For the Manchester marathon I had a plan. It started in December and ended on Sunday 10th of April. There have been ups and downs, an injury at the start, continued with an illness and finally got back on track at the end of January. From then on I have followed the training plan as closely as I could and then there was the pacing plan. I have bored you all with too many details of the training, today I bore you with my pacing and racing.
I am lucky enough to have friends who could put me up for a couple of days in Manchester, and other friends gullible enough to meet up the night before. So Saturday night belly full of pasta and butterflies, my head full of sub 4’s and pacing I proceeded to deliver a soliloquy on the pacing strategy for the next day. The most important thing was to remember the pace plan. All too often in the excitement of a race it is easy to get carried away and start too quickly, full of energy and excitement. Of course that kind of strategy has meant disastrous races in the past, I am thinking of The Thames Meander where I did the first 17 miles about 15 secs quicker than I intended. That ended with 8 miles of cramp. In Manchester my goal was to keep everything together and stick to the fucking plan. It had worked in Marrakech with an obsessive monitoring of my pace, and it was going to work here. My supporters were primed. No cheers, no shouts of well done or looking good, the only sanctioned encouragement was “stick to the fucking plan”. My mantra and obsession.
I was dropped off early, put my bags in the baggage drop and spent three quarters of an hour shivering in the fresh bright morning, going over the plan in my head. I met a few twitterlings, though I wasn’t my usual sparkly self, pre race nerves. I should have met them after, but a 2 hour wait for baggage stopped that. As I made my way to my start area I went over the plan again…. 10 miles @9:00-9:10 the next 10 miles @8:40-8:50 and whatever I had left for the last 6. All carefully calculated to bring me in under the 4 hour mark. There I was standing back from the start line, near enough next to the 4:30 pacer, a plan in place a Shot blok rolling round my mouth and tannoy announcements bypassing conscious thought. The crowd started moving toward the start line, then started to jog, I clicked my Garmin on, and we were across the line. Cue the obsessive pace monitoring.
I started well, luckily the crowd was not too closely packed, and the 4:30 time was quick enough that although I was continually moving through the field nobody was actually getting in my way and slowing me down. In fact the real challenge was making sure I held back and didn’t let my legs get carried away. As often happens you start to notice people around you keeping to roughly the same pace, I settled in behind a particularly appealing bottom and tried to stay there. Around mile 2 I heard a gentle calling from the side of the road, drifting across the still morning air “Stick to the Fucking Plan”, I stopped watching the bum, checked my pace and shouted back. “I’m sticking to the fucking plan”.
I stayed with that bottom for the next 10 miles, sometimes I would just nudge ahead, and sometimes I would drift back a bit, but in the main we stuck together. We passed the 4:15 pacer and I put a mental tick in place. I was at least going to PB but the sub 4 was the goal, somewhere ahead was the 4 hour guy and I needed to get past him. This posterior was doing me good. In my head I was going to thank it for it’s inspirational pacing but alas that was not to be. I had a plan, and that bums plan was different to mine, I was a mile late but at 11 my pace picked up, approximately 20 secs a mile quicker and my pert companion was left behind.
As I settled down 2 things happened, in the distance I spotted the flag of Mr 4 hours, and from the side I heard my support crew calling. “Stick to the fucking plan”, “I am” came my slightly more breathless reply and keeping an eye on my pace I gradually started to gain on the 4 hour pacer. Around mile 20 I passed him and in my head I was there, as long as I kept in front I would get my sub 4. I carried on adjusting the plan just stay ahead of the 4 hour man. I kept glancing back and for the next 2 miles I was pulling away, and then he began to creep up on me. I pushed my little legs harder, but they were really starting to hurt now. The shot blok I had at mile 20 was annoying me. Normally I quite like to roll one around my mouth to keep me entertained while I run. Now it was churning my stomach and had to go. By mile 23 he was breathing down my neck and I pushed as hard as I could. Next thing the little shit was past me. In my head I had failed. I let myself down, I let my friends down, I let down runners everywhere sub 4 was pulling slowly ahead of me and I had no hope and I would have to remain hiding in Manchester forever unable to be let loose in polite company. “Fuck it though, even now it would still be an epic PB and I am not going to give up.”
I kept going and changed my watch to look at total time and average pace. It was at that point with 2 miles left to go that I realised I still had about 21 mins to finish the marathon in. My poor little legs were like bloody jelly though and I made a calculated gamble. Rather than run slower and slower until I ground to a halt I walked. Only a hundred yards or so, but enough to rest legs and let me continue at a reasonable pace. As I started the last mile I picked up one of my friends in the crowd running along beside me. “Stick to the plan” but the plan was beyond me now. All I could manage was a short walk and then a run repeated over and over while I got closer to the end. Finally the line was crossed I looked down at my Garmin 3:59:13. I had done it, sub 4 achieved, all was right in the world and I could return home.