On the 7th April 2019 I took part in the Manchester Marathon for the 3rd year as an Official Pacer. This year I was once again the sub 4 pacer. I have always enjoyed taking part in Manchester Marathon, and you can see my review from 2018 HERE.
This was the 3rd time I’ve paced Manchester, the 18th Marathon I have paced, and my 68th time as an Official pacer. I am working my way to the 100 marathon club and this was my 52nd qualifying event (45 marathons, 4 ultras and 3 Ironman).
This year the organisers introduced something a little different; Marathon Eve. They have chosen not to have an expo, now there are lots of pros and cons to this, which I’m not going to go into now. For me I like an expo, but if you are going to do it, then you need to do it properly. I know lots of people who like that you can get your number in the post and not have to come the day before.
Marathon Eve was an evening of talks and engagement from various people in the running community. I was invited by the event to come and give a 10 minute talk about pacing and the #funbus and then a Q&A. I was then around for another hour to talk to runners.
I had a great time up on stage talking about what pacing means to me, and why the #funbus. I was nervous with just a 10 minute slot, as I usually think half hour including questions works. So I think I stumbled a little (hope no one noticed). For those that weren’t there, pacing is much more than just getting your pace right. If you are doing it right you will be able to make a huge difference to someone’s race. Through encouragement and motivation you will be surprised what impact that can have on someone. In running, confidence and self belief go a long way.
Overall I think this was a great concept, and has really good potential to grow with the event. In it’s current set up I don’t think the time to talk afterwards really worked. I had half a dozen runners come and ask me questions, but there was always someone on stage, so most were listening. I think spacing talks out, with breaks would allow better interaction. Also with more space you could bring some of the benefits of an expo into this set up, with last minute essentials. Also some of the talks could be reduced with a Q&A panel instead? Either way, great launch, and I look forward to watching it evolve.
After Marathon eve I went home and ordered a domino’s for last minute carb loading and checked out my kit. I always do a #flatlay with my kit to make sure I have everything. I was undecided whether to go with Red and Gold socks to match my kit, so voting on social media decided for me… I went with red.
Race morning was far more stressful than it needed to be. Top tip from me is to not drive, or if you do, plan ahead. 2 years ago I got a taxi, last year I went with a friend no problem. This year my friend gave me a lift, and followed his sat nav (Manchester Marathon website expressly said not to do this). In short all the roads were closed and every barrier we came to the marshals sent us in a different direction, causing frustration to everyone. I looked up on the website and there is no official parking. There are side roads you can park down, the frustration came from trying to find the parking through MUFC. My friend decided to park a mile away meaning I had to run a mile before the start as I was now late for my pacer meet… not the best start, but to be fair, not the organisers fault.
I always find that the organisation at the start in Manchester is really good. I wondered what it would be like with over 6,000 additional runners this year, but it didn’t seem to have an impact. I walked straight into the toilet without a queue, and the queue for bag drop was quick and easy.
Once we got all the Pacers we made our way to our start pens where I found the sub 4 #funbus waiting for its driver. It really is fantastic to turn up and there be people waiting to run with you. It’s also great to find others there wanting sub 4, and being able to put their mind at ease at the start.
There was more of a delay at the start this year as we had structured starts 5 minutes apart. With the huge growth of the event, making it easily the 2nd biggest in the UK, it is necessary to stagger starts to ease congestion, and I think it worked really well. I spent time talking to runners, answering questions, and just trying to make people relax and feel confident. I explained that the desired pace for sub 4 is 9:09 min miles, but I would be aiming between 9:00 and 9:05 to allow for variation and running longer. This is always the plan, and I like to ensure everyone knows I plan to get us 30 seconds ahead of target at the half way point and then maintain to the end. I also encouraged people to get to know each other and help support each other was they ran.
We were the 7th wave to start, and think this was about 20 minutes after the start. It was strange having a completely open road ahead of us. It meant there was absolutely no congestion at the beginning which was really good. After telling everyone not to get carried away, and to keep back the excitement… I got carried away. I ran the first 100 metres at about 8:20 pace before having a laugh with everyone and getting to a comfortable 9:05 pace.
It was a wonderful start, except for a fall by Jane who is running next to me in this picture. After just 4 miles she took a tumble, we think she slipped on a gel wrapper as there was nothing else to trip on. She went down hard, but we got her back up, and she carried on with us. Jane thinks she broke her wrist, but she carried on running, what a legend (hope you are ok Jane).
I always say the marathon is in 3 parts for a pacer. I spend the first 10k trying to keep people steady. The middle is just long, steady and usually comfortable. The final 10k is the real tough part, this is where my role really comes in as I have to encourage people to #pickupthepace.
There was such a good group of runners with me, and it was lovely to see so many stick with me throughout. The course got a little congested in places, but not enough that we couldn’t maintain the pace overall. I found that the congestion was mostly caused by spectators. Its fantastic to have courses with lots of support, but what often happens is the crowds come into the road as early on the field is spread out. Early on there was a point where there was only half the road for runners. However at mile 16.5 there was a whole wide road for runners, but spectators had swamped the road so we were going through with less than half the road. But you know what, it didn’t matter, it didn’t cause significant delays, and it’s great to see the support out there keeping runners motivated. I always tell runners not to worry and try running around people straight away, as this wastes energy. Instead its fine to run a few minutes at a slower pace and ease it back in. That’s what I’m there for, so runners don’t need to worry about their pace, and I can keep them on track.
The mile markers seemed spot on today. They were always a little long, but they were consistent and this would be caused by not running the blue line. This basically means that because you aren’t running the shortest route at each turn you run further, so naturally the markers are further away. I didn’t see mile 16. And the only marker that was out of sync was mile 25 which seemed early, which meant I kept the pace on rather than easing off as I didn’t want to risk being too slow.
There were lots of fantastic cheer points on route, and some great points with runners / spectators that I knew. And I got a couple of photos from Jordan (@projectmarathongirl) at the 40k point. The last 5k is really tough as this is where I see people drift off, and it really is a battle of the mind. So I spend the last 5k being over enthusiastic, shouting at people to stay with me, telling them they can do it, and for many it will work. For every runner I lose I will also pick up others who have dropped off ahead and are walking, and it is so good to see them start running again. As I said at marathon eve, pacing is much more to me than just getting the pace right. Getting the pace right helps people not have to worry about this, but the encouragement is what keeps them going for longer.
I love pacing, and in my 3rd year at Manchester I can honestly say this is one event I will keep coming back to. It’s full of runners, groups of people who can choose to come to an event together, and really does have a good spirit about it. I enjoy it, others enjoy it, and I try and keep smiling the whole way around. I also try to keep others smiling, but at 40k this is hit and miss, I am satisfied with them staying with me.
Water and feed stations are consistent at Manchester. I only take the water as it is in bottles with sports caps. They hand out gels, but I always carry my own.
The finish is great and you can see it coming for half a mile which is great for runners to really push on. It’s also good for me as a pacer to be able to encourage that last push. When you can direct people to the finish line, when it’s in sight, it really can spur runners on. I had a great run, and kept it pretty consistent all the way to the finish. With a target of 9:09, and knowing you will run further, I’m happy with splits between 9:00 – 9:10, so I can live with a couple of seconds either side.
I hope everyone had a fantastic race and got the time you wanted. If you didn’t, I hope you still had a great race, and enjoyed it. Remember there is always next time. I got an unofficial time of 3:59:37, and am just waiting for my official results as I was given a new bib on race morning with #pickupthepacepaul and it needs to be match up with my account.
I was caught at the finish, and just love the crowds all along the finish line, it really is a special selling point for the event.
Another thing I look forward to at the end of Manchester marathon is the erdinger. Always great to have a glass or two. Thank you so much Manchester Marathon for having me back to pace with you, and to Asics for the great kit.
That’s it from me, until next weekend when I get to do this all over again at Paris. Who will be on the sub 4 #funbus? or where will you be running next?