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Sunday 7 April 2019

The One Legged Marathon Race

Today is the day. The Manchester Marathon. We had looked at staying over in Manchester but as we’re taking the boys with us the logistics were difficult, so it’s a stupid o’clock start instead as we drive over.

We have pre-booked parking in Manchester United’s official car park which you would think would make things easier and probably does, once we’d found it. A lot of the roads were closed, as you would expect, but more with roadworks than the race I think and the signage was confusing. There was lots of signs for car parks without telling you which one was which but we got there in the end after several U-turns.

From there we can walk to the Race Village which is at the Old Trafford Cricket Ground and then on to the start. Just as I’m warning up Daughter joins us, so now my full support crew has been assembled and I head to my start pen.

Normally in a half marathon I would get a start pen pretty close to the front of the field but here I am over halfway back in start 5 (I think). Clearly this is now serious. Each start is set off five minutes apart, consequently it takes me nearly 20 minutes to get to the start line.

When I do get there we are held on the line for a few minutes and I’m on the front row, like an elite! It also meant I have a completely open road in front of me which I squander by heading over to high five the dogs and of course L and Daughter.

I have been training for this for months and the aim is not only to beat my only previous marathon time of 4:02:27 at Birmingham in 2017 where in blew up in the last few miles but to go under four hours. My schedule is to run 3:55.

Manchester not only has a 4:00 pacer but a 3:59 and 3:58 pacer to split up what is a popular target time. So I start with the 3:58, planning to start at that pace and then edge it faster after the first 10k. The thing is I struggle to stay with her, she’s too slow! Four hour pace is 9:09 and I run 8:50 for the first two miles and I’m getting a crick in my neck looking backwards to see where she is.

The route starts with a mini loop around Trafford which then takes you back close to the start where I get chance to see my awesome support team again about three miles in. I had hoped they might then be able to get the tram further down the course but, as everyone else had the same idea, sadly that didn’t happen. Meanwhile I head off through Timperley and towards Sale.

As I knew I probably wouldn’t see them again and hadn’t left any gels with L as I did last time, I had instead loaded up my triathlon number belt with them. I hadn't tried this in training and this is probably why it was an unmitigated failure. The High 5 gels I use are too narrow to fit snugly in the slots in the belt and I soon lost several of them. That’s one lesson to learn for next time.

Unfortunately not long after I’d passed my support crew I felt my calf start to tighten. This is an old problem of mine that I haven’t suffered with throughout all my months of training and now it has come back to haunt me on race day. In truth, I had had the odd twinge in the last week but I’d shrugged it off. I stop and stretch; it eases a bit but not much. The too slow 3:58 pacer passes me and I'm sure she was laughing as she did so. 

I hobble off in pursuit but soon stop again and do more stretches, then I sit down remove the calf support off my good leg and put it on top of the one already on my the bad one. I theory offering twice the support. The 3:59 pacer passes me.

Mile 5 takes me all of 10:36 and I consider giving up. Can I run another 21 miles with only working leg? Probably...

So I tough it out. I manage to keep off my toes and heel strike every step of the way to minimise calf movement. I settle into full on fast hobble mode aka a pace of about 09:25. The 4:00 pacer passes me.

Oh well, at least I can admire the view. Erm, perhaps not. The course takes us through a lot of residential areas and it isn’t one for the sightseer. They rather cheekily announced before today that next year’s route will include the city centre and more of the city’s landmarks. Just to rub it in. However, the crowds are large, vocal and brandishing gifts of jelly babies and the like

A large proportion of the course, about 4 miles worth, takes place in Altrincham which is actually quite nice. I go through halfway in 02:02:40 which isn’t that bad but obviously I’m not going to break four hours.

Then we leave Altrincham and head back to Sale with only ten miles to go. Only 10 miles... hobble hobble.

They say the first half of a marathon is about patience and the second half is about determination. In my case the first half was about preservation but now the determination kicks in and you know what? I do it. 

Obviously 4:06:48 wasn’t what I was looking for but it’s quite an impressive time for someone with one leg. 9:28 per mile. I was 6,728th out of 13,654 finishers.

The race medal is ok and the t-shirt very nice, black and wearable. I now have two marathons under my belt, I just hope my calf will allow me a third.

A Nottingham one would be nice. Manchester reckon this year’s race boosted their local economy by about £6.8M, attracting thousands of visitors, 75% of whom were from outside the north-west of England. Next year, with the race taking in the city centre as well, they expect it to provide an even bigger economic boost. Nottingham get on it.

Sadly, we don’t help boost Manchester’s economy in the evening as we have to head home and we go out in Nottingham instead. We have some decent beer but our second time in the Marrakesh Moroccan restaurant is a disappointment.

(Sunday 7th April)

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