It has been exactly a year since I joined the Ealing Eagles and what a year it has been. It all started during the Greater Manchester Marathon in 2014. I was minding my own business, running around the streets of Manchester with a small supporters club consisting of Rhian, Tom and Keeley. All of I sudden I was distracted by a deafening wall of sound from some mob from Ealing Eagles – my home town running club. At the time, I thought it was nice that 3 or 4 people from the club had come to support a runner from the Ealing Eagles. I didn’t think much more of it until a couple of miles later a similar convocation appeared making an equally ferocious noise from the side of the road. This was repeated every few miles all the way to end of the race. Whoever this Ealing Eagle was, she was obviously very popular, so I decided to try and keep up with her for the whole of the race to feed off the support she was getting and try and pretend they were there for me.
In the end I was a couple of minutes behind, but coincidently we had the same baggage collection point so I decided to introduce myself, as someone from Ealing, who was very impressed by the level of support from the club. The Eagle turned out to be ‘Rachel Job’, one of a number of Eagles running the marathon. She asked me why I hadn’t joined the club and I explained that I’d been thinking about it but had been too busy training for a marathon. Yes, I realise how ridiculous that sounds now, but at the time it made perfect sense to me that because I had a plan to stick with I couldn’t possibly coordinate this with the club sessions! Anyway, Rachel invited me to join as I had no other imminent running plans I thought it was a good idea.
My time last year was 3.55.55.
So a few days later I became an Ealing Eagle and after 9 months I decided that I would have another crack at running the Greater Manchester Marathon, only this time I would be running as part of the club with 21 other Eagles and over 30 boisterous Eagles supporting from the side lines.
I also managed to persuade two of my uni house mates to run as well – neither of them had ever ran a marathon before and at various points during the 16 weeks of training they were cursing me for suggesting it.
At the start of my training plan, my target was to go sub 3.30, but having smashed my half marathon time in February I decided to revise this down to a much more ambitious 3.25. I knew that this would be a push target but I was confident that my training had gone well enough that this was achievable. This was until the week before the marathon. As a result of the Spring Marathon Training group I had been introduced to a concept called ‘maranoia’, which is essentially hypochondria for marathon runners. And I had the most severe case of maranoia going, meaning that I not only took 6 doses of day nurse and 2 doses of night nurse during the week of the race, but I also started to seriously doubt my ability to run 3.25, to the point that I didn’t really have a clear race plan come the start of the race.
Having stayed at Tom and Keeley’s last year on their sofa bed, we decided that this year it would be better to book a hotel and stay someone nearer to the start of the race. We picked the IBIS in Manchester city centre as a number of Eagles had also booked to stay here and it would not only be convenient for the race but also the after party.
The morning of the race was largely uneventful and by 8.45 I was making my way to the starting pen, with Graham Holland and Adam Wakefield. I knew that to run 3.30 I would have to average 8mm and my push target of 3.25 would require an average pace of 7.49mm, I wasn’t too concerned about the pace for the first few miles as long as it was around 8 as I knew I could catch up the time if I felt good. I managed to persuade Graham and Adam to run at a pace similar to mine. Both had been struggling with injuries during training so weren’t really sure what they were capable of running on the day.
So around 9.02am we were off. The first couple of miles, as was the case last year, were quite congested but as most people usually go off too fast, this wasn’t a problem and we quickly got into a rhythm. The crowds this year were even better and the first of the Eagles supporters club were there to cheer us during this early phase.
I was feeling great in the first few miles and the pace was good, the only problem was I started to need the toilet. I thought the feeling would go away but it didn’t and a ‘Paula’ moment was coming my way at mile 5. I lost Graham at this point, but luckily Adam also needed to go so we managed to stay together.
We didn’t lose too much time and as the run continued through Sale and down into Altrincham the support from spectators grew and grew as did the many Eagles gangs strategically positioned along the route. It was amazing and I felt really good. We upped the pace very slightly and we were approaching the 12 mile point where I knew that Rhian was going to be waiting for me at the same point as last year. As always it was a great feeling to see her, as well as my other mates, Keeley, Jimmy and Katie. So we went through 13 miles in 1.42.13, this was spot on for a 3.25 marathon and I was feeling confident that it would be possible.
Around mile 15, my legs did start to feel a little heavy, but I knew from last year that was ok and after all it’s a marathon. Another quick toilet break at mile 15 didn’t slow me down too much and as I approached mile 20 my confidence started to grow and grow and the sight of Simon Hardy supporting at the quietest part of the route really cheered me up. Unfortunately Adam’s injuries were starting to catch up with him. He’s a much quicker runner than I am and I was extremely grateful for him pacing me up until this stage, but between mile 21 and 22 I looked round as he was dropping behind and he told me to push on.
So on I went, alone for the first time. I started to really focus, it was just over 4 miles to the finish but I knew that it could go wrong at any time. I was in my own bubble, so the shouts from the Mile 23 Eagles took me by complete surprise. But it was amazing and after high-5ing all of them, I knew that the adrenaline rush they gave me was going to get me to the end. What I didn’t expect to happen was the sudden emotion that came over me. The crowds, the support from the Eagles, the past year of feeling part of the club and the Ealing community, my journey from a 14 stone, 4 hour 36 minute runner to a potential sub 3.25. I was struggling to keep it together.
Luckily the vision of Tom Irving around mile 24 as the Grim Reaper holding a sign ‘the end is nigh’ snapped me out of it and now it was all about the finish. I began to accelerate, picking off runners by the second. It was a great feeling and as I saw Rhian for the final time before the home straight I was flying. A sprint down ‘Sir Matt Busby Way’ and I was done. I had smashed my goal. In fact, I didn’t even look at the watch for another 20 minutes as the gun time was inside 3.25 so I knew I had done it.
My time turned out to 3.22.35. I whopping 33 minutes and 20 seconds quicker than last year, so I have declared this as ‘The Eagles Factor’.
The feeling was amazing and a personal reward for the hard work that I’d put in over the course of the past 16 weeks. I have to thank Rhian for putting up with me over this time, all of the Eagles that have run with me over this time and for the excellent advice I have been given. It’s been an amazing start to 2015 and I’m looking forward to seeing whether I can go any faster in New York on 1st November.
Both Tom’s came in under 4 hours, which is amazing for their first marathon and many of the Eagles also smashed their PBs or ran great 1st marathons so it was celebrations all round – another added bonus for being part of the club.
I couldn’t feel happier!