I got up early on what was a bright and crisp morning before driving over to Manchester with my parents and little boy. Although we got there in plenty of time, the road to our car park seemed to have been closed, and after being sent around in circles at least twice, we had to leave the car in a pub car park and hot foot it to the start line, only really making it there with about 15 minutes to spare. Though it wasn’t the stress-free morning that is hoped for, we got there in enough time to take in the scene before I got going from starting gate F.
The start of the race was a little odd actually, there was no arch to cross under, and just a timing mat on the floor, but I quickly hit my stride and let my worries fade away.
I had a plan to use my watch to keep my pace throughout. I was hoping to run at 10:35 throughout the whole race – which would hopefully see me home in about 4 hours 37, though, as anyone who has been keeping up with this blog will know, I’ve struggled with injury and was happy with any time at all.
Things started really well. I was enjoying running in a crowd, with spectators cheering from both sides of the road. We passed the Coronation Street studios and I got a huge boost when I saw my parents and little boy at the side of the road around three miles in, before we headed up towards Old Trafford.
Although I had my plan, I really found a rhythm and was going along nicely at around 10:26 per mile. I now know, for the next run, that with a little more preparation, that I can probably keep that throughout.
There was a lot of great support around the course. Choirs, bands, a care home’s residents all out on the pavements cheering runners, and it was great to see considering that we would have been so far behind those at the front. At one stage I ran under a bridge, and a huge group, having seen my name on my vest, chanted “Dan, Dan, Dan”. It echoed all around the bridge, and was amazing to hear the whole section of the run filled with my name.
I reached the half marathon point feeling pretty good. And it wasn’t until shortly after that the 4:30 pacer overtook me. However, doing well, I kept up with or ran slightly in front of the group for the next six miles or so.
I really surprised myself as, even in my training runs, I can’t run that far without having a break. I’ll often be forced to have a walk break after 5 miles or so, but, buoyed on by the crowd and the runners around me, I managed to do a full 22 miles of running.
Things were, of course, by then becoming a little difficult. Although until that stage I’d done well with water, making a bottle last exactly from one water point to the next, it was getting hot and everything was becoming a struggle. While most of me was happy to continue running, and I didn’t feel conventionally drained, my legs didn’t get the memo, and it felt as though I had a ring of pure fire surrounding both knees. With my left calf doing its best to cramp at the same time, I had to take a walk break, and that’s probably what killed the rest of the run as a spectacle.
From there on in a walked, limped and shuffled as fast as I possibly could, thinking of nothing other than seeing my little boy, my fiancée and my parents at the finish line. Impressed comments from supporters morphed into “it’s nearly over, you’ll definitely make it to the end” and “keep pushing, you’re almost there”. I was offered more jelly babies than I even knew existed. Bassetts must have done a roaring trade in Manchester over the weekend.
I must admit to feeling a little emotional as I passed the 25-mile marker. I was telling myself from 23 miles onwards that it was ‘only a parkrun’ and that I could do it. And, sure enough, as soon as I could see the finish line, way, way off in the distance, I got a little boost of energy, as did many round me, as we all pushed to finish strong (and look good on the official photos, no doubt).
I walked through the post-race village in a bit of a daze, collecting my medal and goodie bag, and have to admit to letting a few tears escape as my parents, fianceé and little boy met me outside Old Trafford cricket ground. Whether it was the relief or elation of finishing, I don’t know, but it felt good, and it felt good to just let it go.
Overall I really enjoyed the experience, and am delighted to now be able to call myself a marathon runner. Joining the 1% of the population who have gone the distance and run 26.2 miles. While 4 hours 44 certainly isn’t the quickest marathon time, it’s my quickest marathon time.
There are lessons to be learned for mission two: Belfast. I shouldn’t let myself get carried away in the middle of the race, and should instead try to keep my pace consistent throughout the run. I think, if I can do that, it will keep the legs a little stronger in the final stretch. But, at the end of the day, this was my first marathon. It’s there to teach me things, and no matter how long it took me, it was always going to be a personal best.
A big thanks goes out to everyone who supported me. From donations to Clic Sargent to encouraging messages on the day, before, during and after my run. And, of course, anyone reading this who lined the streets of Manchester to cheer me on. Each and every one of you got me over that line and I couldn’t have done it without you.
Onwards and upwards now. It’s only 20 days until the Belfast marathon, and I’m going to train hard now in the hope of beating my Manchester time. Please, if you can, continue to support the charity, and I’ll keep up my end of the bargain by pushing myself harder and harder each day.
A sentimental note to finish. Four words have made this whole experience worthwhile. I’ve been a bit of a fuck up for big parts of my life. I’ve messed things up, given up easily and generally been a bit of a bum. But the words that I’ve had in messages from friends and been told in person by the people there in Manchester really meant the world to me. They simply said “I’m proud of you”.