A week before the Manchester Marathon I was ready, albeit very reluctantly, to pull out of the race. After several weeks of struggling to shake off a niggling knee injury from the back-to-back marathons in March, on Friday evening I fell down the stairs and stubbed my big toe very hard. With the swelling and bruising making it difficult to walk I began to fear that I may have broken my toe. After looking forward to the race for a while I was extremely frustrated to think I’d put running the marathon in jeopardy so stupidly and so close to race day.
A couple of days of desperately Googling ‘Can I run with a broken toe?’ looking for reassurance (and finding none) I made an appointment with the doctor. All I needed to hear was that it wasn’t broken. I knew, if it was, running on it would do a lot more damage than it was worth, so I had already come to terms with the possibility of not running. Anything other than broken and I would be lacing up my trainers on Sunday. After examination she confirmed it wasn’t broken, and after that I pretty much stopped listening as that was all I wanted to hear. There was still the potential that running on it would make it worse, but with 7 weeks to go until the next marathon (Edinburgh) it was a risk I was willing to take.
On Saturday I spent the evening in a converted garage, courtesy of Air BnB, trying to find out which buses and trams I needed to catch to the start in the morning. It doesn’t bode well for the Night Ultra across the Peak District I signed up for in October, but I missed the first bus and then found when I tried to get the second that I was on the wrong side of the road and was about to head towards Stockport and not Manchester. Having initially signed up to Manchester in response to missing out on the ballot for the London Marathon it was looking like a worthy alternative. It was my first time using the trams in Manchester, but it was clear early on there was a pre-race buzz around on the platforms. After a couple of stops the carriages were rammed and it had the claustrophobic big race feel of London.
After missing the first couple of buses I arrived at the start with about half an hour to go, much later than I planned to. There was enough time to go for a quick toilet stop before going to drop my bag off and seeing the slightly chaotic crowd at the bag drop. There didn’t appear to be any organisation, just a horde of hundreds of runners trying to leave their bags before the race started in a matter of minutes.
Many races I’ve ran have quite strict pens for the runners, but in Manchester there were just groups of people spread across the road with no clear signs where people should be starting from. My predicted time meant I was in the second group, one back from the elite runners, in with the runners looking to run sub 3:30. There was confusion where the race started, there was no clear starting line, and I only realised where it was after running over the timing mats a few seconds after running underneath the arch when I thought the race had started.
For the first half of the race I found myself keeping the 3:28 pacer in sight as best as I could. When I started the race I had two goals, one to try and finish in sub 4 hours and the other to simply survive and this is very much the order of priority I had them in. I didn’t know if and when my knee or toe would play up, so figured I would try and make up all the time in the first half of the race and hang on as best as I could for the rest. Despite starting near both the Old Trafford cricket and football grounds there weren’t many other sights en-route, instead winding through suburban south Manchester. There felt like many similarities to York, starting off near iconic landmarks, then out off into local suburbs, an out and back stretch along country road before finishing back where the race started.
For the most part the crowd were great throughout, there were odd patches where the crowds thinned a little but this is always expected, but one particular corner where the supporters were too enthusiastic and actually standing in the road in the way of many runners was unnecessary. Water stations every couple of miles were much needed, and on a hot day most of this water went over my head. A couple of mile markers later on in the race were very inaccurate, the 19 mile marker came at about 19 1/2 miles and only a few minutes later was followed up by the 20 mile marker.
Having only put in a handful of miles since the double Marathons back in March due to various injuries I knew it was going to be a tough race. In many ways I feel that running Ultras is actually having a negative affect on my marathon running and is generally slowing me down. Mentally and physically I’m getting used to the idea of stopping and eating cake every couple of hours, going from that to trying to run a marathon as fast as I can with little training was difficult. When I signed up last year I had the intention of using the Manchester and Edinburgh marathons as my PB attempts, two opportunities on two fast and flat courses to get my time down as close to the magic 3 hour mark as possible. Circumstances with injuries and desire to run more races has meant that I was far from ready to do this at Manchester, but I still gave it my best. I was very much hanging on at the end, there was nothing left for a sprint finish but I managed to sneak in under the 4 hour target I had set myself. After checking my times after the race I found out that it was the fastest I had ran in about 18 months and it gives me hope for setting a decent time in Edinburgh at the end of May.
I will keep the complaints brief as a lot has already been said elsewhere. The finish area was too small to deal with the volume of runners that were crossing the line at any time and after finishing we were slowly herded through the funnel to collect our medal and race bag. The worst was still to come however. Typically I don’t tend to use bag drops, either it’s a small enough event that I can leave my stuff by the finish line or in the car, or I’ve travelled with someone I can leave my bag with. At Manchester I had neither of these choices so I was forced to use their bag drop service. After the chaos and distinct lack of an organised queue in the morning, it had now been replaced with a long snaking line all through the car park. In total I was in that line, slowly shuffling forwards every now and then for 2 hours after finishing, far from ideal having just ran in a marathon. After collecting my bag I headed back towards the tram stop to see that the line was far, far longer than when I joined, now winding back pretty much to the finish line. Those in that queue will have been running for 4 to 5 hours, and were now faced with the prospect of queuing for over 3 hours just to collect their bag.
The one thing that makes me think I’ll give it another chance next year is that they have to learn from this, with the thousands of complaints they will no doubt receive they simply can’t fail to address it next year. But then I’m sure veterans of the race thought the same thing four years ago when bags were left outside in the middle of a field in the pouring rain. There have been numerous emails and statements since, some more well thought out than others but it’s safe to say they are not ignoring the issue.
With it being so local it was a race I was keen to add to my calendar every year, particularly if I don’t get lucky with the London Marathon ballot. It remains to be seen if I am lining up there next year, but first impressions weren’t great.
Running these marathons aren’t part of any particular challenge, but as part of a pledge to continue to run in the blue Mind vest to raise awareness of mental health and to raise money for the charity. If you wish to sponsor me, please visit my JustGiving page.
It has been a rough few weeks mentally since my last update. Things aren’t necessarily getting worse, it’s just they’re not getting better. I’ve been uncovering new triggers, old ones have become more prominent and generally I’ve found it difficult to cope around people. The apathy I had become accustomed to has been replaced with an underlying sadness, and I often find myself longing for a return to the ‘numbness’. What’s worse than not feeling anything? An unexplained, constant feeling of sadness. In the past few weeks I’ve had my therapy sessions cancelled twice, and although on both occasions I haven’t necessarily felt I needed them, subconsciously I’m sure it hasn’t helped my current state.
This week I had my first session in their new offices, having learnt just last week that they were relocating. Distance wise it isn’t a problem as it’s still fairly local, but it did give me the opportunity to pick a different time slot. My previous appointment time of 11:30am wasn’t really working, I’d get to work for a couple of hours and find it difficult to truly get stuck into anything without allowing my mind to focus on the upcoming session. Often afterwards I would then be a bit distant as I struggle to keep everything together whilst my mind plays back over what was discussed in the session. I’m hoping that my new early morning session will at least stop the day feeling so disjointed, I just may have to find a stronger mask to wear when I’m back in the office.
The past few sessions have had an almost anti-climatic feel to them. Having built the idea of therapy up so much in my head, and gotten some of the more difficult sessions out of the way early, I feel a lot more relaxed and comfortable in the appointments now, almost like talking to an old friend. It’s apparent to my therapist too, as I’ve been told that I’ve come across as being very genuine and honest in the last couple of sessions. Maybe as I haven’t been forcing it in each session, trying hard to bring anything I can to each appointment, then it’s not taking as much out of me mentally afterwards. I just wish I could shake the feeling that I’m not getting to the root of it all and that I’m not making enough progress.
For the first time the topic of what is going to happen after this course of treatment is over was discussed. It had admittedly been on the back of my mind, having already had my sessions extended from 8 to 12 I knew that they couldn’t go on indefinitely. When I started the therapy sessions I had no idea what to expect, but I’ve found, thus far at least, that it is a case of me doing 90% of the talking, allowing myself to explore my thoughts and feelings, rather than being given the tools to deal with them. I’m hopeful that in these last handful of sessions that this will begin to change. Meditation was mentioned as an option this week, currently I use it as an act of desperation, a last ditch attempt to bring myself back from the edge and to prevent the breakdown. Ideally though it wouldn’t get to that stage, whether it is through mindfulness or meditation everyday I’m hoping to find something that will settle my mind down soon.
If nothing else works then for the time being I’ve got these guys. It has felt like it has been a few weeks since I’ve properly popped down to see them (perhaps that’s the cause for the recent dip), and if Thursday was anything to go by, they’ve missed me as much as I’ve missed them.