The Greater Manchester Marathon, 2013, England

The Greater Manchester Marathon was held on Sunday 28th April, 2013. Below is our review of the event, and a film. Trek and Run were supported during this race by

First of all, here’s a film of the event, it’ll give you an idea of what to expect from the route.

We’d pre-booked parking at Old Trafford, the stadium of Manchester United, as the marathon race village and start/finish line was set up right outside. I thought we’d get a little delay driving in off the motorway but there were a few traffic police keeping things moving so we were straight through to our parking spot right next to the stadium. From there it was literally a 1 minute walk to the race village. I’d really recommend pre-booking parking like this, it only cost £9 per car and it meant we could stay in the warm until half hour before the race and also not need to use the baggage drop as we could just leave our kit in the car.

There were plenty of toilets in the event village so I only had a 10 minute wait even at 8.30am (half hour to race start).

I’d heard that this course was flat and fast but I didn’t expect much of myself as it’s been a tough winter. First a double hernia operation in December that took a while more than usual to recover from, then lack of time had meant that I hadn’t run more than 20kms in one go for over 5 months. My plan was to stay with the 3.15 pacer team until around the 10 mile mark then drop back and try to finish in about 3.30. My PB is 3.21 but that was 2 years ago and I hadn’t done better than 3.29 last year so I reckoned if I could get near that I’d be really happy.

There was a short period of silence out of respect for the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing then a equal amount of applause, and then the great Ron Hill said a few encouraging words over the loud-speaker system and we were off.

For the first 2 miles I concentrated on staying upright. It’s easy to get tripped at the start of races, with so many people running in close proximity (there were about 7,000 of us). I saw one guy go down, poor chap, somebody had clipped his heels. Not sure if he got back up or not. I took a line on the outside of the crowds and kept a metre or so between me and the person in front, and luckily I stayed on my feet.

The conditions were perfect, a little cloudy, about 10 degrees, and the course was indeed as flat as I’d been told. There was a little headwind so I tucked in behind the 3.15 pacer team (there was a guy with a flag and also 4 or 5 others who had vest bibs identifying them as part of the team). It seemed sensible to let them take the brunt of the wind, I was going to have a hard job keeping up with them so I needed to conserve energy.

The route led us through residential areas and town centres. Nobody is ever going to call this a beautiful marathon route, but it has its compensations. Apart from being flat, there is the matter of a great starting and finishing point in front of Manchester United’s stadium, or the ‘Theatre of Dreams’ as it’s known, and also superb crowd support. There was one section at about the 30km stage where we seemed to be running through a tunnel of the most intense noise (it’s captured on the race video so you can hear it for yourself). Imagine, we weren’t even anywhere near the front, yet the supporters were still cheering incredibly loudly. They must have had as much staying power in their own way as we runners had, for sure.

As I’d mentioned, my plan had been to stay with the 3.15 pacer team until that 10 mile mark and then drop back if I felt like I had to. But we’d already passed the half marathon stage before I started to feel any fatigue. I’m not sure why I felt so good. I’d run a pretty hard 10km the day before (the Lakeland Trails Hawkshead 10, a very scenic but tough course) yet still I was moving well. Undoubtedly the flat route was helping me; I was also trying out new compression running kit by Asics and new gels by Torq and both seemed to be helping me improve my performance.

The 35km mark came and went and I was still tucked in behind the pacer. Wow, I was amazed. I even started having visions of leaving him at around the 37km mark and really going for it. I was going to smash my PB but about 20 minutes!!! But then the road came up to meet me, as the Kenyans like to say, or, as we say, I hit the wall. The pacer moved away and I couldn’t keep up. This is where the real race began, for me.

I passed a couple of guys, one was shouting at the other ‘Come on, you’re an Ironman, you can finish this, just keep the pacer’s flag in sight, run faster!’ and the other guy just kept repeating ‘I’m trying to keep running, that’s all I can do.’ I felt the same. I passed a few more people and lots passed me. I didn’t care what anybody else was doing; this was no longer a race with anybody else, only a battle with myself.

At no time does a split personality show itself more than at the end of the marathon. One of me was saying never again, and questioning why on earth I do marathons, another me was threatening myself with fierce retribution if I dared stop. Yet another was pleading in a more reasonable tone that I just keep on moving for this final few kms. Another me was saying, if you stop you know you’ll find it hell to start again, you’ll find reasons why you can’t go on, you’ve got to beat yourself now, you’ve got to keep going or you’ll feel ashamed that you gave in to what is the lesser part of yourself. So I kept plodding on. The support at this stage was tremendous. So many of the marshals were shouting out my name, ‘C’mon David, keep it going’, it was constant encouragement and a great help.

As I turned the final corner and saw the great stadium before me I could also see the finish line clock clearly. It said 3.15 something and I only had 100 metres to go so I was really happy that I was going to be my personal best time by a big margin. There was a huge noise rising from the crowds here, it was a brilliant atmosphere in which to finish a race.

I collected my medal and race t-shirt, then lay down for 10 minutes, exhausted. My chip time said that I’d finished in 3.13.33, over 7 minutes faster than my previous PB. Considering my lack of training, that shows how fast this Manchester course is. A runner at the top of their game is going to fly round.

The other 2 members of the Trek and Run team had equally good races. Adam had never run over half marathon distance before yet he finished in 3.46, as did Dave, who’s previous best time was 3.54.

A brilliant race was topped off by my meeting the great Ron Hill, quite by chance, as I walked back through the race village. He was standing by the finishers podium doing a few interviews so I asked for a photo with him and he happily obliged. We even had a brief chat about running, I was overjoyed.

Race Report Part 2, by Dave Sherman…

‘Flat’ and ‘fast’.

They’re only two small 4-letter words, but as any personal-best (PB) hunting athlete will agree, these two words in a race description really can sell the race potential of an event. Because of this, Xtra Mile Events’ claim that the Greater Manchester Marathon was the “flattest marathon in the UK and one of the flattest marathons in the world” had me eagerly anticipating a new PB in this event. However, this wasn’t the only reason I was excited as I walked through Trafford on the morning of Sunday the 28th of April…

I was excited because I knew the race started and finished outside Old Trafford, the second-largest Football stadium in the United Kingdom, which meant I wouldn’t just be running towards a finish line at the end of the race but a finish line adjacent to the “Theatre of Dreams”. I was excited because I knew the race organisers were offering two £500 prizes to the communities with the best ‘entertainment’ and ‘neighbourhood spirit’, so there would be people out in force representing their local areas and offering us all the support and enthusiasm we need for our 26.2 mile journey. Lastly I was excited because in my mind this was already shaping up to be a great event and that was before I had even reached the race village! And I’m pleased to report that on the day, I wasn’t disappointed…

Having attended some pretty haphazard events in the past, bad event organisation is one of my major pet peeves but from the moment we arrived in the race village until the moment the starter pistol sounded, everything at this event ran like clock-work. The baggage area was well staffed with local army recruits, a sea of portaloos were available and a vast amount of food vendors and tents were spread throughout one of Old Trafford’s super-sized car parks offering plenty of space for everyone to prepare. Even the starting area, with around 7000 runners packed into it, had been well organised with signed starting areas based on predicted finishing times and plenty of pacers to help keep the time bands together throughout the race.

The course itself involved a couple of switchbacks at first which can irritate me as they highlight how much faster the race front-runners are than me, but the level of crowd enthusiasm throughout the first couple of miles was infectious and managed to distract me enough that I even found myself cheering other runners as they ran past. Once we were out into the bulk of the route I was pleased to see the majority of the route was filled with supporters holding signs, offering sweets and shouting a whole host of motivational shouts (some of which I’ll admit I didn’t understand but they definitely sounded enthusiastic!) and there was entertainment at regular intervals including a live band, a school choir and at least two brass bands and although I have no doubt there would’ve still been a great level of support anyway, I feel that by encouraging different local areas to work together towards a community prize the level of crowd support had been boosted and this created a great festival atmosphere throughout the whole course.

19 miles into the race I started to struggle but it was nothing to do with the terrain – as promised the race had been flat throughout – but because my legs begun to feel heavy earlier than I had expected, probably as a result of running another Marathon 2 weeks earlier. However, despite one short section which ran through a piece of deserted countryside, throughout the final few miles supporters were everywhere in force to help carry me through and as I approached the 26 mile mark Old Trafford Football Stadium appeared in the distance, and as expected I felt a surge of energy knowing the end was in sight. And again, good organisation really shone through here as the crowds were gathered around the finish line just far enough back to be out of the way, but close enough that there was a wall of atmosphere that made the final few hundred metres truly emotional. I crossed the finish line and was handed a space blanket, bottle of water, Clif bar, Banana, t-shirt and the biggest medal I’ve ever seen in my life (which, as a self-confessed medal magpie, made me grin ear to ear when I saw it!).

There were so many great elements of this race it has been hard not to write an essay but in summary; with the excellent organisation, the great course profile and the amazing level of crowd support throughout you really couldn’t ask for a better opportunity to knock some time off your previous personal best – just over 5 minutes in my case – and this is definitely a race I would recommend everyone should add to their race calendar.

To find out more about the Greater Manchester Marathon, and how to enter the race in 2014, go to www.greatermanchestermarathon.com

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