A race review of the ASICS Manchester Marathon 2018.
My first time running the ASICS Manchester Marathon has been a strange and fabulous experience. (I’m a marathoner that hadn’t previously run in the UK.). There is undoubtedly bias in my recollection of the event due to the circumstances under which I arrived here. For the record these are:-
- I’d moved back to the UK just 8 days prior, relocating from New York City
- Prior marathon experience is running NYC three times and Big Sur once
- Recurring calf injury in training limited my long runs to just one 13 miler
- In the 4 weeks prior the longest duration run my calf allowed was just 17 minutes
- Manchester is my home turf and the route went past my old house in Sale
- I was selected to be part of the team lead by marathon ambassador Vassos Alexander, which leant a little to my sense of pressure to show well
I was staying with old friends in Sale come marathon morning. I’d already gone through sulking and frustration and had come to terms with being injured and writing off the race. Nonetheless I went to meet my Team Vassos team mates in the flesh, grab a shameless photo opportunity and cross the start line. My goal was simply to make it back to Sale on foot, a mere 6 miles away.
The Manchester Marathon prides itself on a few things; first, being voted the UK’s favourite marathon; second being the UK’s flattest and fastest marathon; lastly, having the best crowds of any race. For me that sets a very high level of expectation and one that I reckon is pretty well justified.
Leaving the house at 7am it was a chill 4 degrees with low cloud and fog adding a very wintry feel. The Metrolink tram network provides excellent connectivity and got me the 3 stops to Trafford Bar in just eight minutes. This is home to the iconic Old Trafford football ground of Manchester United and the Emirates Stadium, home of Lancashire Cricket Club. Signage was very clear and there were plenty of enthusiastic and knowledgeable volunteers on hand. The only part of the athletes village I really saw were the well kept port-a-loos. Team Vassos logistics had me meeting people elsewhere. Happily the rendezvous was outside a Costa coffee shop so I was able to warm up and take on just a little caffeine.
Vassos, celebrity that he is, was busy this morning and was soon dragged away for a final interview before starting the race proceedings at 9am. During this pre-race time I had finally got to meet the rest of the Tema Vassos runners in person. I’d so far only swapped Instagram posts and messages from the US. I found camaraderie with an also-injured Christina. We were both glad of company and agreed to start out together from the back of the pack, neither expecting to finish.
The sun burned off much of the fog and the temperature began to climb, Over the next few hours I set a new PB for my slowest 26.2 by a very big margin. Given just how few training miles I ran it’s no surprise I was almost two hours slower than NYC just five months prior. It was all I could manage and I was continually fearful the calf would flare up.
I spent the whole race alongside Christina, talking and laughing the whole way. We started out as strangers and crossed the finish line together as friends. Having started the race as a token gesture, and with zero expectations, I ended the day humbled, grateful, and having made it through by far my most difficult marathon to date.
The Good bits
- This race allowed me by far the longest sleep-in before having to start the day
- Excellent public transport connectivity from the surrounding area to the start venue
- Being one of the UK’s biggest marathons outside of London gives the event a real buzz
- Great organisational support, start village, volunteers, water stops
- The supporters really are fantastic, friendly, generous and welcoming
- Pretty cool sporting landmarks
- Good mix of urban and suburban scenery to keep things interesting
- Organised entertainment was good, (though I would have welcomed more of it)
- Highly visible pace teams, with very positive word of mouth
- Very affordable
- I didn’t hear anything about the bag drop organisation, so assume this was ok
- I heard a bunch of negative talk about the brand of gels available and how they weren’t available for purchase to train with in advance
- Plastic water bottles at water stations,, whilst easy to drink from on the move, seemed pretty unfriendly to the planet. There must be a niche for marketing and ethics around being the greenest marathon in the UK for an events group wanting to create it. The Big Sur International Marathon sets a good example here
- All the medium sized finisher tee-shirts were gone quickly
- I’m not a big fan of the out and back sections. It’s good value for spectators, and that’s good for runners. I get that it’s more efficient for everyone. At least there wasn’t lots of it. (Most of miles 9 to 16 were on an out and back road)
- I heard a few grumblings about the difficulty of getting to the advertised parking, and some fake car park scammers in the area
What was different from my US experience
- Was unsure about organisation at the start since my experience had me arriving at the corals shortly after the race had started and just walking up to the line at the back of the rolling pack of runners. So I can’t comment on how well managed the start corals were
- I love it when volunteers award the finisher medals after the finish line. At Manchester you have to rummage in your finisher’s bag for it and rip the non eco-friendly plastic bag off of your own prepackaged medal. There’s something very special and meaningful to having a human present your medal and congratulate you straight away. I really missed this.
- In Manchester nearly every single spectator handed out candy (I broke my own golden rule and accepted food from spectators). Including jelly babies and Jaffa Cakes no less (hadn’t seen Jaffa cakes in 4 years of New York life)!!!
- In New York almost no-one hands out food (and you should think twice before eating food from a complete stranger on race day). Whereas almost everyone does have a brilliantly inspired, mostly laugh-out-loud sign/poster.
The ASICS Manchester marathon is a fun and vibrant race, well organised (there’s room for improvement), fast and friendly. Definitely put it on your list of races to run. I will be back!