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MANCHESTER MARATHON 23rd SEPTEMBER 2001

Joe Quinn

This year's UK Civil Service Marathon Championships were held in conjunction with the Manchester Marathon on 23 September over a new 2 and a bit lap course (the "bit" as it turned out was a rise from 30 to 50 metres above sea level in the last 7K, what we call here "a brave lump of a climb") which has been designed for next year's Commonwealth Games marathon - in fact the entire day was a dress rehearsal for that event, even to having "Commonwealth Games 2002" printed on the runners numbers. Anybody want to buy a collector's item, going cheap?

Manchester was at first sight a disappointment - I mean for a city which has built its reputation on cold, relentless, driving rain capable of putting the fear of God into atheists, it was dry. Not just between showers dry but all weekend dry, not to mention mild and calm as well. Mancunians (are there Womancunians or should that be Personcunians?) are a friendly lot generally who have managed to develop passable imitations of Coronation Street accents, some good enough to get into the show, but nevertheless we managed to make ourselves understood.

The Ml Civil Service team this year consisted of Ray Murray, Barry Lowry, Marcus McAuley and Joe Quinn, referred to in whispers as 3 greyhounds and a mongrel (You choose. Sounds like a good title for a film though), who proceeded to eat their way round Manchester in a vain attempt to compensate for missed training sessions by overloading with carbohydrates, for which the slogan became "if it moves eat it", later replaced, intestmally speaking, by "if it moves pass it".

Marathon morning arrived early, at 5.40am to be precise, as with an 8.00am race start breakfast had to be consumed by 6.00am. The taxi arrived at 6.30am and the drive through the deserted streets certainly got the adrenaline going - we never used to call it that but I can't say s??t scared in this article - as the driver's philosophy was only to stop at every third set of lights irrespective of their colour, and we were impressed with the devotion to duty of the local tourist guides even at that ungodly hour when the driver pointed out one with the words "There's a young lady who could show you round a few corners". However we had a race to run - no time for sightseeing.

First thing, into the queue for the toilet inside the splendid Town Hall - one cubicle and two urinals for an anticipated 1500 runners - then out to join the queue for another toilet (yes Manchester water has this desire to be re-cycled and doesn't stay with you for long), 3 cubicles and 5 urinals this time, then a quick warm up and follow the flow of water upstream to find the "on street" urinals, which added much to the atmosphere of the morning. The start was delayed because of a hold up bussing competitors who had parked at the Finish area to the Start but after a One Minute Silence for the victims of the WTC attack we were off and running at 8.15am in ideal running conditions. The plan was for each to run at even pace to halfway depending on our individual overall targets and then to do it again for the second half. This worked very well and in fact enabled us to be up with the leaders on several occasions, although in truth they were on the opposite side of the carriageway several kilometres ahead at the time, but nevertheless it would have served as a warning to them that we were in lukewarm, if not exactly hot, pursuit.

Marcus led the team from the start followed closely by Ray with Barry and Joe running together tucked in somewhat unfortunately just behind a trio of hockey stick carrying St Trinian's girls. On closer inspection the sticks looked more attractive than the "girls"! The route passed three of Manchester's most famous landmarks, Manchester United Football Club (twice) and Old Trafford Cricket Ground. Signs on view on the former from Sir Matt Busby Way indicated that people pay £27 or £35 depending on which door they choose to enter, or is that the price of the doors?

The aforementioned gradient took its toll as tiredness set in through the final miles but in a storming finish Barry came through to break his target time of 3.30 in a PB of 3.28.59 (349th place) close behind his long time partner and fellow lecher Joe in 3.27.32 (331st). Meanwhile up ahead Marcus laid to rest his personal demons from his first marathon by storming home in 3.13.18 (209th) with Ray playing the captain's role to perfection in his 46th marathon to clock 3.17.24 (236th). A total of 1085 finished the race but more significantly the team claimed 3rd place in the Civil Service Team competition behind British Library and Inland Revenue, all the more noteworthy given the combined age of the team was 180 years!

Euphoria at crossing the line quickly disappeared when the distribution of water bottles seemed to be dictated by an "only 1 per finisher there are lots more runners out there" attitude which almost led to a change in the lady distributor's status from ministering to actual angel. Further joy awaited as, with the roads closed for the race, neither public transport nor taxis were allowed anywhere near the Finish at the Velodrome and the organisers had not seen fit to lay on shuttle buses to transport the scraps of humanity which crossed the finish line back to the City Centre. Imagine our appreciation of the 2 mile "warm down" walk back to central Manchester even though it was along the canal bank . Once there we hi-jacked a taxi to deliver us to showers and sleep at our hotel.

Later, refreshed and as supple as starch we descended gingerly on the local steak house for large quantities of food, though by a cruel quirk of fate the much looked forward to Chocolate Fudge Cake had all gone leaving Chocolate Rumpy Bumpy as the only alternative. In reality it proved somewhat inappropriately named but was nonetheless mind boggling in its anticipation.

Three abiding memories of the weekend - Barry's absolute delight at breaking the 3.30 barrier, Ray's reply to the waitress when she asked if he was having dessert on Saturday night ''No thanks but I'll definitely have a Spotted Dick to-morrow night after the marathon", and Marcus's reaction when the taxi driver taking us to the airport on Monday morning asked "Do you know the way to the airport, and do you mind if I stop and look at the map?"
But as this article proves, we got home!