After all the hype, all the build up, and all the expectation, Sunday ultimately proved to be a bit of a let down; an all-too-familiar feeling of disappointment followed by recurring thoughts of what perhaps might have been. No I’m not talking about the latest failure from England at a major tournament, rather my inability to hit my target of a sub-40 minute 10k for the third time in a row. Much like the heartbreaking and ultimately predictable penalty defeat for the national team, this is starting to become a bit of a habit.
It was a decent enough start to the day, arriving at the stadium with half hour or so to spare. It really is quite a good feeling the build up to this one, strolling around a proper stadium with the tiny stands around the track full of supporters. It feels like a proper event, and being able to jog round the track a couple of times to warm up is better than having to stretch and/or urinate along the side of a station, dual carriage way or the pitwall of a Formula One race track. We lined up on the startline and after a brief delay, we were off.
I’d made sure I wasn’t too near the front this time after the 2008 disaster when I unintentionally tried to keep up with the two Kenyan lads for about 500m before nearly collapsing in a wheezing heap. I started at the pace I meant to go on, 6:26 per mile, and after a quick dash round the track, we were out onto the streets of East Manchester.
Leaving the stadium complex, the atmosphere changed almost instantly. The hordes of adoring fans were but a distant memory, as we swung onto an undulating stretch of Alan Turing Way and down to Oldham Road. A long, bleak drag, up the gentle crest of one small hill, the gradual descent down the other side. One of the great shames about this race is the absence of almost any support out on the course. The contrast between a small, brand new stadium with a couple of thousand people milling about the stands and large chunks of deserted A-roads and back streets in a deprived area of Manchester could not be more stark, and sadly with only a handful of residents out on the course cheering us on, it made for a long morning. And the worst thing about that long, exposed stretch up Alan Turing Way was knowing I’d be back for more in 20 minutes or so going round the second lap.
Despite the unappealing landscape, the first half of the run went down pretty easily; in fact I had to hold back a bit on the first mile to make sure I didn’t overdo it, a common failing of mine. Approaching the stadium to start the second lap, I’d even go so far as to say I was feeling good. I was well inside my target time, there was a bit more support spurring us all on, and I began to think maybe all of last week’s worrying over illness and lack of stamina may have been misplaced. It wouldn’t last.
Running around the outside of the stadium, my mouth was like the Gobi desert. I swigged at a drink, and all of a sudden, in front of probably the biggest crowds since the start, I felt like I was running up a mountain pass or something, exactly as I had done around 3 miles into my training run last week. A couple of shouts of “COME ON ENGLAND” in reference to my choice of shirt for the day gave me a bit of a spurt, but as we headed back out onto the second lap, I dropped in a mile at 6:34; the wheels were beginning to fall off.
From then on, it was a real struggle. The second lap took in many of the same stretches of road as the first, before turning off down a deserted back road running between what appeared to be a gasworks. And it was exactly as attractive as that sounds.
The field had thinned right out, there were no spectators. I was hot, thirsty and extremely tired. I wanted to stop and go to the pub, except for the fact that instead of there being a pub, there was nothing but endless stretches of bleak concrete and disused industry.
Now I understand that not every run can be a genteel, picturesque affair, and I understand that, despite Manchester City’s unimaginable wealth, much of the area around the ground is seriously deprived. However, when I am feeling like I would like to collapse in a sweaty heap, all I wanted is a friendly face and a pint of Stella. Neither were forthcoming. I’ve run bleak runs before; around Birkenhead (twice), the A184 and A194 in the North East and a service road in Northamptonshire. But the difference with these is that they were all glorious, sunny days, and there were people cheering me and my stupid body on towards the finish. No such luck here.
Fortunately it was nearly all over, but by this time, I knew I was going to miss my target again. Two miles at roughly 6:50 per mile weren’t good enough for that. The only thing of note over the last lap was an epic tustle between some guy who seemed strangely quite a lot slower than me on the up slopes, and quite a lot faster on the way back down the other side. We must have switched places about 10 times in the space of a few minutes, and I think he eventually bested me as I blew up over the last few yards, I can’t be sure. But after staggering over the line he rushed over to congratulate me on a “fantastic battle”. It really had been.
Sadly though the overall theme of the day was another notch on the list of failures to hit the sub-40 minute barrier. I can’t be too unhappy really, coming home a pretty decent 105th out of a field approaching 2,000. Not my best admittedly, but a solid morning’s work. I’ve made it my aim to get under 40 minutes at some point this year though. I know I’m close. I’ve earmarked a couple of runs before the year is out, in September and October. I don’t need to do too much more; a new pair of running shoes, a slightly longer training plan and a bit less booze should do it, along with a bit of luck on the weather front. Another sweaty summer of training ahead then.