Saturday 18th April - going to Manchester
The weekend started with the mini-bus picking us up at 10am Saturday morning. A mixture of nervousness but mostly excitement from the mostly inexperienced marathon runners. Of the six CORC members taking on Manchester Marathon, only me and Fiona had done the distance before with Fiona having done Edinburgh, Snowdon and London, whilst I'd done Llanelli and London. For Aled, Dai K, Helen D and Lorna it was to be a marathon debut. Too much early morning hydrating meant a quick stop at the services near Worcester where we bumped into a few of Richard LJ's old Liswerry club mates heading to the same race. On the way back to the minibus Dai announced he had a surprise for us and presented us with baseball caps with Manchester Marathon 2015 plus the club logo on the front, with newly established nicknames on the back.
Back on our way and as we approached Manchester, Fiona shared some inspirational quotes matched with different points of the race for us to try and remember to keep us going and keep positive. Something I definitely needed as the marathon has been a huge mental challenge for me. Helen provided a 'slab of water' for us all whilst Lorna had made a load of sandwiches and a brought a multi pack of 'ula oops' as her Garw accent seemed to suggest. Aled had sorted out the bus whilst my contribution was booking the accommodation... a £26 a room Travelodge in Ashton Under Lyne. Was a bit concerned what we might be in for but I think everyone was happy with it. It was right next to the Tram line but fortunately they stop before 11pm.
We'd tried to book at table at the Sheldon Arms pub / restaurant next door but they were fully booked that evening so we thought we'd try our luck a bit earlier on and luckily they were able to fit us in. Not sure it's what the experts would suggest but the runners went with carvery, lasagne or cod and chips. It was very nice as well. We didn't want to waste the day in our rooms so the remainder of the day was open to suggestions. Lorna wanted to go on the Coronation Street tour - which we did actually look into - but it was a bit late in the day so we wouldn't have made it in time. We settled on something a bit more constructive and decided to go to Old Trafford to see where the race would start and finish and very importantly, where the pub was for a post-race drink!
A short walk to the Tram and some confusion using the ticket machine and we were on our way. Fortunately someone was sensible enough to realise we didn't to change lines at some point otherwise most of us would have stayed on there and ended up miles away. Lines were down on part of the track so we had to get off a stop earlier but it was only a 10 minute walk to the stadium and we thought it'd loosen up the legs a bit anyway. Dai K being the only Man Utd supporter was in his element when we got there. I wasn't so keen as a Liverpool supporter. I'm giving it the thumbs on the photo below. Quick stock up at the shop on the way back to the hotel and it was time to relax for evening.
Sunday 19th April - Manchester Marathon
We decided we were going to leave shortly after 7am so Helen set her alarm for 5.30am and I believe most of the others went for around 6ish. With a night off from the twins, me and Amanda were determined to get every minutes sleep possible and didn't get up until 6.30am. Various different pre-race breakfasts consumed and we were on our way. A few road closure and bit of sat nav confusion meant it took a little bit longer than we expected and Alun (Helen's husband and our driver for the weekend) kindly dropped us off near the start before finding somewhere to park. Unsurprisingly there were massive queues for the toilets so that used up a bit of time.
Everyone was coping with the imminent 26.2 miles of running in different ways. I was a bit stressed and quiet whilst Dai was talking a lot and photo bombing other running clubs team photo's! Aled was a lot quieter than usual whilst seasoned pro Fiona seemed calm and relaxed. We started the 5-10 minute walk from the finish area / runners village to the start area which wasn't brilliantly organised. Whilst in the likes of London Marathon and Cardiff / Bristol Half Marathons you are made to stick to your particular pen number / colour, the runners were left to start where they liked. We kept walking forward and I noticed there were a lot of red numbers around us (3:00 - 3:29 runners). The pacers were no where to be seen until about 5 minutes before the start when they started frantically trying to make their way through the crowds. However, it did appear we were up with the 3:15 section. Although I really want to start with the others, I'd decided I want to start near the 4 hour pacer to see how it went so last minute I decided to go much further back and even stood at the side for a couple of minute whilst the other runners went past, waiting for the 4 hour pacers to get closer. In the end, I probably started about 5 minutes after the rest of the CORC runners but whilst I don't think the others got it wrong, it was definitely the right choice for me personally.
The course started with an out and back section with our supporters able to see us again after about a mile and a half. It also meant that I could see just how far ahead the others were in front of me. First up was Aled who was flying and looking very focussed already... surely too fast?? Dai wasn't too far behind and I didn't see the girls at that point. There was a slightly longer out and back section with supporters able to see us again after about 4 miles. This time I missed Aled and Dai going in the opposite direction but did see Fiona and Lorna who had decided beforehand to run together. They were a good few minutes ahead so given our race aspirations, I was hoping I'd see them much later in the race but not catch them to early which would suggest I was going too fast.
Back onto the Chester Road in front of the stadium and we left some of the bigger crowd support behind although there was still plenty around. Without seeing anything in particular, I was getting a bit emotional even this early on - it's what marathons do to you. I'd decided to run according to how I felt and only check my watch every 5 miles and therefore try to focus on those 5 miles rather than think there's 20 odd miles to go. The target was 45 minutes per 5 miles which would result in a sub 4 hour finish... but that's keeping it going for the entire 26.2 miles. At mile 5 I was up by around 90 seconds. A couple of twists and turns between 5 and 10 miles and all of a sudden I was alongside Fiona and Lorna. I hadn't seen them ahead of me but was glad to see them. Unfortunately Fiona was struggling having been on anti-biotics all week and it turns out that shortly after I seen them, she slowed to walk and told Lorna to go on ahead.
This was the start of a very long out and back section that went from mile 9 to 16. We seen the leaders pass on the other side who looked like they were sprinting the whole course! It was a welcome distraction watching the runners coming towards me and looking out for any Welsh club runners. The 3:15 pacer passed and then the 3:30 pacer... and very shortly after Aled! I shouted over and he seen me. I was amazed and thought there's no way he's going to keep this up having not gone beyond 20 miles before. A small loop before returning down the out and back meant I missed Dai and Helen but it was nice to pass the halfway point. Just before 14 miles I seen Helen up ahead walking and taking on a drink and passed with a quick pat on the back and 'keep going'. I was hoping she was just taking a quick drinks walking break as it was still a bit early to be suffering. Mile 15 meant another time check... nearly 5 minutes up! But the real challenge is to come.
For me, the final 10 miles is a huge psychological challenge. In my first marathon, I only made it to 16 miles before having to mostly walk the remaining 10 miles. Then last year in London I managed to push on to 20 miles before again mostly walking the rest. Massive time lost with some 13+ minute miles. After both marathons I said 'never again' but whilst my times at other distances have improved, it's made my marathon time fall even more out-of-synch and something I had to give another go. Run an entire marathon - that was the goal. If I could just do that, I'd be happy never to do a marathon again. The time didn't really matter - although clearly running a whole marathon is realistically going to be sub 4:20 if not significantly quicker which would be a huge personal best compared to my 4:31:54. Mile 18 and some negative thoughts started to kick in - my legs hurt... there's still 8 miles to go... you're getting to that 20 mile mark. Thankfully I managed to control it. It was very tempting to check my watch but I made sure I didn't.
20 miles... time check... this time it's how many minutes I have to finish it in sub 4 hours... there's 6.2 miles to go and I have 65 minutes to do it in! That's over 10 minute miles! This was a huge boost but at the same time my calves were screaming at me. I look up and 100 meters in front of me I see the Cwm Ogwr logo! It's Dai! This adds something to my final 10K. I'm not interested in trying to catch him and if anything I actually do want to speak to him because the conversation is very likely to along the lines of 'ouch, this bloody hurts' and it'd be easy to get the negative thoughts creeping back in. Positivity, positivity, positivity. Thankfully, Dai wasn't struggling and the gap stayed the same until around mile 23 where I had another time check. Something like 39 minutes to do the final 3.2 miles. Don't get complacent. So close, yet so far. The emotion kicked in again, sub 4 was almost in the bag... in fact, not just sub 4... SMASHING sub 4. With around a mile and half to go, Old Trafford came into view. Agonising - I could see where the finish was but my pace was slightly dropping towards 9:30 rather than sub 9 minute miles so still around 15 minutes of running to do. I tried Paula Radcliffe's tactic of counting to 100 over and over or even counting backwards but it just didn't work. If anything, it was worse. A few people had clearly kept a bit back and for the first time there were a few runners passing me. Forget about them, it's me against the marathon. At this point I would honestly have been gutted if I'd walked even two steps - I had to run the whole course even though 4 hours was now probably done even if I had walked. Finally the final corner arrived. I looked around for Amanda and the other supporters and spotted them with 100 meters or so to go. I don't know what they said because as soon as I seen them I raised my arms and shouted 'YES!!!' at the top of my voice. I mustered up half a sprint finish and stopped my watch... 3:50:34.
My legs instantly seemed to seize up as soon as I stopped running and a hobbled round to the runners village to collect a hefty well deserved medal and was looking out for Dai. Everyone was caped in silver foil blankets so even if he was nearby I'd never had spotted him anyway. I suddenly felt really sick so stayed clear of the My Protein chocolate recovered shake on offer and the non-alcohol beer. I went to find Amanda was getting a bit choked up having achieved much more than I thought possible. Unfortunately a bit of a communication mix up meant it was a good 5-10 minutes before I finally found Amanda and the others and had to sit on the floor. Conditions for the race were perfect but sat on the floor I started shivering so with some difficultly managed to get some extra layers on. Dai was over the moon with his time if not a little confused that he finished before me but my chip time was quicker. He'd actually managed a sub 8 minute last mile and I didn't see him from about mile 23 onwards. After a couple of minutes to recover I asked Aled his time... the clock said 3:30 which meant his chip time was sub 3:30! I was absolutely amazed. It only seemed like a few minutes before Lorna joined us, then Helen, then Fiona. We were a bit concerned Fiona had dropped out as the tracker on the results website had come up with the same half marathon and 20 mile time but she keep going and finished her 4th marathon.
I'll come on to the final results / stats later but after a quick chat we went onto the Wetherspoons just around the corner from the final straight for a well earned alcoholic beverage. It was heaving in there but luckily a family were just leaving and we managed to get a few seats. From there it was off to find Alun and the minibus. Agonisingly we walked the wrong way adding a few minutes walk - oh well, we needed a warm down. A stop at the services for a McDonalds on the way home, plus we let Helen play a couple of Donny Osmond tracks before switching to Dai's 'Now, that's what I call Running' CD with plenty of singing along. A great weekend with brilliant company.
Aled Hughes 3:28:27 PB and CLUB RECORD
Gareth Jenkins 3:50:26 PB
David Kembery 3:52:10 PB
Lorna Domachowski 4:12:06 PB and Female CLUB RECORD
Helen Davies 4:20:31 PB
Fiona Evans 4:30:01
The numbers don't quite tell the whole story though. Aled suffered an foot / ankle injury earlier this year and ending up with arm in cast. He was the less experienced 'racer' out the six of us having not entered a mass participant PB-type-race for about 18 months. As I said about, I was amazed. Debut marathon and absolutely incredible time.
For me, it was over a FOURTY ONE minute PB! As I said above, it was all about defeating the marathon demons in my head and I did just that. Before the race my goals were 1. beat PB of 4:31, 2. Run the whole thing and hopefully get 4:15 and 3. Sub 4 hours. I went for sub 4 from the outset and believed in myself to keep going... and I did it! Not only that, it wasn't just seconds under as I thought it'd be, it was nearly 10 minutes under!
Dai K also suffered with injuries in training and with just weeks to go was even considering dropping out and having to reign in his mileage and particularly any speed. He was sensible enough to miss a few training sessions when many of us would have returned too soon and potentially made the injury worse. It's also worth remembering that Dai had only been running a couple of years so has gone from zero to marathon. Like me, I think Dai expected a 3:59 so to get 3:52 at his first attempt is a great effort.
Lorna had so many weeks off injured at the end of last year, she basically started 2015 barely running 10K. Whilst others started their marathon training in early January, she had to wait until February to really even start. Fiona came up with a training plan and she stuck to it religiously. Again, Lorna has only been running a couple of years and like Aled, I was astounded at her finishing time which far exceed my expectations given the injury issues. She took Fiona's women's club record so as Fiona said "the apprentice has become the master".
Whilst having run a lot longer than the other 5 CORC runners, it was still a marathon debut for Helen at 50+ years young. Fortunately there wasn't no major injury issues but I think like me, Helen had to overcome some doubts about mile 20 onwards having struggled towards the end of the Llanelli 20 miler last year. Helen's time was by far the best when comparing age categories and a brilliant effort.
Finally Fiona's day didn't quite go to plan. On anti-biotics all week due to an upper-airway issue she wasn't even sure if she could / would run with just a couple of days to go. I'm sure many medical professionals would have advised against it. However, she was determined to do it and in the end was only a few minutes away from her PB in London last year. Awesome effort and I don't think many people in the same position would have done so well.
GREAT WELSH MARATHON MARATHON
Whilst we were running Manchester, Kevin and newest CORC trainee Antony Lewis were running their marathon debuts in Llanelli. The course is mostly flat with a few mild undulations but is mentally tough with it being 2 laps and passes by the finish line around 7, 13 and 20 miles. Antony only started running last year with the goal of one day running a marathon. At the start of this year he started upping the mileage ready for the Wales Marathon in Tenby in July. However, having already done 20 miles in Llanelli last month, he decided to bring the date of his first marathon forward and enter the GWM finishing in a fantastic 4:11:12.
After Aled obliterating the marathon club record, we were all frantically checking and rechecking Facebook and trying to find results on the way back from Manchester but no news. Had he dropped out... was he OK? Eventually we heard his app had stopped after 0.8 miles, he forgot to stop his watch when he crossed the line and didn't see the race clock so had no idea of his time. Finally at around 8pm the official results came in... 3:18:46. I probably use the word awesome too much but I think when you look at what that actually means "causing or inducing awe; inspiring an overwhelming feeling of reverence, admiration" then it definitely applies here. A quick check by Fiona confirmed what we thought - it's actually good enough for a "Good For Age" entry for London Marathon. This means (if they don't change the criteria), Kevin could apply for a London Marathon place and get guaranteed entry. Interesting to note, that out of the Manchester runners, Helen was closest to her Good For Age time.
Again, the time doesn't tell the whole story and in Kevin's words "I ran with no feedback from mile 12 all was going to plan till mile 16, slipped off kerb, twisted ankle and ran rest 10 miles heel striking on left foot, finished in agony. without doubt the hardest thing I have ever physically done," What can you say to that except maybe... awesome effort.
Now most people where runners or not will know that the normal reaction after doing a marathon is 'never again'. For most, this lasts a few days, even weeks and some will even stick to it. Not Cwm Ogwr runners. OK, we need to work on Kevin who's still a no less than 24 hours later but the Manchester lot were already planning the next one before we'd got on the bus to go home. Going as a group was brilliant but realistically you can't do that with London Marathon, so Edinburgh 2016 seems to be a front runner. Of course, for me, Dai and Fiona there's the small matter of already been signed up for Snowdon Marathon this October! But why 'just a marathon'. One of the first things Lorna said to us after finishing (and only half joking) is that she thinks Ultra running might be her thing! The Vale ultra was mentioned and you could see all 6 of us plus Nick on the start line next year! Anyone else?