Today was in some parts awful but ended up simply brilliant. Before Christmas last year my Mum had signed up the whole family to run the Greater Manchester Marathon, being run for the first time in ten years. So that was my Dad, Brother, Sister, Mum, Cousin Lucy and me all scheduled to run 26.2 miles at the end of April 2012. By the time we got to Easter this was down to just me, Lucy and my Mum as excuses mounted up for the other three (knee, not going to train and knee respectively). Lucy had run the London marathon a few years ago and following a few half marathons wanted to better her time, my mum hadn’t run more than 5k and even that was a race for life a while ago! So here she was, only a couple of years off 60 and following a ‘get you round’ marathon schedule having thought that if I’m going across the US she could get herself round Greater Manchester. During the training she’d had a few of her longer runs marred with terrible weather; hailstones on one and the general wind and rain of Winter/Spring in the NW of England. We joked that at least race day would be better weather and she worried it might be too hot; especially in March when it was pretty sunny even in Manchester. As it was it turned our her training in terrible weather was perfect!
Ever since they announced there was a drought in SE England it’s rained pretty much non-stop (and yes I know to make up for the very dry few years we’ve had it has to rain everyday for months etc but it really looks like it might be trying!). I grew up in South Manchester and everyday seemed grey, you never went anywhere without an umbrella and just got used to rain. Living in London for 8 years I still get a bit freaked out by how dry it is, it’s the exception not the norm. But the weather really affects my mood – I spend so much time outside it’s bound to I suppose – so love the dry SE!
I spent Saturday at an Athletics meeting in Battersea Park and then caught the train to Manchester – I arrived tired and dehydrated (thanks to the Virgin trains policy of setting the thermostat to tropical heat!); with sore feet from having been on them all day, so not ideal prep. But then this was only a training run for me. Mum was complaining about only having run a few miles last week and feeling heavy – classic taper talk, already sounding like a seasoned marathoner! Lucy had been panicking about a recurring knee injury that threatened to leave her supporting with the Bradley clan but had reckoned it’d be ok on the day.
Sunday morning I awoke about 5am listening to the wind outside… the weather forecast was pretty bad but Dad (who’s favourite website is the Met Office and wouldn’t admit it but weather forecasting is practically his second favorite hobby, after watching Sale Sharks lose at rugby) kept saying it was going to miss the NW and wouldn’t materialise…. which of course brought back memories of childhood holidays where the ‘it’s getting brighter’ mantra from Dad always brought a fresh downpour (two in particular – Cornwall and The Dordogne – led my parents to the much favoured decision to not take risks on the weather and go to the US for family holidays, phew!). Mum faffed about with what to wear, what to take, what to eat etc and then decided on her original plan in all cases – which was also what she’d trained with so relief all round. I continued to give her the ‘why would you do that?’ look every time she said ‘well I’ve not drunk/eaten/worn that before but I might just today’. Stick with what you know!
We got a lift to the tram stop from Dad (still promising brighter weather to come…) and easily made it to Longford Park for the start. Huddled in a tent for warmth I started to wonder if my shorts and vest combo would be a bit chilly but I always get warm once I start running so didn’t change anything. We found Lucy in an orange top; she’d said red so guaranteed most supporters missed her on the way round!
Classic portaloo queues and poor baggage tent meant we got to the start with only a few minutes to spare, Mum started near the back and I made it through near the 3:15 pacer. I wasn’t intending to do 3:15 but as I was stood next to a woman who had 5:30 on her back and a chap with 3:00 I guessed it didn’t matter. There were spectators mingled with runners at the start and no one organising or enforcing the corrals, which was disappointing. After sprinter Darren Campbell and famous runner (also sports clothing retailer) Ron Hill kept us waiting in the freezing cold rain recounting dull anecdotes… we were off! I had numb feet and frozen hands. Great.
7 miles in we went through Sale – where lots of Mum’s friends were to support, I was pretty much bang on 3:15 pace and decided to rein it back a bit as this wasn’t meant to be a fast run, just training. Running through Sale was my memory lane – past the restaurant I was the world’s worst waitress in; the school lots of friends had gone to whilst I’d gone to Convent School; the pubs we’d brazenly been in at 16 and the long drag down Brooklands road which is about a mile and formed part of my first running route years ago. As we headed into Altrincham at 12 miles I knew I’d see the family so tried to put my mind off the wind and rain and attempt to look like I was enjoying it. Heading up the one incline in the route I slowed a little and could feel the good efforts of my recent cake-eating paying off, heavy.
Just after halfway we turned into an area I often run round when visiting my parents – Dunham Massey. It’s lovely with a decent cross country run round the perimeter and lots of deer to spot. There’s also a nice hall and tea shop – which Mum later confessed she’d nipped to the loo in rather than use the gross portaloos! At the bottom of Dunham is a path which is always, without fail, even on a dry day in summer, muddy. As we headed in that direction I assumed we’d go onto the road but oh no…. ankle deep mud and puddles that were simply impossible to avoid (though Mum apparently scaled the fence to avoid!). Don’t get me wrong usually I like mud, throughout last season’s cross country I complained bitterly about the lack of mud. There’s a big space in my running life for mud…but not in a road marathon.
After the mud we got to wash it all off wading through ankle deep water that streamed down the country roads. And to dry off the wind picked up in this exposed section of the course to really make the feet and hands even colder. About 18 miles in was the lowest spot for me – it’s not happened in a long time but I genuinely thought ‘bugger it, I don’t have to do this, where’s the nearest get-out?’ but then the thought that my Mum was somewhere behind spurred me on. I did start to wonder if she’d finish as it was so cold and really depressing, and I was running in my comfort zone (speed-wise; numb feet are not comfortable!) knowing I could make the distance.
But I picked myself up and decided that in only an hour’s time I’d be warm and dry, hopefully with a cup of tea. I finished in 3:30 and had a decent spurt at the end – just to prove I wasn’t actually knackered. Then the plan was to pick up my bag, change and go back to support Mum coming in a bit later. This would’ve worked but for the shambles of the baggae tent which was just an ever-growing crowd of wet, tired runners and a pile of bags in no order. Yes no order. 5,000 bags and no one organising it. So I set up a human chain to start move the bags out as it was clear no one was going to get anywhere as it was and attempt to put them into piles by number order. I then had to leave the 200 or so guys I’d started with this task as I suddenly felt incredibly cold and faint. So I wandered off into the middle of the sodden field looking for the medical tent…
Which is where my Dad found me some moments later; incomprehensible, teeth chattering uncontrollably and shaking violently in a hypothermic mess. My Dad completely came to the rescue; covering me in his big coat, whisking me off to the nearest tent and going off to ‘sort out this bag fiasco’. He came back aghast at the lack of organisation and reckoning there was no chance of getting bags back, though through complete fluke he’d been handed my bag in what was a 1:5,000 chance. So I changed out of wet clothes and it was clear I wasn’t much warmer so my Sister’s partner Matt took me to sit in the warm car whilst the others waited for Mum and Lucy. By this stage I was really worried for them, especially Mum – I’d realised this was the worst weather I’d ever run a marathon in but blimey if it had been my first I wouldn’t have made it… and certainly wouldn’t have done a second ever!
After sitting in the car for an hour I was nearly warm and then saw out of the window my Mum and rest of the Bradley support team coming to the car – she was looking pretty fresh but also had a finishers medal round her neck!! She jumped (ok well gingerly crawled – not that fresh) into the car and gave me a big hug – so proud! She’d done her first (I think she’s still saying ‘only’ but I’ll work on that) marathon in driving rain in just under 5:30, and was still smiling!
Later we heard Lucy had just missed her target of 4:30 but in those conditions that’s still a good effort. After dropping us at home for showers, tea and cake Dad went back to the park to find Mum and Lucy’s bags, having not had the same luck as with mine!
So for the second day this weekend I’m spending my evening on a very hot Virgin train (must remember to write them an email from ‘disgruntled and dessicated of London’) after spending the day cold and wet.
Thank you to everyone who supported today – especially Dad, Sarah, Matt – also my brother Tom and his wife Fabiha who were moving house today but still managed to give me a lift to the train station so I made it in the nick of time. And of course thanks and congratulations to my Mum who is simply brilliant!
Time until next cross-country raceTranse Gaule 2013August 13th, 20132 months to go.