The Greater Manchester Marathon – April 2017

Trek and Run were supported during this event by;

Salba Chia

&

Helly Hansen

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Photos by: AWOL Adventures

Part 1: By Dave Sherman

In April 2013 I took part in the Greater Manchester Marathon, and I had a brilliant time! It was my first time visiting Manchester, and the crowd support throughout the route was immense creating a buzz which lasted the entire 26.2 miles – so much so I set a Marathon personal best of 3:47 – a huge drop from my previous time of 3:56! Our experience of the 2013 event can be found here if you fancy a read: http://yoursay.trekandrun.com/2014/02/10/the-greater-manchester-marathon-2013-england/

A few weeks later I set a new PB of 3:38 in Edinburgh, but my dream was to achieve that magical club-runner goal of sub-3:30 - a time which seemed achievable considering my Half Marathon time was 1:34.  The following Spring I tried to achieve my goal in London – and failed hard! I blew up 16 miles in and run-walked home in 3:56, and over the following couple of years I tried and failed again in Nottingham (3h44m), Paris (3:47), Brighton (3:35) and Milton Keynes (3:39)! Safe to say I was feeling dis-heartened by this point – especially considering I’d managed to lower my Half Marathon time to 1:29! Knowing the Greater Manchester Marathon still claimed the title of the “UK’s flattest, fastest and friendliest marathon” I decided to give my goal one last attempt in April 2017…

Leading up the event communications were perfect with enough information supplied to keep us informed, but without overloading us. In fact, while the race number was posted out (removing the need to collect things from an Expo - always appreciated!), the majority of information was hosted online and despite various road closures, clear instructions were provided regarding how to find the car-park.

We’d chosen to say at a hotel in nearby Warrington so traveling to the venue on race day didn’t seem too bad at first, however as we neared the carparks at Old Trafford football stadium we soon joined a huge queue of traffic which was moving at walking pace. While in the queue numerous touts attempted to direct us away from the official stadium parking into their own spaces – an issue I imagine could confuse visitors if they mistakenly believed these were part of the event crew – and eventually Chantel and I left Chantel’s husband Dieter to find a space while we took a brisk walk to the event village to ensure we didn’t miss the start!

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Once at the event village we breathed a sigh of relief as everything was organised perfectly. Although we didn’t use it ourselves, we saw the baggage drop was being run efficiently and was only a short walk from the well-organised start-area. Chantel and I made our way into our starting areas close to our respective pacers, and I made a point of meeting my pacer (Colin) and cheekily warned him “I’m relying on you to help me achieve my sub-3:30 today… no pressure!” Colin told me he was a sub 2h40m runner and had run the route before and felt comfortable about his goal which filled me with confidence – especially as I’d previously experienced a pacer who’d dropped out of the race at 13.1 miles! After a few quick announcements from the commentator, the race was officially started by running legend Dr Ron Hill MBE, and we were off – passing under the Trafford Arch (proudly displaying a huge Good Luck message from Asics!) and out amongst the crowds into the streets of Manchester…

The route starts with a short 3 mile loop within Old Trafford, and after passing Trafford Arch for the second time you’re let loose into the streets of Greater Manchester where the crowd support really starts to show… I’m not sure this is unique to this event, but the race organisers offer a cash prize to the town/village which supplies the best support for the runners, and as a result there’s an awesome buzz throughout the majority of the route – not an easy feat when you have 26.2 miles to cover! These included Church choirs in Altringham, DJs in Stretford and live singers in Sale, and where there wasn’t music there were huge crowds and plenty of people offering sweets or cheers of support – a huge contrast from some marathons I’ve run where you can go for miles without seeing a single soul.

A 7 mile out-and-back section between miles 9 and 16 offered runners an opportunity to see the elites and front-of-the-pack racers, and the rest of the course followed a huge loop around Manchester with drinks stations 2 or 3 miles apart, and SiS Go gels available every 4 – 6 miles. The entire route was on pavements without any sharp turns (even the turn-around point featured a short loop rather than the sharp switch-backs we’d experienced in 2013), and the course was ideal for supporters with tram stops throughout the bulk of the route, and plenty of pubs along the way. Plenty of cloud cover meant the weather was absolutely perfect for running and despite a chilly start, a gentle breeze kept us at a nice temperature throughout.

Back to my race, and at first I found it difficult knowing where to stand with the ‘pacing bubble’ which typically forms around a pacer as it becomes a giant moving circle of legs making it difficult to know where to run. If you go in front you’re at risk of speeding up, but if you run behind you can spend the whole race ‘chasing’ which can be mentally tough - in the end I decided to stay just far enough in front that I could still hear the stampede of the group behind me as well as regular shouts from the pacer telling us how fast he’d completed each mile split.

In fact – I should pause here a moment to offer a huge thank-you to Colin as in my eyes he really did an awesome job with his pacing throughout the entire race. Despite a slightly fast start – easy to do when you get carried away with the start-line atmosphere – once we’d started running Colin told us how he planned to run each mile around 7m55s, and as you can see from my MySports splits (besides mile 11 where I stopped to use the toilet), he was absolutely spot on with his pacing – so much so that I felt good enough to pull away and leave the group, and sped up for the final few miles!

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My aim going into the race had been sub 3h30m, but as I turned onto Talbot Road and the finish gantry came into view I couldn’t believe my eyes – the clock read 3h23m!! Admittedly I didn’t realise how long this final stretch was and in hindsight sprinting for the final 500 yards wasn’t the brightest move, but I practically flew that final stretch – carried by the huge crowd support either side of the road – and I even managed a cheeky shout of “Go on Manchester! Make some noise!!” I crossed the finish line in 3:26:07 – a personal best by almost 9 minutes – and I was elated! I’d come to Manchester hunting for sub-3:30 and Manchester had knocked it out of the field!

Chantel crossed the line not long after me (I’ll leave it to Chantel to let you know how she did in her review), and we later discovered the race winner Patrick Martin had finished in an amazing 2:22:37 in his first ever marathon (!) with the female winner Georgie Bruinvels finishing in 2:37:03 and a total of 8693 athletes completing the race.

As we passed through the race village we posed for the obligatory finisher photos even attempting a jumping shot (at which Chantel fared much better than I did!), and collected our post-race goody bags which contained an awesome medal and a sky-blue finishers t-shirt – both featuring a man displaying almost the exact finish line reaction I’d had when I’d seen the time above me! Although we didn’t have baggage to collect we could see the tents were being run efficiently with minimal queuing – something I’d heard had been a major issue in 2016 but seemed to be resolved now. In fact the whole area was very calm and peaceful and topped off an event which had been incredibly well organised, and an absolutely brilliant experience throughout.

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The Greater Manchester Marathon was voted the UK’s best marathon in 2014 and 2015 and has already been shortlisted for the 2017 award, and with such a fast and flat course and such awesome crowd support throughout, it’s easy to see why. In fact, I’m already wondering if I should set my sights on sub-3:20 when I return in 2018…

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Part 2: By Chantel Coetzer

After entering the Greater Manchester Marathon in February and going through 9 weeks of marathon specific training it was hard to believe the weekend had finally arrived. Training went well but I had to ease back on running for 2-3 weeks before the big day as I’ve been suffering a hamstring injury. I was only running 3 days a week as I’m training for an Ironman so couldn’t neglect the other disciplines. I really wanted to get a PB and knew I was in good enough form to do that, but my ultimate goal was to go sub 3:45 so I can get a GFA qualifying time for London.

We drove up from London to Manchester on Saturday and the journey was fairly uneventful. Once checked in to our hotel we met up with friends and went for the obligatory pasta dinner at an Italian restaurant, and it’s fair to say I might have had too much to eat but I enjoyed every single bite nonetheless. We headed back and settled in for the night after I double checked my race gear and made sure I had everything ready for the next day, and I laid it all out so I didn’t have to think about it in the morning.

Race day finally arrived and the conditions were perfect for Marathon running. My alarm went off way to early and I was still tired as I’d had a very restless nights sleep, but I got up, quickly got dressed and went downstairs to meet my friend Dave for breakfast, sticking to my tried and tested rolls with Meridian almond butter, honey and banana. After this we cleared our room, checked out and made our way to the Parking we had pre-booked.

We left early with more than enough time, however when we got closer to the parking everything stopped and we moved at snail’s pace. One thing I did notice was there were a lot of unofficial car parks and it could get a bit confusing – better signs and markings for prepaid parking would be ace. Dave and I decided to get out and walk after being stuck in the car for a considerable amount of time. We had roughly a 20 minute walk… it was more like a run walk for me as my short legs couldn’t keep up with Dave’s very fast walk - that was my warm-up sorted then!

We got to the start line with 5 mins to spare, phew. I was over the moon to find my other half, and after a quick chat, obligatory photo and good luck messages and Dave and I went to find our spots in our start pens.

The start area was very laid back and surprisingly informal. I was in the Green C area for 3:30 to 3:45 finish time and my original race plan was to stick with the 3:45 pacer. I went hunting for the pacer and after finding him I decided to stand back a bit as there was a cloud of runners around the pacer and so I didn’t want to feel too crowded. We started moving surprisingly fast, and as we passed the timing mats we were off. Game on!!!

The first couple of miles were a bit congested with lots of people overtaking. This did not bother me as I knew I had to run my race and not get carried away - just as long as I could keep the 3:45 pacer within my sights I knew I’d be okay.

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The Manchester Marathon course is fantastic, it is flat and the crowd support is superb most of the way around which makes running 26.2 miles a little easier. I had a pace band and pretty much stuck to my times mile for mile, but once I got to mile 8 things went a little pear shaped and my hamstring said enough… I stopped to have a quick stretch and carried on. The pain never went away but I zoned out and focused on one mile at a time, and breaking it up in smaller sections made it a lot easier on the day. With 10 water stations I never felt like I was going to go thirsty, and in training I’d used SiS gels so I could use the race day nutrition they provided and the 5 stations where they provided gels were positioned perfectly.

Approaching half way was mentally a huge boost but the support lining the streets were spectacular. – I was still on track for my goal time. I steadily plodded on through the second half until mile 22. I had to stop for a toilet break and lost almost 2 mins putting me behind schedule!!! I had 4 miles to go, that was not even 40 mins worth off running. I gave myself a talking to… I’ve come this far I’d be damned if I let it go now!

It was hard to get going as once I stopped everything had seized up, but I managed to pick up the pace and by the time I got to the 23 mile marker I’d gained back 20 sec. I was tired and my body was shouting at me. My head was telling me I’ve only got a Parkrun left, that’s nothing - I run that every Saturday! I got to mile 25 and was only 15 sec behind… I was struggling but knew if I really dug deep I can do it…

The final 800 metres were amazing! Crowds lining the finish line and everyone cheering. It wasn’t long now until I crossed the line… I’ve done it!! I finished in a time of 3:44:22 and couldn’t believe it! Not only have I got a PB by 13 mins, but I’ve qualified for a Good for Age guaranteed entry for the London Marathon!

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After I crossed the finish line a fellow runner came over and thanked me for pacing him around. My pacing was pretty consistent apart from mile 8 and 22. What made the day even more perfect is seeing Dave at the finish line and finding out he had absolutely smashed his goal of going sub 3:30. All in all it was a great day!

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Highlights of the day were the Children’s choir in Altringham, the Erdinger Alcohol Free beer at the end, and the good Asics technical t-shirt in a XS that actually fits plus a fantastic medal!

Manchester is a great event with very little to fault, it’s a perfect course on which to get a PB.

Thank you Manchester, until we meet again.

Discounted entries have already opened for the 2018 event – to find out more visit www.greatermanchestermarathon.com

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