I proposed to my girlfriend at the Manchester Marathon finish line and the first thing she said wasn't 'yes'

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Tracey Else got a big surprise at the finish line from partner Craig Freestone.

There are a few things you might expect after completing a marathon. A drink of water, waves of applause from spectators cheering you over the finish line, and collecting a well-earned medal. Yet for Tracey Else, there was a surprise waiting for her at the end of the 2024 Manchester Marathon. 

Struggling after the 26-mile effort - her third in Manchester and ninth overall - she cleared her head enough to see boyfriend Craig Freestone get down on one knee and propose to her at the end of the race.

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“I had got my nutrition wrong so it had been a struggle from 16 miles onwards,” Tracey told Manchester World. “So my head was a little frazzled.  I was moving around a bit and wanting to hold onto the barrier as I had come to an immediate stop.  He was telling me to ‘stand still for a moment’.

 Craig Freestone proposes to partner Tracey at the finish line Craig Freestone proposes to partner Tracey at the finish line
Craig Freestone proposes to partner Tracey at the finish line | Manchester Marathon

“I couldn't quite fathom why he and our club mates were right there on the finish line because you normally get funnelled straight through.  Once he got down on one knee I think my brain did then click in and I was trying hard to listen to what he was saying.  It was lovely what he had to say and of course I said ‘yes’.”

Craig, who had just finished his second Manchester Marathon and fourth in total, feared he wouldn’t get his big moment which had been a few weeks in the planning with the support of organisers. Support staff - quite understandably - nearly scuppered his plan when they went to his new fiancé's aid.

“We were waiting at the finish line and when she came across the finish line, because she was tired and she almost collapsed coming through, I got her to stand up,” he said. “She then went a bit wobbly and the medics came over and said they would take her over to the first aid tent.

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“I then said ‘no, no, she just needs to stand up straight for a second’, and of course the medics didn’t know what was going on.  She stood up and when I went down onto one knee she seemed to sober up a bit. I think it sunk in a bit then, and she brought herself around.

“There were a few cheers at the finish line as we had some friends there at the end.  I was zoned into it being me and her, I wasn’t really aware of anything else going on around us.”  

Tracey accepted, but ‘yes’ wasn’t the first thing that came out of her mouth, according to Craig.

“When we were having talks about proposals, Tracey said to me that I had to ask her sons’ permission first,” he said. “This was old school style, I had to ask her dad too.  After I went down on one knee the first thing she said was ‘have you asked my dad?’ I said yes and then we hugged and everything and I said, ‘is that a yes then?’ This was a quirk that made it so good.” 

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Tracey added: “We have been together three years and so we have chatted about future plans. I had said that if we were ever to marry I would need the blessing of my dad and both my boys.  He had asked them and all of them had kept it secret from me.  Although, I don't think they quite knew all the details as to when and how either.”

Craig Freestone proposes at the finish lineCraig Freestone proposes at the finish line
Craig Freestone proposes at the finish line | Manchester Marathon

The couple have been living together from the last two years and Craig, from Wisbech, Cambridgeshire, believes the pre-proposal nerves helped him completed the 26-mile course that saw 32,000 people start and end in Trafford.

“It had been on my mind all week, but then I was thinking I’d end up thinking about it more whilst running and it might help to take my mind off the run,” he said. “We both went into it to see if we could get a good time.

“Tracey went into the race having done the complete training plan, so I was worried that if she didn’t do as well as she’d hoped she might have been upset about that at the end, or if she does really well and is ecstatic and doesn’t know what's going on with the engagement because she just got a new personal best. 

“It was still in my head to get the race done and do as well as I could, but I was still thinking about the ‘what if’s’ and ‘what could happen’ at the end with the proposal.”

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