Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Race report - MK marathon, 6th May 2013

If you've been following my blog lately, you'll already know that because of my disjointed training my strategy was to "get around somehow", rather than be too ambitious.  In the end I was pleased and surprised with the outcome.  Here's the story....

This is the second year I have entered the Milton Keynes (MK) Marathon as it's not too far from our home.  It is also a flat course, very well organised and quite scenic.  I know that "scenic" and Milton Keynes do not always naturally go together but it goes to show what can be achieved through good planning and negotiation with the Local Authorities.

My goal, my ambition

My time last year was 4:12 and I was hoping to get somewhere near that, although it has to be said, I was not feeling too confident.  My training hadn't gone to plan with fewer-than-ideal long runs and I'd a dose of flu that knocked me out for a couple of weeks at an important time.  So I was pleased when I got my result of 3:58:45 - not only beating last year's time but coming in just under the magic 4 hours. Apologies for being a bit self indulgent here!

Warm weather

We couldn't believe how fantastic the weather was looking.  A month ago we still had some snow lying around and it was bitterly cold.  Now we were enjoying some beautiful spring sunshine at my favourite time of year - what could be better?  It was fairly cool first thing and as lovely as it was, I planned for some high temperatures.  Sunblock, my lightest running top and well hydrated from the previous day.  When I started running a few years ago, I never seemed to know quite what to wear: partly wanting to blend in and appear a "proper runner".  Nowadays I couldn't care less - I wear what I think is right for me.  That paid off.  I think many other runners were overdressed and it became apparent later on (see below).

The pattern for starting was the normal approach - fast runners at the front, us slow coaches towards the back.  It is always a nice opportunity to chat to other runners and I found myself listening to a man (can't quite remember his name) who was 59 and had run 70 marathons.  Now that's something to take note of!  

We're off!

By courtesy of the Mayor of Milton Keynes, the starting horn blew and we just stood there and only inched forward after a few minutes - this is perfectly normal and with individual chip timing, it's perfectly okay and you're not disadvantaged.  Many runners were pressing buttons and fiddling with smart phones and Garmins.  Me, well I just had my £20 Timex analog watch.  What took my by surprise, in the first few yards, I suddenly had two little girls running alongside.  "Daddy, Daddy, good luck Daddy!" it was Becky and Hannah, my daughters.  This made me smile as I pressed on.  

After a mile or so the pack was still fairly tight and I was aware I was running amongst lots of "heavy breathers" who were either going to be slow plodders or were saving themselves for the second half.  I picked up the pace a little and moved through them, still feeling okay.  I knew that my weak spot was my knee and ankle joints and it seemed I would take the same number of steps no matter how fast or slow I went, so I pressed on.  Needless to say when I got to the 25 minute mark, my own personal "wall" appeared and then melted away after 4 or 5 minutes.  I'm not phased by this anymore; it happens.

The early stages of the course took the runners through the commercial office area, weaving in and out of the shadows cast by the taller buildings.  Lots of dual carriage ways with so many supporters at the junctions added to the atmosphere with little kids waving their Dads (and some Mums) on their way.  There were quite a lot of keen-looking cyclists who, after a while, I started to recognise them as they cropped up again and again!  The course also double backed on itself so you could see slower runners on the other side of the road and I spotted the pack I had been in and knew I'd done the right thing to leave them behind.  I later realised this was the position of the official 4:30 pace setter.

Half way, half marathon done

Getting to the half way stage was nice, although I was starting to feel a little fatigued but nothing out of the ordinary.   I was also taking every opportunity to grab some water or Gatorade at each of the drink stations and I am sure this helped keep me fairly cool through the race.  During the second half I was definitely amongst my peers in terms of our running ability.  We would take it in turns to over take each other several times and yet we were all keeping a steady pace going.

The course itself was showing its variety which I really liked.  The earlier commercial urban areas were nicely contrasting with the semi rural villages and the tow path of the Grand Union Canal for a bit; that was nice and running through the dabbled shadows from the lovely trees was nice.  The path took us over some short but steep bridges criss-crossing across the canal.  It was here that some runners were starting to flag a bit by walking over them.  

Running through a residential area there was a man outside his house spraying his hosepipe over the runners - quite welcome and I heard a fellow runner say "thanks mate that's nice" followed by "if that buggers up my iPhone, I'm coming 'round to see you".  Talking of hosepipes and cooling water, I was delighted when I saw my family at about mile 17!  I didn't expect that at all.  Becky and Hannah were cheering me on, complete with a poster that said 'Go Daddy Go' and then they were squirting me with water.  That was nice and after I'd passed they carried on squirting other runners; apparently that went down well!  Talking of kids, those little children who dutifully hold out boxes of jelly babies are fantastic!

The home straight (nearly)

I saw the 20 mile sign go past and it gave me a mental boost - just 6.2 miles to go and somehow telling myself it was just 10k seemed to make it shorter in my mind.  I was starting to hurt at this point and I remembered my longest "long" run beforehand was just 15 miles.  For a minute a knee would hurt, then an ankle, then a minute later a part of my foot - each pain taking over from the previous one.  Then I got a stitch - I couldn't believe it!  I have only ever had a slight stitch when setting out, not 20 miles into a race.  Happily it went almost as quickly as it came.  I smiled to myself as each bit of my legs started to complain in turn and because each protest was short lived I reckoned there was nothing too serious going on.

The slopes seemed to get a bit harder for everyone.  None of them are too steep or long but they did seem a struggle with many runners walking them.  As with last year I refused to walk - it did come down to a jog once or twice but I refused to walk no matter how much it hurt.

I remembered last year catching a glimpse of the MK stadium about half a mile or so before the finish and that gave me a wonderful boost.  The gradient was very slightly down hill and I enjoyed coasting in.  Going down the slope into the stadium building was painful on the soles of my feet - all my weight landing with extra force with each step.  Coming into the stadium was so uplifting and spotting my family in the crowd was fantastic - thanks Rachel, Becky and Hannah - you're wonderful!


And so I crossed the finish line, all a bit of a blur and I walked passed the 'results table' where you could pick up your exact time without having to wait any longer.  Last year my ambition was to come in under 4 hours.  My training this year was aimed at (sort of) matching last year's.  More recently my aim was to survive regardless of the time.  And so the chip time result is 3:58:45.

Delighted!  Even my colleagues gave me a little round of applause when I went into work yesterday (before they suggested it must be my turn to buy them all cakes).  Thanks guys.

I enjoyed it so much, even now a couple of days later I'm still on a high and recovering a lot better than I did last year (other blog post to follow).

I'm just so thankful, so blessed, more than I could imagine.  Thank you.

St John's Ambulance crew getting ready

Easing sore muscles for some runners

Longed for finish line

Not selling much junk food today

After my race, being reflective


  1. That's a very pleasing and positive outcome to your marathon, Doug. I was sure that you could overcome the setback of illness and achieve a sub-4hr time, like you wanted.
    Having said that if your wife is anything like mine, you would have been getting the "Don't go and overdo it" mantra. Actually, it's good that they care.
    I hope the positive vibes continue and that you experience all the good psychological things people get they run a good one.
    Regards, 'H'

  2. That is a good run and time, hope you recover alright and don't go running too far and too soon either.

  3. Many thanks H and you too Anonymous for your kind words.

    I'm recovering well, better thank I expected. I'll be posting about that soon. As for the "don't go and over do it" yes I know what you mean. However, that's more my Mother's line.