Five go Mad in Manchester

Of the eight DRC members who entered the race, only five made is to the start line of the Greater Manchester Marathon. In various states of injury, disrepair and discombobulation they were greeted by what turned out to be possibly the best organised event in the UK running calendar, and near ideal conditions for distance running, as for once there wasn’t a drop of rain to be felt over the Old Trafford Cricket Ground race village. Trams were caught, vaseline was applied, bags were dropped and off to the start they went.

Representing the elite end of DRC was Joe Browning, a runner with a point to prove after his harrowing experience at Edinburgh in 2016. Would Browning heed those harsh lessons and set off at a more sensible pace? The experience was brought by Dave Halford in his tenth race over the marathon distance. Hindered by a foot injury, and not so fresh from his recent 45 mile event would his legs last the pace? The nerves were brought by Margaret Johnson, of whom much was expected on her debut at this distance. A sub-four hour time would guarantee her entry into the London Marathon 2018 – but could she deal with the pressure she had put herself under? The illness was brought by Audrey Harris; another runner with a point to prove after not really enjoying the later stages of her debut marathon in Brighton 2015; there were ghosts to be exorcised for sure, but would her recent illness be her undoing? And finally there was the nervous optimism of Becky Court, another marathon novice, who crucially had enjoyed an illness and injury free training block. Court may not have known this, but great things were expected of her. Unburdened by expectations, could she unlock the potential in herself that was so obvious to those around her?

As the clouds cleared and the klaxon sounded the runners were off. With a large field, and narrow lanes progress across the line was slow, taking some of the DRC contingent nearly 17 mins to start the race proper. Finally though, they were off!

Browning made a strong start, though after setting a half-marathon PB over the first half of debut marathon in Edinburgh could he reign himself in? Yes was the answer. His first 13.1 miles were covered in a very evenly paced 1hr 37mins. His comfort at this pace was confirmed as he waved at the other DRC runners on the ‘out and back’ section, a good 25 mins or so ahead of them.

Going stride-for-stride were the Halford-Johnson pair. They settled into a very steady pattern going through the half-way mark in 1hr 54 mins, at a metronomic pace of 8:42 mins/mile. The Harris-Court duo also pushed on together reaching the mid-point in 2hr 4mins, again running very even mile splits.

Into the second half of a marathon a second race unfolds – The Race of Truth. This is a race that exposes the athlete, strips them bare; both physically, and, mentally. It examines your lungs, your muscles and your mind: and you’d better not be found wanting – there is no hiding place in this race. How well did you training really go? How well have you paced yourself? How fit are you, compared to how fit do you think you are? These runners had unwittingly got a complementary entry into this race, and there was no backing out.

Browning had learned his lesson from Edinburgh. The extra time spent on the first half of his race meant that his second half of Manchester was only 3% slower than his first half; he paced it like a professional and stormed home in a mighty 3:16:57 shattering his previous best time – a massive PB by 27 mins. First home for the club Browning was the 1,207th out of 8,689 finishers, and 382nd in his category.

Halford and Johnson continued to run stride for stride until the 22nd mile when unable to keep up the pace Halford dropped back. For several miles it looks as though Johnson would be the 2nd DRC runner home, however tapping into his recently acquired mental fitness Halford dug in and closed the gap to Johnson so that they were able to run the last mile together. In an uncontested sprint Halford edged home in 3:54:43, his fastest marathon since his debut in 2011. Easily ducking under the qualification time for automatic entry in London, Johnson powered through the line in 3:55:01, finishing in an incredible 35th in her category.

The Harris-Court duo held together into the 19th mile, at which point Harris started to succumb to her recent bout of pleurisy. Whilst Halford was able to run on one good foot, breathing with one good lung was proving to be a much stiffer obstacle, and so, with great reluctance Court had to take the decision to push on without her great friend and training partner. Having sacrificed so much to get fit for this race this was the only rational course of action for Court. Showing remarkable pacing and endurance Court was next home in 4:15:02, losing only 3% in pace over the second half of the run – some achievement in what was becoming an increasingly warm day.

And so the Race Of Truth began its slow tortious inquisition of the lonely Harris. With a further 8 miles to run would she finish? Pain wrapped around doubt, intermingled with sapping reserves of energy puts a runner is a place they would only wish upon their worst enemies. In this place knowing how far you’ve been is of little comfort when you know how far is left to travel. However most runners are a breed apart from their former couch-potato selves, and with the help of a steely mind, an unnatural reluctance to submit to the urge to stop, and being able to share the agony amongst some newly acquired friends around her, an emotional Harris duly won her Race Of Truth, stooping across the line in 4:23:03, another huge PB, slicing 16 minutes off her previous best time.

All in all every runner has something to be pleased with, two huge PBs, two successful debuts at the distance, and an ‘over 40’ PB between them.

Aside from DRC, a runner formerly of this parish, Denise Evans ran an excellent 3:51:24 securing her place in London 2018 also.

A final word on the race. The organisation was superb, the crowds were great, and whilst not particularly scenic the course was fast and flat. Overall this is definitely a race any marathon runner should consider doing.