Milton Keynes marathon was my big goal race of the year, a PB attempt and an attempt to crack 3.20 for the first time. The theory being that training for the Quadzilla gave me a great base to work from in the 10 weeks leading up to the race. All was going well until 5 weeks before the race when we went on holiday to Cornwall, a great week with the kids and some nice running on the coastal path but I lost my focus and momentum and quite honestly never got it back. The final few weeks of training were ok but I missed a few sessions for various reasons and then a week before the race got ill. Somehow the stresses of life and work often seem to peak close to a race, Murphy’s law I guess, but it quickly derails your running.
Ultimately this meant a change in goal for the race from a PB attempt to just being happy to be well enough to be on the start line. And what a start line it is, lining up outside the beautiful Stadium MK (which I know sounds a bit odd but it really is a great stadium inside and out) and to top it all the clouds cleared and the sun put his hat on. While it may have been a nice start line it was most definitely not an organised one, in fact I’d go as far as to say it was chaos. The kids superhero run lining up at the front didn’t help things but there was also close to zero control of people entering the pens and the signage was crap.
There also appeared to be a confusion amongst the pacers who seemed to be standing in quite random spots, not helped by having both marathon and half marathon starters and pacers in the pens. I’d love to know whose bright idea it was to stick balloons to the pacers backs with their time goal written in felt tip on them also. Maybe the budget wouldn’t stretch to the normal flags that pacers wear? The strings were getting tangled up and then when actually running the balloons kept hitting people in the face.
When we finally got underway the first few km’s were spent weaving in and out of people who had clearly lined up in completely the wrong pen, thankfully we were on wide road sections at this point so wasn’t too hard. I kept myself amused by spotting all the massively overdressed people in the now quite hot weather. I saw one person walking at 2km who was wearing tights and a long sleeve top, madness. The first 7km or so weaves around fairly dull streets with a few sections that double back on themselves and also featured a chaotic first water station who seemed not to be expecting a few thousand runners to descend on them.
Things calmed down as we started to head north though and around 11km the half marathoners split off and headed east while we kept going north. I actually quite liked the route, I was a bit worried some of the paths would be a bit narrow but there was only a couple of times where I was forced to go on the grass to get around people. It’s certainly a scenic course making full use of all the parks and lakes in Milton Keynes and all the twists and turns did at least keep it interesting and mentally stimulating. Plus as it was a hot day there was loads of support on the route from people out enjoying the sun. Not a fast course though with all the twists and turns, total elevation isn’t that high (217m) but the regular small rises and underpasses meant it was hard to get into a rhythm.
I hit the wall pretty hard around 30km, as I knew I would having spent the week suffering with a virus so threw in a few walking breaks and also took 30 seconds at the last 2 water stations to tip water over my head to cool down. But it was nice feeling knowing I was there just to enjoy it and didn’t have to push for a time. I took 1 more gel than I normally would also having tried that in the Quadzilla and it seemed to work well. I took 5 in total with the first after 1 hour and then every 35 mins or so after that. Sticking with High 5 gels also which seem to work for me, they’re quite liquid so easy to take and my stomach tolerates them no problem.
The stadium finish is a big selling point for the race organisers but I’ll be honest and say I’d have preferred it if we finished outside. You had to do 3/4 of a lap of the pitch on a thin piece of grass and that meant two 90 degree turns which really isn’t ideal at the end of a marathon or conducive to a sprint finish. I bet it got quite tight if there was a few people finishing together too.
I was reasonably happy with my 3:40:18 finish time though, feels like a good reflection of my training and then illness so no complaints. Of course disappointed not to have been gunning for a PB but plenty of time for that. Overall I also liked the race, the route was scenic and well marshalled and logistics were very easy if you purchased parking on site like we did. The goody bag was a non event (a gel, a mars bar and a leaflet) but good medal and nice t-shirt.
Milton Keynes marathon is comparable in size to the Yorkshire marathon which I’ve done for the last 2 years and I think I’d give Yorkshire the edge. The organisation at York was excellent and just seemed like a slicker operation, plus the route probably better suited to fast times (but definitely still not a quick course). But despite all that don’t cross Milton Keynes marathon off your list of potential races and don’t think it’s just going to involve lots of roundabouts. It’s a good race and one by all accounts is improving every year.