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My Marathon Debut - Manchester Marathon 2024 - Adam Hart

As the second biggest in the UK, Manchester always seemed attractive as a first marathon without seeming as big and scary as London. So after being rejected from London's ballot (which I was secretly relieved about) I took the plunge last Summer and signed up. Aside from being my largest event in terms of distance, it would also be the largest crowd. The over 30,000 signups eclipses the few hundred I'm used to at local races!

Fast forward to Sunday and it was go time. Forecast was good - cloudy, dry, slight wind and cool. Spot on. I headed to the event village nice and early, finding my fellow runners in the red zone and looking through the crowds in a vague attempt to find other DRRs (I did actually spot Marcus Sheridan here from afar!).

8:40. We moved from the holding pen and onto the start area. I was in the red wave, setting off 4th after the elite wheelchairs, elite runners and white wave. 8:55. Bang. The starter gun and fireball meant the race had begun and off the elites went. After what felt like a very long 15 minutes, and a final bit of encouragement from Mayor Andy Burnham, my wave started at 9:10.

The first 10K took us from the start at the Trafford cricket ground into the city centre. The streets were absolutely lined with supporters here and as they print your name on your number, all the time you're hearing it shouted which really makes it feel like there’s constant support and backing for you. At the first out and back segment here, I got a couple of waves from DRRs George McKinley and Russell Craig. Both I knew had trained well and were looking strong. The official tracker has me passing through 10K in 41:15, 4:08/km. A little under target, but expected from all the early on congestion and people weaving.

Now on towards the halfway point. The kilometres rolled by and I was feeling great. I've been quietly nursing a few niggles in one leg since running the Alloa Half Marathon in mid March and although I could feel them, I don't think they hampered me too much. After 10K I settled into a quicker pace, hovering between 3:58 and 4:04 per km (around 6:24/mi for the imperialists). Not long before the halfway point, I spied a Kinross Road Runners vest (it’s hard to miss that luminous green!) And exchanged "well dones'' as I passed her which briefly made me feel a bit less far from home. The 13.1 mile halfway sign appeared next and the tracker has me going past it at 1:25:39, average pace improving to 4:01/km for the second split.

This was the point where I entered the unknown, I've never raced anything more than a half so the idea of doing one twice on the bounce was something I knew I shouldn't dwell on for too long. It was also here the course deviated from the "flat" route we were promised by Mayor Burnham (typical politician) and for the first time in the day, I felt properly tired and let a little bit of doubt creep in during the short ascent. But after giving myself a wee talking to and with the help of more crowds and more random screaming of my name I pushed on. It was also around here that I spotted out of the corner of my eye a "DRR Rocks!" sign - held by Dave Martin which again gave me a good boost.

The next few Ks came and went and were uneventful - other than seeing a very in the zone Marcus again at another out and back section. The 30K point beckoned and my second wind was still holding strong. Through in 2:01:12 and an average pace of 4:00 for the split.

Fast forward to 35K, the next and probably biggest mental hurdle for me. This equaled the longest long run in my training block and I've never run further. I'd been well warned about the infamous "marathon wall" and sure enough, that was mine. It was like someone had attached a couple of weights to my backside. Everything started to hurt, my breathing started to go and the self doubt returned. I'd been actively trying to avoid looking at my watch, running on feel, but lapsed here and at a glance I saw 4:20/km - a good chunk slower than expected based on how I felt and I took it as a kick to push that little bit harder. I'd come this far, the wheels weren't going to come off now. With the help of a short downhill section, I upped the pace and fought through the pain to get back into a rhythm and bring my breathing back under control. But it hurt so much and I definitely spent most of the time here with gritted teeth and head down, other than when Colin Birtwistle gave me a shoutout as we passed by each other (I tried to respond, but I'm not sure I managed anything more than a glare - sorry Colin!). The last spur on came from Louise Menzies who gave a very welcome cheer not long after. It's funny how knowing you're being observed by friends magically makes you run a bit better!

But through all the hurt, I was almost there. Turning into the final straight which is roughly 800m long I spotted those immortal words in the distance - FINISH. The deafening crowds and confetti flying around was a needed distraction from the state of my legs, which felt close to turning to utter mush (I didn't fancy trying out my Jonny Brownlee impression). From somewhere I managed to dig out a last wee sprint to the line for a strong finish. Crossing the line in 2:50:20 with an average pace overall of 4:03/km (6:31/mi). A time well beyond what I thought I was capable of last year and one I couldn't be happier with (well... I suppose sub-2:50 would have been nice...).

I must've looked a bit rough as I waddled through the finish area, twice being offered a hand from concerned-faced race marshals. But I was more interested in picking up my medal and T shirt so pushed on, before eventually happily collapsing into a heap.

And that was it. Job done. The feeling that all the training, all the early Sunday mornings and dark evening post-work training sessions were all worth it was amazing. It truly was a perfect storm of a solid block of training, feeling great on the day and being SO lucky with the weather - both the evening before and morning after were horrid at times with on and off wind gales and rain.

I booked Monday off work so I could stay overnight and avoid an immediate drive home. So the rest of the day was spent lazing around, eating everything and reading some really nice comments and messages from friends and clubmates who’d been tracking me along the way. This and all the support over the last few months from you all means so much, so thank you all.

My focus for the rest of the year now switches to shorter distances and I've a few races lined up already in the coming months. I'm looking forward to seeing how marathon fitness translates. But before all that - time to rest!

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