Sunday was the day of the Greater Manchester Marathon.
I met my dad at the motorway services bright and early (6.30 am) and, once again, armed with maps we headed across the border to Lancashire!
We were organised this week and arrived early. Sadly, the good folks of Xtra Mile Events were not so organised. Road diversions had been put in place so we hit a huge queue of traffic when we neared Old Traffic. As we were not too far from the start, we remained calm and did not panic, well, not until about 45 minutes later when we were no nearer to getting parked - I was busting for a wee (full of both nerves and energy drinks!)
Finally, we were allowed through to the car park after brandishing our car park ticket (most poor runners - who didn't pre order parking tickets - were turned away and advised they had to park elsewhere).
The race village was absolutely manic. Packed with people wandering round with no signs or marshals in sight and certainly no sign of toilets. I must now apologise to the good folk in Manchester as sadly, out of shear desperation, I ended up peeing behind a bin (sorry but after over 2 hours in a car drinking electrolytes and sugary drinks for a marathon, when you need to go, you go).
We left our bags in the car and headed off to the start, my dad went off to the front of the pens, I loitered towards the back! Despite the roads being closed, there were pedestrians and crazy people on bikes trying to push through the hoards of runners. One crazy loon on a bike was frantically ringing her bell and shouting at everyone to move - some poor runner ended up with the front wheel from her bike being rammed into her hamstring - ouch!
The start was quite the non event - usually there is a welcome and a countdown to the start (it may have been that I was so far back, I couldn't hear any of this going on). Anyhow, I did hear a horn go off but the crowd barely moved. We slowly shuffled towards the archway at the start of the race. Everyone had their Garmins ready to start as we crossed under the arch but there were no timing mats! About 10 metres along the road, we stumbled across the timing mats and off we set (I later established that it took 9 minutes to get to the starting mats - I still have no idea why the starting mats weren't under the starting archway!)
Up to mile 8 was particularly rough going. The first few miles were crazy - runners stuffed like sardines, barely being able to move. Wires from heart rate monitors and iPods tangled with limbs, being hit in the face by a giant, yellow minion (which was attached to the back of another runner), travelling just a mere half a mile to be confronted with the rear of someone already walking! Bodies so close, I could hear their breathing, panting, grunting etc and the music through their headphones! At 5 miles, we ran by the start of the race, where it was announced over the tannoy that due to traffic and parking issues, some runners were still heading to the start of the race! Miles 6 to 8, I spent dodging cones (now that's a sport in itself) which were randomly placed right in the middle of the road and trying to escape from a runner who was beating the life out of a cow bell, but playing no particularly tune or beat!
After mile 8, the crowds of runners thinned a little, I gained a little elbow room and was finally able to run at my own pace.
When I hit miles 11 to 12, the leaders past me by in the other direction! I started to look for my dad who usually runs at 3:20 to 3:30 pace. The 3:15 pacer went by, but there was no sign of him. The 3:29 pacer went by, but still no sign of him. I kept a lookout but then spotted him at the side of the road, waiting for me! He was apparently having a bad day, his glutes hadn't sparked into action and so he decided to jog around the rest of the course with me.
We hit mile 13 in good time and the crowds at this point were amazing. Lots of noise and cheering and a fab school choir to keep us going.
The wheels came off at around mile 18. My legs felt fine, but my brain was telling my body to stop and have a nap (I must have run out of electrolytes!) From then on, it was a constant battle between my brain and legs to get to the finish! My dad stopped at the loos at around mile 20 and I jogged on to the next water station - he is much faster than me so it wouldn't take him long to catch me up. Still no sign of my dad so I walked/jogged on. Still no sign of my dad - by this time I was starting to worry that he had fallen into one of the portaloos and was in need of medical help and/or a shower! I kept stopping to look back to see where he had gone! He eventually caught up with me, having run an extra mile going to and from the water station and the portaloos! Whoops!
The next 6 miles were a struggle of walking/jogging. Mile 22 completely messed with my head as there were 2 mile 22 mile markers about 1/2 a mile apart. I had been dreading mile 23 - the course at this point goes out into countryside where there are limited crowds and long stretches of straight roads which appear to go on forever. Clearly the organisers had listened to feedback over the previous years, and it was a nice surprise to find music blasting from speakers all along this difficult stretch which made it much more bearable.
With the aid of my dad, shouting at me and giving me motivational talks, we eventually made it to the finish straight. The finish line was in sight for what felt like forever, but in reality was probably only 5 minutes. The crowds were amazing - all cheering and shouting, spurring the runners on to get to the finish. I crossed the line in 4:35 something, but had a chip time of 4:27:30 - so not a bad result given all the walking I ended up doing at the end.
The finish was just as crazy as the start. Spectators had been let into the finish area and you just couldn't move for the crowds of people. I was handed a medal but had to grab my own finish bag and drink. We were rewarded with a nice, refreshing (alcohol free) beer though.
We headed to the car, got changed and headed on home with another marathon (number 19 for me) under our belts.
I'm extremely thankful that we left our bags in the car as later that day, we found out that some poor sods had to wait 2 to 3 hours to collect their bags after the race!
In summary, an appallingly organised and over subscribed race but the support of the crowds around the course was amazing! Will I run the race next year? It is too early to say. I certainly wouldn't recommend it, but for the right price, perhaps!