Put in the miles in training. Run the first 13 miles at 7 minute pace. Increase the pace to 6 minute 40 pace to go sub 3 hours. At 16 miles, it was all going completely to plan.
Dad, Sinéad (my girlfriend) and myself drove from Hitchin to Milton Keynes in the morning, arriving into Milton Keynes just about an hour before the start. Near the stadium traffic stopped moving, so I jumped out on my own, went and prepared and dropped off baggage at the stadium, and sent Sinéad a text to check if they would be watching somewhere near the start.
The race got underway – passing the support team at about a mile or so in. The 7 minute mile pace was very comfortable. I found myself needing to rein it back so as not to go too fast. With the half marathon starting at the same time and sharing the same course for the first 10 miles, it was a bit of an odd experience, needing to focus purely on myself with half marathon runners around me on completely different race strategies.
The first half of the race was run on closed Milton Keynes roads, with a lot of the first race going through a lot of switchbacks through the town centre. Coming out I went past supporters again at around 8 miles, not expecting to see them again for a while.
Everything was fine. The new way of carrying gels – safety pinning the top rip off lid to one of the seams in-between the underwear bit and the short bit – worked great despite not practising this in training. The pace was fine. I switched off to the marathon course leaving the half runners away. This part of the route started off onto ‘redways’, paths or cycle routes set back from Milton Keynes many large main roads and roundabouts, and going through a lot of residential areas.
At 13 miles, I raised the pace. Miles 13-15 were fine, fairly comfortably running 6 minute 40 pace. Mile 16 was a bit more hairy, feeling myself needing to push harder. I was surprised by seeing Sinéad and Dad at this point. Previously I had gone past them and given an a-okay sign. This time I alternated it with a wobbly hand sign. Almost immediately afterwards I realised mentally I couldn’t push this pace anymore. From realising at the half way point that the 3 hour pacer could only be 1 minute 30 down the road, I realised I was never going to get there. It was very hot, I didn’t have the legs, and I was now worried those three miles had wasted me a bit. The focus was now on 3 hour 5, or just to PB and get something below 3 hour 9:59.
The rest of the route was odd. The route was incredibly lonely, alternating between paths along the sides of roads, paths going through very secluded green areas – there were very few spectators and very few runners around me. I was struggling a lot and realised I had completely forgotten how hard the end of a marathon was. My Timex was going mental as it lost satellites going under any underpass however short (my final recorded distance was 25:50 something miles. I did a few calculations of what I’d need to simply PB, working out that even 8 minute miles would do it. Dreams of a negative split out the window, I was struggling a lot, slowing up, legs falling apart and thoughts of walking actually coming into my mind. Others were. An old North Herts Roadrunners (my old club) running friend, aiming for 2 hours 50, was slowing or walking, and I went past. I gave him a quick thumbs up, but was struggling too much to think much about anything bar myself.
I remember that the last 6 miles of the race were incredibly hard. So much harder than I remember them being, and wanting for all the world for it to all just stop rather than to keep on pushing. Maybe because I’d given up on the race goal it was harder, but without trying to rose tint my performance and think I could have done better, I do not feel as if my body could have done much more to have gone faster. Maybe the three miles trying to increase to the target pace took something out of me, but there was very little left then to go onwards.
Finally realising I was close to the stadium, I pushed on a bit, realising I was definitely going to PB and perhaps by something worthwhile. 3 hours was gone, 3 hours 5 and a London qualifying time was gone. I’m a big fan of stadium finishes – a simple way to add to the character and spectacle of the race, (as well as, I guess, gives race organisers some of the necessary logistical gumph). At Milton Keynes you run three quarters of a lap, and with a thousand or so people watching… well, not you specifically, but the runners in general – you want to put on a bit of a push so as not to be an embarrassment. I pushed, on realising I could finish in under 3 hours 8. Final time – 3:07:33.
After crossing the timing strip, I promptly collapse onto the pitch. I was worried paramedics would come over thinking I was genuinely in a bad way. In reality it was only because I couldn’t be bothered to stand anymore. I was fine – I saved my run and reset my Timex before I started drinking the water a steward gave me. I got up and went to chat to Sinéad and my Dad who had walked down from where they were sitting, and chatted about my time, which I summed up as “not bad”. I almost forgot to walk on and get my medal and goody bag, thinking the quickest way to leave would be to walk over the barrier into the seats.
Was I happy with my time? I’ve spent a long time talking about and training with a sub 3 hour marathon in mind, but the legs just weren’t there to continue pushing the pace on from mile 16. 3:07:33 is still a decent time – a good chunk taken off the old PB, and a decent rate of improvement. The weather was very warm, with the Dublin PB being achieved in very cool conditions. I won’t be running another marathon until next spring – the thought of starting a twenty week training block for the autumn, meaning I would need to start very soon is not something I want to contemplate right now. I’ve got a number of cycling events over the summer, and am going to enter a number of events with my club over the summer, to get some good times between 5K – 10 miles, and have entered the Great Birmingham Run in the autumn to build towards.
And the race itself? The race was well organised, and an impressive finish, the route was well signposted and there were sufficient water and drinks stations around the course. It is deceptively not flat however, with a lot of small twists and turns and ups and downs as the course winds it’s way through the underpasses that define the Milton Keynes cityscape. This may limit the PB potential potential of the course a bit – even though these are slight, there are lots of them. In the second half of the course it is very, very lonely with spectators very sparse. But if you’re based in Hertfordshire or Bedfordshire, or anywhere nearby, it’s a good Spring marathon to enter if you haven’t secured a London place. Plus the medal is pretty shiny, and they don’t waste your time with a t-shirt in the goody bag (my collection is ballooning) and the combination of cereal bar, chocolate bar, carbohydrate drink and banana revived a knackered not yet sub 3 hour marathoner. Three days later, I still have massive trouble going down stairs.