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Manchester Marathon race report by James Barnet

After much anticipation, my biggest race of the year and final big race pre-baby took place on Sunday 14 April. Although I am prone to having the occasional bad race every now and again, I feel very fortunate to have never had a bad marathon. This was my 3rd fast flat marathon and I really feel at the 3rd time of trying, that I’ve now properly mastered the marathon distance. At the previous 2 marathons in Berlin and Chicago, although they were good races, I suffered a drop off in the final few miles which cost me a precious few minutes. That didn’t happen one bit at Manchester. If there was ever a perfect race, this was it. Racing in general is a learning process, but that is particularly amplified at the marathon distance.

So what did I do differently? I took on 6 gels, including 1 immediately before the start, as opposed to 3 gels in total during each of the previous 2 marathons. Water was also supplied in bottles at Manchester, as opposed to cups at Berlin and Chicago. This made it easy to pop in an electrolyte tab and then drink the whole bottle gradually over several miles, ensuring I kept hydrated. I also had family support at 11.5 and near 26 miles, which undoubtedly spurred me on. The day before the race also didn’t involve the usual 10K walk around a city and to the expo to pick up a race number. I also didn’t have any bad training runs during the training block for this marathon, with my Garmin stats suggesting I was in the best marathon form I’d ever been in. Each of these probably contributed in varying degrees to finally feeling like I got the most out of this marathon. My pre-marathon target was 2hr56-2hr57mins…the time I was on course for at Chicago before the late drop off, and a time which should guarantee me GFA entry into the Boston marathon next year.

I also feel very lucky that all of the big marathons I’ve competed in have had almost perfect weather on race day. Manchester was no exception. High pressure to the south and low pressure to the north-west ensured a dry but cool westerly airflow, with temperatures rising up to around 12-13C by the end of the race. The sun was in and out between the clouds, and while it got just a little on the warm side during prolonged sunny spells, it generally wasn’t long before the sun would go behind the clouds again. The westerly wind formed a headwind in a few sections but generally not for long and had more benefit as a cooling effect.

The race route forms an interesting shape as it carves its way from a start/finish at Old Trafford across southern Manchester, through Sale and out as far as Altrincham. After the pancake-flat Chicago marathon, Manchester did definitely have more “hills”. However, these were all gentle rises, although some did seem to go on for rather a long time on tired legs. I don’t feel though that this made Manchester a slower course, as we also had the pleasure of running down those gentle “hills” again to make the time back up. The gentle undulations also worked out some different leg muscles, which I think might have actually been a benefit.

The support on the race route was often fantastic. Particularly noteworthy parts included Sale, where my family support were based on the way out, and Altrincham at the southernmost point, where the streets were narrow and the big crowds made a huge amount of noise at close proximity. There were also some quieter sections, but generally it wasn’t long before we’d arrive at an area with good support. The water stations were well spaced and it was such a relief to get water in bottles to carry along with you. It’s a real shame that Berlin and Chicago didn’t do this.

Despite a bit of calf tightness around mile 10, I knew things were going well as I rhythmically pumped in the miles between 6.30 and 6.40 min/mile pace, slowly banking time on my 2hr57min target. I’d banked a minute by the halfway point and almost 2 mins by mile 23. The fact that a drop off might come in those last few miles was always in the back of my mind, as it had come in the previous marathons. The time in hand though ensured that I was still on for a PB regardless and the 2hr57min target looked within reach. 

However, the drop off never came! I kept pumping in the final miles at the same pace, continuing to pass people, in contrast to previously where I would have been falling back. I couldn’t believe it and could barely contain my excitement. The final icing on the cake was seeing my family support around mile 26, which spurred me on to increase my pace and use up all remaining energy reserves to sprint for the line. I didn’t quite have the 2 mins in hand at that point, but the final sprint allowed me to break the 2hr55 barrier and finish in 2hr54mins42secs, achieving a small negative split over the full marathon distance. Would I have done it without that late family support? I’ll never know. They were due to see me for the final time at mile 21 but mile 26 was a much better place in hindsight.

So that’s the 2hr55min marathon barrier smashed, rather unexpectedly, now I need to find a new target. Oh, I also secured my DRR gold standard with the marathon too 😄. My racing calendar is looking sparse at the moment for the coming months but will likely focus on shorter faster races, before Hannah and I run Boston marathon this time next year. It was also lovely to catch up with the fellow DRR and FRC runners at various points before and after the race, most of which also smashed their pre-race targets!

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