Race Report: Manchester Half Marathon 2021

Race Report: Manchester Half Marathon 2021

This was the big one. The “A” race. This was week 23 of a training build up since 3 May.

In the build up I’d raced 5k on the track (17.01), 3k on the track (9.48), a 5k in July (17.09 – long course in my opinion, don’t @ me!), the Quayside 5k in a PB of 16.01 and the Great North Run in 1:17:46 (agreed by all to be a challenging course). I’d also sprinkled in some parkruns at target half marathon effort. Most recently I’d suffered in the opening cross country fixture of the season. Overall, and in hindsight, this was a very good training block for me with perhaps the most concentrated series of varied races I’d ever done. And I managed to keep major injuries or illness at bay.

But as I said in my last blog post, it would have been ideal if the GNR and Wrekenton XC races had gone better. And it would have been great if my training had been even more consistent. But I resolved to give Manchester my best shot despite facing the usual gremlins of doubt.

Maybe it is something akin to “imposter syndrome”. A lack of confidence about putting my hat in the ring for masters representation at National level. Maybe I had done the wrong thing? Put too much pressure on myself?

It was my first experience of actually travelling to a race. I have done a lot of travel for work and pleasure so that in itself was not the issue. It was more logistics and ensuring I didn’t enjoy the trappings of the big city until after the race!

Everything went to plan travel wise and I even managed to have a walk from my Airbnb to the Old Trafford cricket ground where the athletes village was. That helped to settle my nerves and also make my mind up that I wouldn’t drop a bag off. I would just run the 1.2 miles from the digs, use the toilet etc. and go straight to the start line. I’d brought an old t-shirt that I could chuck last minute before the gun went off. It would just mean I’d have to carry the Airbnb keys 13.1 miles around the course (and try my best not to drop them!).

Things didn’t go perfectly though and I ate much later than I wanted to. I managed to go to a Mexican in Chorlton where I was staying. A burrito, some nacos and an orange juice. Probably not ideal I thought. It was already 20:30 and the plan was to set the alarm for 4am! I popped to a shop to get 2 bananas and a bag of haribos. I ate most of the haribos on the walk home!

Suffice to say I couldn’t sleep. I was up and down to the toilet a few times and I noticed I was dehydrated probably due to the travel. So I prioritised drinking plenty water over sleep. Actually I’d made sure to sleep well the week prior so I didn’t get worked up about this. Just tried to rest and relax. I was only paying Airbnb for a private room but luckily the owner was away otherwise I would have caused all kinds of disturbance!!! A god send on getting up to go to the toilet without switching lights on was my new Petzl headtorch! So good and charges by USB – highly recommend if you are looking for a new one this winter – link here.

Time didn’t drag despite the lack of real sleep and I was up at 4am for two bananas and about a quarter loaf of soreen. The soreen didn’t go down easily but I knew my stomach handles it well. I had another 500ml of water and took some more back to bed for more rest. I set the alarm for an hours time so that I could have two beetroot shots. Then more rest until 6.45. Up, showered, race gear on and out at 7.25.

I noticed that the conditions were pretty perfect. The temperature was ideal and no wind to speak of. This was my chance I thought, things are aligning to a fast race.

I got to the cricket ground feeling good on my jog and it was already pretty busy. I queued for a toilet and then walked down to the start. The actual start line was a lot further away than I thought.

I had to weave my way through a fair few runners to get anyway near the front and, in the end, I probably wasn’t anywhere near where I should have been. Back to the imposter syndrome, hanging back. In hindsight I should have been up there. But ultimately all I was doing was putting more people in the way than I should have been. I need to have more confidence. That all said it was nice to see some familiar faces from my club Tyne Bridge and also Bryan Potts who I’d met on Twitter recently.

It felt like the race organisers got the all clear to start the race earlier than the planned 8.10 start. Before we knew it the gun went and actually I was over the start line in a few seconds.

The start had a little uphill gradient and then a traverse from the left hand side of the road across a central reservation onto the right hand side in our direction of travel. It was this switch across that had me pass a fair few runners and I could see the elites not far up the road. So I’d already put myself in a handy position. I would say that my position at the first mile marker was pretty similar to my position at the end.

I felt like I was running fast. I was running completely to feel. I didn’t even glance at my watch once. And I was pleased that there were no time clocks until about 20km! I was blissfully unaware of pace, splits, heart rate, power – any of that stuff. My brain and body were on an experiment!

The only real guide I had at this stage was the sight of a competitor up the road – Simon Bennett of Hartlepool. We have had a similar journey to Manchester. I first became aware of Simon at the North East Master track races in the summer. We then had a little battle at the Quayside 5km. We also bumped into each other at the end of the Great North Run where Simon had finished a few minutes ahead of me. We chatted afterwards and I’d asked Simon whether he had registered his interest with England Atheltics. He said he had, so he was my only known V40 competitor. It felt sensible just to track him but he had latched onto a group further up the road and I felt fine where I was.

At this point a small group of maybe 2 or 3 runners were forming including a runner I now know as Tom Dart. Me and Tom were to run together for much of the race and I was very grateful for the company!

As I say, I was completely unaware of pace but I will give Strava splits here. The first mile went in 5:22. A group was forming with me, Tom Dart (Spenborough), Steven Hayes (V45 – Deestriders RC) and Richard Coen (V40 – Wilmslow). The group was running well together but I did feel at my limit, knowing that I was still operating in the first quarter of the race!

I’d took a mental note that the course had a first sharp turn at approx. 5km and the aforementioned group worked as a unit until that point. Strava had miles 2 and 3 at 5:29 and 5:25 and effectively 5km was done in 17:05. Overall I felt like Steven and Richard were looking very strong and me and Tom were maybe just a little more passed the boil. I noticed me and Tom were having more issues around throat clearing and breathing. I put mine down to still not feeling 💯 but, don’t get me wrong, I was feeling good! I just felt like I was having to clear the throat more than I would like. Every now and then I’d consciously take some breaths through the nose if only to remind myself to relax and not panic breathe.

The group with Coen (left), Hayes (all black kit) and Dart (red/yellow kit)

I was enjoying it. This is what you pay the entry fee to races for! All those days training all alone. For this. To be in a group of runners pushing each other on. The camaraderie was amazing. At a drinks station a bottle was passed round. I declined (I didn’t take any water or nutrition throughout the race!) but here is a sport where competitors actively try to help each other – pure sport.

The sharp left hand turn at around 5km did two things to change the complexion of the race –

1. It introduced an intense low hanging bright Autumnal sun which I found pretty disconcerting. Having been in a solid rhythm for >3 miles, for the first time I felt like the momentum was broken. I wished I’d worn a cap or perhaps sunglasses. It was too late now.

2. It meant Steven and Richard started breaking away. Personally I kind of accepted that I wasn’t able to latch on. I suspect Tom made an effort. I was able to keep Tom a manageable distance away and soon we were back pretty much running together. It felt like I’d overcome a slight negative patch.

The next 2 or 3 miles were churned out just me and Tom. Strava has mile 4 as the fastest of the day at 5:21 and miles 5 and 6 slowed to 5:29 and 5:30. The 10km split was 34 minutes dead. My official 10km PB is 34:49 and even my 10 mile PB (55:37) was slower through 6 miles. Not knowing any of this was bliss.

It was around here that I noticed a runner appearing to be falling off up the road. I spoke very briefly to Tom for the first and only time to say that we should work together to reel him in. He didn’t hear so I repeated it. I also said the word “gradually”. This seemed to galvanise Tom and he kind of dropped me!

I was able to get back on. As it happened, the runner in question was never to be caught. Always in sight but never caught. Instead Simon Bennett suddenly appeared and we were rapidly catching.

This brought back memories of the Quayside 5km. I had ran a solid even pace race and I think I went passed Simon around 3.5-4km only to be comprehensively beaten in the end. I started plotting approach.

I wondered things like should I forget about Tom and just stay with Simon? Or should I rattle by as fast as possible?

It actually took longer than I thought to get to the point where I was on Simons heels. I think it was around 7 or 8 miles. We approached a little rise with a right hand turn onto a nice downhill. I took the initiative from Tom and went by Simon at the brow of the hill. I put in a little injection of pace but it was more a shortening and quickening of the stride than anything else. I think Tom was caught by surprise a little, obviously unaware of the V40 competition unfolding…

I honestly felt like I could steal an unassailable march, perhaps on both Tom and Simon. I was feeling very good. I was working hard but in control. But there was still about 5 miles of running left to do.

This was a fast but somewhat “snakey” part of the course. I tried to use the corners to my advantage, getting round them tightly and with fast cadence and then trying to use some momentum to run strongly on up the road. The crowd support was pretty good round here. Nothing like the Great North Run but the support did increase where it was needed.

Unfortunately my lead over Tom and Simon didn’t last. It is a bit of a blur as to the exact order of events but I definitely felt like I had let them both get away on the run to 10 miles. The mental battles had begun by this point. I had noticed the gaps between mile markers getting longer and longer. And I hadn’t got my head around the logic as to when there were KM markers and when there weren’t!

By 10 miles I think I had lost at least 50 to 100yds on both Simon and Tom. 10 miles was passed in approx. 55:16 (faster than current PB). I was slowing but still on for a very large personal best time.

Such were my battles with my negative mental mind leading up to the race, when I had worked out that the course route would be passing very close to my Airbnb in Chorlton-Cum-Hardy, I had actually considered how easy it would be to slip off the course and back into the comfort of the flat if things weren’t going well! I think the last 5km at the Great North Run had hurt me so much – I wondered how I was going to be able to dig it out again only 4 weeks later?

As always I needn’t have worried. The support along the roads of Chorlton was amazing. I think at this stage I was starting to realise I was onto something good and that I was holding a very decent position in the race. So my key thought was to “hold it together” and “keep going”, “see it through”. I was now running down the exact same street I had jogged down that very morning and I now knew the Old Trafford cricket ground wasn’t far away. Although I didn’t know exactly where the finish was I could start to think about running across the line…

It was here that I could still see Tom and I started wondering if there was a chance I could get back on terms? I was hurting, getting a little ragged. But maybe just maybe?

I passed the 20km mark in 1:09:48ish and I immediately thought of the 1km efforts I do in training. First off, I knew I had less than 4mins of running which was galvanising. And I also pictured that distance on the training road I used. Every step got me closer, it didn’t feel like a big deal now. At some point between here and the finish I saw the first time clock of the whole race. I don’t know what distance it was positioned at but I distinctly remember seeing 1:12:xx! This was the first time I felt real joy inside. And there was the finish line up ahead.

I still had probably 400m to go and I finally clenched everything and tried to pick up. There were some race faces pulled in the home straight but I finished off in 1:13:34 which was good for 23rd place overall and 5th V40.

Final push for home
Almost there
1:13:34 chip time – elation!

I don’t want to analyse this race too much here. Suffice it to say that this performance is at least in line with the 16:01 5km back in August. But actually I’d rate it as more impressive for me as I have always doubted my capability over longer distances. And this performance over 13.1 miles has proven to me that I do have the endurance, strength and stamina to compete over further. I just have to believe and trust my brain and body to race on the day.

I have posted a VLOG of this race on YouTube here.

I’ve also just launched my new personal running website “KR Runs” here. Go check it out!

Thanks so much for reading and following my running journey! I’d love to hear from runners wherever you may be!

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