and point to the table for a few meters so that runners behind me would know I was slowing down.
  • I cannot stand fuel belts. I have tried at least 4 or 5 different brands and they just bounce around and cause major chafing. I ended up cutting the edges around my gels so they wouldn’t scratch me and shoved two into my sports bra and safety pinned the other four onto the waist band of my shorts using this method. It worked like a charm and I will absolutely be doing this again.
  • The first water station was supposed to be at 7.4km, but when my Garmin told me I was at 7.5km and I hadn’t seen the water table, I panicked and thought I had missed it. A few ladies around me confirmed that I had missed it so I started to stressing out about messing up my fueling so early on. Luckily, I saw Mike minutes later and ran diagonally across to him immediately to steal some of his water. I… probably angered more runners in the process. #amateur

    Everyone’s going in one direction, while I’m cutting across like it’s a game of frogger.
  • The “hill” at 20km turned out to be nothing. It started off going up a bridge, but as I went up it, I just chanted “Granichen, Granichen, Granichen” in my head and recalled all of those monstrous hills we would routinely run. The rest of the hill continued until around 21km and was fine. I just kept the effort level the same and didn’t panic about my pace dropping slightly – not something I was able to do last year.
I was happy throughout this entire race. Relaxed and happy. This is a completely foreign concept to me.

Second Half

KM Splits:
(22) 5:09 (23) 5:16 (24) 5:19 (25) 5:14
(26) 5:24* (27) 5:13 (28) 5:11 (29) 5:11 (30) 5:17
(31) 5:23* (32) 5:15 (33) 5:13 (34) 5:16* (35) 5:20
(36) 5:17 (37) 5:10 (38) 5:10 (39) 5:13 (40) 5:07
(41) 5:08 (42) 5:11 (43) 1:05 (4:46/km)

*Planned water stops (according to water table locations): 25.8km, 30.6km, 34.5km.

Notes:

  • I was amazed at how fast the whole race went by. I wasn’t counting down the hours like I have in the past. I wasn’t listening to music at this point and I wasn’t breathing hard at all. It felt as leisurely and as easy as a long run until I hit the 40km mark, when my legs started to tire a little. I’m shocked at what a taper and lots of carb loading can do for your energy levels. I also think all of those solo long runs I did this training cycle really made a difference in my ability to zone out.
  • Somewhere between 25km, I started to catch up to the 3:45 pace bunny. I tried to ignore the group because I really just wanted to run at my own pace which tends not to be very consistent. I thought running with them might make me go faster than I wanted to, but surprisingly, I found myself slowly passing the group. About 1-2kms later, I caught up to the 3:44 pace bunny (I didn’t even know there was one!) and ran with them for a while. Slowly, I began to pass them too and realized that I might have a chance at hitting my 3:45 goal time if I banked enough time to account for fading…
  • My legs started to feel a little tired at about 30km, and even though it was nothing major, the alarmist in me thought it was the beginning of “the wall”, so I popped in my earphones and spent an embarrassingly long amount of time fiddling with my ipod and headphones. I’ve come to the conclusion over my last few races that I really don’t like listening to music during races. It used to be my crutch and my distraction. But now, I actually find music way too distracting. Also, my legs never got worse or reached that “too heavy to move” feeling. What!?
  • We passed a really well supported section at around 24 mile mark (~38km) and that’s when it hit me that I was going to finish this thing in one piece. At this point, I was still feeling good so I decided to drop the pace a little more. I felt the gradual incline to the finish, but it didn’t really hold me back. THANK YOU, hills of Switzerland!

The last time I glanced down at my watch, I saw that I was at 40km. I was starting to feel tired, but not exhausted. I still couldn’t and can’t believe it. I finally saw Mike again at the 41km mark, but I was too focused to talk to him (sorry, honey!). I just wanted to get to the end without stopping or slowing down. As I turned the final corner and saw the finish line, I dropped the pace a tiny bit more.

I think this was somewhere between 41km and 42km. I just wanted to cross the finish line already!

The second I crossed the finish line and saw the clock was 3:46:xx, I knew I had to have come close to 3:45. Then I looked down at my watch and when I saw 3:41:52, I burst into tears.

Me telling Mike in between sobs that “I did it”. All I wanted to do was hug him, but we were separated by this fence Walking Dead style.

Final stats

Chip time: 3:41:46.
First half split: 1:52:22 (5:20/km)
Second half split: 1:49:24 (5:11/km)

Post-race Thoughts

I’m thrilled with my time. Finishing faster than I was expecting has never happened to me. The only thing I focused on during the race was to finish strong. I kept telling myself so many times to slow down because I was worried about running out of energy later on. The fact that I managed to slash over an hour off my previous marathon time was the icing on the cake. I felt physically and mentally stronger than my last two marathons. I also ran the whole thing and never had to take any walking breaks.

Happy, satisfied, and not really able to walk properly.

I know these types of races are one in a million, so I’m not holding my breath and expecting everything to come together so well again anytime soon. But, it’s given me confidence that I CAN survive the marathon and it’s even given me a whole new level of appreciation for this distance as well.

And now, the elusive BQ seems slightly more in reach. I knew going into this marathon that a BQ was out of the question, so it was never on the table. But now? Now, I’m starting to fantasize a little! I know it’s going to take a lot of work AND luck with ideal racing conditions to BQ, but IF I manage to pull this off in Berlin or early next year, it’ll be so very worth all the blood, sweat, and tears. I can’t wait to continue training. I can’t wait to try. I can’t wait to run my next marathon.

alison

Maybe it’s time to stop jumping

When I told my mom that we were taking an extended holiday in Europe and also considering going back to school when I came back, she accused me of jumping from fire to fire. I suppose I can understand why she would say that.

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I caught myself wishing I could look at this every day. I also knew it was unrealistic.

I guess I do have a habit of jumping to something new when something isn’t working for me. I do believe that I try really hard to make things work before I walk away. I spend countless hours (Libra, here) weighing out the pros and cons to staying or leaving. Sometimes I’ve overstayed my welcome and things slip out of my hands. Other times, I have walked away with minimal regret.

IMG_0135
Some decisions are harder than others.

So, when we came to Europe, I went through phases of desire with each city we visited. In Scandinavia, I tried to imagine what living in each city would be like long-term. I liked what I envisioned. I’d start listing out all the pros of what life could be like if we tried to settle in each city we were currently in. But often, we’d come across a few cons which would lead me to immediately flag it as “un-livable” to us and then we’d move on.

It occurred to me over the last few months that what we’re doing could be considered running from city to city – literally and figuratively speaking.

Being over here has given us the freedom to dream and imagine what life could be like living in any of these cities. Visas and employment aside, I’d say my order of preference would be:

  1. Switzerland (German, then French side)
  2. Germany (Berlin, then Frankfurt)
  3. Sweden (Stockholm or Gothenburg)
  4. Denmark (Copenhagen)
  5. England (London)

Before we came over here, London was always my number one choice. I’ve dreamt about living in London for as long as I can remember. It’s so interesting how being in a different stage in your life can change your perspective. In a different stage in my life, no other city (except maybe Manhattan) would have satisfied me and so I stayed living in Toronto.

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City must-have: stunning scenery.

Now I’ve come to realize that the destination of where we’re living matters less. Now our must-have list looks like this:

  • Must be near natural beauty (seeing the Alps every day when I went for a run really changed my whole perspective on what makes me happy on a daily basis);
  • Must have fresh food available. I’m much more satisfied when I’m eating real, flavourful food. I’ve been missing out in Toronto (I mostly shopped in Chinatown where the majority of the food is imported). Farmers markets are great, but I’d love to have access to this type of food all year round.
  • Must place an emphasis on work life balance, being especially understanding of hobbies outside of work. It doesn’t / shouldn’t always be about work, nor should your status be completely tied to your career.
  • Must have an active community. We got some weird looks when we’d be out running in certain neighbourhoods. I also did 90% of my runs completely solo except in some cities where running groups existed. I’d like to have the choice to train with groups.

Over the last week, I’ve realized that I’m reaching the point where I might be done with jumping for a while. I’m not exactly homesick yet, but I miss having a home base. Moving around all the time and not having our own space to relax in is starting to get tiring, not to mention expensive. The crazy, awesome thing is that Mike told me that he was feeling same way. I’m always relieved when we’re in sync like that.

Travelling is great, and I’m so happy that I finally got to try this lifestyle out. Something tells me that this won’t be the last time we take an extended trip to Europe. Life is short, and we should prioritize whatever inspires us and makes us happy.

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I didn’t regret a single run in Switzerland.

I also realized something powerful today. I’ve been happy nonstop since we came here in January. Sure there have been a few panicked moments where I’ve asked myself what I want to achieve in the next 2 to 5 years, but the difference is that I haven’t felt despair over the fact that I didn’t have a definitive answer. I made it through another winter with a smile on my face and feeling energized and refreshed. It feels so good. 

 
alison

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