I was very pleased to get a place pacing Manchester marathon 2017. I have never completed this event before, but have had it in my sights over the last couple of years. It had some bad press last year for some organisational issues, but I had always heard it was a good fast course. This was to be my 1st Manchester marathon, 21st marathon and 25th 100 marathon club qualifier (this includes 1 Ironman and 3 100k). This was also the 26th event I have paced.
As a pacer I often will have some slightly different experiences to others pre race. I received my race number in the post like everyone else, and I liked that my name was on my bib. This event was sponsored by Asics and I am very lucky to have received a full set of running kit to wear on the day. This is a massive perk, which I am extremely grateful for. As I had a long journey to get to Manchester I laid out my kit nice and early on the Friday to make sure I had everything I needed for race day. This included all the Asics kit, CEP calf guards and xbionic socks. Also my Racecheck visor, bib belt and phone belt, pace pocket, Vaseline, and my Grub and Meatsnacks for pre and post event fuel.
I travelled to Manchester early on the Friday with my family Kirsty, Benjamin and Amelie. It was a long journey, so we enjoyed the day and took our time. There was no substantial expo, merely a few stands and race pack pick up for late entrants. I usually like a big expo so initially thought this was a shame but it was actually a blessing in disguise. It meant I did not have to worry about the day instead I had a lovely day with my family in softplay and then we watched beauty and the beast. I am really grateful for all the support of my family, so it is nice to ensure they have fun too.
It was an early start on race day, and I decided to get a taxi to the start line. There were metro link options, but this would have involved a long walk and an unknown service. I always like to be early, and as a pacer I like to get there earlier still. I didn’t know what to expect, but had been asked to meet for a 07:30 brief, so I got there at 06:50. This was possibly too early and it was a while before anyone else turned up. But I would rather this than be late and rushed. I met up with a load of UKRUNCHAT people which was pretty cool.
I’m not going to tag people I met, as there were far too many and I’m bound to miss someone off, but this was a huge ukrunchat tweetup. There were large baggage tents and I was there throughout the morning pre race and I never witnessed any real queue, so it looks like they have a good system in place here. I never had to use it as I left my bag with the organisers. I also met Caithy who was part of the event crew.
Before long we were making our way to the start line. I was to start at the front of Pen G and this was a long way back, there were a lot of people here; with 12,000 entrants and 8,686 finishers. I found my starting spot and started to get to know those around me. Again lots of people from Ukrunchat and lots of fantastic runners. Straight away I knew this was going to be a fantastic day.
It took about 19 minutes to get over the start line. This felt like an age and for some this would have been an annoyance, but as I told everyone around me, this was to be expected and was a really good way to start. Once we passed the start line we had a clear path, and this remained for the whole race. This was particularly good with such a large field and I’m genuinely impressed. I would rather wait 19 minutes and get started in waves, then start in a mass and end up walking the first half an hour. Well done to the organisers for this start ?
With only one 4:45 pacer I knew that I had very little room for error with lots of people relying on me. The 10:52 pace is not my natural pace, and was actually very difficult for me. The first mile was my real challenge and I was pleased to pass mile 1 bang on time. After this I just held a steady pace, and am always able to hold the pace once I find it. The mile markers were really well placed, as most events don’t have them accurate throughout. Naturally each mile got further away as I was not running the blue line, so I ensured I was averaging about 10:48 to allow for the extra distance we would run.
I had needed the toilet since we started, and with such a long time to go it was getting uncomfortable and I realised I would need to stop. I had been running steady with the same large group of people, so was happy they were holding the pace. I noticed a large tree at about 7 miles so I gave my flag to Antony and darted behind it. I watched them cross mile 7 and then chased them to catch them up. I had called out target time using my pacepocket and actual time every mile. I am pleased that the largest gap throughout the entire 26.2 miles was 14 seconds. My mile 8, looks a little fast but this is just because I ran 7 min mile pace to catch my bus, and I ran slightly extra going off course.
We spent the first half marathon as a big group and it was great sharing stories, most notably with William, Antony and Martin from ukrunchat. We had a lovely chatty group.
As always it is inevitable that people drop off the bus, and more join. In truth there are lots of different types of people who join pacers. Those that like to know they are ahead. I had a few of these and towards the end I get mixed reactions. I had some pleased they had stayed ahead for so long and started to run with me. I also had some that looked at me like I was the devil and seemed genuinely annoyed that I had caught them.
Towards the end of the event you get those that battle to stay ahead, who race passed me only for me to keep catching them up, I feel that these get motivated by seeing me and use this to keep going. There are those that I will never know ran with me, at least until the end, as they don’t want to be in the pack but like to keep me in sight.
Then there are those that join the fun bus, some early on, and I pick passengers up along the way at each stop usually people that have been struggling or gradually slowing. Unfortunately there are those that get off the bus at these stops too. I lost a few and I wish I could stop and keep them going, but I need to keep up a steady pace, but I’m glad so many that jumped off the bus still did fantastically and had a great Race.
Manchester Marathon was predominantly flat and I can see that it would be great for a PB attempt. There were some wonderful spectators and so many people giving out sweets which was great. There were a few quiet sections though, but I was fine with a large group around. Some of these sections may have been difficult if you were running alone.
The only real criticism I would have of this route was the roads. I have never seen so many potholes and poor road conditions on a route. The council really need to resurface the roads as I was constantly shouting out to people about the hazards. This did not detract from a great event, but it would have if someone had twisted their ankle. I’m very mindful that it can get very congested in a pace group, which makes it even more difficult to see the holes so I see it as my duty to alert everyone around me.
Water stations got a little congested, but this is a hazard at all events. I picked up two bottles of water early on and put in my pack for anyone who needed them and grabbed a load of gels for the same reason. I always try to grab water for others and have supply’s of gels for anyone struggling. There was plenty of water and gels, only thing missing was there was no sports drink which I would have appreciated.
When we neared the finish I still had a strong group and I was confident my splits were consistent. The official splits show no variation so I’m extremely happy with that.
I crossed the line with many ahead who had stuck with me, and it’s great to hear all the PB stories.
There was a lively finish line, and it was a smooth transition to the finish area. There we were met with our finishers bag which included a high quality top and medal. Then a lovely pint (or two) of Erdinger.
Overall I thought this was a fantastic race. I’ve already been asked if I want to pace Manchester again next year, and that was an easy “yes”. It was a great event which I highly recommend, come along next year and I will see you there.
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