If you ask around Twitter for a fast spring road marathon it will only be a matter of minutes before you get someone extolling the virtues of Manchester. Another unsuccessful year in the London ballot meant I was more than ready to see what our northern friends had to offer.
Closed roads and very few sign-posted directions made the morning of the marathon slightly fraught, but having booked a parking space in advance after arriving in Old Trafford we were shortly out of our car park and into the race village, conveniently located next door.
Compact, but with all the necessary amenities the village featured a well organised bag-drop, pace bands and rows of surprisingly clean and well stocked port-a-loos. Spirits were high and with twenty minutes to kick-off everyone made their way over to the starting pens, a ten minute walk away (or in my case a five minute sprint).
It was cool and dry, perfect conditions, and after Ron Hill fired the starting gun we were off. Having diligently studied the route map prior to the race, I knew we would begin by winding around the Salford Quays before heading down to Sale, completing a six mile out and back from miles 9 – 16 and then shooting back to the stadium.
As a city marathon taking place in the Manchester suburbs, a few uninspiring sections are to be expected. Luckily the wonderful atmosphere in the towns and villages we passed through more than made up for these, looking forward to the next one along on the route quickly became my preferred method of breaking down the distance. Water pouches were available every couple of miles, which once you mastered the art of ripping open were really easy to hold and drink from and Clif Shot Bloks were handed out at miles 7, 16 and 22.
Passing the 20 mile marker I knew as long as I didn’t stop running I would go under four hours. At 25 miles my family popped up out of nowhere, giving the final boost I needed to push on to the stadium and over the finish line with a new PB of 3.52! Forty minutes quicker than the time I ran at Edinburgh last year. Medals were placed round our necks by kind volunteers, and goody bags containing technical t-shirts handed out. I managed to grab my rucksack before bag-drop got too crazy and headed home for a well earned nap.
Manchester truly put on a great show; brilliant crowds, absolutely no over-crowding or bottlenecks anywhere on the course, superb organisation and an almost totally flat route provided a fantastic running experience. I would thoroughly recommend it to anyone looking for a friendly city marathon and (more importantly for some) that elusive PB.