October 2021 challenge: Manchester Marathon

I ran my first-ever marathon in Manchester, clocking in at just over 5 hours and never stopping once while I ran. 

Me holding my Manchester Marathon medal.
An American marathoner.

Fundraising for JCWI in 2021

This is the 10th recap post of my 2021 monthly running challenges. These challenges are part of my fundraiser for the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI). 



Recapping the horrors of UK immigration each month

As part of my fundraising efforts, I am also raising awareness about what's happening in the world of UK immigration each month.

I want people to understand just how much awfulness happens in 28 to 31 days. My recaps will be over on my Medium site.

Why Manchester Marathon

I wanted to do a marathon in 2021. Ideally in October. I got an email from FindARace.com back in January that there were still places for the Manchester Marathon happening October 10.

I genuinely didn't think this race would go ahead back in January. Times were much bleaker then. But I knew I would be more motivated to train if I signed up to a marathon.

Whaddya know, it actually happened.

Race merch and pre-dinner snacking

Once in the city, my top 2 priorities were getting race merch and food.

I had to take a photo opp the second I saw a sign for Manchester Marathon.
Me under a Manchester Marathon sign with my hands out.
This runner has arrived.

And then a local lad photo-bombed me. 
A random guy standing next to me for my photo.
Just a stranger posing for a photo with me. Super normal.

The race organizers had a space set up for runners to pick up their race packs (if they didn't already have them) and to purchase race merch. Not wanting to deal with this on race day, I went to check the merch out.
A vast hall with stands for runners to pick up their numbers.
The beautiful building housing the race organizers the day before the race.

I ended up with a Manchester Marathon tanktop because unlike the finisher shirt, I knew I could get this in a woman's size.
Me in a mask and a tanktop that says Manchester Marathon.
Probably need to wait until spring 2022 to wear this now.

I was all set to try this adorable little cupcake place (called Hey Little Cupcake), but they were tragically sold out when I got there.

Shortly after, I saw a Dunkin' Donuts, and the American in me felt the need to go in. It's not a place I have much nostalgia for, but because we don't have them in Scotland, I had to check it out. 
The different donuts at Dunkin' Donuts.
Just had to check out Mancunian munchkins.

Also since I couldn't get a little cupcake, a munchkin seemed like the appropriate size replacement treat. I tried one plain glazed and one chocolate glazed. 

Either munchkins taste better in America, or my memory thinks they taste better than they actually do. That all being said, they were okay.

Pumpkins, bees, and terrible pedestrian crossings

I had some time to walk around before my dinner reservation. I quite liked how Manchester was getting into the Halloween spirit with jack-o-lanterns on trees.
Paper jack-o-lanterns in a tree.
MCR taking Halloween seriously.

From my last trip to Manchester, I was excited to see the bee imagery all over the city again.
Bee imagery on a pole.
MCR is buzzing.

I was less excited to be reunited with Manchester's truly terrible pedestrian crossings. At most crossings, there is no green man signal waiting in front of you. 
A pedestrian crossing sign.
MCR wants to hurt my neck.

You have to turn your neck to see the signal. Often, there isn't even a sound that goes with it. Very inaccessible, MCR! Fix this!

Next-level carb loading

I took my carb loading to the next level for dinner and TWO desserts.

I went to Ramona, which is a Detroit-style pizza place. I didn't even know Detroit had their own style pizza until a week before, and I didn't think Manchester would be the first place I'd be trying it.

But when I went to book an Italian/pasta restaurant on Friday, everywhere I looked had no reservations left. Then I randomly clicked on Ramona on Google Maps, and they had a 5pm reservation time.

And that's how pre-race pasta turned into pre-race pizza. And it was the best random booking ever.

Everything I had was delicious.

I started with a vegan slice of their pizza which had vegan sausage, cheese, jalapeños, and this very nice honey sauce.
A slice of Detroit-style pizza with a thick base..
Detroit-style pizza has a thick base.

Then came the tatertots with that same sauce and jalapeños, and the other set with truffle sauce and cheese. These were even better than the pizza.
Two plates with tatertots on them.
The best tatertots ever.

This was topped off by dessert 1, a triple-chocolate cookie with salted caramel dipping sauce. I didn't think much of a cookie for dessert, but this was THE BEST COOKIE. Mainly had to do with the fact that it was warm and gooey. Soooooo nice and yummy.
Triple chocolate cookie next to salted caramel sauce.
Dessert 1.

I wanted ice cream afterwards because ice cream is the best. I went on Google Maps to see what was nearby and discovered Black Milk.

Black Milk is more of a milkshake place. They also make freakshakes which are milkshakes but with like a massive slice of cake on top.

A milkshake felt more than what I wanted, but I was also running a marathon next day, so if ever there was a time for a milkshake, it was then. I had peanut butter and nutella. Once again, a very satisfying dessert.
A milk bottle containing my milkshake and cream on top.
Dessert 2.

Covid testing

Racing in a pandemic meant I got to top off my night with the most fun of pre-race tasks: taking a lateral flow test.

They didn't ask for this at Great North Run, but they did ask for it at Manchester. You had to fill in this health declaration form to confirm it was negative, but as expected, no one checked for proof on race day.

To confirm, my test was negative. I had a bit of a sneezing fit after taking it. Joy.  

The race

Giddy runner

Race day finally arrived. I wasn't nervous at all, but I was giddy. I kept dancing and bopping around in the morning.

Meeting a fellow Edinburgh runner

I went to breakfast at my hotel in my race outfit. Every other runner staying there was dressed in their gear as well.

This made it easy to go up and chat to other runners. I had been nervous all week about how to get to the start line because up until a few days before, there was a tram-worker strike which significantly reduced public transit options.

I spoke to one runner, Fen, who mentioned her partner was driving her to the tram stop and offered a ride. 

Turns out Fen was also from Edinburgh and is part of a local running club. I've always thought about joining one, so this must be a sign to finally check one out.
Me and Fen at the start area of the marathon.
The meeting of Edinburgh runners.

Seeing the finish before the start

To get to the start area, we passed the finish line where the half marathon runners were finishing their race at the time we arrived. 

It was quite intimidating seeing the 26 mile marker knowing the next time I'd see it was when I was finishing.
A blue sign saying mile 26.
A look at the finish ahead of me.

An American runner

Before accessing the start area, it was necessary I take a jumping shorts photo, as has become my signature style this year.

As you can see, I dressed as the American flag for this race. It was my first marathon. I needed something special to mark the occasion. So star shorts and a striped top it was.
Me jumping in my American flag running outfit.
The jumping American reporting for marathon duties.

The toilet queue

The toilet queue for the women was pretty bad. They were the toilets for the Old Trafford Cricket Ground. 
The field at Old Trafford Cricket Ground.
The Cricket Ground as you walked into the start area.

It took 15 to 20 minutes, which, to be fair, isn't the worst I've experienced, but is way too long to wait for a toilet.

A line of women waiting for the toilets.
The seemingly never-ending queue.

It was only when I left the queue that I learned there were porta-potties further up the way. But still. Pretty limited number of toilet facilities for a 30,000-person marathon.

Waiting to start

The wait and the walk over to the start was pretty time-consuming. It took around 35 minutes in total.

Once my wave was called to walk over, we'd walk for a bit. Stop. Walk for a bit. Stop. And repeat.
A selfie while making my way to the start line.
One of many selfies taken en route to the start.

When I could see the start line in sight, it was unclear if we were going to be starting right away or if there would be another wait.
A crowd of runners with the start line in front of us.
Start line in sight.

It was at this time that I saw other runners rushing to porta-potties, and I realized I really needed to pee.

There was a part of me that thought, no, too late now. Wait till I finish. Then I remembered that I was likely to be running for 5 hours, and I should just go pee. When it doubt, don't turn down a toilet opportunity. Best decision I made this race. 

An unintentional fast half

Once I started, I made sure not to set off too fast as recommended by every runner who has done a marathon.

I honestly didn't feel like I was pushing myself, but my first 13 miles were all well under 11 minutes, and I had trained for 11-minute miles.
Me smiling while running.
Making good time in the first half.

Running my own race

The other advice I had gotten from marathoners was to run my own race. I guess that ties into not running too fast, but I also took it in a sense of independent running.

Whereas Great North Run felt very social with all the oggy oggy oggy chants, bands on the run, and cheering charities on the sidelines, I started playing music right away at Manchester and very much focused on my running and myself.

This became slightly problematic when I was so distracted in my own music and thoughts I didn't realize I had started to run up one of the barriers that separate the bike lane from the car lane. They are more subtle than the poles we have in Edinburgh.
The cement bike lane barriers in the road.
An example of the bike lane barriers in Manchester.


I didn't trip, thankfully.

The highlight of the first half was running through Manchester city center. It definitely had the best atmosphere and the most buildings things to look at.

Running my own race also meant no photos while I was running. Sorry, dear readers. I had a race to focus on. You'll just have to visualize some of these details yourself.

A slow second half

I had hoped to keep my second half miles under 12 minutes, but that did not happen. Mile 16 was just over 12 minutes, and for the rest of the race, with a few exceptions, they were all in the 12 or 13 minute range.

With my fast times in the first half, I was thinking running under 5 hours was easily achievable. Towards the end, I stopped caring about time and just wanted to finish.

A few factors contributed to my slowness other than having a fast first half:
  • the weather: Despite Manchester's rainy reputation, it was a beautiful sunny day. This meant it was both a hot run, and I was running in my sunglasses. My sunglasses start to give me headaches the longer I'm in them. I could really feel this the last 10 miles or so.
  • my headphones: As much as I liked running with my music, I had to stop in parts and stopped for good around 20 miles in. They are bone conducting headphones, which means they sit over my ears and basically pound sound into my head. It was a bit overkill for that length of time.
  • a new distance by 10k: It has to be acknowledged that my training took me to 20 miles max. This was my first time running a new distance that was 10k more than my previous highest distance. It's kinda tiring...
That said, I will add: I don't think my second half would have been faster if I ran the first half slower. I ran what felt comfortable in the first half. 

My longest training runs were significantly slower (we're talking most miles in the 13 or 14 minute range) than the pace I was going in the second half. So if anything, the second half was an incredible achievement for me never having run these distances that fast before.

Highlight of the second half was when I passed a little girl in the crowd who called me Super Woman because of my outfit. Then she second-guessed herself and called me Miss America instead. I'll happily take either label.
Me with a slightly smiling face while running.
Miss America coming through.

An emotional final 10k

People say 20 miles of a marathon is the halfway point, and I totally get what they mean. I felt delirious the last 10k.
Me not smiling while running the marathon.
The photo where I'm not smiling. 

I had to keep chanting to myself 'running is mental' to make me focus less on the physical exhaustion and remind myself that my ability to finish this race was dependent on my mind being able to tell my body I could finish it.

I also started feeling very emotional, like I could cry at any second. I didn't, but I was constantly on the verge.

The finish

The crowds at the finish line were phenomenal and really propelled me to a strong ending.

There was lots of cheering, and I stretched out my hands begging for more, and the crowds most happily obliged. 
Me smiling as I'm about to finish the marathon.
Taking in the cheers from Manchester.

I finished with a smile on my face ready for the camera to get a photo of Happy Runner Lauren.
Me holding my phone while wearing my medal after the race.
Shortly after being graced with my medal.

They also got a photo of me immediately checking my phone to upload the run to Strava. Being a runner comes with admin.
Me looking at my phone after just finishing the marathon.
The marathon didn't happen if it wasn't on Strava.

My time

My official finishing time was 5:06:16. However, Strava said I ran 26.7 miles. I could tell this was going to be the case when I saw the first mile marker sign about a minute after Strava said I hit mile 1.

I didn't think I was zig-zagging along the course as much as Great North Run, but it would appear I did for a half mile.

So for 26.2 miles, I clocked in at 5:01:04. Not the under 5 hours I wanted, but so close. I guess I'll just have to give it another go.

My proudest achievement of this race was that I never stopped running. I realized from my 20 mile training run that if I stop, restarting is that much harder at these distances. So I knew no matter what, I had to keep running.

I ran continuously for over 26 miles without stopping. Pretty crazy to think about that. Go, me.

The less good post-marathon moments

Yes, I have very happy smiling photos of me, but for the record, there were many not-nice bits of finishing this race.

I wanted to throw up

I almost felt like I was going to throw up as soon as I finished. I didn't, but I felt rather sickly.

I bled all over myself

I learned when I went to the toilet that I bled a lot during the race. It was all over my beautiful star-spangled shorts. Bleeding is pretty normal for me on long runs, but this was A LOT. 

(Sorry not sorry for those of you reading this that don't want to know this fact. But it's the kind of thing I'd want to read from other runners who experience this to know I wasn't alone.)

I was cold and tired

I was very cold and very tired, and it was a long walk to get out of the finish area when all I wanted to do was sit down and feel warm.

It took forever to get back to my hotel

It was a very long line for the trams, so I decided I rather get a taxi. This meant walking farther and far enough from the course to get a taxi.

The first time I used my taxi app, I waited for what seemed like forever for it to find a driver. It did not find one.

So I walked a bit further and then tried again. Keep in mind, I was still tired and cold this whole time.

I finally got a driver, but then for around 7 minutes, they weren't moving. They finally got to me, and then there was some really bad traffic on the way back.

The taxi driver also proceeded to complain about American foreign policy to me. While I wasn't disagreeing with them, post-marathon was not the time I wanted to be discussing such things. 

I didn't get back to my hotel until 7:15pm. I'd been out since 9:30am. I finished around 5:10pm. It was a long day. 

Post-race dinner

I don't know why, but after long runs, I really don't feel that hungry. I did end up eating a big dinner and dessert, but I really overdid it. My body did not need that much food. And I didn't like eating so late.

Me in my Manchester Marathon finisher shirt holding my medal.
An XS shirt for this XS runner.

I went to an Indian place called Chit 'N' Chaat because I love chaat. I wore my medal and finisher shirt because everyone needed to know I just ran a marathon. (Side note: they had XS shirts. I finally ran a race with shirts for petite runners!!!)

I had samosa chaat, potato-stuffed paratha, and this lime-minty drink. All good, but special shout out to the chaat especially.
Chaat in a bowl.
Started eating, then remembered I didn't take a photo.

Paratha in a basket next to my drink with mint leaves in it.

I then wanted ice cream afterwards, and although there were a few places selling it nearby, nothing particularly appealed to me. I ended up at a Baskin Robbins. I got two scoops, one scoop of this weird coffee flavor and the other praline. 

It was overkill, and it didn't even taste good.  This is why I avoid chains.
Ice cream in a tub.
Disappointing ice cream.

Before I got the ice cream, I had gotten gulab jamun, which are kind of like gooey donuts that I was going to eat after the ice cream, but I had no room left in my tummy. 
Gulab jamun sitting in syrup.
Dessert that became breakfast.

I ended up eating them with my breakfast the next day, though. Wish I had just eaten them instead of the ice cream. They were quality.

After a late-night dinner, the moment finally came. I could rest my weary legs and go to sleep.

Running reflections

I'm a marathoner

I ran a marathon.

I just need to let that statement sink in for a minute. 

I've gone from someone who struggled to do the mile run at school to someone who can run non-stop for 26.7 miles.

I'm in awe at what my body and mind can do.
Me smiling near the finish line at the marathon.
I'm a marathoner.

The worst training run taught me the most important lessons for this race

When I did the 20 mile People Move challenge in September, I learned a few lessons that became important in this race:
  • Fueling is important: I brought 5 sports jelly sachets with me. I waited until mile 9 to have my first one, but then had one every 5 miles after that. I rarely ate on my training runs, but I felt so glad I brought as much fuel as I did. I would have struggled without it.
  • Don't stop running: I learned just how hard it was for me to start again after stopping to walk during People Move. This motivated me to keep running the entire marathon.

My running journey is emotional

I mentioned the final 10k was emotional, and I think a lot of that had to do with reflecting mid-race about how emotional my running journey has been.

I said it in the 2021 challenges intro post: I started running because my UK immigration experience depressed me to the point where I felt compelled to run.

So much happened between that moment and the marathon. My running journey is tied to some very difficult memories. That was a lot of emotional baggage to be carrying around and thinking about during the race.

I run for a cause

There have been some bright moments along my running journey, as well, though. One of those was teaming up with Thia to fundraise for JCWI this year.

A year ago, I would have never imagined I'd be spending 2021 running for a cause, but I love that my first marathon got to be in support of a charity that does work in an area so important to me and my journey.

So if you haven't yet donated, please throw some funds at fighting for a more humane UK immigration system.

November challenge

Rest (aka a 5k race)

November is all about taking it easy after 4 months of training. Rest is a challenge for a driven runner like me! I think I'll be doing a 5k race, but we'll see. 

See, already taking it easy.

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