On My Travels: My Sporting Weekend in Manchester – 17 and 18 May 2014

As some of you may have observed, I have been absent on the blogging front for a while and have reduced my Twitter conversations.  The reason for this will now become apparent through this blog post.

Several months ago, I had planned to attend a few sporting events over the weekend of 17 and 18 May, namely the “Great City Games” athletics event, the “Magic Weekend” rugby league event and the “Great Manchester Run” – all as a spectator.  However, this all changed three months ago when I accepted the challenge of participating in the “Great Manchester Run” myself.

Just so you can get a scale of this event, The “Great Manchester Run” is 10 kilometres (6.2 miles), is Europe’s biggest mass participation 10K and is certified as an IAAF event for the elite athletes in a field including Tirunesh Dibaba, Gemma Steel, Wilson Kipsang and Kenenisa Bekele.

Everyone has their own reasons for running – some do it for charity, some do it to lose weight.  My reasons were two fold.  Firstly, my doctor recommended that I undertake exercise to lower my blood pressure and lose weight.  The second was that I was bullied out of enjoying sports in my teenage years at school and I wanted to do this to accomplish something.  So, I undertook an eleven week training program alternating road running with exercising on an exercise bike at home.  I’ll talk about the results of my training later.

 

Saturday 17th May

After arriving in Manchester the night before, my brother (who was participating in the run for the Cancer Research UK charity) and I were spectators at the Great City Games.

For those who are not aware of the Games, this is an athletics “meet” located in two venues in Manchester city centre, Deansgate for the track events and Albert Square for the pole vault and long jump. I first attended this event last year and this year’s had an equally impressive line up including athletes, both domestic and international, including Olympic champion long jumper Greg Rutherford, Jamaican sprint star Yohan Blake, Scottish captain Eilidh Child, British paralympians Laura Sugar and Sophie Kamlish, World 400m champion Christine Ohuruogu and newly crowned 60m indoor champion Richard Kilty.

“So, what makes this so different from any other athletics meet?” you may ask. Well, and this sounds strange given the number of fans attending, it’s an intimate setting as you get to meet the athletes and get their autographs and chat plus it opens athletics up to fans whose only experience is watching the sport on television because it’s free to attend. If any of my lovely readers have the chance to go to an event like this, please grab the opportunity as it’s well worth it.

 

British Olympic Long Jump Gold Medallist Greg Rutherford

British Olympic Long Jump Gold Medallist Greg Rutherford

Dutch sprinter Marlou Van Rijn being chased down by British athlete Laura Sugar

Dutch sprinter Marlou Van Rijn being chased down by British athlete Laura Sugar

British athletes Andy Turner, Richard Kilty, Eilidh Child and Christine Ohoruogu

British athletes Andy Turner, Richard Kilty, Eilidh Child and Christine Ohoruogu

Dominican athlete Felix Sanchez

Dominican athlete Felix Sanchez

British Paralympic and World 100m champion Jonnie Peacock

British Paralympic and World 100m champion Jonnie Peacock

After we went to the athletics, my brother and I went to the “Magic Weekend”. This is something that’s unique to the UK as it’s a weekend long event for the Super League competition (that’s the European top flight Rugby League competition for the uninitiated of you out there in t’interweb land).

The weekend is devoted to seven matches in a single venue, the Etihad Stadium (Manchester City’s home ground), where fans from all of the Super League clubs gather together, exchange banter and cheer their respective teams (and boo the opposition).

Watching my favourite team, Wigan Warriors, is always fantastic as it’s my weekend release from the daily grind of work, but when your team is the underdog and the event is a showpiece event like this, a win is all the more special.

After the end of a busy first day, my brother and I went back to our “Team Hotel”  (Okay, that’s a bit grand.  I meant Travelodge) to get a good night’s rest.

 

Sunday 18th May

Well, the good night’s rest didn’t happen.  Instead, my hopes for a good sleep was replaced with a bout of pre-run nerves, both mental and physical.  I had a nervous stomach which lead to cramp and my mind was questioning the wisdom of what was to come.  “Was I good enough?”, “Am I going to give up?”, “Maybe it would be better if I pulled out now.”

To say that the demons of my past as somebody who was subjected to childhood bullying were coming out to play may seem like an overstatement, but it felt like that in my hotel bed, but I decided that I had paid enough, both financially and time-wise, to throw this challenge away and I decided to carry on.

The morning of the run started with a light breakfast – cereal followed by a piece of toast with honey.  The weather was supposed to be nice but nothing could prepare me for how warm it was going to be, in spite of warnings to keep hydrated.

After watching the start of the Run featuring the elite athletes, it was time for me to get ready and report to the assembly area.  In a field of 40,000 people, it’s not practical to have everyone run at the same time, so people are grouped into phases.  As this was my first 10K in twenty-six years, I decided to put myself in the 1 hour 30 minute plus bracket.  Whilst this was a comfortable pace for me, it also meant that we would be starting at 12:30 when the day was at its hottest, and boy was it hot.

Before the race, we had a mass (if you can call two streets worth of people “mass”) warm up session. Yes, you do feel a little silly clapping your hands, squatting and shaking your derriere in a city street, even if there are thousands of people alongside you doing exactly the same thing, but it was these warm ups that got me through especially in the last 200 metres.

After what seemed like an eternity, it was time to start. I was fine up to 2 kilometres and then came the downside to drinking all that water. The good news was that there was portaloos, the bad news was that I would have to run on my own as my brother went ahead.

Time can be a funny thing. If you’re not rushing it can feel like it’s flying by and if you’re in a hurry it can move at a snail’s pace. And waiting in that queue for the loo felt like an eternity.

After what felt like a lifetime, I was back on the road and then I had to use my iPod as my companion, that’s not to say that I didn’t appreciate the support from the spectators. In fact, the cheers and applause kept me going, but it didn’t help with the pain in my legs and the muscle cramp due to the heat. I simply couldn’t get a comfortable rhythm together and I was beginning to hear the voices of self-doubt coming through. I realised then that I couldn’t run the whole way round, so it would have to be at a pace that was comfortable for me.

4 kilometres in and I passed Old Trafford (Manchester United’s home ground) and it felt that the distance was moving along (especially thanks to the fact that I knew the sights in this area). 5 kilometres gave me the chance to take in water and 6 meant a quick shower that would give me respite from the heat which give me mild sunburn despite putting on Factor 50 sunblock.

8 kilometres came creeping up. So near and yet so far. I was beginning to feel sick because I hadn’t had lunch yet, something that was remedied by Jelly Babies (who says that “Doctor Who” can’t give you useful life lessons). Then, my iPod decided to have some fun at my expense by playing “Running On Empty” by Jackson Brown. I mean, 2 kilometres to go, I feel tired and then a song called “Running On Empty” starts playing.

After that hiccup, the running was a little easier thanks to a downward slope back to Manchester City Centre. This, along with the lovely supporters, drove me on and then the 9 kilometre marker came up. “1 kilometre to go!!!” I screamed inside my head, but it was the longest kilometre of my life. I used my athletics knowledge to put this into perspective – two and a half circuits of an outdoor track.

800 metres – 2 laps.

400 metres – 1 lap.

200 metres – “NO WAY ARE YOU BEATING ME NOW!!!!”

And then something happened that was as elating as “Running On Empty” was cruel. The strains of “Going The Distance” by Bill Conti from the “Rocky” soundtrack started. Cheesy, huh? But it did the job and I grit my teeth. “I’m going to do this. I’m going to do this. COME ONNNNNNNN!!!”

And then, I crossed the line – 1 hour and 28 minutes. Any thoughts of pomp and ceremony left my head for exhaustion. I claimed a bottle of water and my finisher’s bag including various goodies, my finisher’s T-shirt and medal.

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My Great Manchester Run Finishers medal

I then met my brother and gave him a hug. Happy that I’d just done this. Eleven weeks of training done, culminating in a run that I couldn’t be more proud of considering the conditions.

We passed other finishers, faces all having the expression of tiredness, pain and elation all at the same time. I’d done it and my doubts had been put to rest.

Because it was my birthday a week earlier, I decided that I wouldn’t celebrate until the evening after the Run… and celebrate I did at Red’s True Barbecue with a meal befitting what my internal triumph felt. Beef brisket, fries, pickle, red cabbage, slaw and Pit Beans followed by Mississippi Chocolate Mud Brownie gave me some semblance of life back – especially as I’d been careful with what I ate for the previous three months.

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The first part of my foodie reward after the Run…

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…and the second part

After dinner, we decided to go to the cinema to round off the day and whilst “Godzilla” would have been good to watch on IMAX, we decided to go to see “Next Goal Wins” which was the tonic for a day like the one we just had.

After the film, it was an early evening back in our hotel room to pack bags and chill out.

 

It was an early start the following day where we had a full English breakfast and an early train journey home to see my folks and hear things like “Your Dad and I are proud of you” from my Mum and “When’s your next 10K?” from friends. My answer is  never say never… but just not yet.

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