The Mancunian Candidate: Philip O’Doherty

After swearing repeatedly that I would never run a marathon, I found myself in Manchester,
at the tender age of 61, for my first attempt at the distance (blame lockdown for getting me
running longer and longer in training). Weather was perfect – sunny day with high of 14
degrees and light breezes. No excuse from a pacing point of view either, with my training
partner Kevin O’Connor there to keep me honest. Kevin also did all the water fetching, so I
didn’t even have to break stride to get water on board.

Our hotel was about two miles from the start area. Perfect for a gentle warm up – 10
minute walk – 10 minute jog – 5 minute walk. Running in the first wave, we had to be at the
start line by 9:45 for a 10:30 race start. We left the hotel at 8:50, to allow time for bag drop.
Having completed all of that, we were ready for the start at 9:30 – just 15 minutes early.
The first wave was walked to the line at 9:50 for a long wait. Just before the start time, it
was announced that there would be a delay. This turned out to be 15 minutes. So the race
shuffle finally started at 10:45, and my watch a couple of minutes after. Not really great
being on my feet from 8:50 but couldn’t be avoided.

My target pace was 6:45 a mile on my watch to keep me under 3 hours. Knowing that GPS
is usually short relative to actual course distance, I felt I needed the buffer from a 3 hour
pace of 6:52.

The first mile went by smoothly, checking our pace to keep to our target – 6:41 but it was a
little downhill. All the miles through 8 on target, based on the watch, with really consistent
pacing: 6:46, 6:44, 6:40. 6:41, 6:45, 6:44, 6:45. All the while, the mile markers were getting
a little further away from the GPS splits. Some of these miles brought us through the city
centre with big crowds out cheering. There was a great atmosphere overall with big crowds
in lots of locations. I was wearing my Ireland singlet so plenty of shouts of ‘Come on
Ireland’.

Miles 8 through the mile 13 took the race along a long 5 mile stretch of dual carriageway. I
found this quite tedious and the thought that there was still a long way to go not very
encouraging. Why does anyone do this for fun, I wondered? Give me a competitive 800 any
day or even a 5k.

Pace remained consistent: 6:44, 6:46, 6:40, 6:44, 6:47 (the last mile included a sharp ramp
200 or 300 metre ramp bringing us over a motorway). Half marathon on the watch in 1:28:06 – on the course 1:28:50. So, about a 3-4 second gap between GPS miles and course miles, as expected.

Mile 14 to 16 maintained the same consistent pace, but maybe a hint of slowing down: 6:48,
6:39, 6:50, 6:49. We had now reached Altrincham and faced a fairly challenging hill through
the town. While the course is overall pretty flat, there are a few ramps and hills to test you.
This was one of them. Still, we kept the pace going: 6:49 through this tricky mile.
At this point, it was starting to hurt. I had been comfortable and felt like I was running
within myself but that was changing. Kevin was finding the pace a little uncomfortable as he
was in ‘no-man’s land’. Too slow for a real marathon race pace for him and too fast for a
training pace. It’s hard to get your rhythm right in this range. He said he was feeling a bit
off and how was I. “Horrible” was my reply. This began to be shown in the pace through
miles 18 to 21: 6:46, 6:51, 6:52, 6:54. Not too bad of a drop and still well on target but the
effort to maintain this pace had increased significantly.

Back in August, I had cramped my hamstring at the end of a track session and had to take
some time off and then get back slowly. I was coming into the race nervous that I might
face a problem, as it still occasionally felt sore. Just, past mile 21, I felt a sharp twinge and
let out a roar. Two more twinges in the next 100 metres and two more roars. I thought it
might be all over but I concentrated on my running form lifting my leg to make the glute
work harder and got through it. Mile 22 in 6:53.

Unfortunately, this was to be my undoing. Can’t be certain if it was the adjustment to
protect the hamstring, general fatigue hitting me or nervousness about managing my body
to make sure I finished but mile 23 went out to 7:23.

Knowing sub 3 was still achievable if I could get the pace back to 7 minute miles, I worked
hard through mile 24 and got it back to 7:08 but this was my last drop of energy. Had to
settle at that stage for a ‘jog’ pace. Mile 25 and 26 on the watch in 7:22 and 7:30 (funny
how 7:30 after an average of sub 6:50 feels like a jog but in training feels like I am pushing
the pace).

Final 0.44 miles to go (the gap between the watch and the course had stretched to 0.22
miles). I was really struggling. Not as bad as Malaga but very tough. I held my pace but
with 200 metres to go my head was nearly on the ground as I was leaning forward so much.
I stumbled once then twice. Don’t collapse. Copped myself on and got my posture better
by slowing down. Kevin had done the sensible thing by moving on in the last mile and was
screaming for me at the line. As I came across, I asked to him hold me up or I would fall. He
helped me stumble away to the barriers. I had made it in 3:01:29. Lost over two minutes in
the last four to five miles but really proud of how I kept battling.

Overall, delighted with my run. I was second M60 so a solid finish in my age category. Of
course, I would have liked to break 3 and to have been first M60 but what runner hasn’t
finished a race wanting more.

I think that’s it for me and marathons but ‘never say never again’.

Philip O’Doherty.