Losing a Manchester Marathon

I’ve lost a lot of things over my 34 and a half years on this earth. Some small, some not so small. A tenner at Latitude festival, a 300 quid racing bike. A sock in the tumble dryer, a two week holiday in Portugal. You get used to it, eventually. Ish. OK the bike and the holiday still nark me and probably always will. But you move on. Sort of.

Today I am dealing with the fact that I have lost a marathon. An entire bloody marathon. You may have seen the news yourself (and certainly I know a lot of you have judging by the texts and Facebook messages I’ve received over the past 24 hours) that basically some bonehead somewhere has made a big fat steaming messup and it now turns out that for three straight years from 2013-2015 the Manchester Marathon wasn’t actually a marathon at all but was in fact only 99.1% of one, some 380 metres short of the required distance. My 2014 effort has now been struck from the record books and I am back to being a double marathoner, less than two weeks after thinking I’d completed my third. I’ve been there, got the T shirt. But I didn’t run a marathon.

Essentially, it seems that shortly after the 2015 event someone at Manchester Marathon HQ twigged that all these runners saying that it’d come up short on their various GPS devices might actually be onto something. I’d clocked it at a smidgen under 26 miles myself but just assumed that this was inaccuracy on my part as you can never rely on these things 100%. I thought I could rely on the organisers though, the people who I’d paid some £50-60 to at the very least deliver me a marathon. Turns out I was wrong.

It’s all a bit of a dogs dinner, although I have to be thankful in a slightly selfish way that ultimately I’ve got off pretty lightly here. I didn’t get my good for age time in 2014 to qualify for London, and even if I had I’d probably have already used it and either raced there last year or be sitting here now with a couple of days to go before finally realising my life’s ambition. I’ve not lost a PB either after subsequently smashing it up round the new long course five minutes quicker than the old short one. But what about the poor buggers who did achieve something hugely significant which is now totally worthless? How many people revelled in setting a PB in a marathon they didn’t know was shorter than it should have been, and suddenly now years later all those months of training and sacrifice are lobbed out the window because someone used the wrong bloody wheel or something to measure a bit of road? All those good for age times, qualifying times, perhaps even world records set in fancy dress or whatnot? People who have only ever and probably will only ever run that one single marathon? All now totally redundant as three years worth of thousands and thousands of runners’ times suddenly count for absolutely nothing, a line scribbled right through the middle of them, an asterisk forever hovering alongside.

There are so many questions here. Least of all, how the bloody hell could they get it so wrong in the first place? Not exactly a new fangled thing is it, lads? A marathon? About 2,000 years old I believe? Quite a few of these taking place all year round, all over the world? Yet still you have this monumental balls up where no one who lined up at the start in 2013, 2014 or 2015 actually went on to run a marathon.

Then there is the delay in the news actually coming out after someone finally realised shortly after 2015’s race that something was amiss. I appreciate that it would take a bit of time to look at all the GPS data and stuff, and the course would need to be re-measured, but surely this wouldn’t take nearly a year? How many people are lining up on the startline down in London town on Sunday morning through a good for age time, who through absolutely no fault of their own technically shouldn’t even be there? Why did none of us know about this until now? A few of us suspected as much after finding out the changes for this year’s course on the back of running a previous year and having it come up short on Strava or Runkeeper or whatever, but there was still not a peep from anyone associated with the race until now.

It’s a crying shame because so, so much of it is absolutely brilliant. The course (length aside) is fantastic with a good mix of urban and countryside. It’s flat as anything. The crowds and the volunteers are absolutely outstanding. There’s plenty of entertainment to keep you going on the way round. They even gave me a pint at the finish this year. But they just keep shooting themselves in the bloody foot. After the baggage issues in 2012 and sadly again this year at the relocated finish line, sandwiching the three years in between with the wrong race distance, it essentially means that every race since we welcomed a marathon back to Manchester in 2012 has had some sort of major fundamental issue and sooner or later people are going to stop coming. I know that the issue here isn’t actually the fault of the race organisers but of those responsible for the measurements, trouble is the general public may not pick up on that and will just see it as another balls up for the Manchester Marathon.

One thing you can level at the team running the show though is they do learn from their mistakes. The shambles of 2012 was followed by what seemed at the time like three of the best-organised marathons in the UK. Apart from the little matter of it not actually being a marathon, of course. But there is hope for the future at least. I have hope for the future. The event has been growing in stature over the past half-decade and I was chuffed to bits to see it was even picked for coverage on national TV on raceday. I would genuinely love my city to have a marathon that people aspire to be part of, like those in London, Paris, Boston, New York. And for the most part I think it can be exactly that. They just need to stop making at least one huge flapping great mess every time.

UPDATE 10/05/2016: I received an email from the organisers earlier and it now turns out I haven’t lost a marathon after all although I have gained nearly two minutes on my finish time. 03:07:30 now becomes 03:09:18 based on my pace over the last six miles. I have to be thankful that this hasn’t actually cost me a place at London or anything, and it’s nice to still be under 3:10 as well as still being able to say I took over 10 minutes off my PB from my first marathon. And it’s nice to be a triple marathoner again. But I can’t help feeling awful for anyone worse off than me and I hope that such a catastrophic balls up can never be allowed to happen again.

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