2012 Manchester City Marathon Race Recap
|November 7, 2012||Posted by Lauren under Running|
2012 was almost the year of the marathon that wasn’t.
Funny because it started off with so much hope and excitement. I had big goals for 2012 — one of which included running a 3:10 marathon.
But then my knee injury happened and I spent Marathon Monday in Boston on the sidelines, just like I did in 2011. I was still dealing with that injury when I signed up for New York City Marathon, hoping a November marathon would give me enough time to get back into shape.
Summer came, and I slowly recovered from my injury and started training again. It wasn’t easy. I was out of shape and overly cautious — fearing that one misstep would put me right back to where I started. But as the months progressed I started picking up steam. And I began to believe that I could actually make it to the starting line of one marathon this year.
And then Sandy happened. We all know that story at this point. You also know about the scrambling on Saturday that led to me finding myself on the starting line of the Manchester City Marathon alongside Ali and Emily on the windy morning of November 4th.
So let’s talk about the race!
The Manchester City Marathon was a first in many ways.
- The first marathon that I didn’t specifically train for.
- The first marathon that I went into virtually blind with very little preparation (to give you a sense of this — the drive up to NH on Saturday included several unsuccessful pit-stops in search of GU so that I’d have some sort of fuel on Sunday morning).
- And…embarrassingly…the first marathon in which I wet my pants. Yep, I am admitting to the entire internet that I peed my pants on Sunday and kept right one running, mostly because it’s relevant to the story. So now you know…
I woke up Sunday morning not really feeling like I was about to run a marathon. The events of the prior week combined with the fact that I had spent all day Friday and Saturday before the marathon traveling (not ideal to be crammed in a car for 2 days before a race), and the reality of knowing virtually nothing about the race I was about to run helped create a nice, warm, comfortable state of denial. I sort of recommend it.
The drive to the start was short and uneventful. We easily found parking and went through the usual pre-race preparations…like, you know…figuring out which of the bibs you have in your possession is actually yours.
The energy in the Athlete’s Village at Veterans Park on Sunday morning was incredible. The small town race that was originally expecting 700 total runners had just exploded. There were people signing up for the race that morning. No matter the circumstances that brought them there, it was clear that everyone was just so excited to run. As we stood on the starting line and the gusts of wind started picking up, it suddenly hit me. WE ARE RUNNING A MARATHON!! I could barely contain my excitement.
I felt amazing in that moment. There was absolutely no pressure on this race. I was just heading out on a long run through hilly Manchester with a big group of excited strangers. No matter what happened along the course of those 26.2 miles, it was going to be a good day.
At 8:50, the race started with very little fanfare, and I took off. A downhill first mile combined with my inability to contain my excitement to be running a marathon resulted in a fast first mile. I reeled the pace in and focused on running easy for the first few miles.
I knew going in that the course would be hilly. My only plan for the start was to keep my pace under control and not push too hard on the uphill sections. The only real issue with this was that I didn’t really know where those hills were or how hard they’d be. I still haven’t decided whether this was a good thing or a bad thing…
I remember two things from the first 5 miles:
1.) I was really, really excited to be racing. Like – more excited than I had ever been in my entire life. With the exception of Boston 2009, I don’t think I have ever smiled so hard during a marathon, or been as emotional about running as I was on Sunday.
2.) I really, really had to pee. This wasn’t such good news. I normally make sure to use the porta-potties several times before a race…just in case. This obsessive strategy has served me well. I’ve never had to go to the bathroom during a marathon. But there weren’t really enough porta-potties on Sunday to accommodate the last-minute increase in the field. The lines were long and I didn’t have the time I needed for my pre-race “ritual.” The second I got on the starting line, I felt that uncomfortable sensation…and just prayed it would go away when I started running.
No such luck.
I suppose the benefit of having to go to the bathroom during a race is that it occupies your mind. For the first hour, my thoughts switched between “This is amazing!!!” and “Yikes! I need to use the restroom. Should I stop? Could I just go if I had to??”
I was trying not to look at my watch too much and just run by feel. At the time, I was proud of myself for holding back and running so “slowly.” The numbers, however, tell another story.
Not awful, but not exactly the 7:40 – 7:45s I had planned
The course wasn’t especially scenic but it did have a lot of variety. We started off running through the “historic” mill district, turned into neighborhood streets and then (around mile 6), along a wide gravel trail that bordered a pond. The rolling hills kept my legs occupied and helped the miles go by quicker. I remember being impressed by how many fans were out cheering…it was no New York, obviously, but way more than I expected at a small town race.
Right around Mile 8, in the middle of a long climb, I got to see our cheering section for the first time.
I was so excited to see them while still feeling so incredible. Evan asked how I was doing and I believe my first response was, “I’m so happy!!”
…followed immediately by: “I have to go to the bathroom!”
Evan laughed, ran with me for a few steps and left me with these words of advice: “Just let it flow, LB.”
That’s true love right there, folks.
And so that’s when I decided — no matter what, I wasn’t going to stop. I passed an empty porta-potty at the top of the hill and told myself this was it. I was committed to running through anything. I still wasn’t sure what my overall time would be, but I knew that if it came down to it I would be so mad if I blew the chance to PR because of a stupid bathroom break. On top of that, I was afraid of interrupting the momentum that I had gained during the first hour of the race. So I focused instead on getting to Mile 10, and re-assessing my pace/goals from there.
It worked for a little while. The next 5 miles were awesome. I was running strong, and the rolling hills of the course hadn’t yet taken their toll. A sign a little after Mile 10 that read “Welcome to Queens!!” brought tears to my eyes. We got to run along another trail — dirt this time — through the woods and along another body of water. The only thing that had started to concern me a little was the wind. The gusts seemed to be picking up, and no matter what way we turned, I felt like it was always in my face. I tried not to stress about the toll a hilly PLUS windy course would have on my legs.
Besides, I was feeling great — both physically and mentally. I went through the half in 1:37:xx and was on Cloud Nine. I had been trying not to think about my pace the whole time, but after some quick calculations in my head, I realized that I was on track for a potential PR. Even if I happened to slow down a little bit….I could do it. I knew that I really had no business thinking this, so I stayed cautiously optimistic. But I was just feeling so good. I thought about running Marine Corps last year, and how early I had started to struggle in that race. How tough it was for me mentally. I was doing way better now than I had been then…certainly I could hold my pace for the second half of the race.
And then Mile 15 happened. We began an almost 3 mile climb that doesn’t look like much on the elevation chart compared to the first 8 miles. But the wind was blowing hard, I had been running for almost 2 hours, and I was starting to get tired. I tucked my head down and told myself that now was the time to start pushing. Mile 16ish of a marathon is always tough. The first part had only been a warm up. This is where the race started. I just needed to hang on for a few more miles until I could see Evan again.
Finally, around Mile 18, we started going downhill again. I said a quick prayer of relief and tried to use the descent to pick up some speed. In the middle of all of this, I saw Evan waiting. He ran alongside me, giving me another gel and pumping me up. I think he could tell that I wasn’t quite as strong as I had been 10 miles ago, but he told me that I looked great. When I told him that I had a chance of PR’ing if I could just hang on, he simply said, “Then you do that.” I left him feeling renewed and determined.
Which lasted approximately one mile… Because I had no idea what was waiting for me at Mile 20. A place where many marathoners hit the proverbial wall, even on a good day. A place where the course went from challenging to absolutely brutal. We climbed up what seemed to be a never-ending hill. It was windy. I still had to go to the bathroom. My legs were tired. And despite all my protests for my legs to keep moving, I couldn’t fight it. My pace slipped below 8:00 for the first time during the race.
I tried not to get too discouraged. There was still time. All I needed to do was focus on running one mile at a time. The only mile that mattered was the one I was in. If I ran an 8:xx during the previous mile, it didn’t matter. I would shake it off and try again during the next one.
As if all that wasn’t enough, somewhere around this time was when I stopped questioning whether I’d actually be able to go to the bathroom while I was running if things got desperate (In case you’re wondering: the answer for most of the race was: no. It’s not in your body’s natural impulses to want to do this.) I was running down a steep hill when the voluntary suddenly became involuntary. There may have been a brief moment of panic, a slight slowing down and then, I literally said out loud: “Screw it.” What did it matter anyway? I was already hurting, my legs were already slowing down no matter how hard I yelled at them not to, so what was one more bit of discomfort in the midst of all that?
Around Mile 22.5 or so, we turned onto a bike path and I exhaled in relief at the thought of a few flatter miles. We were a little more protected from the wind, and I tried to use that to my advantage. I couldn’t get my pace down to the 7:30s that I wanted so I switched my goal — just keep the miles under 8:00 minutes. That was all I needed to do.
But marathons are unrelenting beasts of a race. You can hold on for 24 miles, only to have everything slip away in the last 2. And that’s exactly what happened on Sunday. The last 2 miles of the race were awful. The course turned back toward the familiar starting area. We ran up the same short, steep hill that we had walked that morning on our way to the start. I knew that the finish line was waiting for me around the corner. And then I saw runners going in the opposite direction and panicked. Why were they running downhill, back toward the mills?! The finish was the other way! I wanted to scream at the officials when they pointed me downhill.
From there, the course only got worse. In an effort to add more mileage to the end, the race organizers basically had us weaving around the mill district — along the river and through parking lots. We were essentially making large loops around the finish. The wind had picked up so much that I felt as though I could barely push against it. All the positive feelings and resolve that I’d held onto for most of the race disappeared. Suddenly 2 miles seemed like an impossible distance. A distance that I could never make without walking.
Somehow I reigned the panic back in and focused on running one mile at a time. All I had to do was make it to Mile 25…then I was essentially done. From there, I just had to get around the next corner, up the next hill, through the next gust of wind. The steps seemed to stretch out forever and my pace continued to drop. Finally, I came around the corner and spied the finish. I gritted my teeth and tried to pick it up over the last seemingly endless stretch.
And on that note, I present to you this entertaining series of finish line photos:
Coming down the final stretch. Please note the girl to my right. At this point I have no idea she’s there.
Girl comes flying by. I still do not notice.
Where the heck did she come from?!
Flying gazelle runner vs. the clomping elephant. So pissed.
Please note that at this point, I am STILL not looking at the finish. I do NOT notice my husband screaming at me. I only have death stares for this girl who is out-kicking me in the final stretch of a marathon.
And there she goes… I just don’t have it in me. Next time, Cambridge Running Club. Next time.
I crossed the finish line of Marathon #7 in 3:18:43.
There was no PR…in fact, I technically ran 34 seconds slower than I did last fall. But the success of a race is not always measured by a PR. And on that day I was (and still am) proud to have run a 3:18:xx.
Final Results (Official)
3:18:43 (7:35 pace)
15th woman overall (out of 316)
10th in Age Group
The Manchester City Marathon was definitely more challenging than I had expected. Even training in Vermont did not prepare me for the hills, especially with the strong headwinds. I know it’s dangerous to play the “what if” game when it comes to marathons. Anything can happen on marathon day. But…doesn’t mean I still don’t wonder if things would’ve gone the same on a less windy day. Regardless, I am incredibly proud of the effort. And overall — I loved this race. Besides the last few miles, the course was great. The organization was top notch – water stations with Gatorade and water every 2 miles. Gu being handed out along the course, and pretty strong crowd support. I’d highly recommend MCM to anyone looking for a late fall marathon in New England.
In one way, I ended 2012 right back where I started — as a 3:18 marathoner. But in another way, it’s completely different. I’m a stronger, different runner than I was last year. I have more confidence in my ability to push myself beyond my limits. And so once again, I have hope. Maybe 2013 will be my year…
If nothing else, the Manchester City Marathon taught me three things:
1.) Sometimes the best races are the ones you didn’t plan for.
3.) When it comes to marathons – always (always) wear dark running shorts.
**A huge thank you to Evan and Brian for being such amazing sports all weekend, for letting us drag you around the East Coast and for being the best cheer squad we could ask for. And to the amazing Feller family — for taking us in and making the weekend possible.