Greg conquers his first marathon 

April 11, 2022 0 By southshieldstri

Greg conquers his first marathon

On 3rd April 2022, I completed the Manchester marathon in 04:47:23. Not only was this my first marathon, it was my first event representing South Shields Tri, which I joined in November 2021. Here’s a summary of my experiences and lessons learned.

Training

From the Club’s GoTri events last year, I learned that as the running leg of a triathlon follows both swimming and cycling, you will be running on tired legs and need to train for this accordingly.

In preparation for Ironman 70.3 Westfriesland in June 2022, I chose to run marathon distances, to gain experience of running on tired legs and building stamina for endurance. I planned a marathon training schedule. I’d have a weekly “long run” which would steadily increase up to 20 miles. Four weeks before the event, I would taper down, reducing distance to 10k the week beforehand.

Through these weekly long runs, I learned the importance of fuelling before and during the run. Any distance over 9 miles and if I hadn’t eaten anything that morning, I would start to lag, lose pace and feel tired. Also, long runs flagged where I was prone to any discomfort or chafing, so I learned to take preventative action before setting out for the run.

In January, I started feeling the onset of shin splints, likely due to overtraining. Coach Gary helped me through this by showing me some stretches and different ways to lace up running shoes depending on arch height etc. If I still had discomfort after a couple of weeks, I could see a sports physiotherapist which the club could recommend to me. Fortunately, I took a week off and stretched each day which fixed the problem; I was back to running pain free the following week.

As part of the Club’s weekly running sessions every Tuesday, Coach Grant helped out with my running form and technique. Key points included: never ever sacrificing form while running; don’t look at the ground, rather stand tall and look to the near distance; keep the upper body relaxed (not tense); hands should not be bunched into fists, keep loose like gently holding crisps between the thumb and index/forefinger.

Race day in Manchester

It was a lovely day weather-wise, near perfect for running. Not too sunny or hot. All transport links worked well and I arrived at the start in plenty of time.

There were eight water stations en-route, four of which provided energy gels. During training, I watched videos on YouTube of people running marathons in prior years and noted that last year the “Here We Are Running” chap pulled out of the race at mile 21 due to tummy issues caused by energy gels. I didn’t train with these gels, so instead stuck with my 40 jelly babies (five for each water stop).

Miles 1-7 took me through the city centre, out again and past Old Trafford.

Miles 8-13 were one long, straight road passing through Stretford and Sale. Here I got chatting with a lady from Newry City runners. It was her ninth marathon after multiple visits to London and Berlin.

Miles 14-19 followed residential roads through to Altrincham. At mile 16 I discovered chafing under each arm. It wasn’t a problem as I carry a small bag of Vaseline while out running anyway. It was just a surprise as this issue hadn’t reared its head in any of my training runs so far. I know this for next time so can address it accordingly.

Miles 19-26 were the toughest of the entire race, which was no surprise. I felt my general fitness level was fine, just my leg muscles were tired and wouldn’t move at the pace my brain was telling them to. Here the pace dropped off and it was a walk-run to the finish. I had Coach Grant’s voice repeating in my head saying in his South African lilt, “Never sacrifice form Grig,” and “Stand tall and hold the crisps.”

Running a marathon was a very different experience to half marathon distance; there were many runners cramping up and having to stretch off at the side of the road. I saw one chap in the middle of the road around mile 19, looking like he was trying to keep his balance on an ice rink. Another runner and I stopped to help him to the side of the road. He explained that both his legs had cramped at once. I ran ahead and brought him to the attention of two race marshals. Fortunately, I didn’t cramp at any point during the run. Hooray!

Crossing the finish line was glorious. The past four months training had finally paid off. Also, the lady from Newry City Runners finished just after me, which was nice.

If someone was wanting to take on a marathon, I would definitely recommend Manchester. The route was flat and well planned with plenty of toilets and water stations. It isn’t an exclusive race like London or Berlin, where you have to enter through a ballot: Manchester is just happy to have you come along. Also, the crowd support was excellent, particularly in the City Centre, Stretford, Sale, Altrincham and Chorlton.

While I rate my first marathon as a success (1. Finished the race, 2. Remembered to take a photo for the club and 3. Got back to the train station in time), there is still plenty of room for improvement, particularly maintaining pace in the latter third of the distance. Once I choose where to improve, I know the Club will be there to help me make it a reality.

On the train home, I was munching down a bag of Chilli Heatwave Doritos. It dawned on me that this was what I had already been doing all day: holding the crisps. 

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