I’m running four marathons in 2016 for Stroke Association and Battersea Dogs & Cats Home. You can check out my fundraising page here
When I originally decided to run two marathons in the space of a month, I had intended to a really go for it in Paris and then just ‘get round’ Milton Keynes four weeks later. But Paris turned into a bit of a nightmare race for me, culminating in me clocking up a ‘personal worst’ by some margin, so the MK Marathon ended up being a second shot at breaking my two-year-old PB. Would my legs be able to take another marathon so soon? Would I be doomed to see my first marathon remain my fastest forever? And would I regret choosing Milton Keynes for my first marathon on UK soil?
After the frustration of Paris I had managed to get back into running pretty quickly, although I was still didn’t feel fully well and my legs weren’t feeling pretty fresh. On the Saturday before the marathon my parkrun had felt fairly sluggish, while on the Sunday I had such bad back pain I was struggling to move. All in all, I didn’t have particularly high hopes for Monday morning! I knew I was fit enough to get round, so decided to just see how I felt on the day and not worry about anything else.
By booking online early I didn’t have to worry about picking up my race number, as it was sent in the post a few weeks before the race. There was a small mix up with the printers – all were sent out with the same start zone colour – but I couldn’t fault the response by the race organisers. An email was sent out before I’d even noticed there was an issue and a small sticker was sent out to cover the incorrect start coloured circle. However, Paul never received his race number for the half marathon and had to pick up a replacement on the day – this may have been an issue with the race organisers, or an issue with our postman! Not a major issue as we stayed in Milton Keynes overnight (in a hotel that was actually part of the stadium – very convenient!), but would have been a pain if we’d been travelling up the morning of the race.
I thought correspondence before the race was good, their website was pretty informative, and their Twitter account was very responsive if you had any questions. So far, so good!
The half marathon and full marathon starts in the same place at the same time, so I headed over with Paul shortly before 10am. We’d left it to the last minute to avoid the cold, so by the time we got there it was a little crowded and we ended up in a pen near the back. There was a nice atmosphere among the runners and spectators, although my main recommendation would have been a bit more music! When you’re feeling a bit antsy and waiting to start a big race, I find the sound of some uplifting tunes really helps. No worries though as it wasn’t long before we were crossing the start line. Only 26.2 miles to go…
The first mile was mainly spent darting and weaving as I’d started quite far back, but still managed to run at a comfortable pace. It was nice to run with Paul briefly, but after a mile he went ahead so I was on my own. This is probably the most boring part of the course visually – it’s just roads and roundabouts – but as it’s central there were plenty of people out supporting which made the miles fly by. I had vague hopes of a 4:45 finish, and knowing how I tend to fade in the second half I’d decided to aim for 10:30 miles in the first half and 11 minute miles in the second. However, after a slow first mile I found myself dipping below 10 minute miles. I was conscious of not pushing too hard too soon, but was finding it surprisingly smooth going and before I knew it I’d reached the 6 mile mark in under an hour. While I was still just hoping to keep to 10:30 miles, I figured I’d go at this faster pace as long as I felt comfortable.
6 miles – halfway
Having started fairly far back, I eventually overtook the 4:45 pacer and set myself the goal of catching and staying with the 4:30 pacer until the halfway point if possible. I ended up catching the 4:30 pacer at about 7.5 miles – the point where the half and full runners finally separate. I had panicked about somehow accidentally going the wrong way (a week of marathon-related dreams hadn’t helped), but the division was very clearly signposted and marshalled – you would have to make a real effort to go the wrong way! Still feeling comfortable with 10ish minute miles, I actually ended up overtaking the 4:30 pacer. I still didn’t feel like I was pushing myself very hard though – it felt 10x easier than Paris had at this point!. I ended up crossing the halfway point at 2:12:33 – a new half marathon PB for me!
Halfway – 18 miles
At halfway I was entertaining wild notions of dipping under 4:30, which I consider my long-term marathon target time, but realistically this was never really on the cards. A couple of miles on and I was dipping a little, but felt ok with 11 minute miles and with the time I’d banked in the first half was hopeful of 4:45. I was also loving the course – after the first few miles in the city centre we’d headed out to lush countryside and lakes. I was having the time of my life, enjoying the views, the enthusiastic marshals and spectators and generally feeling on good form. I was dipping slightly but still feeling pretty fresh. Although I was starting to need the toilet. I figured my options were either a) lose a couple of minutes at the next loo stop or b) carry on and ignore it, knowing I would become increasingly distracted and probably end up drinking less for the rest of the race. Given that it was a pretty hot day I knew it was stupid to potentially cut back on water, so at mile 18 I nipped to the loo. There were portaloos at every drinks station (every three miles) and this was communicated in all the pre-race literature. This was great for someone like me who always panics about needing the toilet!
18 miles – FINISH
Most people had failed to hide their sense of bewilderment when I told them I had chosen to run 26.2 miles around Milton Keynes, with a fair few jokes about the volume of roundabouts. I must admit I had been pleasantly surprised by the marathon route, which was on the whole pretty lovely. Lots of green stretches, lakes, villages, a windmill and even some Roman ruins had made this a very pleasant route on the whole. But in those final miles the underpasses kicked in. The route boasted ‘60% less underpasses’ than last year, so can only imagine what the route was like before! While it was hardly unbearable, the number of underpasses made for a fairly undulating second half, which was tough on my very tired legs and now-achy back. I felt myself slowing and I was soon failing to keep under 11 minute miles – then it started raining. The rain wasn’t too traumatic as it was a bit of refreshment in the heat (I ended up horribly sunburnt), but the blustery winds were horrible. The final mile I was just running straight into the wind, my legs were shot and I genuinely felt like I was running on the spot. While I already knew my 4:45 dream was gone, by the time I was in sight of the stadium my chances of a PB were looking shaky too. Entering the stadium I forced myself to run as fast as I could, knowing after my strong first half I would be bitterly disappointed not to get a PB. Thankfully my final burst of ‘speed’ paid off and I crossed the line in 4:52:02 – only a minute and 25 seconds off my 2014 Paris time, but I’d take it!
Slightly shattered, I wandered over to collect my medal and was pleased when a marshal congratulated me and put it round my neck. It’s only a small thing but I always think it’s nice when you’re ceremoniously handed your medal! Nice bit of bling with a bit of sparkle, and I like the fact it reflects the race with the stadium on both the full and half marathon medals. The t-shirt is a little on the generous side but looks fab – a cow wearing a pair of shades (I assume this is a tribute to the concrete cows of Milton Keynes, passed at around mile 20). I must admit I barely looked at my goody bag, but was absolutely ecstatic when I realised they were giving away Yazoo milkshakes. I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed a strawberry milkshake quite so much.
I absolutely loved the first half, and the lack of scenery in the first few miles was made up for by crowd support. From what I’ve seen and heard they’ve clearly made a big effort to improve the route, but there are still plenty of underpasses towards the end which make those final miles tougher and more dull. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find plenty of enthusiastic supporters even in the quieter bits of the route, with local residents out in force. The marshals were absolutely fantastic – as somebody wearing my name on my vest, I think pretty much every marshal I passed shouted ‘come on Daniella!’ Refreshment stations were frequent and adequately stocked, there were plenty of loos, the course wasn’t congested after the first mile and the finish area was very smooth to get through. It has enough crowd support to keep you going throughout, but isn’t as overwhelming as a big city marathon. A welcoming, friendly atmosphere and a surprisingly pleasant route overall make this a great marathon experience.