Looking out of the bedroom at 5.45 a.m. this morning the trees were fairly still, it was dry and if conditions had remained that way then it would have been a good marathon running day. But the BBC WEATHER forecast for the Manchester area would have had to have been hopeless wrong to give the 8000 entered any hope of favourable conditions for today's GREATER MANCHESTER MARATHON.
I set off from Yorkshire at 7.00 am and the rain hit the windscreen as entered the red Rose country of Lancashire at 7.30. Put simply it then just became worse and worse as the day went on. Manchester duly lived up to its reputation for rain. And did it rain!
There seemed little doubt that all the plans and projections SALLY MALIR and I made in our prerace discussions on Thursday would be washed away on the rain soaked streets of South Manchester. Based on her times in a tough hilly half (Liversedge) and a tough hilly 20 (Spen 20) we decided that a target time 3:10 would be achievable and that would mean 7.15 pace per mile. Who knows perhaps a top 10 placing and possibly a category win as a bonus?
I met up with Sal minutes before the race and she peeled off her sodden "binliner" and sodden longsleeve and went up to take her place just behind the fast men. With the rain continuing to fall the field was still behind the line at 9.05 as announcements continued to be made. 5 minutes late, the very frustrated assembled masses left and sped out to complete a loop around Old Trafford before looping back and heading south into the Cheshire suburbs.
Meanwhile I shot down the Cheshire Ring canal to spot her at 6 and 8. She passed by looking easy and relaxed shoulder to shoulder with Jessica, a young Trafford A.C. runner. She was slightly up on time and was sharing 5th place. So far, so good. But it was early days.
I continued on south on the canal heading towards Altrincham. By this time despite wearing winter tights, a baselayer tee, a midlayer longsleeve and a Windstopper jacket I was getting decidedly chilled and pretty wet myself. Some compwtitors were just running in vests and shorts ....you can imagine!
At the 25K point the course dipped underneath the canal and I joined several other supporters taking shelter under the bridge. We stood shivering together as the runners bravely battled on by. The order of the ladies was as it had been at 8 miles. Jessica, the Trafford girl though had edged away from Sally who was now a distinct 5th.
She waved away my offer of a lightweight rainjacket to help her cope with the heavy rain and gales to come in those last 17K and ran out of sight. Still looking pretty strong and moving well.
With the canal towpath by now resembling a river, I decided to run back the longer way up the Chester Road;hopefully to pick up the action again at the 26 mile point. Dressed for winter running it was a tough slog back up towards Stretford and the finish.
Within minutes of reaching that point the first lady, REBECCA JOHNSON, Bellahouston, came by. then a second and a few minutes later young Jessicas emerged from the underpass with Sally just 60 metres or so behind in 4th. But young Jessica was wilting and wilting rapidly.
The gap shortened dramatically on the hill as Sally mounted a last late charge to gain a place "on the podium". I ran alongside for 100 metres or so, shouting her on like a mad man, but I could barely keep up! I lost sight as she peeled off into the finishing straight still in 4th but within seconds she had forged into 3rd place!
I looked at the finish clock and it was still reading under 3:12. But she was already well into the finish funnel. In torrential rain and high winds from 25K she only amazingly clocking 3:10.45.
Certainly suggests she is in shape to have run around 3:06/ 3;07.
It was a truly fine performance; a great reward for all her hard work in a campaign which began, not 12 weeks ago or 16 weeks ago but way back in October with the target being to run 18 miles by Christmas then REALLY focus on today.
She left the finishing funnel, tired, soaked through, cold but elated with her run.
It was then that it all could have gone so very, very wrong........and I fear for many it did......but more of that to follow!