Manchester Marathon Report – Mark Gray

Mark’s account of his championship qualifying run in the Manchester Marathon makes a cracking read, so here it is in all it’s glory!

His original post can be found at

Time: 2 hours 41 mins 26 seconds

Position: 46th out of 7,849 finishers

Vet 40 position: 8th

Split times:

10km                    37 mins 54 second      60th place

10 miles              60 mins 38 seconds     65th place

Half marathon  79 mins 45 seconds     67th place

20 miles              2 hrs 2 mins 9 secs       61st place

Finish                  2 hrs 41 mins 26 secs   46th place



The morning of Sunday 19th April finally arrived – the conclusion to 18 weeks of hard training which started in December.

My preparation had gone very well.  I upped my weekly training mileage, generally completing between 60-70 miles per week compared to previous marathons where I averaged 50 miles per week.  The results have been striking.  I have improved significantly in these last 18 weeks, running on average about 10 seconds per mile faster in marathon pace and tempo sessions, and generally feeling stronger.  I didn’t do more speed work this time round, but the increased volume clearly improved my running economy.  I was therefore going into the race full of confidence.

Even my tapering had been OK.  No major problems.  I did maintain quite a bit of speed work during the taper period, but reduced the total mileage to 40 miles in the first week of taper, increasing to 50 in the second week and then dropping right down to about 20 miles in the final week.  I had some niggling pain in my right foot, but had this checked over and it was just a bit of tightness from my ankle which shouldn’t be a problem.  More of a concern was a very stiff back which I had every morning for about 2 weeks before the race.  Two trips to the physio plus a lot of stretching and yoga was helping, but it wasn’t ideal.

I travelled to Altrincham on Saturday tea time.  As usual I didn’t sleep too well on the night before the race, but I got a few hours.  I no longer stress about this, having had terrible nights before Seville 2014 and London 2013 and still racing well.  After some early morning dynamic stretching and yoga ease my aching back, I left the house about 6.30am, and was at the tram stop in good time to catch the first tram at 6.56am.  By 7.30am I was at Old Trafford – the Theatre of Dreams for some, but certainly not me in a footballing sense!  Hopefully it would be for that my marathon…..

I had plenty of time for my usual routine of several toilet trips, and some more yoga and stretching.  I’m sure I get plenty of odd looks when I do the yoga in the middle of a car park, but I don’t care because it works!  By the time I was jogging to the race start, about 8.30am, my back was feeling OK and I hoped it wouldn’t trouble me any further (which didn’t quite turn out to be the case).

I did some final warming up on the road in front of the start line, before taking my place in the starting pen.  I was just a couple of yards from the front, and so was happy I’d get a good start and keep free of crowds.  I felt calm, quite relaxed and confident.

My goal when I started training for this was to secure a London 2016 Championship starting place – ie sub 2 hours 45 mins.  However with the improvements I had seen during training, I now hoped to beat that by a good few minutes.  I actually thought 2.40 was achievable, but was a little nervous of pushing too hard for that and ruining my chances of even getting below 2.45.  I decided to start with a relatively steady first mile, around 6 mins 10 secs, and then see how I felt.  If I was Ok then I would push on a bit faster, so that I didn’t leave too much time to make up in the second half if 2 hours 40 mins was on the cards.  Best laid plans…..

The race

As expected I had a clear run from the start and found a good rhythm.  As usual I was running way too fast at the start, feeling very comfortable and being pulled along by other runners.  I soon slowed myself from my early 5.30 min/mile pace (?!) but still ended up running far too fast for the first 2 miles – 5.54 and then 5.58 minutes.  So much for a steady start!  That pace felt fine, but I knew I would pay later.  I managed to slow to a 6.05 pace for mile 3, and I settled into a better routine of between 6.04 and 6.06 mins/mile for the next few miles.

I enjoyed the early miles.  There were 2 switchback sections and that was a great chance to see and greet other Steel City Strider runners.  That added to my excitement and motivated me.  Joining the Striders has been the best thing I did for my running.  I’ve been inspired by everyone’s enthusiasm and support.  Collectively I feel that we have all pushed each other to train harder and achieve more in the last few months of marathon training.

I was still feeling good as I approached the 10km point.  I went past that point in around 37 mins 40 secs (although the official time says 37.54) – which is an average of around 6 mins per mile…. a bit too fast!

After 10km I deliberately slowed things a little, averaging just below 6.10 per mile for the next 5 miles.  I let a good number of runners push on ahead of me.  There were still enough people around to be able to run in packs, and I had to be disciplined and not get pulled along too fast by other runners.  If the race went OK then I expected to see many of these runners again in the second half (and I did!)……

As we approached 10 miles I was conscious that I was having to work a bit harder to maintain the pace.  It still felt reasonably OK, but I was a bit concerned – I hoped to be very comfortable throughout the first half, and this could be a sign that things would get much tougher, maybe sooner than I would like.

In terms of my injury worries, things generally seemed OK.  I did have a small amount of pain in my foot throughout the race.  At first I think I over monitored this and worried a bit too much early on, but the pain didn’t get any worse and didn’t really hamper me, and I barely noticed it by the second half of the race.  I had some twinges and discomfort in my left calf and then hamstring – again I wasn’t too concerned, although it wasn’t ideal and I wondered if it was linked to my back issues.

I pressed on towards Altrincham and the half way point.  There was a lot of good crowd support during the first half, as we went through the different areas of Greater Manchester, including Altrincham – although the support and atmosphere didn’t quite live up to expectations given all the pre-race hype about bands and this being the best UK marathon etc….  Anyway, I did still appreciate the encouragement from those who lined the streets.  There were a couple of particularly noisy parts, and it’s great hearing your name shouted out (names are shown under the race numbers).  It was also great to hear a few shout outs for Steel City Striders.

Approaching Altrincham, there is the only “hill” of any note on the course.  It’s not steep at all, but does go on for some distance and it slowed me to around 6.14 min/mile in miles 12 and 13.  Despite that I passed the half way point in 1 hour 19 mins and 45 secs (chip time) which was only 9 seconds slower than my half marathon PB.  Knocking a few minutes off that PB needs to be a target for later this year!!

That half marathon time was exactly what I hoped for before the race, with a view to breaking 2 hours 40 mins.  But even at this point I knew that goal was unlikely.  The first half was done at an average speed of around 6.06 mins/mile – however, my speed had slowed steadily throughout the first 13 miles.  In part that slowing was deliberate pacing, but I was feeling it a bit too much in my legs and I doubted that I could maintain the required pace of around 6.06 min/mile for the next 13 miles.

The last 13 miles

Despite increasing aches in my legs I really enjoyed the next few miles.  The route goes back on itself after Altrincham and so this was another chance to run past the thousands of runners heading in the other direction.  I saw Sam Needham just going into Altrincham and looking strong.  I continued to see the other Striders in the race and it was great to give each other encouragement.  Watching the other runners was a good distraction for a couple of miles.

I felt OK during the next 6 miles or so, but my legs were getting heavier.  I still felt that I was running strongly, but my pace was clearly slower – I ran very consistently at around 6.14 per mile for the 10km stretch after half way.  On the plus side I was passing other runners, and I was maintaining a steady pace.  On the downside I really wanted to be running a good 5-10 second per mile faster than that, but just couldn’t manage it.  I knew I was still on for a time well under 2.45 and desperately tried to avoid the mental maths of what speed I needed to achieve.  Instead I just focused on trying to maintain pace and form.

After passing the other runners, the crowds thinned out and the stretch from miles 15-23 was mentally tough.  There wasn’t much to look at sights wise (actually there wasn’t on the whole course), there were not many supporters, and from around mile 20 we headed out of town into the countryside.  At that point the wind was picking up, with no buildings to shelter me.  I was also running on my own and really needed a pack to run with at this point, but the runners were thinly spread.  My back was also starting to ache and was very stiff – almost certainly this was slowing my pace.

Despite all the above challenges, I was pressing on quite well.  The miles passed by surprisingly quickly, I had no stomach issues and was getting my gels down regularly, and there was no sign of me really hitting any sort of “wall”.  I was passing runners quite frequently now.  At around mile 20 I was in 61st pace; I wanted a top 50 placing and I set my sights on achieving that over the final 6 miles.  Although I couldn’t get into a pack of runners, I was able to target and pass people ahead of me, picking them off 1 or 2 at a time. My pace was slowing further, initially to around 6.19 min/mile and then to around 6.24 in the last few miles.  I was frustrated by this and by the tightness in my legs and back.  But I knew my running was still relatively strongly and that a good time and a good placing was in my sights.

It was good to count down the remaining distance – 5 miles to go, then 5km.  Unless I blew up big style then I knew a time of around 2.42 was achievable.  I pushed on hard.  Everything was aching and hurting, but I was maintaining a decent rhythm and just kept moving forward at that speed.  Around mile 24, the crowds slowly started to pick up again, which helped.  Soon I could see Old Trafford and I was on my way.  My pace picked up by a few seconds.  I continued to pass other runners and knew I was into the top 50.  I had a brief moment of panic after 25.4 miles when I passed the 25 mile marker sign?!  With hindsight it was clearly in the wrong place, but at the time my heart sank – I was pushing hard for home and couldn’t stand the thought of having more than a mile to go.  I briefly slumped, I felt the wind hit me in the face and there was at risk of me really dropping away speed wise.  I managed to push on and eek out the yards towards the stadium.  Soon the crowds built up a lot more, I could see the 26 mile sign in the right place and I knew I was OK. The noise rose and I turned the corner into the final 200m straight.  I could see the race clock showing 2 hour 41 mins, and I relaxed, able to enjoy the final few metres.

I crossed the line in 2 hours 41 mins and 30 seconds.  My chip time turned out to be 4 seconds faster than that.  I crossed the line arms aloft.  I experienced a feeling of complete euphoria.  I’d spent the last 18 weeks working hard towards this moment, close to an obsession.  I could feel the tears starting and took myself off to the side and let the emotions flow.

Once I’d got all that out of my system, I phoned home and spoke to Kate and the children, and then I enjoyed seeing the other Striders come through the finish area.  Sam was first through with an amazing 34 minute PB.  That set the tone with a load of great performances and huge PBs.  One or two Striders didn’t have the day they hoped for, but they will come back stronger for it.  Overall it was a great day for the club.

Post race reflections

I finished with a new PB by 3 mins and 35 seconds.  I’d achieved my goal of securing a London 2016 Championship starting place.  I was also pleased with my finish position – 46th place and 8th Male Vet.  Although I slowed in the second half of the race, I did keep running strongly – that shows in the fact that I gained 15 places in final 6 miles.

So, plenty to be very pleased about…. and I am!  But, after the initial euphoria at the finish, strangely I started to feel a slight sense of disappointment that I hadn’t achieved a sub-2.40 time.  That has gone now and I am totally delighted with my result.  But I have reflected and taken some learnings.  I have come away with a determination to make further improvements and a confidence that I can do this.  In particular:

  1. I didn’t go into the race with a real conviction that I could achieve sub-2.40.  I knew I was capable, but I was also conscious of the risk that I could push too hard and endanger the 2.45 target
  2. Because of that, I didn’t have a clear race plan.
  3. With a proper plan based around more consistent splits, I believe I could have achieved sub-2.40.
  4. I started too fast and paid for this – with a proper plan I wouldn’t have.
  5. I also think my back problems hampered me and added to my time.  Probably not a lot I could do about this – it was bad luck.  But the need for real care during the taper period is worth noting.
  6. I need to try and find a pack to run with in the second half of races when the going gets tougher.  That wasn’t possible on Sunday – the other runners were thinly spread.  It should be easier to achieve in London next year.
  7. I’ve got to 2.41 with an average of 60 miles training per week.  I believe a further step up in volume is possible (with some careful planning) and will deliver further improved results.  I obviously need to balance this with the higher risk of injury.

It’s good to have achieved a strong new PB but still to think there is more to come.  It leaves me excited and determined to achieve more in my next big marathon, which will be London next year.

In the meantime, I’ll enjoy a good result on race day and a successful and very positive 18 week journey to get me onto the start line.

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