Wednesday, 11 April 2018

Greater Manchester Marathon 2018

Road marathons are a nightmare. I've done many longer races and felt less pain. They are the race I hate most and do least and they generally consist of 1 reasonable hour, 1 hateful hour and 1 absolutely horrendous hour of running. I signed up for Manchester after I saw Nick had done similar, and mainly because it is flat and fast. I thought there might be a chance to do sub3. It's a while since I have done that and wondered if it was still possible. I'm still not sure.

Nick said we, Mary and I, should stay at the same hotel and he'd give us a lift down the road. In the last few weeks Mary has gone from cranking out the miles in training to being unable to walk on sore knees that arrived without explanation and have yet to leave. She has been limited to cycling, swimming and small runs of less than 5 miles. She decided not to bother going to Manchester as she didn't fancy hobbling around the place with sore knees trying to enjoy other runners' marathon efforts. Probably a good call as there was plenty of walking about seeing stuff.

Jo and Nick

When certain people heard I was doing Manchester they scoffed and anticipated a blog full of hate and bile about the area. I know, hard to believe. Michael G couldn't believe I was going to such a place and just laughed out loud knowing I prefer remote rural to industrial urban. I told him I was going for the flat course and would only be looking at my minutes-per-mile and didn't give a hoot about the scenery. Nice scenery is a good distraction but usually comes at a price: viewpoints = hills = slow. I was purely doing this for a decent time and really if it were an airport runway I'd be fine with that. Well maybe not a 400m track. I'd draw the line at that. I'd need a lobotomy before I could stick a track run of any kind of distance. Don't know why folk self-harm like that.

The drive down the road on Saturday seemed to only take 35 minutes. Maybe it was all the gabbing in the car. (Guilty.) I hadn't seen much of Nick since he fell on the ice in Sienna, cracking a rib and perhaps his chance to do an easy sub3. He had appeared to be in excellent shape prior to that. Meantime he had missed a bit of training and been replacing that with eating like a horse (with a penchant for Easter chocolate). Similarly my training regime had been going quite well (lots of long runs) but wasn't serious enough to cut out red wine on week nights which had been building up surplus lard at waist level. I had briefly stepped on the scales for the first time in maybe a year the other week after a long dehydrating run, hoping to see sub11 stone but it was, to my horror, nearer eleven 5 (meaning normal is going to be up nearer 12!) My illogical remedy was not go near the scales again. (Yeah that'll work.)

Salford Quays

We booked into our hotel and went for a walk round Salford Quays. Seeing it was free entry into the Imperial War Museum North, Nick and I popped in there while Jo did some shopping. It was pretty good. A strangely wedge shaped building, (the empty bit poking out the top is just for show) it houses a random collection of war related artifacts in a low lit environment of nukes and crannies (sorry) covering all periods of industrialised war and it's consequences. I thought it might have been weighted towards guns, boys toys and the excitement of battle, however it took a fairly sober stance and was just as much about the consequence and misery of war as the other. Every hour or so there was a different audio visual presentation in the main hall recounting an episode from a particular perspective, or a consequence, such as remembrance, from people actually touched by events. 

I was interested in the non-partisan attitude portrayed. War is often the physical manifestation of political will. I couldn't imagine such objectivity being shown in the USA where a blind faith in their foreign policy seems to be more commonplace. (With exceptions like Vietnam.) Having visited many war memorials during the last 4 years as part of the Tynecastle Bronze running project I am processing more information about wars than ever before. I grew up in the 60s building Airfix kits of WW2 fighter planes and their shapes still resonate; to the extent I found myself buying a handsomely mounted Plane Spotter's Guide full of Spitfires and Catalina Flying Boats. What's not to like? (In the entrance a Harrier jump-jet hangs from the ceiling like a full scale Airfix model.)

other exhibits are just random fun

wreckage from the World Trade Centre building

Again it gets your mind reeling to think of the history of these girders. Built into the highest building in New York. Then hit by suicide bombers in an aeroplane, then presumably put on a boat and brought here. The things humans get up to!

There was also many examples of war artists' work. This painting is "Scenes on the Road to Hell 1991" by John Keane and portrays Kuwaiti children celebrating victory on the Basra Road.

Harrier Jet
prominent in the Falklands "crisis"

Soviet T-55 tank

Nick wanted to check out the nearby Salford Lads Club (on the corner of Coronation St.) as made famous by the Smiths. "Could any picture be more perfectly the antithesis of Duran Duran in 'Rio'?"

Saturday night and we met up with the Hays and Gary and Inga. Pasta at Bella Italia. (Well done Nick and Jo for booking ahead and producing 40% discount vouchers.) My food was really good but nearly everything Jo ordered failed to fully materialise. By the time we got back to the hotel and I laid out my kit for the run next morning it was after midnight. Had to get up at 7.30 to eat muesli out the mug in the room and a cold sandwich instead of toast. Mary had told me they only did full breakfasts for £10+ so I had taken my own. In fact they were laying on an early continental breakfast for the marathoners and I needn't have worried. Easier to sort my own though, then we went and met the Hays for 8.30 and jogged around till kick off at 9am. Happily we bumped into Craig and Adam at the start line. It was warm enough not to have to wear an extra layer over vests. I was yawning nervously and had no idea how the race would go. I felt medium confident and knew I'd most likely hit somewhere in the twenty minute sweep between 2.50 and 3.10, but where exactly? And how would I fare compared to Craig, Stuart and Nick? I'd already had a word with myself that it could easily be fourth out of 4 - we are all very close in ability and I was already bracing myself for a gubbing.

We were set off at 9am and it was very comfortable for the first 5 miles (33.22). The plan was to go no faster than 6.30pace and I noticed 6.40 on the Suunto more than any other number. I ran alongside Nick for about 9 miles until he started to drift ahead. I didn't want to push the pace and could still see him. Ten miles in 66mins. Stuart came along a few miles later and said he was surprised we could see Nick up ahead. Of the 4 of us I would have put money on Nick doing the fastest time, although Stuart has form on pulling one out the bag on race day, and had been far too smiley when we met him first thing. (I was just yawning and complaining about the early start.)

Gradually Stuart pulled ahead. The course was as flat as advertised and seemed to just run round residential districts on the South side of Manchester. It was neither inspiring nor depressing. The flat course and nearly ideal weather (overcast, not really any wind) meant no excuses for anything other than an optimum time. And yet by the time I got to half way (1.28) I could have happily stepped off the course and got a taxi back to Edinburgh. A gradual ache descends and although I had no issues, no suddenly tight legs, no stomach problems, I was bathed in the unpleasant experience of running just slightly faster than comfortable and for no good reason. Other than ticking the sub3 marathon box. I have generally stopped entering races that I am not excited about. This being an exception. I almost always do better in events which I am looking forward to. If I had taken my camera I doubt I would have taken more than a handful of photos. It was just not thrilling in any way and maybe that is the problem. More just a long and (for the second half) unpleasant slog. However having signed up I gave it my best shot.

I took my paracetamols about halfway, or maybe even earlier. Washed down with a swig of caffeine juice I was carrying in a soft flask in my multi-pocketed RonHill shorts, which also held 3 gels. All the eating/drinking/doping went well. I didn't run out of fuel and didn't rely on any of the gels provided at water stations. The painkillers seemed to lift a bit of the general ache and the discomfort of miles 14 ~ 18 lifted slightly for the last 8 miles although I slowed horribly in the last 2.

Around 17 miles Craig came past. I asked how he was doing and he said FOCUSSED in a very focussed way, looking strong in such a convincing way I straightened my shoulders and ran alongside getting a contact revamp just from his positive attitude. Just before 18 we came up to Nick who was looking less than fresh. There was little to be said. Me: hurty hurty! Nick: Burst! We went past Nick but I had to drift off the back of Craig and watch him disappear into the crowd ahead. I wondered if he would catch Stuart.

Each and every mile from that point on was a hard fight. I went through 20 at 2hrs15 which left me a 45minute 10k and that was possible but cutting it fine. Especially as I felt like shit and like stopping and having a beer. I knew my endurance was good but I was so unused to running on tarmac at this pace that I was in a battle with my aching calves as to who would break first. The Suunto doesn't report last mile pace immediately after running one like Garmins, so it was only on getting home I could see the first mile to slow to 7 min miling was 19. From then on most miles were low 7.10s~7.20s with only the last couple dropping to 7.30ish. All thing considered I didn't do any massive fuck ups. 

Then to my surprise, was it mile 22? I caught up with Craig again. He had lost the focus and was now on the descent into hell. I touched his arm quietly as I went past seeing his pain and said something, maybe stick in there Craig, or similar. I felt I had a small shot at sub3 but that his chances were gone. Every mile now seemed to be taking 15 minutes and any slight rises became killer hills. They were no more than fly-overs and the like but required huge effort not to slow to a jog. I was fairly sure the sub 3 was off then I went through 25 miles at the back end of 2.50, just into 2.51. Hang on I can do 1.2 miles in under nine minutes. It's back on! I tried to lift the pace and everything swirled about. OK don't push, just ease into it and keep going. 

race day

The problem was I was working from my gps which was recording the miles about a hundred to two hundred yards before the race course signage announced the same mile. As I waded through that last mile point 2, I realised I may go through my Suunto marathon sub3, but not be finished the actual course. Which is exactly what happened. I could see the finish way ahead down a long lonnnnnng straight road. I looked down to see my wristwatch turn over 3 hrs. But I was in so much pain I no longer gave a hoot about doing sub3. I was just extremely glad to be finished and that I could now go and have a lie down. For a while I had been looking forwards to the beers, but now I was just wanting to get back to the hotel and shower and flake out on the bed. Utterly spent. One of the marshals after the finish line asked was I ok in a way that suggested I was just inches from medical attention. It took a while to retrieve myself and my legs weren't sure what they wanted - to sit down or walk off the aches.

I met Stuart (2.58 hurray!) and Craig (3.03 sad emoji) and Nick (3.05 sad and a bit hacked off emoji) and we got free (non alcoholic) beers. That was prob the ideal drink and it did taste REALLY welcome. I can't remember ever having use for a non-alcoholic beer before but that one really hit the spot. Mind you it was presented at the absolute optimum moment, and I think I would have scoofed down any drink with complete relish.

goody bag contents - pretty decent quality!

Nick and I met Jo who had been cheering at the finish line and I limped back to the hotel. (I'd never have found it on my own, so it was excellent having Nick as guide all weekend.) I hosed myself down in the great shower in the hotel for possibly 30 mins, then lay on the bed unable to sleep as the caffeine and my twitching legs kept me awake and restless. Eventually threw in the towel and went with Nick and Jo to the Hay's hotel where proper beers were drunk. It was good to see the stupid grin on Stuart's face and I was very pleased for him after a difficult 6 months with a broken foot and no running etc. Unfortunately Anne hadn't fared so well, stopping to puke and then finishing considerably slower than she was aiming for. She still looked a bit wobbly in the hotel bar but rallied as the evening went on. The plan was to go for an Indian meal. Hurray! Curry and beer. Things were defo on the improve.

Manchester does large iconic stuff well and this giant sculpture (Sky Hooks by Brian Fell) was a successful reminder of the city's industrial past. It is mirrored on the other side of the building by an identical twin.

Gary did a 37min pb and was over the moon!

tram into town

I was just taking random pics out the tram at the city and caught these 2 kissing!

Now just in case I don't do another TB run this month (I could be struck by lightening) this (above) is the war memorial. We prob did 2 or 3 miles prior to the race (walking and running to the start) and at least that afterwards and walking through the city. So technically Nick and I have done April's Tyncastle Bronze. But haven't actually got the stats on the gps so I'll let it go as I'll most likely do another one later.

I really enjoyed looking at the mish mash of proper old brick and stone buildings among the new glass and steel jobs going up all over. It seemed a vibrant place and fairly friendly. I'm not sure if it was just the sun being out, the relief of surviving the race or the good vibes, but my impressions of Manchester, its trams and people were all very positive.

Indian meal was excellent.
Good hot curry and "lady" (peshwari) nans

thanks Nick for taking photo

Gary celebrating his 37min PB
I was so knackered I was more interested in heading back early than partying. I think I started the day a little short of sleep and really spent myself utterly during the race. Great to get back and flake out. Next day, Monday, we went first to Manchester Art Gallery and then back round the Imperial War Museum (Jo missed out first visit) before heading up the road. 

Imperial War Museum poster
(I thought of my pal Douggie when I saw this.)

Plane Spotter's Guide

the mobike (1000 public use bikes in Manchester)
airless tyres, and shaft drive (no chain) make these (4 year) maintenance free 

photo: Nick

he is great

After a bit of wandering we found the Manchester Art Gallery. A really good mix of old brown jobs and more interesting newer stuff and some contemporary work. 

A bit unfair to post this Annie Swynnerton. Most of her work is far more accurate and impressive than this louche anatomically dubious portrait. But there was something amusing about the cartoonish flexibility of this cad that caught the eye.

Also amusing to see a Banksy, very incongruous alongside old masters.
As Charlie Brooker said "his work looks brilliantly clever to idiots."

the Scapegoat by William Holman Hunt

This used to be shown to us regularly as young art students and the reproductions were always a little wonky due to the colours and large tonal range of the painting. I never paid much attention then so can't tell you what it is supposed to mean or be or portray, but interesting to see in real life. Something old testament about the goat being cast out for our sins. Never understood that either.

Also by Holman Hunt and far more interesting is this rural idyll which is of course about the church(!?) I thought it might be about a hireling shepherd with outstanding eyelashes trying to chat up a pretty maiden by imparting his knowledge of lepidoptera. (You had me at Small Tortoiseshell) I seem to remember an art historian saying the Deaths Head Hawk Moth (which is in the blokes hand) is a memento mori, a reminder of death and as such he is possibly saying we are only on this planet for such a short span blah blah blah get yer drawers off. (To paraphrase.) In the panel next to the painting it recounts how the Hireling Shepherd in the Bible story doesn't care for the flock the way the true shepherd does. This being a metaphor for the clergy of the time neglecting pastoral duties for more high-flown ideals. The sheep behind are wandering into the corn and will become "blown". Methinks the hireling shepherd hopes they aren't the only ones.

his eyelashes, her indifference

Now I was very pleased to find myself looking at Hylas and the Nymphs by JW Waterhouse. There was a fair bit of controversy about this, slightly erroneously reported at the time by the press. The gallery had removed this temporarily on the back of the #metoo campaign and Presidents Club stooshie. Or that's what I heard. Beside the painting it says it was removed as part of an art idea / debate by visiting artist, the marvelously talent-free Sonia Boyce who has work upstairs. So as a project to encourage debate and chit chat she and the gallery removed the Waterhouse I think because they felt it displayed an anachronistic attitude towards sexuality and by default abuse of the young nymphs in the painting.

To my mind this is a steaming pile of turd-thought. I could not believe the gallery had actually done the equivalent of book burning or censorship in respect to this highly regarded work. I think it underlines the paucity of intelligent consideration of Sonia Boyce (and those who removed the work) that she embarked on a plainly ill-considered venture, unless it was along the lines of any publicity is good publicity, as a stunt to deliberately generate outrage and flak. I have skimmed through the many dozens of responses on the gallery website to this "debate" and I have yet to see one that even slightly commends the action. Every one is totally against this ridiculous and blinkered act of idiocy and time after time they express outrage and disbelief. To save you scrolling through the thousands of unhappy punters here is a concise example of what most of them have to say.

"What a fantastic response to this disgusting act of censorship!
How could the directors of the Manchester Art Gallery allow the removal of one of their most popular paintings just to placate the sensitivities of a small, but highly vocal, minority?
The only thing that should be removed from the gallery are those responsible for this absurd decision."

And that is without even contemplating the subject matter of the painting itself. Hylas (of Jason and the Argonauts fame,) went off to look for fresh water. He found the nymphs who lured him into the water (if you watched the Coen Bros, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, this may seem familiar) and he was never seen again. So really the only abuse here is the murder of Hylas. Now it could be argued there is a prurience in the ogling of semi naked youthful female forms, and for sure that would have been an element of the original intention, although I would put it that it was an appreciation of, rather than a creepy thigh rubbing drooling over, but you know Sonia and her gang have their ideas and I haven't really seen their manifesto about this. The gallery are interpreting the response of the outraged public as "fantastic" and "incredible" which is an optimistic view given they were largely calling for Sonia and all responsible with their fatuous ideas to be booted out the gallery pronto. Loving them trying to turn a fiasco into a visitor attraction. I can't see them repeating the process though. (And for what it's worth, the painting is fine in my opinion, but I would probably have paid it little more attention than most others in same room.)

This Gormley is great here although it is such a good spot you could almost improve anything hanging it in this atrium between galleries.

the man himself on another occasion

This being Manchester of course there has to be a few Lowries. They were smaller in real life than I was expecting. I really like some of his stuff and greatly admire his ability to do an obscure thing (like paint all the pavements and roads white) and have you buy into it without question. And he is great at capturing small characters and stuff. And yet quite a few of his pics do nothing for me at all, or are (to me) really quite poor. Just saying. But mostly, thumbs up! 

fat bastid

Up on the top floor of the gallery was far too large an area set aside for the aforementioned Sonia Boyce who had photos and video that failed to engage my attention on just about any level. I couldn't see anything of value in what she had presented and it didn't pull me in sufficiently to bother to work out what might be going on. Split screen video of person on stilts in mansion house gardens. In my head all I could hear was the NO buzzer noise from Family Fortunes UH UHHH. Given there was far more going on visually in other areas I left without giving her a much of a chance, but it looked pretty lame from where I was standing. (At this point I was unaware of her involvement in the Waterhouse painting removal.) I asked Jo if she got anything out of the video as she had lasted longer than I did. She said "emperors new clothes" which was weirdly predictive as we turned the corner into a smaller area of South Asia Design and included rich and beautiful costumes that looked like they might have been worn by an emperor. There were some contemporary artworks as well as traditional items from the galleries Historic Collections spanning 3 centuries. A mixed bag but some intriguing items and defo more fun than Sonia whatsherface.

This was an astonishing piece by Dhruva Mistry. The gold skull represents the end of earthly life and the gold winged figure on its shoulder the spirit continuing its journey beyond that.

homeless tented area by the canals

There was chat about the number of miles of canals in Manchester vs Venice. I think the original comparison might have been Birmingham but in fact both cities exceed Venice's 26miles. Well if you count the Manchester Ship Canal at 36 miles. 

While Jo was doing the Imperial War Museum I did a quick once round the Syria Exhibition currently running there. I was a bit culturally over-fed and couldn't really take on board the complex situation and political history of the place, feeling if people for whatever reasons wanted to fuck the place into oblivion, as they seem to want to do, I didn't really want any part of it and they, and their foolish warmongering, were welcome to it. Here is the closest I came to any smidge of reliable information and summary.....

Gerry Judah's The Crusader
This enormous sculpture at the entrance does a very coherent and powerful job of describing the destructive and explosive nature of war.

So in summary. Good marathon? Well yes, I'd give Manchester a thumbs up. I work better (faster) on flat stuff even though I prefer hills, trails, views and running off road. It was good organisation and the correct distance. (They have had problems in the past.) I liked the city, what little I saw of it and it was a good weekend. I probably won't run it again but move onto some other marathon at which to torture myself. I would have preferred to go under 3 hrs but hey ho it could have been a LOT worse. Usually I have the feeling I won't ever do another marathon when I finish one, but this time I almost feel it was so close I just have to lose a few pounds (do a better taper) and go do another but 5 mins faster. But maybe that will pass. The pic below is the Suunto reading at 26.2 showing the time is sub 3. Big thanks to Nick for being a brilliant chauffeur, tour guide and looking after me all weekend. I know he has a MUCH faster marathon in him and was surprised we didn't see it this time.

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