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Manchester Marathon 2021 - Anastasia Chew

This is my first marathon report. The story starts in 2017 when I was not a very seasoned runner, and, post-second baby I joined the Harriers to lose the baby weight. Whilst I was pregnant my husband had entered me for the London marathon, and amazingly I had a ballot place, so the pressure was on! Unfortunately, I developed a groin strain so deferred my place for one year. Not a big issue.

By the next January I was very much a Hoopster; loving track and long runs, taking part in cross country, summer league and getting a hang of the running terminology. Word on the track was a marathon training plan would offer amazing results, so myself and fellow Hoopster Jenny Humphreys set about following the beginners Hanson’s marathon plan. With mileage up to 50 miles a week, this was a big undertaking with two small people at home, but we stuck with it.

In March 2018, 4 weeks before the marathon I was crossing a pedestrian crossing on Finchley Road, just south of Golders Hill Park. Unfortunately, I met with a car, driven by an 83-year-old woman who was somewhat preoccupied with getting to dinner with her family, who took me out on the crossing. As I was carted off in a blue light ambulance my first thought was ‘I can still run the marathon though’.

Four days later I was discharged from St Mary’s with a fractured tib/fib in a cast, an MCL tear, a small pneumo thorax and a fractured scaphoid. I couldn’t walk upstairs or shower independently. Safe to say the marathon was no longer in the calendar. The London marathon team would not let me defer again, and it was a very tearful me who waved my husband off for the start line that year.

A lovely bunch of Hoops sent me a beautiful bunch of flowers as a ‘sorry you’re not running gift’ but as runners know, I’d have happily swapped 15 bunches of flowers for my race bib. My mental health took a serious battering over the next few months; deprived of my best endorphin boost and ‘headspace’ time, plus minimal social opportunities really took its toll.

Six months of arduous rehab, multiple surgeries and a family bereavement involving the loss of my beloved father-in-law, I was almost ready to run a 5k again. I remember walk-running parkrun with tears of frustration at the ongoing pain in my knee and my general lack of fitness. Then, delightedly, we found out I was pregnant again so the fitness took an inevitable dip.

December 2019, 7 months after my third son was born and I get back on the marathon challenge. I sign up for Manchester on the advice of Gildas (‘of course you can do it. Just get on with it’) and start training. Everyone knows what happens next. I spent the next 18 months thoroughly enjoying lockdown running; either alone, with my best running buddy Jenny Humphreys or as part of Tim Lewin’s genius Strava art group. As a doctor working in the NHS, the mental health benefits of this were incalculable. I completed the North Downs Way in May 2021, and thereby setting my marathon ‘PB’ at 5 hours and 5 minutes.

Now, time to get back to actual marathon training. This time, to avoid all the niggles I’d been plagued by before I religiously did my yoga, reformer Pilates, pelvic floor exercises and stuck (sort of) to my training plan. I even stopped cycling to work in the last week so as not to be hit by any cars. By the time the taper rolled around I was trying to decide whether to go for a straight sub 4 (3.59.59) or be a bit more ambitious. Lunch with coach Gildas persuaded me to be bold and aim for 3.50.

The night before the marathon in Manchester two out of my three kids were vomiting, one got himself soaked in the Piccadilly gardens fountains and I was wondering if I could check into a different hotel overnight and leave my husband to it. Porridge down, coffee down, energy chews and tissues packed. Tram to Old Trafford and off to the start line. Lining up, the woman wearing a tutu and sparkling unicorn headwear in front had ‘BQ 3.27’ tattooed to her leg. I wondered if I was in the wrong start pen.

The first two miles felt boring; something I never expected to feel. I managed (just about) to not go out too fast, listening to the imaginary voice of Susan Kennedy in my head. The weather was perfect, and I got a bit of sightseeing in of the city centre. Big waves from the (now recovered) kids at miles 4 and 6 and I was feeling good. By halfway, I was on track for 3.50 but was a little worried I wouldn’t keep it up and do a dreaded positive split. Messages from my ‘sub 4 hour’ whatsapp group from 2018 were coming in, they were trying to track me, which reminded me who was watching me and rooting for me to stick with it! Something strange happened at mile 14 and I kicked up a gear, increasing my pace and overtaking plenty of other runners. Mile 22 was bizarrely my fastest, probably spurred on by further family spots, fellow Hoopsters Eleanor and Tom, and the kids choir in Altrincham.

The final 5k was tough and my pace dropped for the first time, but still at a comfortable sub 4 pace. All the dinosaur and dog Strava art was paying off. As everyone says the final part is all mental; and I forced myself not to stop or walk. The fear of not being able to start again if I did stop drove me on. I crossed the finish line in 3.46.33 and could not have been happier. My husband was delighted that all my training was finished, and that he could finally get a Sunday morning lie in.

So thank you to everyone who got me here - every Hoop who signed a card, sent a message or contributed to flowers when I couldn’t walk 3 steps, who got me drawing copulating animals on Strava, who yelled at me on track to go faster, or who was simply there at 6.45 am so I couldn’t duck out of a 10k, and got me back to here.


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