Where’s The Pizza? Manchester Marathon 2023

Race Date: Sunday 16th April 2023

Pete Pfitzinger rather brusquely states that “There’s really no excuse for outside commitments to regularly interfere with your marathon preparation”. Put another way, when penning out on any training schedule, seriously assess how much time you have available at the outset.  In this report we learn how John Kilcoyne managed to balance life with his desire to run sub-three.

When I first joined Striders some years ago I always enjoyed reading the long race reports that seemed to come through every week or so describing in some detail how the race had gone. Being new to running at that point I found it very interesting, particularly the fell race ones where visibility was almost zero on a rainy day and they were running through peat bogs. These people must be crackers I thought but they were always a good read. There’s only so much you can say about some races I guess but it would be good to see some longer reports coming through. There was also the monthly magazine type thing that came through that was a little tongue in cheek, was it called Easy Strider or something? What happened to that? Anyway they seem to be less frequent these days and as I’m currently at home recovering from a minor procedure as well as the marathon and two days at Alton Towers with the kids the day after I thought I’d try and put something together. Hopefully it’s worth reading.

After a very inconsistent summer and some poor performances at 10k I entered Manchester in early September and thankfully it gave me some motivation to try and salvage something from the year and enough time to get a decent amount of fitness built up before the marathon block was to start towards the back end of December. This went fairly well with mileage getting up to around 40 miles a week from October, longer runs up to around 12/13 miles, one cross country race and pacing 40 mins at Percy Pud. However the best thing I did in this time was to regularly get out with Peter Brown’s training group on Tuesday and or get down to the track on Thursday. In my only previous marathon outing at York in 2021 (3:11:08) I had done the majority of training on my own including the long run. This time around I was determined to give it a proper crack and training with a group midweek when possible was going to be key for me. My friend Pete from Clowne RR had also entered Manchester so most of my weekend long runs were to be with him down on the black path from Rother Valley.

Training generally went well. I had struggled to follow a specific plan last time other than the long runs as my work can be a little unpredictable so this time I had planned to be a little more relaxed with it from week to week even though I was committing to the training more, so i would try to get to either the Tuesday or the Thursday group, both if possible, but if not I would do the planned session on my own or something similar. Long runs would mainly be at a comfortable pace unless they had a session built in to them. (Pfitzinger says the long run should be at 80%/90% of marathaon pace ed). When this was the case I’d usually skip the Thursday session. The rest of the mileage would be very easy which I think has enabled me to recover from the hard miles and keep training without many breaks or missed sessions. Having said that there have been plenty of niggles to manage. Pete who unfortunately didn’t make the start line at Manchester after picking up an injury at Retford HM likened it to whack a mole at the arcades, you get rid of one and another one pops up somewhere else and you seem to keep chasing them around your body. I definitely need to work on my strength and mobility as this has certainly been the case for me for much of the block.

Dewsbury 10k in early February went fairly well in just outside 37 mins, not a PB but the quickest for a good few years. Retford a month later wasn’t as encouraging as I was targeting around 82 mins and struggled from about 5 miles and came home in 83:20. Not a disaster but a bit of a knock in confidence. Around this time with six weeks to go I started to find it all a bit of a grind. Work was busy and I had back to back house rewires on the go which were physically demanding, I also had a trip to Germany to watch some football planned which I probably didn’t need but possibly did me a favour. It was the week of the heavy snow so my planned midweek long run got scrapped and my mileage dropped (24 for the week). I switched off from it for a few days, had a Guinness fuelled parkrun at Düsseldorf which went quite well and I was ready to get back into it by the following week.

This is where the club and the group played such a big part for me. The following week we were back on the airport road (Europa Link) with a mile stretch from Outokumpu for long reps (all we ever seemed to do this winter was 4×10 minutes) and I had a good session working with Louis Wood to hit some consistent times which gave me some confidence back after Retford.

To be able to train with such a strong group week after week and pick up little tips and advice from the likes of Caroline Brock, James Fulcher and Louis Wood who all have much more Marathon experience than me as well as seeing others in the group like Rob Byers, Abbie Pearse, Ade Fisher and Naeem Stevens to name a few running so well is such an encouragement. I’ve no doubt I wouldn’t have got close to my target had I not been training with the group and a big thanks goes to Peter Brown for going out in all weathers to do rep research and to check the surface of various training loops to make sure we could always get a session in. This has been invaluable with Woodbourn Road having been closed for the majority of the training block due to a floodlight issue; the group even went all the way to the track at Herringthorpe, Rotherham so that they could do their key 3x3200m session.

Race weekend itself went pretty well. We had a room booked at one of the Premier Inn airport hotels for the Saturday so I headed over with Stella in the afternoon. Pete and his wife were still coming to watch even though he had pulled out of the race. Probably not how the elites would do it but a large pizza with chips and a sticky toffee pudding were demolished along with plenty of water throughout the day. Sunday morning was an early alarm, a pot porridge with some fruit and a generous lump of Nutoka (Aldi’s version of a well known chocolate spread). Pete dropped me at the metro stop and I was at the race village for 7:30 and immediately bumped into Seth Kirby which was great to have someone to pass on the nervy next hour or so with. We were in the same start wave too so it helped having some company for the section from the village to the start. We also saw Laura Mella and Rob Byers at the bag drop. Seeing some familiar faces seemed to help me feel more relaxed. I’ve seen a few negative reports about Manchester Marathon over the years but I have to say that from my point of view everything seemed pretty well organised. The bag drop before and after was dead easy, there were stacks of toilets at the village and just before the starting area and there were plenty of volunteers about too. The crowds along the route for the majority of the race were also very good.

Conditions on the day couldn’t have been much better. Nice and cool with a very gentle breeze. I was aiming to go sub 3 hours so had decided to try and hold a consistent pace of somewhere between 6:45-6:50 per mile which is slightly under 3 hour pace but was expecting to run longer then 26.2 and also expected to tire in the 2nd half. The 1st mile has a slight downhill but was congested as you would expect so I wasn’t too concerned when I went through in 7 minutes. After that it settled down and it was easier to get into a consistent pace. Already within a couple of miles I’d seen Ben Stittle, Jordan Moat and Malcolm Baggaley cheering us on and that continued with loads of shouts throughout the course which was much appreciated. The good thing with Manchester if you have family or friends with you is that they can hop on and off the metro which enabled Stella, Pete and Lucy to see me at miles 2, 6 and 8, they were then joined by my parents at 16 and 26.

The miles were ticking by without too much incident but I wasn’t feeling great. I felt comfortable enough but it wasn’t as easy as I was hoping it would be for the first 10-15 miles and my stomach felt a bit off. I remember thinking about 8 miles in that it was going to be a fair old slog and that I would probably have to back off the pace sooner rather then later but equally I didn’t want to not give it a chance as I knew I was in decent shape. The weekend before I had messaged Peter Brown to ask for a little advice on taper and the days leading up to race day. One of the last things he’d said was to trust the process. With that in mind I decided to stick to the plan and see what happens. The plan was fairly simple, hold the pace best I could, take a gel every 5 miles up to 20 (torq being the brand of choice) and take on a little water at each station which were around every 3 miles and see what I had left for the last 6 miles. The water was in the fruit shoot type bottles which made it so much easier to take on while running. I went through halfway in about 1:29:30 which was about perfect but didn’t leave much for the expected fade in the 2nd half. Just after halfway the course to me seemed to get busier but not enough to cause a problem. It actually helped as there were a couple of packs to run with and I tucked in behind three guys from Aldridge RC who were clearly all running together at around 3 hour pace which was great. During this time Seth came up alongside me, he had said before the race he would need to stop for the toilet at some point mid race and had lost a minute or so. He hung around for a minute or two, we offered each other some encouragement and he eased away into the distance. My earlier apprehension however had now passed and I was feeling pretty good, much better then earlier in the race. Around 18/19 miles the guys consistent pace I had latched on to started to drift a little so I decided I would leave them and push on. As I guess is the case with most marathons at this point you are starting to see people walking, stretching, sitting on kerbs etc. Some bloke was telling someone on the phone that his glutes had gone in to spasm and he couldn’t walk! I’d been having some glute issues myself and my quads were now aching too so I just tried to block it out and carry on.

Surprisingly I managed to keep hitting the miles on or around target pace without too much of an issue. Though it was far from easy I’d done plenty of solo marathon pace work, particularly multiple laps of the 1 mile Letsby Avenue loop and I kept telling myself this is what it was for. I’d also visually remembered putting some beers in the fridge at home Saturday morning for when I’d be home Sunday afternoon ( Düsseldorf aside I’d been off the beer for a couple of months) so this kept me going too!

An encouraging shout from James Fulcher around mile 23 was very welcome and having done plenty of training with him was a bit gutted he had to pull out but it’s amazing how a familiar face can give you a boost. It was just a case of keeping going now and hope the legs would hold up as the fitness seemed to be there. I reached mile 26 and saw my cheer squad as I rounded the last corner. I could see the finish but it looked a bloody long way off. Watch said 2:58:30 so I had to get a wriggle on if I was going to make it. Thankfully I made it and came home in 2:59:45. What a great feeling! GPS says I ran 26.4 miles but obviously this can be out but I was glad I had compensated for it either way.

Ignore the time on the clock as John crosses a busy finish line in 2:59:45. Chip timing eases the flow of athletes these days but their antics around three hours are still quite something. (Screen dump from Youtube)

After collecting the medal and T-Shirt it was back to the race village and it was great to see Seth and Luke Mair who had both gone under 3 hours too.

Seth was off to get a massage in the race village and I was off to meet my family. A small walk to Trafford Park metro station and a short journey to Sale Water Park & Ride station where I saw Will Hitchmough who had also gone under 3 hours. It was great to hear and see all the results everyone got whilst coming back over the Woodhead. If you fancy Manchester next year just be wary of where you park as many of the roads are closed for most of the day. I’d recommend using the park & ride for the Metro but be sure to plan your route out afterwards

Thanks again to everyone who I have trained with over the past few months along with everyone else in the club who has offered encouragement. Pre marathon block I met with Dave Birch and Barry Gyte for some advice too which was much appreciated. There are plenty of people in the club with loads of knowledge and experience and anyone I have ever approached for advice have always been helpful which is great to have available. (Eight regulars from the Tuesday/Thursday groups ran a Marathon pb this spring with six dipping under three hours for the first time. ed).

A few figures for anyone interested. Since the new year I have averaged around 46 miles per week, the biggest two being 57 and 62 mile weeks which is a lot for me as I am usually around 30-35 miles per week. For some that is just regular mileage I guess. Crucially though it has always felt manageable for me. Longest five runs were 2@20, 1@21 and 2@22.

Sam Brown had said in his report last year that he now had a bug he didn’t want. I’ve possibly got the same. Looking forward to having another crack next year!

Link to results: Manchester Marathon Results 2023

COACH KILLERS: Carrying a water bottle when there are perfectly good feed stations, wasting energy waving at the camera and looking at your watch for no apparent reason.




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