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Running column: The story behind Mark Armstrong's Greater Manchester Marathon experience

PUBLISHED: 10:30 11 April 2019 | UPDATED: 10:30 11 April 2019

Mark Armstrong cuts a relieved figure as he crosses the Greater Manchester Marathon finish line Picture: The ASICS Greater Manchester Marathon

Mark Armstrong cuts a relieved figure as he crosses the Greater Manchester Marathon finish line Picture: The ASICS Greater Manchester Marathon

Archant

It's just seven hours before I'm due on the start line of the Greater Manchester Marathon and I'm trying to rock my inconsolable, teething son, Logan, to sleep.

Mark Armstrong in front of Old Trafford ahead of the Greater Manchester Marathon Picture: Mark ArmstrongMark Armstrong in front of Old Trafford ahead of the Greater Manchester Marathon Picture: Mark Armstrong

My wife, Alison, is in our hotel bathroom and daren’t come out after coming down with a sickness bug.

I knew I wasn’t going to get a decent night’s sleep, but this was ridiculous.

Throw in the fact I was coming towards the end of a cold and in terms of ideal preparation this was at the farcical end of the spectrum.

So anyone who has been following my progress on the Run Anglia Facebook group will know the race didn’t go how I had wanted it to, which perhaps isn’t really a surprise.

Mark Armstrong'’s son, Logan, helps him with a portion of chips after completing the Greater Manchester Marathon Picture: Mark ArmstrongMark Armstrong'’s son, Logan, helps him with a portion of chips after completing the Greater Manchester Marathon Picture: Mark Armstrong

I don’t want this to appear as a list of excuses – it’s not. I knew how difficult training for a marathon would be with a young family so preparations were never likely to be ideal.

But training under Neil Featherby’s guidance had gone surprisingly well.

However, I’ve come to realise this is only one piece of the puzzle. There are so many other elements that must come together to fulfil your marathon potential.

So after around three hours’ sleep, minimal breakfast, and a heavy sense of foreboding, somehow I made it to the start line.

The plan was to start out at 8:10-minute miles and keep assessing how I was feeling after halfway.

However, by mile four I knew that something wasn’t right. I started to feel empty – the kind of emptiness I feel when I need to refuel.

This was far earlier than I wanted to start my fuelling strategy but I took my first gel anyway.

I maintained pace to mile 10 when I got the same feeling again, but as I took on another gel it was clear I was having to work far harder than during my training runs to keep to the 8:10 pace.

I ploughed on (another mistake) and stayed with it until 15 miles when I took a walk break to take on some solid fuel. This was always part of my plan, but it was scheduled for around the 18-19 miles mark.

Shortly after eating a piece of flapjack, I tailed off and I started losing 10-20 seconds each mile for the next four. I was also now having to take on a lot of water, more than I ever did during my training runs.

I didn’t panic… I knew things weren’t going how I wanted them to but I thought I’d be able to maintain a reasonable pace.

However, by mile 22, I felt ‘the wall’ fast approaching and my only option was to seize an unfamiliar gel offered on the course.

But I was done. I felt nauseous and my marathon world closed in on me.

The last few miles really weren’t pretty – I was stuck in my own little suffer bubble and there was no way out of it until I crossed that finish line.

The only thing that shook me out of my prison of pain was one guy who was running in a straitjacket (for charity, presumably… I hope) pleading with me to splash some of my water in his face.

I duly did, before he overtook me. I trudged on miserably, slightly embittered that I had briefly turned into another runner’s water boy…

If that wasn’t chastening enough, the scores of people certainly sealed the deal, and I moved to my absolute base level goal, which was to come home under four hours.

I tried to keep myself as comfortable as I could with that goal in mind during those last few miles. This meant taking a few walk breaks, which is not nice to do when so many supporters are cheering you on.

Finally the finish line came into view, which you can see from about half a mile away, and it was a very welcome sight.

However, the relief I felt at finishing soon subsided and the disappointment swept through my aching limbs. I slumped into Alison’s arms at the finish… ‘that was soooooo hard’ was all I could keep saying. Meanwhile, Logan beamed at me with a toothy smile.

It really wasn’t supposed to be like this. I was supposed to be closer to 3:30 than four hours (my eventual finish time was 3-55:02). I felt like I had let a lot of people down, including myself.

With 20/20 hindsight I wasn’t fully over the cold I had in the lead-up and the rather exhausting previous 24 hours caught up with me in the second half of the race.

I should have reined myself in but my lack of marathon experience cost me.

In saying all that, it was still a personal best and I know there is a lot more time to come off in the future.

There’s always another race but another marathon is going to have to wait a while, perhaps when the kids have left home… kidding.

It’s time to focus on some shorter events for the rest of 2019, which can hopefully fit in with family life a little easier.

There’s always next year…

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