By Paul Nicholls
The journey up to Manchester on Saturday afternoon was pretty uneventful. Well it was for us, not so for Freddie Burns of Bath in the European Cup match against Tolouse, that will teach him to celebrate before he has scored. Talking of rugby, we had booked into the Premier Inn at Old Trafford, very handy for the race. Even handier it turned out, for the Rugby League Cup Final between Wigan and Warrington. The hotel bar was heaving with "proper" Northerners, although I didn't actually see any clogs or whippets. We did, however, see a group of butchers chasing a pig. Seems fancy dress isn't just for the cricket.
Last minute kit check, pin on race numbers, lay out kit for the "apparently" traditional post on Facebook.
It was then a traditional early night before race day. Following tradition, Sarah was too nervous to sleep much.
Race day dawned wet. Very wet! Luckily we had come prepared. The start was only a couple of minutes stroll from the hotel, but we set off early to allow Sarah to soak up the pre-race buzz. All she managed to soak up though was gallons of Manchester's finest rain.
We found our start pen (G), right outside the Hotel Football. I swear you could actually see our hotel room from where we stood waiting patiently in the rain. The pen filled up, 9am came and went. We shuffled forward a few times, but no sign of the start. It was cold. Sarah was getting more nervous by the minute, we really wanted to just crack on with it. After what seemed like hours, we finally approached the start line. Off with the bin liners and fleeces. The race clock read 9.33 as we crossed the line, still wearing our matching red "Santa's little helpers" hats.
The first mile was typical of a big city race, people sprinting past on both sides, someone walking after half a mile, nervous chatter, running far too fast! We made a conscious effort to slow it down, but the mile 2 marker came up too quick as well. By now we had plenty of room to run in, space to find our own rhythm. I was really surprised how many people were walking, I know we had set a very conservative target, but we intended to try and run it all.
Back past the start at 3 miles, discarding the hats in flamboyant style (well, me anyway). We settled into a nice steady slosh up the road to Salford. The crowds were very vocal, a lot sparser than I remember from the marathon, but it was properly chucking it down. Water stations on route dispensed bottles, and also provided bins a bit further down the road with big targets on. I missed every single one!
As we approached the M60 bridge, we started to see the fast runners heading for home on the opposite carriage way. We managed to see Steve Haskard just in front of the 1:30 pacer and I bellowed encouragement. Lots of encouragement was coming our way from the faster runners, but once we passed the Majestic wine shop in Sale, the route took us through a very sparsely supported stretch. For the first time it started to seem like hard work. At 7 miles the puddles seemed more numerous and deeper. Sarah went quiet.
A left turn, followed a couple of hundred yard later by another, meant we had turned for home. The crowds started to re-appear, the mood was lifted. During our longer training runs, Sarah had started to run/walk at around 8 miles, but no such nonsense on race day. She ploughed relentlessly on, slightly slower, slightly more sweary, but on and on. We climbed up the cemetery hill at Sale, with the P.A guy giving us a big shout out at the top. Because I was running just in front of her, and had ny name on my vest, I was getting loads of shouts of "come on Paul". Sarah wasn't getting anything like the same, so every time someone shouted my name, I started running backwards and pointing at the "Sarah's Pacemaker" sign on my back. It worked a treat, suddenly Sarah was the centre of attention, and rightly so.
Mile 10 came and went, and we threw in a little walk break to eat jelly babies. I was expecting it to be hard to get her running again, but she took the initiative and we ran back onto the main drag and could almost smell the finish. Under the M60 bridge, we saw lots of blue lights as police and an ambulance tended to a fallen runner. We walked a little bit more after the 11 mile marker, as Sarah put it "so I have something left to run at the end". We walked hand in hand, something picked up on by the marshalls, who were amazing, supportive and witty all the way round.
We started to run again well before the 12 mile marker, and could soon actually see the finish line in the distance. Sarah kept telling me to slow down, which when we checked the Garmins after the race, was a very accurate assessment, the 13th mile split was the only one in the whole race that was anywhere near target pace! Past the first rank of photographers, more backwards running for me, into the finishing straight. We ran hand in hand for a while, before I sling-shotted Sarah towards the line, I completed a couple of heel clicks and a bit more backwards running for the cameras. We crossed the line in 3:05:55, 10 minutes ahead of our target time. She'd only gone and done it!
A shivery walk back to the hotel, beaming smiles and achey legs. A hot shower and into the bar for Guinness. Sarah saved the biggest surprise until the second pint..... "I enjoyed that, wouldn't mind doing another one"
So Sarah's road to Manchester ended with a stonking race. Beating her target time by 10 minutes and actually enjoying the experience. Well done Sarah, you were amazing, but then again, I did tell you that you would be!