Chris O'Brien gives his all in the Manchester Marathon

It was the ultimate test for Chris O’Brien when he lined up for the Manchester Marathon, looking to overcome his Long Covid affliction

Battling the effects of Long Covid has been something Chris O’Brien has had to become accustomed to for about a year and three quarters now but that doesn’t make it any easier. The impact it has on his chest and lungs make it very difficult, if not impossible for him to run at his absolute max and he has to really stay in a zone that his body can comfortably cope with aerobically. It’s very frustrating for Chris as he wants to go faster and feels that he can, but his body just won’t allow him.

It hasn’t stopped him running though and he’s still been determined to set himself targets and then go out there and achieve them. Last year he did the Larmer 20 in March which is a very tough trail race on hugely hill terrain. He then completed the Run to the Sea 50k in October, showing that his endurance was very much still there. It was just really the top end speed he was struggling with.

His most recent race was the Fleet Half Marathon which he did pretty well in, getting round in 1:28:44. Could he produce a good marathon though or would the effects of Long Covid scupper his chances? That was the big question when he lined up alongside over 18,500 others for the Manchester Marathon.

The Manchester Marathon had seen some top quality performances from Bournemouth AC members over recent years. Ant Clark did it in 2:28:34 last year and Sanjai Sharma finished 10th in the MV60 category with his time of 3:09:50. In 2019, Craig Palmer got round in 2:27:18 and Ant finished first in the MV40 category with a time of 2:29:33. Steve Way also ran it that year completing the course in 2:30:08.

Chris had ran it before, back in 2017 and he recorded a time of 3:00:29 that day, narrowly missing out on a sub three. He then went on to achieve that sub three later in the year at Abingdon, registering a time of 2:59:04.

Due to way his Long Covid condition inhibits him, Chris hadn’t been able to do any high intensity internal sessions before the marathon this time round and was relying purely on easy runs and marathon paced tempo runs to get him in shape for the event.

For the first 10k, Chris was going really well and was actually hitting sub three marathon pace. He went through the chip matt in 42:47, which was a very promising start. His pace dropped a touch after that but he was still going at just over 7 minutes per mile, or sometimes slightly quicker that 7 minutes per mile, up to the half marathon point.

Chris O'Brien in the Manchester Marathon

Chris got off to a great start and was running well for the first 10k

Going through half way in 1:31:21, it was a decent run from Chris thus far. One of the major effects that Long Covid has on him though is that it can suddenly “switch off” his pace. So he can be running along well, feeling relatively easy whilst still going at a decent pace. Then the next minute, he’ll have absolutely nothing and just has to cruise along.

It’s a bit like when a car goes into ‘limp mode’. His speed is reduced and there’s nothing he can do about it except go along with it an hope that it comes back. Sometimes it does, like it did for him at the Wimborne 10 when he had a brilliant run. Other times it doesn’t come back.

This is what happened to him at Manchester. From around the half way point his pace started dropping although he wasn’t feeling particularly tired. He managed to stay under 7:30 pace up to the 21st mile, going through 30k in 2:12:50.

Although he was still feeling fine though, his pace began to plunder and he just couldn’t pick it up. It was really frustrating for him watching other runners go past him and there was nothing he could do to respond. There was no ‘digging in’ option as the effort level just wasn’t there. It was a strange experience but one that Chris is sadly getting used to.

Chris O'Brien heads along the road in the Manchester Marathon

Chris running alongside Ruth Churchill of Winchester and District

For the last four miles he was over 8 minutes per mile and the culminated in him reaching the finish line in a time of 3:13:21. That put him in 2,132nd place overall and 117th out of 1,153 in the MV50 category.

Given the problems he was having, that was actually a remarkable time when you put into perspective. It may not have quite been the performance he was looking for but it was still a good achievement for Chris and he knows there was nothing he could have really done to improve on it.

By the end of the race he was very fatigued and his chest has been sore ever since so he knows that it was Long Covid that was the issue. He was back out doing efforts a couple of days later and his legs were fine, but his breathing was still painful.

At the end of the day though, he’d run a marathon and had to be grateful in some ways that he was still able to do that as for many folk with that condition it just wouldn’t have been possible.

Chris O'Brien after the Manchester Marathon

Chris came away with a time of 3:13:21 which wasn’t bad given the issues he’s been having

Ignas Brasevicius of Millions Steps was the winner of the race, getting round in 2:16:27, with Kieran Walker of North East Project taking the runner up spot in 2:17:30. Reading Half Marathon winner Ollie Lockley of Leeds City claimed 3rd place in a time of 2:20:47.

Naomi Mitchell of Reading AC was first female, crossing the line in 2:31:27 which put her in 25th place overall.

Alastair Pickburn of New Forest Runners finished 79th in a time of 2:37:49 and Twemlow Track Club man Steven Rigby managed a superb PB of 2:37:52. That was his first time under 2:40.

Also getting in in under 2:40 was Steven Rigby’s teammate Steve Cook who had an astonishing run to reach the line in 2:39:06. That was a massive improvement for four-and-a-half minutes over his previous best and put him 2nd in the MV50 category. Although he’d worked super hard in training and it was clear he was in great shape, the time he produced still surprised many the Dorset running scene.

Malin Starfelt of Runacademy IF was 2nd female, crossing the line in 2:36:44 which put her in 61st place overall. Georgie Bruinvels of Aldershot Farnham & District was 3rd woman and 93rd overall in 2:38:22.

Although it’s a frustrating position to be in, not being able to run freely at a high intensity like he could before, Chris is not prepared to throw the towel in. He vows to carry on trying different things in training in order to keep improving and hopefully, in time, his condition will get better. One thing is for sure though and that’s that when it comes to character and determination to overcome adversity, Chris is a true champion.