This is one of the harder blogs I’ve had to write in the five years I’ve been doing all this if I’m being honest, and I’ll get it out the way early by admitting exactly why. Essentially, such was the level of success across the board during last month’s Great Manchester Run that I’ve been struggling to even know where to start with it. In my preview I mentioned that there would be quite a few of us all taking part on the streets of Manchester but that I wasn’t sure exactly how many, although it was probably approaching double figures. That’s exactly how it proved: ten started the race and I’m delighted to say that all ten finished, with each and every one achieving something significant along the way.
We all went into it with our own challenges for the day, ranging from “just get round the bloody thing” to “use this as a warm up for the Great North Run in September”. There was a solid range of experience across the group, from two or three more seasoned runners each with a half marathon or two to their name, all the way through to two 10k first timers: Jonny who hadn’t been for any sort of run whatsoever since finishing the Stockton Duathlon on 24th April and Adam “Palf” Palfrey who had only decided to sign up and start training a fortnight before the big day.
From my point of view, I’d spent the weeks leading up to it fairly relaxed about things, only really venturing out a couple of times a week training for a bit of speedwork as I began to regain my life back after six months of hardcore marathon training. No more long slow Sundays, no more two hour jobs after work on a Wednesday. No more bloody Friday evening running and certainly no more getting up at 5:30am to head out for a half marathon before work. As such, it was hard to work out what to expect in terms of my race time. The usual thoughts of “it’ll be nice to go sub 40” played on my mind, but after hitting a 38:58 a couple of months previously while training for That Bloody Marathon, for the first time in years I actually harboured slight aspirations of maybe finally beating my 10k PB of 39:29 that I’d set in this very race the last time I ran it back in 2009. I still had a fair bit of marathon training in the old legs so I felt I had an outside chance, even if I was back on the booze and crap diet since staggering over the marathon finish line some six weeks previously. More importantly though, I was running alongside Jonny, his sister Hayley and a mate of his from the North East as part of the 1000 Mile for Motor Neurone Disease challenge, all of us proudly wearing the MNDA colours on the way round and ensuring another nice little flurry of donations as we, incredibly, went through the £4,000 barrier.
Strolling up to the startline in bright, warm sunshine I genuinely felt a few butterflies as KO approached. The TV helicopters whirring around overhead and the thousands of runners and their families milling about all over the City Centre lended this Big Event status and it was hard not to get caught up in the atmosphere of the day. We were all dotted throughout the various coloured waves setting off between 11:30 – 1:30, with half the group all running in the white wave due to set off second, directly after my orange one. I only had one other acquaintance in my wave but with him being a fellow sub 40er on a good day it promised to be a decent battle for overall first place amongst our clan. Jonny’s mate Steve would be running in the penultimate blue wave and then Palf and Hayley would be setting off in the final pink one, which promised to be great as it would give those of us in the earlier waves a chance to head back down the course after finishing and cheer them home. I’d arrived in plenty of time for once and so after a quick meet with my fellow MNDA runners I went to take my place in my start pen so I could spend half an hour chomping at the bit to get going while trying to suppress those unexpected nerves, along with the usual feelings of trying not to piss my pants.
After a very slight delay we were off and within 30 yards of the start all that pre-race buzz and excitement about running in a big event evaporated as I remembered just how bloody busy and congested they can be at times. Despite starting fairly far forward in my wave there were loads of people ahead of me that had perhaps misjudged the pace they could run at and it was probably the stressiest opening to a race I’ve had since I was late for the start of the 2013 Liverpool Half and had to start dead last. It was impossible to keep any sort of consistent pace, constantly jumping between almost outright sprinting and then a jogging uncomfortably slowly behind the next large group. I didn’t want to be the tosspot who barged past and ruined someone’s race so it was a case of wait, go, wait again, go again, wait some more for the first half a mile until the roads opened up a bit and we threaded out onto the A56 heading for Old Trafford.
Despite all the holdups, those little bursts and sprints must have paid off as the first mile was probably that fastest opening mile I have ever run for a 10k, 25 seconds inside the magic 6:26 for a sub 40. I started to worry that I was heading out too quick on this warm morning, but it was hard to keep the exuberance down as we ran together in this massive group with all the crowds clapping and cheering us on. Mile two was another 20 seconds inside what I needed, mile three another 15. I flashed past the MNDA cheer point around the halfway mark and it gave me a wonderful boost with them all shouting, taking photos and cheering us all on. I forgot I was even running a 10k for a moment or two, and then just as a bit of pain began to kick in over mile four another unexpected little patch of MNDA supporters gave me another little lift and then it was time to get back to down to business and get the last couple of miles done and dusted.
I’d been expecting the wheels to fall off at some point before the end due to that ridiculous opening pace but this time, for once, it never really did. Sure, my split times crept up a bit in the last couple of miles but even my slowest mile was ten seconds inside sub 40 pace and as the remaining distance became shorter and shorter I became more and more confident that I had this in the bag. With 200m to go I flashed past a couple of well-placed members of my support team and they received the usual sweaty grimace, I knew by then though I was about to set a new PB and all that was left was a slight uphill drag to the finish line to bring it all home and then try not to be sick all over myself as I stopped running.
Even though I knew I’d finally beat that age-old record I was still surprised by the magnitude of my final time. At 38:41 it was the fastest I have ever (and probably will ever) run a 10k, lopping nearly a minute off that 2009 time. A time that I thought I would never get close to again, especially following the subsequent four and a half years where I couldn’t even get back under 40 minutes. I went to meet with my fellow orange waver who had also come home under that magic barrier and then we headed down to cheer on the rest of the team as they came over the line.
Some of the group you may remember from the 2014 Salford 10k, and the fastest that day (Rosi) was next to steam through here also setting a herself a shiny new PB. Amazingly Jonny came through next, completing his first ever 10k race in 52:46. This was a man who had not been for a run since – in his own words – “enduring” the running stages of his duathlon four weeks previously, and yet here he was finishing well up the field in 6349th place. I was so surprised to see him so soon I almost missed him completely, but after first noticing the distinctive blue MNDA jersey and shouting out for that, I suddenly realised who it was actually wearing it and we all went bananas shouting at him as he clobbered the last few metres out the way. A bloody great effort. Ads, Joe and Nic came in shortly afterwards, all within a few minutes of each other with Joe and Nic both PBing as well and then it was time for a quick beer and an anxious wait to see how Palf and Hayley would get on.
Unfortunately for these two the weather had taken a bit of a turn for the worse by the time their wave came around, the glorious Sunday morning sun replaced by strong winds and torrential downpours almost as soon as they started running. Nevertheless, these brave souls both made it round and although we sadly missed Hayley come in (with a huge seven minutes knocked off her PB) we managed to catch a soggy Palf steaming up to the line with a stronger final burst than any of us thought possible for someone running his first ever 10k and with so little training in the legs.
It was a great day all round, with a great atmosphere, some huge PBs, some massive achievements and then some decent beers at the end of it all just to round things off nicely. I fully enjoyed returning to race in the biggest 10k in Europe again after so long away and the PB and the boost to the fundraising was a lovely bonus as well. Best of all was the luck with how we were allocated our waves as some of my best memories of the day were watching people I know finishing the race and achieving things they never imagined they were capable of barely a few weeks before.
So that’s that for the running part of our 1000 Miles For MNDA challenge, for now at least until September’s Great North Run starts to loom into view anyway. Such is the length of time it’s taken me to pull this blog together that Jonny has already since kicked off the year’s cycling activities by completing the 240-odd mile Neil Scott Memorial Ride in absolutely heroic style over the bank holiday weekend, and we should have the full story of that one along in due course. His exploits, coupled with the four of us who ran here in MNDA colours a fortnight ago and a couple of other legends who have raised a bit extra from non-sporting endeavours, have meant that the fundraising has absolutely gone through the roof and we are amazingly now only £316.78 from our second target of £5,000 ahead of the next event and the one that what was always going to be the main one, the Coast to Coast ride in July. And frighteningly now, we’re less than a month away from it.