I’m back at it again, gearing up for marathon number 12, and the burning question remains: Will I finally conquer the sub-4-hour finish? My pursuit of this goal began in 2020, and I’ve been transparent about it since. Initially training for the London Marathon, the pandemic threw a wrench in my plans, leading to cancelled races and a shift in focus. Two years later, I’m questioning if reaching my ‘pre-pandemic’ fitness level is still possible.

Manchester Marathon is a favourite on my race calendar, it’s flat, fast course perfect for a personal best attempt. Last October, a running coach approached me with an offer to coach in exchange for ambassadorship. I’ve always utilised free online training plans, so I was intrigued to see the difference a running coach would make.

Race day

We woke up to perfect race conditions as Becca and I made our way to the start. Start times were staggered and set off in waves. This eased the congestion at the start but meant a lot of waiting around… and we’ve all experienced the nervous wee’s that come with waiting. We seemed to exit one toilet queue and join another.

We started just after 10am – this was the first time I had run the ‘new course’. I’ll be honest – I’m not sure I could point out the ‘new’ bit as I tend to zone out when I run. As always in Manchester – the atmosphere didn’t disappoint – it certainly draws in the spectators. I felt comfortable, hitting the halfway point in 2.03 but as soon as I crossed those mats, I was done. The lack of long runs had become apparent and I knew it was going to be a long old slog.

Throughout the second half of the race notifications were flashing up of James, Lizzie and Holly all smashing their races with fantastic times. This could have made me feel worse – but I was really happy for them. I was just focussing on putting one foot in front of the other. I fought my way to the finish line, more upset with myself than anything else, but determined to do it.

Every year, it seems like the finishing straight becomes longer – you can see it, but it doesn’t seem to get any closer! As I reached the finish line, I was fighting back tears as complete strangers yelled my name. I crossed the line in 4.35.28, relieved more than anything.

Manchester Marathon

Manchester Marathon: The coaching experience

Reflecting on the coaching experience, it deviated from my expectations, mostly due to the mismatched pairing. Despite this, I took benefits from a different training approach, incorporating stretching, yoga, and a renewed passion for the gym into my routine. The lesson learned? Training methods vary, and finding what works for you is crucial.

Not all races go as planned, and that’s the wild ride of marathon training. Regardless of finish time, there’s months of dedication, early mornings, icy treadmill runs, and the juggling act of a full-time job and life. A marathon is a long way. It’s a distance that will eat you up and spit you out. Each one teaches a valuable lesson: it’s not always about time, sometimes it’s just about finding the grit and determination to finish.