Liverpool marathon – my first DNF

Well it’s been a couple of weeks since my Liverpool Marathon experience. As with all of my more personal posts, I decided to sit on this one for a while. Sometimes a raw-emotion post works, but for me I prefer to reflect on things first.

Liverpool Marathon background

To fill in a few gaps; I’d not intended to train for a spring marathon as, since 2014, I’ve ended up injured with various different bodily breakdowns. However I did pencil in White Peak Trail Marathon as something low-key to work towards.

I trained with my group at Stockport Harriers and things were going really well. I threw in Wrexham Marathon in March and smashed a new PB of 3:17:26. A great time, and tantalisingly close to my GFA target of 3:15:00.

The problem is that for a GFA to count, it has to be a road marathon, which White Peak was not. At the end of April, I managed to swap my White Peak entry to a fellow Harrier (who, coincidentally, won the marathon!) and entered Liverpool Marathon. I’d entered Liverpool in 2016, but the bursitis ruled me out.

I finished my last 20 miler and a few days later discovered my old piriformis injury had reared it’s ugly head again. All the advice was to rest and after 3 weeks it was a lot better.

Unfortunately, a holiday-cover dog-walk through work resulted in a very painful twisting in my lower back where the dog had managed to pull on the injured area and it gave way.

As such, with only a couple of days before the marathon, I’d been patched up. And whilst my physio was optimistic that all would be fine, it was, in retrospect, quite a big ask.

Arriving in Liverpool

On the day of the race, despite having felt fine the day before, my left side felt like a slab of lead. Nothing hurt as such, but it felt heavy. A fellow runner had offered a lift which, given the risk of me breaking myself being quite high, I grabbed with open arms.

In the Liverpool Marathon baggage queue

I worked in Liverpool shortly after I left University. However, in the 18 years since I moved away, Liverpool has changed a lot. However, it was easy enough to head towards the event epicentre, which was based in and around the Liverpool Echo Arena on the Waterfront.

As we approached, we were met with a sea of people. I don’t think I’ve ever participated in an event of this size before. And for someone who doesn’t like a crowd, it was rather overwhelming. I mean, everything was set up as per any other race I’d done; it was just on a different order of magnitude.

Liverpool Marathon event village

We joined what appeared to be a huge queue for the toilets, although this was managed so slickly that we were through in no time. My friend was running in the half marathon which started at 9am, an hour before my marathon start time.

However there were a few complications. With the terror event in Manchester the previous week, the baggage drop-off area was being screened far more closely than had been allowed for by most people. As such we joined an epic queue which lasted beyond the allotted start time of the HM. As it happens this race was delayed by about 20 minutes, just so everyone could get through. TO be honest, the queue moved very fast and the organisation inside the ‘village’ was spot on. I collected my T-Shirt and dropped off my bag, saying goodbye to my friend as she went to start her race.

And we’re off

I walked up to Corral 1 which was my starting group and at this point I realised that actually, I wasn’t stood that far behind the elites! How did this happen? Oh well! I saw another Stockport Harrier and found the 3:15 pacers with whom I planned on sticking with. They discussed tactics and that they’d stick to a fixed pace for the 3:15 time and this was my intention anyway. The first half of the route is more challenging with practically all the elevation gain coming prior to mile 14. So if I was on time at that point, it would just be a case of clocking up the remaining 12 flat miles.

With another Stockport Harrier

I did a few more warm-up moves and my leg remained unconvinced. My hope was that as I got moving that things would warm up and it would at least be manageable.

Due to the later start of the HM race, the Marathon was also delayed slightly, by 15 minutes. There was plenty of music and chat from the starters. Everyone just chilled out. And then we were off.

The first section of the marathon snaked it’s way from the Waterfront into the financial end of the city – past the building I used to work in (which is now a Travelodge!) and off to China Town. What was slightly flummoxing was that the 3:15 pacers went out like greyhounds! Clearly I’d misinterpreted their gameplan as they were significantly faster than the 7:26 min/miles required for a 3:15 projected time. I found myself at roughly 7:05 min/miles to begin with, and they were way faster. Unfazed, I just settled into the pace I knew I wanted to do. The leg was achey, but OK.

Scenery & the City

Having done the City we headed out over the flyover and off into the wider Liverpool area. It was all major roads to begin with and a steady uphill which was as expected. Our first major venue to visit was Goodison Park, the home of Everton Football Club. All the way to the stadium there was plenty of local support which was great. And live music on a regular basis. My pace was now settling into the pattern I wanted; 7:20 min/miles. Slow enough to not burn out (as I did in Wrexham) but with a small margin built in.

Coming away from Goodison, I saw another Harrier further back and ‘hellos’ were exchanged across a wide road! The route continued off into Stanley Park which was mostly uphill before heading to Anfield, the home of Liverpool FC. All through this time I was conscious of my leg, but it was doing OK, and despite the general uphill trend, the mile splits were exactly where I wanted them.

It was as we were tackling the first of the long hills that things started to deteriorate. My left hip/buttock started to ache. Nothing serious to begin with, but it was definitely getting worse. I persevered as the uphill  changed to flat and then down and then we were treated to a fabulous panoramic view over the whole city.

Returning to Liverpool

From here we started the descent. And whilst it was a welcome change, I increasingly found it harder to move; the hip was beginning to hurt and I realised that it may be an early bath if things kept going this way. In fact, by mile 8 I was in mild pain. I’d consciously avoided painkillers for the run simply because I think it’s a very bad idea; if you’re masking the signals your body is sending to say things aren’t right, things are probably not going to end well.

I came up with a plan. The route loops back into Liverpool and across the road from the Waterfront start at about miles 10-11. I would keep going as I’d be heading in the right direction and if things weren’t so good by then, it would literally be a walk across the road to get back to the start.

Running up Matthew Street was really good fun and it was hugely supported. This is great in one way, but when you’re really really sore, it becomes a big effort to try to mask the pain, which was becoming a problem by this point. In fact when I got back to the Waterfront I did stop and tried a stretch. But it was clear that things weren’t going to magically fix themselves. I pushed on a little further, but as the route then turned at 90 degrees away from the Waterfront, I realised I had to make a decision.

The decision

Over that last mile, I’d lost about a minute due to having to stop and stretch. Ahead of me was over 15 more miles. I started to think through what I was doing and what I was trying to achieve. The purpose of the entry was to get GFA. The reality was that if things were going to continue to hurt more and more, that magical time wasn’t going to happen. So it would be a run to prove I could complete the distance. Now, I’ve run 5 organised marathons plus a couple of ‘non-event’ marathons, so I know I can do the distance. Today I could keep going but it would probably deteriorate into walking before long. Not my idea of fun for 15 miles! And whilst I could drag my body to the end, I’d probably end up causing untold amounts of damage and write off a lot of time as a result. But for what purpose? Sure, a couple of miles and it would be a grin-and-bear-it effort. But doing this for another 2 hours (assuming I maintained the pace I wanted)……

So I took a deep breath, and hit ‘stop’ on my Garmin. That was it. My first DNF. But in reality the decision was a no-brainer; there was no sensible reason to push on and plenty of them to stop. A few marshals tried to persuade me otherwise, but ultimately I knew my body would not thank me for destroying it. And I’d be gutted to be out any longer than I had to.

Return to the event village

To be honest, it was at this point where the slick organisation of the marathon festival descended into the realms of farce. I found an official to advise that I’d dropped out, and she looked at me as if I’d dropped out of a spaceship and was babbling in another language. That said, she took a note of my number and said she’d inform ‘timing’. I was told to report to first aid, although I wasn’t sure what this was going to achieve; I just figured it was probably some agreed process.

Except that none of the marshals I spoke to seemed to be able to point me in the right direction. Nobody was really sure where first aid was and I was left scrambling through the crowd of the music festival which was getting started as most of the HM runners had finished by this point. When I finally found it, the St Johns people seemed pretty unsure what to do. I diagnosed the problem for them and then left to try to find my friend. So that wasn’t entirely satisfactory; I ended up walking about a quarter of a mile on a leg/hip that was screaming at me when I really didn’t need to. Deeply unimpressed by that as well.

And away again

The advantage of finishing early was that we managed to get away from Liverpool ahead of the mass exodus. My leg was happier not to be stood on, although getting out of the car once we got back to Stockport was something of an inelegant challenge. That alone confirmed that I had done the right thing. Perhaps it’s the first time I’ve taken the sensible way out in a running situation. And I have no regrets.

Hopefully the issue, which remains a piriformis problem will rectify itself soon. But in the meantime, it’s a diet of physio and strengthening exercises. Not fun, but hopefully it won’t be long before I’m back out. At least this year I made it to the start line at Liverpool Marathon. Perhaps next year I’ll cross the finish.

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